The Joy of Rotary

Gardner New Article for March 4, 2017

Three years ago when I moved to Gardner I knew I wanted to get involved with the community.  Moving here from a small town in New York I was aware of the importance of not only getting to know the people in my congregation but also the movers and shakers in the community. 

One day I received a letter from the Gardner Rotary club inviting me to have a conversation about becoming a Rotarian.  I thought it would be nice to have a conversation and learn more about the Rotary Club and have a better understanding as to what they do in the community and for the community.  I sat down with Joe Guercio and Dawn Casavant and they talked about all the of the service projects the Rotary does and the connection Rotary has all around the world.  I was impressed. 

The purpose of a local Rotary club is to connect people who then work together to solve community problems, provide humanitarian aid, and promote goodwill and peace. Rotary clubs exist all around the world, and Rotary International has over 1.2 million members. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”

Rotarians are committed to creating inroads with people so that opportunities to serve will arise from those connections. The Rotarian philosophy is that mutual service is the best way to create thriving businesses and societies. A Rotary club is committed to ethical practices in business and holds high ideals for personal behavior. Rotary clubs ask four questions—the Four-way Test—to be applied to thoughts, speech, or actions: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” If the answer is yes to all four questions, the action, speech, or thought is considered ethical.

Rotary International began in 1905 so there is no Bible examples of the Rotary. However, the Four-way Test for ethical business practices proposed by Rotarians is certainly in line with biblical principles.

The motto of “Service Above Self” recalls Biblical principles such as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and Jesus’ lesson that “the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12).  This is a reminder to me that work can be done outside of the church and it still can have a profound impact on our life of faith.

This weekend is the annual Gardner Rotary Auction.  You can watch it from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm today on local Public Access cable channel where we will be streaming live from Mount Wachusett Community College, and can also be viewed over the internet (mwcc.com/livetv). 

The Annual Gardner Rotary Club Auction is our largest annual fundraiser, with proceeds supporting critical local initiatives that strengthen and enrich the lives of those who live within our community.  Some of the things the Gardner Rotary Club supports are Student Scholarships, The Weekend BackPack Food Program, providing food for over 200 food insecure children week, The Partnership for Children – providing fiscal support, essentials and holiday gifts for needy families, The Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, The GVNA Diaper Pantry, The Montachusett Suicide Prevention TaskForce, The CAC – with the Outhouse Project providing essential hygiene items for CAC patrons, The Fellowship Table which serves meals for those in need, Little League Sponsorships, Support for local programs such as HOPE, serving woman and children, The Dictionary Project – all third graders in Gardner, Winchendon, Baldwinville, Hubbardston, and Templeton and so much more. 

As the auction chair this year I have been in contact with so many people who talk about the importance of Rotary not only in this community but in their personal lives.  I have seen first hand how a simple act of support can change someone’s life.

I liken my journey in Rotary to the story of Emmaus Road in the Bible.  First the story two travelers are met on the road, they have the scriptures opened, they share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ, and then are sent to share and live the good news.

At first the disciples don’t believe Jesus has risen from the dead because we are so used to the limitations of death, the pain and paucity of life in this world, and the absolute certainty that all things must end, that new life – even when its standing right there in front of you!  When I think about all the good work Rotary does for the world I find it hard to believe.  I don’t know many groups in the world that do good work because it is the right thing to do, I don’t know very many people who spend hours raising thousands of dollars just so they can give it right back into the community.  This brings me joy.

Joy is so needed in this world because there are many things that happen to us everyday and if we are not careful we can find ourselves full of hurt, anger and despair.  But you can help by inquiring how you can become a part of Rotary or find ways to be involved in one of our programs.  For example, if you have some time today tune into the Rotary Auction on the local access channel, you might see me as your auctioneer or other people who are deeply connected to our community.  Feel free to bid on something and do your part in helping make our community a better place for us all. 

Sermon on the Mount

A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Welcome to the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany Season A.   This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA.  The scripture readings for the day are Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18Psalm 119:33-401 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23  and Matthew 5:38-48

Enjoy the latest episode of Sacred Life with Pastor Joe McGarry.

An Idea that Changed the World

Gardner News Article for February 18, 2017

Martin Luther changed the world with an idea.  The question that every religion asks and seeks to answer is how to we get to God.  Many of us have a relationship with God, but how do we truly know if we have a place in heaven? 

In almost every case the answer is like a ladder.  Every good work that we do, every time we go to church, every time we say a prayer we are one rung closer to heaven.  If we are faithful enough, if we pray enough and read our bible then we will secure our place it heaven. 

Martin Luther became a monk and he prayed, fasted, studied, and learned that he needed to do  to be a faithful Christian.  The problem was that no matter how high Luther climbed on that ladder he could never discover God.

We still have ladders today.  You may hear some preachers say that you have to go to church, you have to give your life over to God, or you have to give so much money into the offering plate in order for God to love you.  But that’s not true.

If you think about it we too often put people higher up to ladder than we find ourselves.  Where do you think Mother Teresa is on the ladder?  What about Dali Lama, Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis?

We may look at our neighbor who is faithful in going to church and praying and then we look at our own life and we wish we could have it all together we think that if we did these things more faithfully maybe our life would be better. 

Luther was trying to climb the ladder until he discovered the truth in scripture that we don’t need to climb a ladder because God comes to us!  God comes to where we are. This is grace.

The first time I preached this in a sermon I had one older gentleman in the congregation come up to me after the service and said “Pastor I had a problem with your sermon today.”  I invited him to say more and he said “Are you trying to tell me that God loves murders and crooks?  What about Hitler?  What about Isis?  Does God love them as well?” I told him,  “It is beyond my comprehension as to how God loves everyone including murders, Isis and Hitler but the God I know and the God I read about in the Bible loves everyone without question.”  He said “Okay, I don’t get it either but I will trust you.”

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be his disciples, they dropped everything to follow him.  I thought the disciples that followed Jesus were the best of the best.  But what I learned is that to follow someone who was considered a prophet you had to be the smartest person in your village, and you would have to start studying the Torah when you were nine years old. 

If you were the best of the best at reading the Torah you then would study the prophets until you were fourteen years old.  If you were the best at studying the prophets you would find a Rabbi to teach you.  Then only the best students would be allowed to become a Rabbi.

Jesus changed that when he went looking for disciples, and he did not pick the best of the best.  Simon and Andrew had given up on their dreams at becoming a Rabbi, instead of studying they were fishing with their father.  Jesus searches out Simon and Andrew to become disciples.

This happens for each of us as well.  Jesus searches us out, and calls us.  If we were really honest we can admit that we are unqualified.  Jesus doesn’t pick the best of the best.  He picks us, imperfect people that we are.  We are the people that Jesus wants.  We can’t be Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, or The Pope.  We can only be us.  And God has come to us.

This means that we do not need to climb a ladder.  So the next time you hear someone say “A good Christian does ……..” you have permission to be suspicious of that person because there is no such thing as “good Christians”.  There is only us imperfect as we are receiving the grace of God.  We don’t deserve it because we are not the best of the best.

This is what Luther came to understand.  He found in the pages of scripture not an angry God who is mad because we can’t get up the ladder, but a loving God full of grace.

A God willing to come down and walk here on this earth with us.

A God with sand in his feet.

A God with the hair that smells like the sea.

A God who eats with sinners.

A God who calls fishermen to be his disciples.

A God who is for you and me.

I was in my first year of seminary when I was taught this and it changed my life.  I was scared to go to seminary because it was hard.

I was never the best student.

I was never the best athlete.

I was never the best looking.

I was never the most holy person.

I was just me.

And learning about God’s grace freed me from having to be anything other than the mess I am.

I didn’t have to climb the ladder any more.

I know that God comes to me.

God comes to you as well.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you, you do not have to be the best to follow God, you don’t have to climb a ladder to get into heaven, all you have to do is to be you and God is going to love you for that.  That is an idea that can change the world.

2BP42: A Conversation with Dr. David Lose

Preaching in Difficult Times, United Theological Seminary and Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church

The 2 Bald Pastors sit down with The Rev. Dr. David Lose from The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  They talk about many things including preaching during difficult times, The United Theological Seminary and Dr. Loses’ new call to Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church.  Dr. Lose shares about some of his ideas for upcoming book projects and how he is excited to learn more about the day to day work of a parish pastor.

We are so thankful to have this time with Dr. Lose and we hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!

Salt and Light

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Welcome to the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Season A.   This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA.  The scripture readings for the day are Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)Psalm 112:1-9 (10)1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16) and Matthew 5:13-20

Enjoy the latest episode of Sacred Life with Pastor Joe McGarry.