Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Sure Foundation

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen & Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
March 4, 2018

Year B: The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

The Sure Foundation
            One of the things I like most about being an Episcopalian – about being an Anglican – is that we are part of a community that spans the globe.
            We get reminded of that community when at each of our services we pray for Anglican churches around the world and for bishops with their often hard to pronounce names!
            All around the world there are Anglican churches worshiping in more or less the same way that we do: the service has basically the same shape – we sing many of the same hymns – and in many cases even the architecture of our churches is similar.
            St. Paul’s, for example, was built back in the 1800s to resemble a church you might find in an English village.
            We’re part of something much larger than just this little community.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m always hesitant to make too many changes to the way we worship – what we say, do, and sing here is one of the most important ways that we are connected to millions of other Christians, past, present, and even future.
            And, I’m also aware that our Anglican identity here at St. Paul’s – which I often describe as traditional but not stuffy (which is what we strive for, and I hope is true) – our Anglican identity is also one of the things that has drawn many of our parishioners to St. Paul’s – a little taste of the church back in Antigua or Nigeria or England…
            You know, although I’ve dropping some pretty strong hints for the past five years, not one of our West Indian parishioners has invited me down to the islands! I’ve never been there or to Africa, but I have been fortunate enough to visit England a few times.
            The last time was more than ten years ago now, back when my love of Anglicanism was in full bloom.
            Sue and I spent most of our time in London, where I insisted that we visit plenty of historic churches. Although skeptical that this was a good way to spend a vacation, she’s a good sport, so off we went from church to church.
            In one case we arrived at a historic church before it opened for the day, and, to our surprise, there was a line of tourists waiting to enter.
            I said something like, “See, look at these people – this isn’t such a weird thing to do on vacation!”
            Sue gave me a skeptical look and, sure enough, it turned out that this particular church – called the Temple Church - was the setting for a scene in the hit book and movie, The Da Vinci Code. All of these people weren’t Anglican fans after all.
            Of course, no trip to London would be complete without a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, that iconic symbol of not just the English church, but of England itself.
            When we visited there was some kind of special service going on. A choir was singing and the Bishop of London himself was officiating, dressed in all his finery.
            At one point in the service, the organ and choir struck up a familiar hymn, one that we sing here fairly regularly and will sing at the end of today’s service - maybe the most Anglican hymn of them all – and I saw the bishop smile when he heard the first few notes of:
            “Christ is made the sure foundation.”

            St. Paul’s Cathedral is a magnificent place but I’m also kind of partial to our more modest St. Paul’s right here – they are both places that over many years have been bathed in innumerable prayers.
As important as this building is to us, it’s nowhere near what the Jerusalem Temple meant to the Jews of the first century.
For them, it was the center of life, it was the holiest place in the universe, the place of prayer and sacrifice, the place where, in a sense, God lived – and knowing that helps us appreciate the power of today’s gospel lesson.
We heard the story of Jesus acting in a kind of un-Jesus-like way, as he angrily drove out from the Jerusalem Temple those who were selling animals and those who earned their living exchanging Jewish coins for Roman coins, which couldn’t be used in the Jewish temple since they bore the idolatrous image of the Roman emperor.
            All four gospels tell this vivid and important story, but in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, it happens near the end of Jesus’ ministry – his attack on the religious establishment is, in fact, probably what got Jesus into the most trouble – more than anything else, it’s probably what got him arrested and killed.
            But, today we heard the version of the story found in the Gospel of John, and in this take Jesus is angrier and even kind of scary, since we’re told he made and used a “whip of cords.”
            And, John’s chronology is different than the others. He places this story near the start of Jesus’ public ministry – you could even say that, for John, this is Jesus’ first public act – it’s quite an entrance – and signals the importance of what Jesus did that day in the Temple.
            For much of Christian history, Jesus’ so-called “Cleansing of the Temple” has been used to knock the Jews and their worship in the Temple – this system of sacrifice that required the selling and buying of animals and the exchange of currency.
            But, in more recent times, we Christians have remembered that Jesus of Nazareth was a faithful Jew – and so it seems to me that his dramatic action was not so much a critique of temple worship and sacrifice but much more a call to remember what’s most important – an urgent and even angry call to remember what’s essential – a call to remember the foundation.
            By the time the Gospel of John was written, the Temple – what had been believed to be the center of the universe - had been gone for decades, destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, with its treasurers carted off to Rome. Today pretty much all the remains is a retaining wall, what’s called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, where Jews continue to gather, leaving written prayers in cracks between the large stones.
            The destruction of the Temple was a catastrophe for the Jewish people, and along with their eventual eviction from their homeland, raised real and urgent questions about their continued survival.
            But, the rabbis gathered and studied and prayed - and what they came to understand was that, actually, the Temple wasn’t the foundation – no, instead, for Jews the foundation was and is God’s covenant with them – the covenant which is fulfilled by following God’s Law – so, God’s people were meant to study the Law, to love the Law, and, most of all, to obey the Law not just in a house of worship but in every aspect of their lives.
            Meanwhile, as the early Christians drifted away from Judaism, they also gathered and studied and prayed and concluded, long before the familiar hymn was written that, for us, Christ is the temple and the priest and the sacrifice – they came to understand and believe that Christ is indeed the sure foundation.
            And, so, as much as we love our beautiful old buildings and as much as we love our traditions, as much as we love our comforting and comfortable ways of doing things – they are not the foundation – Christ is the sure foundation.
            And, sometimes, as our brothers and sisters from Incarnation are modeling for us these days, as difficult and as sad as it is, that means we have to leave behind our temple, leave behind many of our ways and much of our stuff.
And, although we will continue worshiping in this beautiful old temple, at least for a time, the truth is that in our quickly changing and oh so hungry and lost world, we all will have to leave behind at least some of our old ways, leave behind our fears, leave behind our complacency and prejudices, and step out – step out from the temple – step out in faith, trusting – knowing – that the sure foundation of Christ will always support us, no matter what.
“Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone, chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the Church in one; holy Zion’s help forever, and her confidence alone.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Let Justice Roll Down Like A River...

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen & Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
February 25, 2018

Year B: The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

Let Justice Roll Down Like A River…
            Let justice roll down like a river, let justice flow down to the sea...
            This past Thursday marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the execution of a small group of young Germans who, unlike nearly all of their fellow countrymen, had dared to openly challenge the evil Nazi regime.
            This small group started at the University of Munich and included idealistic and non-violent students along with a Philosophy professor.
            The group was founded by a young man named Hans Scholl and included his sister, Sophie.
            They called themselves the White Rose.
            The White Rose resisted the Nazis by illegally printing and distributing leaflets – six different leaflets, about 15,000 copies in all.
            In these leaflets they called on their fellow Germans to acknowledge the grotesque crimes being committed by their government.
            In their first leaflet they asked, “Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?”
            In their second leaflet they condemned the murder of the Jews and declared their German countrymen guilty of looking away from this terrible atrocity being done in their name.
            They wrote, “Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings.”
            It was amazing that the White Rose got away with it for as long as they did, but their good fortune ran out on February 18, 1943.
            As they had in the past, Hans and Sophie Scholl distributed leaflets at the university. This time, though, before they left, Sophie noticed that there were still a few leaflets left in their suitcase and she dropped them down a stairwell. Unfortunately, a pro-Nazi maintenance man saw her and quickly summoned the authorities.
            Hans and Sophie Scholl and one other member of the White Rose were immediately arrested and, after a show trial, were executed by the guillotine.
            Before he placed his head in the guillotine, twenty-five year-old Hans cried out, “Long live freedom!”
            For her part, his sister, twenty-one year-old Sophie, who, like her brother, had been deeply influenced by Christian thinkers, said this just before her execution:
            “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Let justice roll down like a river, let justice flow down to the sea...

I remember exactly where I was on December 14, 2012. I was in the hospital room of an elderly parishioner who was just days away from death. I was there sitting with some of his family.
That afternoon we watched the TV in horror as the news reports kept adding details to the story of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A twenty-year old shooter had killed twenty children, between six and seven years old, plus he killed six adult staff members. Eventually we learned that earlier in the day he had killed his mother.
Later that day, President Obama addressed the country and said, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Like many people, I thought the enormity of this loss, the vastness of the suffering and grief, would lead our country to reflect on our relationship with guns, and to repent of our love affair with violence.
But, of course, that’s not what happened.
Instead, weapons sales skyrocketed.
And, in a country now awash with even more weapons of mass destruction, from time to time they inevitably fall into the hands of those who should never have them, leading to massacre after massacre, in schools and in malls and in churches, at a concert in Las Vegas, and then on Valentine’s Day, on Ash Wednesday, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – where, as you know, 14 students and three adults were killed in yet another bloody rampage.
More than five years after Sandy Hook, like lots of people, I was saddened but, honestly, I wasn’t really shocked by this latest bloodbath, and I certainly didn’t bother to hope that somehow this massacre would somehow make a difference.
But, I’m starting to dare to think that this time just might be different.
By now, you’ve probably all seen these remarkably articulate and poised kids, these survivors, who have turned their grief into outrage, turned their sorrow into courageous and insistent calls for us to change our ways.
You probably saw at least clips of the Florida town hall, where these kids had a United States Senator on the ropes, struggling to defend the indefensible – though deserving credit for actually showing up
You probably saw clips of the White House listening session where the President was uncharacteristically quiet and subdued, wisely choosing to listen to these stories of suffering and grief and not trying to defend the indefensible.
And, in the last few days, the mighty National Rifle Association, perhaps the most powerful special interest group in our country, is on the defensive, losing corporate supporters, and beginning, just beginning, to be seen as an agent of death, like Big Tobacco.
And, politicians and others who’ve benefited over the years from piles of NRA money are reeling – some making outlandish accusations about the students (They’re actors!) – while some others astutely see which way the wind is blowing and are quickly changing their views on things like how old you must be to buy a gun.
And, so it seems a new movement has been born, a movement led by young people that will gather for the “March for Our Lives” in Washington on Saturday, March 24, demanding that our leaders do everything they can to put an end to school shootings. The Jersey City Episcopal churches have rented a bus and I hope you’ll join us and make our voices heard.
You know, watching the kids from Stoneman Douglas take on the powers that be reminded me of those last words of young Sophie Scholl:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”
Well, it sure looks like righteousness is at last, at long last, beginning to prevail.

Let justice roll down like a river, let justice flow down to the sea...

In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus offers his first prediction of his own suffering, death, and resurrection.
The Apostle Peter seems to have not heard or understood that last part about rising from the dead, because he gets understandably upset at the thought of his Lord suffering and dying – so upset that he “rebukes” Jesus – a strong word, that “rebuke.”
And, maybe because he is actually tempted to turn away from his mission, from his fate, Jesus responds with his own harsh rebuke of Peter – and then offers a hard teaching to his disciples and also to the crowd:
Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Jesus is “all in” – and calls us to be “all in,” too.
The refrain that’s been repeated a few times during today’s sermon is a loose translation of the Prophet Amos, 5:24. The full text is:
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
It sounds like something a prophet would and should say, but in the text it’s actually not the voice of Amos. It’s the voice of God speaking through Amos.
It’s God’s command – God’s everlasting hope and dream – that the whole world will be bathed in justice and righteousness.
And, God has chosen to include us, to in some sense depend on us, to make it happen - to let justice roll down like a river, to let justice flow down to the sea.
God requires us to be “all in.”
Jesus of Nazareth offers us the supreme example of being “all in” – but there’s also Hans and Sophie Scholl who were “all in” when they risked everything against an evil regime – and, now in our own time, there are these brave kids who are “all in” as they take on some of the most powerful people in our country.
So, by now, you know where this is going:
How about us?
Are we – are we Christians – “all in” for justice?
Are we “all in” for righteousness?
Are we “all in” for peace?
 Sophie Scholl’s haunting question echoes down to us today:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”

Let justice roll down like a river, let justice flow down to the sea...


Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Temptation to Despair

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen & Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
February 18, 2018

Year B: The First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

The Temptation to Despair
            Today is the First Sunday in Lent and by now you’ve probably noticed changes to the look of our church and the feel of our service.
            Most of the shiny things have either been put away or veiled.
            There are no flowers – and we’re not saying the “A word” until Easter.
            There’s more focus on confession, repentance, and, yes, thank God, forgiveness.
            And, as we always do on the First Sunday in Lent, we heard the story of Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by Satan.
            The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give us a lot more detail about the exact kinds of temptations that Satan devised for Jesus – Satan tempted Jesus to use his divine power for his own benefit or glory – you know, turn stones into bread to fill our Lord’s empty belly – or jump from the top of the Temple and be caught by angels – this way everyone will know that Jesus really is God’s Son.
            Matthew and Luke give us these details but not the economical Mark, whose account we heard today – Mark, who simply says that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days – a number that reminds us of Israel’s forty years of exodus in the wilderness.
Mark simply tells us all we really need to know: Jesus was in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan.
            I really like that Mark omits the exact nature of the temptations faced by Jesus because, let’s face it, I can’t really relate to those specific temptations faced by Jesus: we aren’t tempted to turn stones into bread, or to jump, confident that angels will swoop in and catch us.
            No, I prefer to use my imagination – to imagine what Jesus faced out there in the wilderness – to imagine what temptations Satan crafted especially for Jesus of Nazareth.
            Satan is quite skilled at coming up with temptations carefully crafted just for us – but there are some temptations that are close to universal, and some temptations that seem to be almost contagious during certain times and in certain places.
            Like, the temptation to despair.
            We know that Jesus himself experienced the temptation of despair – maybe in the wilderness but definitely on the cross, when everybody he loved (or just about everybody) abandoned him to his senseless, bloody, and shameful death – the cross when he could no longer feel the presence of the Father, when he quoted Psalm 22 and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
            And, I think many of us today are sorely tempted to despair – tempted to despair because our country seems to have turned into a horror – with the rich growing ever wealthier while the poor lose even the little that they have  - with people who have lived here for years, decades sometimes, contributing to our communities in ways large and small, being ripped from their homes and families because they don’t have the right papers – with the apparently deep sickness of sexual harassment and abuse that is only beginning to be uncovered – with the rollback of protections of air and water, sentencing future generations to an even more poisoned planet – and, yes, with yet another school turned into a house of death as another broken, and, in this case, heartbreakingly young, person had no trouble at all getting a weapon of mass destruction and unleashing it on children trying to learn and teachers trying to teach.
            I know I’m tempted to despair – and I bet many of you are, too.
            One of the things about despair is that sometimes it’s quite obvious – think of the drunk passed out on the sidewalk – but more often we’re pretty good at hiding it.
            We go about our business looking like everything’s normal and fine.
            Our government goes through the motions – legislation proposed, press conferences held, the flag fluttering over the White House at half-staff after the latest massacre – and the media cover most of it as if it’s all perfectly normal.
            The North Korean cheerleaders show up at the Olympics in their pretty red outfits and with their frozen smiles, going through their choreography perfectly, and yet we know there is despair behind those masks.

            Whenever North Korea is in the news, I’m often reminded of the one totalitarian country I’ve ever visited.
            Back in the 1980s, I was able to go to East Germany, the German Democratic Republic, which, as I used to tell my students, was neither “democratic” nor a “republic.”
            You may remember that it was the communist part of Germany, the part occupied by the Soviet Union after World War II.
            Germany itself was occupied and divided into west and east, and so was its capital city, Berlin.
            Life was so bad in the communist part of the country that over three million people fled to the West – the drain of people became so huge and destabilizing that in 1961 the Russians and the East Germans took the desperate step of building a wall around West Berlin – a wall that officially was explained as a defense of the Wast but of course was really just meant to keep people from fleeing the eastern, communist side.
             The people in the East were quite literally penned in by the wall – or, actually, a couple of walls, as well as a no-man’s land protected by landmines and towers manned by guards with orders to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.
            I remember being so nervous the first time I crossed from the free West to the communist East – shaking a little bit as I showed my passport and visa and handed over the money that was the cost of entering.
            I remember wondering what it would look like and feel like to be on the other side.
            Finally, my friend and I were waived through and entered the East – and, and, it all looked and felt perfectly…normal.
            People were going about their business. Stores were open. Cars and streetcars made their way up the avenues.
            But it didn’t take too long for us to be recognized as Americans – maybe our jeans or our sneakers gave us away – and some brave East Berliners approached us, trying to make a deal to get valuable US Dollars or West German Marks so they could buy things not available in the official, legal stores.
            Over the course of my brief time in the East, I could almost forget that in fact I was in fact in a giant prison – that at the end of the day with my US passport I could cross back into the West and freedom but all of the people around me were trapped – and behind the seeming normalcy there must have been such deep despair.
            And, because my ability to see the future is very poor, it looked to me like this was the way it was going to be for a very long time – it looked like that wall and all that despair could not and would not be broken.
            But, not too long after I was there, that wall did come down – and I’m sure many of you remember those amazing pictures from 1989 - pictures of people partying on the wall, dancing and drinking – cars passing freely through the once fortified checkpoints.
            The Berlin Wall came down for lots of reasons but one of them is that there were people in the East – people who were jailed in a giant prison – there were men and women, including Christian pastors and lay people, who never gave in to the temptation to despair – people who, despite the apparent hopelessness of their situation, never lost hope - people who believed that no wall is strong enough to hold back the power of love and goodness.
            And, it’s hard for me to believe, but by now, that wall has been down longer than it stood – and, if you go to Berlin today, you have to look pretty hard to find any sign of that once seemingly immovable wall.
No wall is strong enough to hold back the power of God.

Long ago, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.
And, today, you and I are in a wilderness, too – an often frightening and bewildering and discouraging wilderness – a wilderness where hatred, meanness, fear, and violence are on the loose, and seem to have the upper hand.
But, Jesus resisted the temptations he faced, including the temptation to despair.
And, with God’s help, you and I, together, we can resist the temptation to despair, too.
            Just look at the incredibly impressive kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who witnessed and experienced so much horror, but instead of giving into despair are speaking out with such fire and eloquence, calling our leaders to account, and saying no more of this.

Like Jesus, we can return from the wilderness and do the work God has given us to do – trusting, knowing, that nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love – and that no leader, no ideology, no political party, no special interest group, no amount of money, and no wall is strong enough to hold back the power of God.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Fitting Together

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 4, 2018

Year B: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Fitting Together
            “I could write a book!”
            You’ve probably heard somebody say that when they’ve been talking about their work or their family – describing some bizarre behavior of the people with whom we work or live.
            Or, maybe you’ve said that yourself.
            “I could write a book!”
            A lot of us may say that, but I really admire people who actually do it – what an amazing thing to put in the time and effort - to be creative and disciplined enough - to write a book – or to write even more than one!
            You know, we actually have a few published authors here at St. Paul’s.
            A couple of years ago Emily Barker published a magical novel and has been hard at work on the sequel. And, a year or two ago, Rebecca Reilly published a well-received volume of her poetry. You may remember that we had parties for both of them – pretty cool.
            And, of course, as you’ve heard, during Lent we’ll be reading and studying one of the books written by our Priest Associate, Gary Commins.
            There was at least one published author in my previous parish, too. Her name is Cali Yost and she’s published a couple of books, including one called Work + Life.
            In that book, which is aimed at professional people but can apply to anyone, Cali makes the case that it’s a mistake to seek “balance” between our work life and our personal life, a mistake to think that somehow, someday, we’ll ever achieve perfect harmony among the different pieces of our lives.
            Instead, she argues that we need to fit together the different pieces of our lives: fit together work, family and friends, recreation and rest – and our fit will change depending on what’s going on in our lives.
            I thought of Cali’s notion of “work + life fit” as I reflected on our gospel lessons, both last week and today.
            Last Sunday and this Sunday we’ve heard about Jesus’ first day at work – the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
            It’s a day in the life of Jesus.
            If you were here last week, you may remember that Jesus’ day began with him in the synagogue, where he taught with power and authority and where he was confronted by a man possessed by “unclean spirits” – demons who know exactly who Jesus is and want nothing to do with him.
            In a demonstration of divine power, Jesus cast out these unclean spirits, leaving everyone present staring with awe and wonder.
            A day in the life of Jesus.
            Today we pick up where we left off, with Jesus and his first disciples leaving the synagogue and going to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew – maybe hoping for some down-time – maybe hoping for a home-cooked meal, but there’s to be no rest yet because it turns out that Simon’s mother-in-law is there, ill with a fever.
            So, Jesus keeps working - he heals the woman – and we’re told she immediately begins to serve them.
            I always smile at that, thinking especially of all the mothers and grandmothers who have no choice but to serve others even when they’re not feeling very well at all – but, for Mark, the mother-in-law is meant to be a model of discipleship – someone who is healed by Jesus and immediately begins to serve others.
            We’re told that the Good News of Jesus spreads and “the whole city was gathered around the door.” Jesus continues to heal many, continues to cast out demons.
            But, you know, even Jesus needs rest and refreshment, so we’re told that he got up in the early morning, before sunrise, and headed out to a deserted place to pray.
            (I imagine him tiptoeing out of the house, trying not to wake up anyone, hoping for a few minutes of alone time.)
            But, you know how it is, we’re told that Simon and others “hunted” for Jesus (and if that sounds vaguely ominous, you’re right).
Not much alone time for Jesus!
            In this day in the life of Jesus, during his first day at work, we don’t see a balanced life but we do see him fitting together the pieces of his life: the teaching, the healing, time with friends, and time for prayer.

            As I hope you all know, today is the day of our Annual Meeting – it’s the day we take stock of a year – in this case, a particularly eventful year - in the life of St. Paul’s Church.
            And, just like Jesus spent his day fitting together the different pieces of his life, we’ve spent the last year – the last few years, actually – fitting together the many different pieces of our church life.
            Recently I was having a conversation with someone who, to my surprise, had done some online research about me – about us here at St. Paul’s.
He had gone on the Episcopal Church’s website and found the page with data about St. Paul’s, specifically our attendance and our income – and had printed out the graph.
            He held up the sheet for St. Paul’s and wanted to know how and why we have grown so much in recent years.
            It was kind of a weird conversation, but he was right – we have had a lot of growth here at St. Paul’s these past few years
            Many of you were not here five or so years ago, and even for those of us who were here, it’s a little hard to remember how different our church was back then.
            It had gotten very small – we had just one not very well attended service on Sunday and the summer camp, and that was about it.
            Money was really tight and there were some longtime parishioners who wondered how much longer ministry could continue here on Duncan Avenue, many who feared that we would soon join the long list of closed churches.
            But, by God’s grace and thanks to the hard work and faithfulness of many, we have added and fitted together so many pieces of our church life.
And, the biggest and most important of those pieces is worship – our three Sunday services and also our ambitious schedule of weekday services. Week after week, month after month, we bathe these old walls in prayer – and I think – no, I know - that this has made all the difference in our life together.
            And then, there are all of the many other pieces of our church that I hope you will read about in our voluminous annual report – Altar Guild, choirs, Sunday School, Youth Group, Men’s Group and on and on.
And, just like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who as soon as she was healed immediately started serving others, more and more we’ve reached out beyond our doors. We have fitted together so many other pieces, pieces that feed lots of hungry people – our Stone Soup Community Suppers and the Last Friday Lunch at the homeless drop-in center, our increased giving to the food pantry - and also our many excellent arts and music events, which feed people with so much beauty, as well as the occasional challenge.
            And now, in an unexpected turn of events, God has chosen to fit together two very big pieces – St. Paul’s and Incarnation – two pieces that had been broken apart long ago but now are being assembled into something more beautiful than we could have ever imagined or dared to hope.
            Thinking about all of this, I’m struck by the fact that all of this fitting-together work here has been happening while our country seems to be heading in the other direction, while our country seems on the verge of shattering into pieces, while norms that we long took for granted are broken, while at least some of us value our little piece so much that we are willing to risk the good of the whole.
            But, as always, God continues to work, right in the midst of our mess, right in the midst of our brokenness – and right in the middle of Jersey City.
            So, don’t be surprised if God has even more surprises in store for us.
Because I’m sure that God is collecting even more pieces and will be hard at work assembling them right here on Duncan Avenue – after all, this is what God does.
Fitting together is God’s reconciling work.
            And, I’m sure that the fitting together here at St. Paul’s won’t be completed while I’m rector, won’t even be completed before all of us are gone, but how marvelous it is to witness it, how amazing to be part of it!
            In fact, you know, we could write a book!
            Thank You all – and Amen!