Pastor Henry's Memo

Swords and spears? Or plowshares and pruning hooks?

Our Wednesday evening Bible study has just completed the book of Joel.  He's one of the so called minor prophets.  I'll let you look up the others if you have a mind to.  Suffice it to say, Joel is written rather late, perhaps one of the very last of the books written in what we call the Old Testament.  It's an apocalyptic themed prophecy with lament and plagues of locusts,  It concludes with a blessing for Israel approximating "happily ever after."  The book includes a passage that causes us to take a second look, as it is so unexpectedly jarring to our ears.  "Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears."  (3:10a)  This is the exact opposite of what Isaiah records in his text:  "...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (2:4b).  What's more, that sentiment is repeated in Micah 4:3b: "...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks."  Twice is the text as we expect it; and we love the way it sounds as a clarion call for "happily ever after."  But there is that verse in Joel which give us pause.  It might suggest all that beating and forming and re-purposing weapons of war into farm implements isn't necessarily the exact future in store for here and now.  We might need to wait for God to intervene at the end so that the peace surely promised in Jesus will come to pass.  All this is to say we need to read the sacred text with great care and with a broad vision and take the entire Biblical witness into account.  There are, after all, hidden treasures through out and they are worth finding and savoring and keeping close to our hearts.  So, which shall it be?  Swords and spears?  Or plowshares and pruning hooks?



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Notre Dame-another 850 years

Sometimes words are inadequate to tell the whole truth.  As many hundreds of thousands of them that are at our disposal, finding the right ones is not always easy.  Sometimes not even possible.  The fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral Monday evening has done more than leave a scar against the Parisian landscape.  It has laid waste to a holy site.  It has consumed not just a church.  It has ravaged the hearts of many millions of Catholics, other Christians, and unbelievers across the globe.  Disbelief is a very potent emotion.  It can cripple the ability to make sense of tragedy.  When the natural order of things become unhinged, we are often left adrift.  Our moorings are gone and the world betrays us.  Being in such a state is uncomfortable, to say the least.  An ancient Latin proverb reminds us "Of mercy, neither fire, water, or governments know anything."  Watching Notre Dame go up in flames and then collapse pays homage to just that grim reminder.  How long the acrid smell of history lying in ruins will be with us is uncertain.  At least two French billionaires have already pledged to provide whatever funds will be necessary to rebuild.  Their generosity is noble.  Add that to the countless others who will give nickels, dimes, centimes, pesos, marks, guilders, yens...Notre Dame will rise.  Paris will recover.  And decades hence, the world will have once again a symbol of faith and courage and unity.  Pray Notre Dame will stand rebuilt and reconsecrated for another 850 years.



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Pray Notre Dame will stand rebuilt and reconsecrated for another 850 years

Sometimes words are inadequate to tell the whole truth.  As many hundreds of thousands of them that are at our disposal, finding the right ones is not always easy.  Sometimes not even possible.  The fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral Monday evening has done more than leave a scar against the Parisian landscape.  It has laid waste to a holy site.  It has consumed not just a church.  It has ravaged the hearts of many millions of Catholics, other Christians, and unbelievers across the globe.  Disbelief is a very potent emotion.  It can cripple the ability to make sense of tragedy.  When the natural order of things become unhinged, we are often left adrift.  Our moorings are gone and the world betrays us.  Being in such a state is uncomfortable, to say the least.  An ancient Latin proverb reminds us "Of mercy, neither fire, water, or governments know anything."  Watching Notre Dame go up in flames and then collapse pays homage to just that grim reminder.  How long the acrid smell of history lying in ruins will be with us is uncertain.  At least two French billionaires have already pledged to provide whatever funds will be necessary to rebuild.  Their generosity is noble.  Add that to the countless others who will give nickels, dimes, centimes, pesos, marks, guilders, yens...Notre Dame will rise.  Paris will recover.  And decades hence, the world will have once again a symbol of faith and courage and unity.  Pray Notre Dame will stand rebuilt and reconsecrated for another 850 years.



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Your Name is Spoken in Love

Once in a while I read something special.  Really special.  Even profoundly special.  It can make me stop to give it more than a simple recognition or nod.  And if a tear should come to my eye, so much the better.  I read just such a thing a few days ago.  It wasn't from a noted philosopher; wasn't a well noted theologian; not even from the Bible.  A teacher asked a class of four year old students to describe love.  What did it mean?  How can you recognize it?  When is it real?  Four year old Billy told his teacher: "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."  In whose mouth is your name safe?  Whose name is safe in your mouth?  In Jesus' mouth, I believe all of our names are safe.  And for that, our praises should lunge heavenward day after day after day until our name is called from that safest of mouths in all of creation.



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Oval or Square?

Visiting museums is a way to appreciate art and culture and not have to go into the office.  Such visits allow us to see the works of great artists from around the globe. While most museums have a policy of "DO NOT TOUCH", proximity to history through the artwork is a way to be "in touch" with the past.  Paintings come in all sizes.  Some are situated in lockets worn about the neck.  Some are huge murals filling entire walls.  And every size in between.  But have you also noticed the frames in which the art is presented are either four sided or oval?  Have you ever seen a seven sided picture frame?  Or an eleven sided frame?  Or the trapezoid, though four sided, certainly not square?  I suppose there are some avant garde three sided exceptions, but I don't recall ever taking notice of them.  Why square and oval?  And why those two shapes across cultures and centuries?  I'm not an art expert and I don't consider myself competent in judging what's worthy of collecting, though there is art work I love on our refrigerator.  My guess is there is something aesthetically pleasing to the human eye and mind that makes oval and square popular.  Maybe the human brain's perception across the vast ages of our existence is hardwired to admire those shapes.  I really don't have a clue.  On the other hand, maybe square fits nicely on a square wall and oval is a very slight adjustment just to keep us from going insane.



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Journeying with Lent, with the poor, with Jesus

As we continue our journey through Lent, perhaps we should keep in mind we also journey with Lent.  We don't only find our way to Jerusalem with a single minded focus on the end.  We travel as companions with Jesus.  However the solitude of praying and fasting is practiced along this journey, we cannot be in solitude about alms giving.  I suppose we could do that Lenten discipline by writing a check to some charitable group.  Or making an on-line donation with a debit card.  Even dropping off clothes at a mission or thrift store would qualify as alms giving.  Alas, I'm not sure Jesus had that in mind when he commended to us giving to the poor.  I know times change and mechanisms for charitable giving change with the times.  Now I return to the idea of not making our journey only through Lent, but with Lent.  The poor we always have with us.  Jesus tells us this sober truth.  As he make his way to Jerusalem, the poor are with him all along the way.  Right next to us.  I wonder how that proximity would effect our sharing?  Our generosity?  How often are we "in touch" with the poor?  How often do we travel with them?  Lent is for the poor as much as for us.  Let us journey with them as well as with the Lord.



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Beware Alligator

The Calvary UMC parsonage is located at Camelot, Lakes of the Valley.  Being Calvary's current pastor, Julia and I enjoy the benefit of lake-front property.  We fish and swim and enjoy sunsets that dazzle and delight.  As the ice has now melted and the ice fishermen have retired to their asylums, we will await the coming of ducks and geese and the odd heron.  As the weather warms up we will welcome the jet ski enthusiasts and other water sport participants.  There is one more creature that populates Camelot Lakes.  We have an alligator in residence.  I kid you not.  I have only seen its head and I have only ever seen the one.  It silently and stealthily patrols both lakes and, to my knowledge, no pets have been reported missing.  And it does a great job of keeping the geese and the ducks from taking up permanent residence.  It probably keeps the swimmers at bay, as well.  I do not know who introduced the creature to our placid and pacific waters.  No doubt it was believed to be necessary to keep trespassers at a minimum.   If by chance it should become a nuisance I might know a man who knows a man who knows a taxidermist.  Just saying.



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March 14

This weekly memo has no particular subject.  It's only constant is its Wednesday publication in our Calvary E-Navigator.  I am absolutely free to write about anything I choose.  It can be a history lesson or a reminder for an upcoming church event.  It can be commentary on a news item or a theological reflection.  I can comment on a book I'm reading or express my amazement about learning a new word.  The only thing about which I need to concern myself is my Tuesday deadline.  William Ledra was hanged on the 14th of March in the Year of our Lord 1661.  He was the last Quaker hanged in Massachusetts.  What makes his execution so abhorrent is he was not executed for being a Quaker; a member of the Friends Church.  That would be bad enough.  He was hanged for returning to the state after being banished from it for being a Quaker.  Understand this.  He came home.  And for coming home after being banished, he was hanged.  Can we, in A.D. 2019, imagine doing such a thing?  Three and a half centuries ago such a thing happened.  History is full of such horrors and being reminded of them is a healthy reminder of how we have progressed across the ages.  Then I read about human trafficking (SLAVERY) and car bombs killing hundreds and infanticide and antisemitism and FGM (Google it if you're curious and be shocked and horrified) and...  The list of distasteful human behavior hasn't really diminished; it's only changed categories across the centuries.  Now for a bit of good news at the conclusion of this pastor's memo.  March 14th also marks the 140th birthday of Albert Einstein and the 38th birthday of our eldest son, Keith.  Two men of such genius, I shudder to consider what they may have discovered if they were to have met and collaborated in this life.



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Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is not for the flippant.  Its themes are the most solemn in the Church's traditions.  Its presence in the liturgical calendar (from as early as the 4th Century) suggests it marks a significant theological reality.  That reality is our mortality.  The first day of Lent invites Christians to consider life and death straightforwardly.  Ash Wednesday provides a time to remember our perishable flesh and the desire we harbor to live in Eternity with God. When ashes are smudged on the brow in the shape of the cross, we receive a symbol which identifies us as creatures of the Living God.  We also receive the sign of our only hope for living in the Kingdom of God.  With a penitential season beginning in such a solemn manner one can understand why the days that follow Ash Wednesday are meant to be lived reverently and fearfully of what Jesus prepares to do on Good/Black Friday.  "Dust we are; and to dust we shall return.  Repent and believe the Gospel."



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One Lord, one faith, one baptism

Remember this: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Ephesians 4;5)  Saint Paul speaks an eternal truth for the Church.  Eternal, as in everlasting, world without end, amen!  This we have as our great hope amid all the controversies and disagreements and even schisms the Church has endured over the two thousand years of its life.  Were it not true, we would be mere marauders across the plains of history.  We would have no firm anchor, no promised land, and no guiding light.  But we do have these things.  We have Christ as our anchor; we have Heaven as our land; we have the fact of our unity as baptized children of God as our light.  Whatever momentary disgruntlement that presses upon us will not keep us from being sustained by the love and mercy and grace of God.  Across the span of time that marks our life, we need to hear words of comfort and challenge and reconciliation.  And remember, reconciliation is a ministry for all members of the Church. (II Corinthians 5: 18)   We are mortal and we are broken and we do not always have 20/20 vision.  Nevertheless, we have no need to despair.  In Christ we have reason to rejoice and be glad.  This day and forever.



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