Category Archives: General

Mother Susan’s Sermon for May 31, 2020

Sermon 5 31 20 Pentecost

Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday Christianity! Happy Birthday to us!

Pentecost! Today is the birthday of Christianity.  When the Holy Spirit came and landed like flames on the heads of the disciples, making them look like so many birthday cake candles. That’s when the Christian church took off, when we really began. 

I am especially grateful for our readings this year because these readings are about new beginnings. And if there was ever a time we need to think about new beginnings, it is now.

I pray and I believe that we are approaching the end of this phase of the pandemic. It’s not nearly over, but we are approaching a next phase – hopefully the beginnings of a recovery phase. We have no idea what our world is going to be like, but it will be changed, and we will need to adapt and change with it. It’s going to be different.

We are entering a period of time that can easily be compared to the very beginnings of the Christian Church. There’s a lot of unknown ahead of us and it can look very scary and we need our faith.  

It was in just such a time as this that a ragtag little group of men, and yes, women too, were gathering in a dark shuttered room, petrified by fear. They had gone through the joy and heady optimism of Palm Sunday when it seemed as if anything was possible. Jesus was going to take over! Rome was gonna be done! It was gonna be a new world! Oh, how young and joyous and naive those young men and women were.

All it took was an arrest in the middle of the night and a charge of sedition and it was all over. Possibly one disciple attended the execution. The rest ran away. Jesus hung on a cross and died, not from blood loss – no – the crucified died from the weight of their own bodies crushing their hearts.

And they all thought they were next. They all thought they were going to be hunted down and executed too! 

And then he was buried and the rumors started. The body was missing! Never mind that they walled up the tomb and posted guards. And then there were sightings! He was seen in a roadside inn. He started popping up all over the place! He showed off the holes in his hands and the gash in his side. What was going on!?!     

I love how, after the excitement of Easter, of resurrection, our readings accelerate and build to the mystery and power of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is when Christianity takes off. This is the birth day of Christianity.

Immediately after the resurrection all of Jesus’ disciples and friends huddled together in a small attic room, with the doors closed, the windows shuttered, afraid to face the world, not knowing what to do. What was next? 

And then, the Holy Spirit happened. 

Jesus had promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and illuminate them and comfort them and bring them gifts. And it did.

In our first lesson from Acts we hear of a violent wind and divided tongues of fire resting on each of the disciples, and they felt filled. Now remember, for the most part, these were uneducated, unsophisticated people – most unable to read or write. But that didn’t matter to God. They were gifted enough to be useful. We all are. In some ways I wonder if the disciples weren’t more useful to Jesus as the “tabula rasa” or “blank slates,” they were, ready to be written upon by God.

And then the Holy Spirit brought gifts.  It was like Christmas!After the Holy Spirit came, in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem anybody who heard the disciples speaking began to hear them in their own native language. That right there was a gift! Of course the usual naysayers and skeptics assumed the disciples were drunk. But Peter set them straight (“it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!”) Beware those who sneer! Peter reminded the people that the prophet Joel had foreseen this and that everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved. All they had to do was believe-that-it-was-possible. 

And then along came Paul. One minute he’s observing the stoning of Stephen, holding the stoners’ cloaks (how nice of him!).  And then he’s blinded on the road so that he could see more clearly and he converted and climbed aboard the Holy Spirit express, reminding all those who heard him that no one could say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of the Holy Spirit.   

 Both Peter and Paul remind us that everything we do is by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the Holy Spirit we can’t do anything. We forget that. We think, “Here God, I’m going to do this wonderful thing for you. I’m going to do you a favor.” NO. Paul makes this very clear when he talks of the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everything we are able to do is because of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us as the Holy Spirit chooses when we give ourselves to God.

Paul listed these gifts. “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them all in everyone.” We might receive the gift of speaking wisdom or teaching. We might receive the gift of manifesting our faith with healing or miracles so that others can see it. Some people receive the prophetic voice, and remember, the prophetic voice isn’t necessarily about telling the future. It might be about telling the truth at a time when people don’t want to hear the truth. Another gift can be discerning the presence of spirits, both good and evil. Some people receive the gift of languages. Others receive the gift of interpretation. But what Paul tells us is that all of these gifts are activated by the Holy Spirit. 

For just as the human body has many parts but is still one body, so we are the many parts of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit joins us together in the Body of Christ.

Never forget.  That ragtag little group of frightened people started out scared and petrified in a dark room – too afraid to walk down the street, to even show their faces. 

The Holy Spirit showed up, and transformed them. No more fear. That’s what we need now. To know that we need not fear the future. We have the love of God.

Living the Questions

 
JOIN FR. DON AND MEL CARON for a new study tomorrow evening, Wednesday, 5/27, at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

We will be using a series called “Living the Questions”. This is a combined  class with the members of St. David’s in Cranbury. Each session is self-containing, so you can do one week or all seven!

The Zoom ID is 871 6705 8188.  No password is required – just click on zoom.us and join meeting and then type in ID.

It should be an interesting study – hope you join us!

Church Reopening Update

The decision to remain closed to in-person communal worship was made by our bishop in consultation with the best available experts and information. Though painful to us all, the restrictions were made in a spirit of loving sacrifice intended to protect our community and our most vulnerable parishioners.
 
As we move closer to re-opening, Bishop Stokes has called two special task forces of experts to help guide the diocese into the “new normal.”
Bishop Stokes has appointed the Re-entering, Re-opening and Re-imagining (RRR) Task Force to provide guidance to congregations on how and when to re-open. The Task Force includes approximately 20 members who represent the diversity of congregations in our diocese and bring skills and experience in public health, liturgy, and congregational life. The task force met for the first time this week and issued the following statement:
 
This team is committed to providing preliminary guidance by June 5th so that parishes may begin the planning process. Each parish will create its own plan and submit it for review to the Task Force. We anticipate that the time it takes each parish to create and implement their plan will vary greatly. While some parishes may be able to resume limited use of their buildings shortly after the release of the guidelines, others may plan to open months later based upon the unique needs, composition, staffing and location of each parish. –The RRR Task Force
 
A second group–the Learnings and Breakthroughs Task Force–has been formed to look at the lessons we’ve learned during this crisis and how we can keep the good parts happening. We’ve been amazed at the level of community we’ve been able to build online, bringing Christ’s word to people who haven’t been in church in years. We don’t want to lose those aspects when we return to “normal.”
 
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The above was sent to all churches in the diocese. We will endeavor to follow the guidelines determined by the Diocesan task forces.
 
Looking forward with hope, certain that we live in God’s blessings,
Mother Susan+
 
See You All Soon!

Study and Contemplative Group Meetings

Contemplative Group

We are meeting every Wednesday at 10 a.m. on Zoom (ID 813 1796 4254), No password is required. We begin with 20 minutes of silent meditation followed by a teaching and discussion. This week (May 20) we began a new series on the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a system of personality typing that describes patterns in how people conceptualize the world and manage their emotions. It describes nine different types and maps each on a nine-pointed diagram which helps to illustrate how the types relate to one another.
According to the Enneagram, every personality has a certain world view and looks at the world through their own lens or filter. This makes it possible to explain why people behave in certain ways.
We will be using a series by Fr. Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson. This will be an introductory to the Enneagram, which hopefully will enable participants to further their work in their spiritual journey.
If interested, please send Mel Caron your email so that materials can be sent prior to the class – melanieannecaron@gmail.com.

Thursday Study Group

This group meets every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. on Zoom (ID 860 0220 4298). No password is required. We are beginning a new study on May 21 called Following the Mystics Beyond the Narrow Gate. This is a DVD series presented by Fr; Richard Rohr and Dr. James Finley. In this series we will learn about the history of the mystics through the ages, including every major religion. We will also be introduced to the mothers and fathers who have gone before us, having attained a oneness with God. If interested, please send Mel Caron your email so that materials can be sent prior to the class – melanieannecaron@gmail.com.

Flocknote

FLOCKNOTE!
Most of you have already noticed something new and different about the messages you’ve been receiving.  Good Shepherd is officially transitioning to Flocknote for all emails and text messages.  You are receiving messages in the format (email or text) you selected on the yellow communication preference forms you completed many months ago.  We plan to switch over to Flocknote emails only by June 8th.  If you think you have not been receiving emails or text messages, please check your SPAM folder and mark it as “Not Spam”.

Message from the Senior Warden

From the Senior Warden

Well, we are two months into the Coronavirus response.  As a society, a parish and as individuals, we have endured some dynamic and interesting changes in how we interact.  I applaud the efforts of so many in our parish.  We have shifted the structure of our services.  We continue to increase our internal reach to the parishioners.    I recognize that these times pose some personal challenges caused by loss of work, reduction of hours or pay and the general uncertainty of what “normal” will look like.  Throughout everything, you have helped to maintain Church of the Good Shepherd as a viable, thriving community.  Financially, we maintain a healthy outlook.  Your contributions have remained steady.  Our expenses have been reduced.  These two factors, combined with a federal aid package, have reduced most of the financial threat.  We all have a stake in stewardship and we are meeting the needs.  I ask that you continue your support through envelope giving, direct donations, or the electronic debit service.  All of the parish leadership is working to reduce costs and expenses.

The Vestry recognizes that the societal impacts do not hit everyone equally.  Some of us have been hit in the purse.  Others have lost social connections.  Some may be unable to maintain their homes.  Some may feel a loss of humanity.  The parish is available to help with some of these matters.  Some of our members have asked the Vestry to assemble a small group to manage a specific donation fund to aid our members in financial distress.  If you need to confidentially request assistance, please reach out to Mother Susan or Deacon Carl.  The intent is to get you “over the hump”.  The Senior Class of Pitman High School has approached us with a program they call “Seniors Helping Seniors”.  It is limited to Pitman residents.  If needed, the PHS Seniors will come to your property and provide free lawn services – mowing, edging, raking, etc. while maintaining safety and social distancing.  Please reach out to me, if you need this assistance.  With the suspension of normal church activities, many have lost their ties with each other.  At the last Vestry meeting, we have asked a couple of our internal ministries to take the lead on reaching out to you.  The goal is to maintain our contact, but it will be at your convenience.  Some may want to check-in each week.  Others might want this twice monthly.  Others might appreciate the effort, but require nothing more than the initial call.  Please discuss this when the member contacts you and set a schedule that works for you.

The big question is “When will we be able to return to services and our regular church activities?”  The lousy answer is I do not know.  The Bishop has discussed this topic and has candidly stated not until at least the latter part of June.  The other thought I have is “what does the new normal look like?”  Will services be the same?  What about gatherings and meetings?  Of course, many of us want to know what does the sacrament of Coffee Hour look like.  I wish I could tell you and answer all of your questions.  I do know some things.  We will do what we can, when we can and maintain a safe and secure atmosphere for our parishioners, staff, and ministries.

The third verse of God Be With You (Until We Meet Again) by Jeremiah Rankin works well in this instance —

God be with you till we meet again,

When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put His arms unfailing round you,
God be with you till we meet again.

with regards,

Len