Pastor Henry's Memo

April 2020

Wednesday, April 29. Pastor's Memo

In a life there are days of distinction; days of exceptional moment; and days of revelation.  For me, one of those days was April 27, 2016.  On the evening of the 27th, Dora Goldberg was present at Calvary UMC to tell the gathered assembly in our sanctuary how she and her brother, Harry, survived World War II being hunted by the Nazis in Paris.  Dora was only eight years old; Harry was three.  They didn't do it alone.  There was help from many quarters.  Some provided food; others hiding places; many lied about who these two children were.  Toward the end Dora and Harry, now 13 and eight, lived hidden in a town on the outskirts of Paris.  With the war over, they were found and freed and safe.  An entire town kept their secret hidden.  An entire town kept them alive.  Seventy-five years later they live to tell of their survival.  Four years ago we were present to hear of their ordeal.  A couple of years later, Dora was interviewed by a film crew from St. Mary's of Notre Dame and that conversation is now archived with the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley.  She and Harry will have their story of survival told and re-told for generations to come.  On that night four years ago, in Calvary's sanctuary, we listened and were enthralled and privileged to have Dora Goldberg bear witness to a horror no human should be forced to endure and to the courage of many who dared to risk all to protect, hide, and save two children.  As you come to remember the 75th anniversary of VE Day (May 8th) and the end of World War II, remember Dora and Harry and The Six Million.  



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Monday, April 27 -- Ask the Pastor

“Ask the Pastor”

     Oh, the questions people ask the pastor.  When will we be able to worship again?  Will we have to sit six feet apart?  Must we all wear masks?  What about worshiper #51?  

     Again, most of the questions being submitted have to do with the pandemic restrictions.  Just today our Bishop told us we would not be permitted to worship until May 17th and then only with all the social distancing regulations being observed.  His instructions came Friday via the INUMC.ORG web site and e-mails to every pastor and church office in Indiana.

     Bishop Trimble made it clear the United Methodist community in Indiana continues to be faithful in new and dynamic ways and our own discipline in keeping the distancing and contact regulations are helping Indiana citizens stay relatively free of the COVID-19 virus.  He asks us to stay the course at least until May 17th.

     That is a nearer date than I was expecting.  I hope and pray it won;t need to be extended further.  That date also means no public gatherings will be permitted until then.  Worship and meetings and meals and bible studies will be canceled until then.  By then, we should have new guidelines as to the future.  

     One of the questions I was asked was if The Red Cross can have their blood drive here why can’t we gather here?  The answer is simple.  The blood drive has been declared essential to the business of the State Of Indiana by the governor and all of our religious meetings have been ruled non-essential.  

     The distinction is not one any local congregation can make.  We can only abide by it.  The next question I'm asked is "Well, what do you think, Pastor?"  And with no hesitation I say "On my knees I took a vow before God, our bishop, and the Indiana Annual Conference to obey the United Methodist Discipline and my ecclesiastical superiors."  That just about makes me an obedient servant; in some very important and limited ways.  

     I am not as free an agent as I would like to be in all of this. It isn't about politics or personal freedom.  It isn't about my independence as a free citizen of the nation or the state.   What's good for the public weeks and months from now absolutely depends on how we behave today and tomorrow.

     The middle of May seems like a long time away.  I hope some business and economic activity can be safely conducted before then as it is now.  I sit in my church office more than a safe distance from our office manager Lori over in her office.  We each have work to do.  After all, let me remind you, the pastor works more than just an hour or two on Sunday.  

     We're doing our best to keep things working.  Deliveries are still received.  Mail is picked up at the Post Office.  Members are making masks by the dozens and they are being picked up by other members.   Members are bringing their offerings to the church and they are being counted and deposited as usual.  Once in a while someone drops by to "Ask The Pastor."  Now that is a welcome break in the day's schedule.  

     I think we do get lonely.  We do want to just sit and chat.  We miss each other.  After all, there are only so many movies and sitcoms to watch and games of hand and foot to play.  

     If you ask me about the future, I can only answer in a general way.  It will come by itself.  We need to be prepared for it.  And as to when all this will be behind us, I have no clue and it isn't my decision to make.  It is, as they say, above my pay grade.  And until I am either elected bishop or governor or president, I'll just plug along like most of you and deliriously look forward to the day we join together to sing the praises of God at Calvary.



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Friday, April 24 -- Message for Sunday

TEXTS:  ISAIAH 5:1-6

                LUKE 24; 13-35

 

     Saint Luke places us back in time a week.  Thomas doubts and declares his un-belief will only be remedied by the placing of his hands in the wounds of Jesus.  That was the evening of the resurrection when the disciples and others were gathered in the upper room.  It was a week later Thomas has his doubts banished in a dramatic encounter with the risen Jesus.

     The dramatic encounter on the Road to Emmaus finds us on that First Easter afternoon as two of the friends of Jesus are making their way to that town seven miles from Jerusalem.  As they travel, they encounter Jesus, but do not recognize him.

     As they walk with him, unaware of his identity, they are aghast this traveler knows nothing of the events of the last several days.  They tell him all there is to know and still they are in the dark as to his identity.  

     They are careful to share what the women have claimed to have seen and heard.  The text reads as if they were in some ways doubtful as to the truth of the women's testimony.  To which Jesus says these two men are foolish and slow of heart to believe the prophets.

     Isn't that a curious thing for Jesus to have said?  He chastises them for not believing the prophets; that is, Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos, and all the rest.  He doesn't lay into them about not believing him.  After all, they knew him when he was alive before the resurrection, how could they not recognize and believe him after?

     Most Emmaus Road sermons focus on how the two men finally recognize Jesus after he breaks the bread and blesses it and gives it to them.  It was only then their eyes were opened and then Jesus is gone in a flash.  Then they hurry those many miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others they too have seen the risen Jesus.

     I wonder if that most common bit of sermonizing overlooks something quite profound?   Jesus seems to be saying you don't need to see him to believe him to be the Messiah.  You need only remember the prophets and believe their testimony.  Beginning with Moses, according to Jesus, there is testimony galore as to the Messiah.  There is plenty enough for belief and faith and the power to bear witness to that divine truth.

     Let's review: "In all the scriptures": Jesus tells his fellow travelers about God's mighty power and the glory of his love and desire for Israel such that a messiah will come to deliver them.

     In the beginning when chaos and darkness reigned, the Holy Spirit hovered over that mysterious vacuum of emptiness and creation was born.  Life emerged.

     Light was created and more than light emerged; life came to be.

     The flood devoured all but Noah, his family, and the rescued animals; and from the ark life emerged and continued.

     With Moses there is the story of Egyptian slavery; from which the people of Israel emerged and there was deliverance and life.  

     From the wanderings in Sinai there came deliverance and life fit for a land of promise with milk and honey abounding.  Again, God provided deliverance and life.

     On that Road to Emmaus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God, appears risen from the tomb.  Yes, God has provided deliverance and life from the depths of Sheol.  

     Saint Luke is telling all who will read the testimony of the prophets God is forever delivering and redeeming and causing life to be.  To see the risen Jesus may well be the cherry on top of the "revelation cake," but knowing the glorious and divine truth of God's Word in the prophets can be enough.  

     Jesus is the final and necessary witness to the one true God who delivers and redeems and makes life to be.  This is the testimony of the prophets and all the scriptures.

     In our current season of isolation and pent up urgency to return to life, have faith in the prophets, in the witness of the first disciples, and in the risen Jesus' own words about himself.  If life can come from the chaos of that first vacuum and the flood and Egyptian slavery and Babylonian Exile and the garden tomb, so too can life emerge from this pandemic.  

     This we believe and proclaim.  One day we will again rejoice in the sanctuary of the Lord at Calvary UMC.  We will know the Easter blessing and celebrate it with heart and mind and voice.  Amen.



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No Peas???

Sunday afternoon I was struck by how long it has been since I made "7 Layer Pea Salad."  It had been a long time.  My appetite was whetted.  My brain geared up.  I would need a wedge of Parmesan cheese, a head of lettuce, and a bag of frozen peas.  I had the other ingredients.  I decided to wait for Monday's trek to the office.  On my way home I would stop at the grocery and collect the aforementioned items.  Alas, there were no frozen peas anywhere.  Who knew Covid-19 would cause a shortage of bathroom tissue AND frozen peas?   I was at a loss.  How does one make a "7 Layer Pea Salad" without peas?   Did I say my appetite was whetted?  Still is.  I spent a pleasant Monday afternoon in the kitchen playing salad chef.  As of this memo's composition, what is now a "6 Layer Non-Pea Salad" is marinating in the refrigerator in a large sealed Tupperware bowl.  My whetted appetite will be satiated sometime around 4:30pm Tuesday.  I am anticipating a minor gourmet moment.  Without the peas, I have no idea what taste will be savored when that first mouthful of salad hits my palette.  I sure hope I'm delighted.  If the salad it doesn't measure up, I will reluctantly supplement my late afternoon meal with a ham and cheese sandwich and a bag of pretzels.  And then I might just take a nap. 



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April 20

“Ask the Pastor”

     Monday's "Ask The Pastor" has been a delight for me.  Several of our Calvary family offer suggestions for this Monday Memo and I am delighted at the variety of subjects about which there is some curiosity.

     This edition of "Ask The Pastor" is the result of my picture being in the current edition of our local Mail Journal.  A member of the public asked  ‘What is that book you are reading in the mail journal photograph?   On the back page I'm seen sitting in my office reading an anthology of the poems of the Suni mystic/poet/theologian Jelaluddin Rumi, now known simply as Rumi.  

     He was born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, and died in what is now Turkey in 1273.  At thirty-seven, Rumi met the dervish Shams of Tabriz and it changed his life and Islamic poetry was never the same.

     You could say this encounter and the time they spent together before the dervish simply disappeared was the beginning of Rumi's engagement with the mysticism of Islam.  His poetry took on the character of dreams and visions and ecstasy.  

     While he did not establish a school or sect intended to pass on his wisdom, others did so in his stead.  Today his legacy lives on across the Islamic world and his devotees cross nearly every religious boundary.  So beloved was he in Persia during his lifetime, there is a sect of his followers that began after his death by his son, Baha al-Din Muhammad-i Walad (better known as Sultan Walad).  To this day the MewlewÄ« Sufi order is still headed by a direct male descendant of Rumi and his youngest son, Sultan Walad.

     So much for a brief history of Rumi.  Why was I holding that book in the picture printed in the Mail Journal?  Simply, it was on my desk because I was trying to find a poem about the rain and I remembered it from an early encounter with Dwight Judy.  I had come to Oakwood for a continuing education event back in the mid to late 90's and Dwight was leading it.  He began each of our sessions with a devotion based on a poem by Rumi.  I was hooked.  Man, oh, man, was I hooked.  

     This was just before Amazon and I had a very difficult time finding anything on Rumi that suited my interests,  Finally, that red covered book you see in the newspaper was published and I soon owned my own copy.  It has been on my desk pretty much ever since.  It's treasures have been enthralling and engaging me now for two decades.  Because I'm holding it as a kind of prop for a picture, an eagle-eyed reader asked about it.  

     I can't seem to find the devotional source referencing rain in this collection of Rumi's writings.  But I do remember one about the wise man who happened upon a small cottage.  He stopped to inquire if the owner might spare a bit of bread?  He would not.  How about a piece of meat?  No.  A sip of water?  Not even a sip of water.  It was then the wise man knew what it was the owner of the cottage possessed and he hurried away.  He discerned the cottage owner's heart was hardened and only death was housed in his abode. 

     In this lingering season of separation and increasing anxiety over the future, I pray all our houses could spare a bit of bread or meat or a sip of water that death might find its abode elsewhere.



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Second Sunday of Easter

Texts:  Exodus 15: 1-11

            John 20: 19-31

     Christ Is Risen!  Our universal paschal proclamation has echoed across the centuries.  The Church rejoices in God's great and wondrous victory over sin and death.  The God of creation continues to show forth His grandeur and grace.  

     On this second Sunday of Easter our proclamation is no less triumphant than it was on that very first Easter.  Maybe, more triumphant now than then.  You see, St. John's text places us in the upper room that first Easter evening and everyone is fearful.

     The women have reported seeing the crucified Jesus walking the earth.  He spoke to them.  He had a message for his disciples to meet him in Galilee.  But, they do not go there.  They stay in Jerusalem.  They hide.  The tremble.  And as the night falls and the doors are locked and the windows shuttered, He stands among them.  He blesses them with his peace.  He shows them his wounded hands and side.  And he blesses them again with his peace,

     The whirlwind of Friday's passion and the silence of Saturday's Sabbath have left the first disciples more than a bit confused.  The empty tomb and the presence of angels only make their bewilderment all the more confounding.  Every time Jesus said he must go to Jerusalem and there be put to shame, suffering, and death seems not to have taken hold in any of his friends. 

     They believed him to be the messiah.  They knew him to be a teacher and miracle worker.  Throngs of followers and the curious came to him and they were taught and fed and encouraged to believe in him.  That first Sunday evening reveals to us how unbelieving they all were; or at least unconvinced.  

     By then the women bore witness to angels asking them why they seek the living among the dead.  They tell of him having spoken to them in the garden about ascending to be with God.  Their witness seems to have been for naught.  And they huddle with those who shared the Passover meal with them not thirty-six hours earlier.

     By way of the text, we learn Jesus will confirm every word of the women's testimony.  He will suddenly appear and he will bestow his peace and breathe on them the Holy Spirit.  That will be their empowering for all he has asked of them.   They will be able to forgive sin from that night on.  And that seems to me to be a powerful tool for accomplishing their mission to spread the Gospel and transform the world.

     As to Thomas and his recalcitrant attitude toward the women's testimony, remember this: his doubt prompts Jesus to return the next week to fortify those who still hide.  What's more, it is Thomas who declares Jesus to be "My Lord, and my God."  Indeed, he is.

     In closing, Moses sang a song for Israel as he and the nation of Israel were saved at their exodus through the sea.  "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously.  Who is like thee, O LORD, among the gods?  Who is like thee, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders?"       

     Would that we all could join in this song of triumph in this Easter season.  Would that the risen Jesus continue to breathe peace and the power of the Holy Spirit on the Church.  Would that all the world believe now and forever.  Amen.



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April 15

April 15th.  Tax Day in America.  Hip, Hip, Hooray!  Only, this year, the April 15th deadline has been put off until the 15th of July.  No penalties or interest until then.  Again, Hip, Hip, Hooray!  It's an old and durable truth that the only things certain in life are death and taxes.  My dad told that to my brother and me when we had a newspaper route and we had to file our very first tax return.  That was back in 1965 or so.  For over half a century I've been paying taxes on my income.  I don't know when I realized every stick of gum or tube of BBs or hamburger I bought also came with a state sales tax.  My dad said then, we had to pay the Governor.  I didn't even know who the governor was.  Why was I paying him?  I've stopped wondering what I would buy if I didn't have to pay taxes.  They are the price we pay for living in a democracy.  I'm not intending to be philosophical about whether my taxes are too high or if I'm not in favor of how they are spent.  I have my quibbles.  Everyone does.  To live in The Unites States of America is a great blessing.  To be alive, even in the midst of a pandemic, is better than the alternative.  The future will come and bring with it more taxes and more death.  Remember, those two things are inescapable.  But the future will also bring life and laughter and birthdays and graduations and weddings and the two most exciting words in the English language: PLAY BALL!  Pray let it be so and soon.  Stay safe and keep the safe distance and pay your taxes.



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Ask the Pastor, Holy Saturday

“Ask the Pastor”

        As you might imagine, most of the questions submitted to "ASK THE PASTOR" have been about the pandemic and where is God in all of it.  Some variation of this is on the minds of most of you.  

    One of the more intriguing questions submitted last week concerns Holy Saturday.  What does the church teach us about Holy Saturday?   That's the Saturday just before Easter.  Most Protestants pay little or no attention to the day, as our liturgical practices don't find our bodies in the pews on that Saturday.  When we finish with Friday's lamentations and vacate the sanctuary in silence, we do precious little waiting while the tomb cradles the dead Jesus.

     Holy Saturday becomes a time for us to prepare a feast.  There's ham or pork roast to prepare; potatoes to peal and bread to bake.  Easter dresses and hats are made ready for Sunrise Service.  Eggs are painted and hidden with candy of every assortment.  This most holy of Saturdays isn't restful.  It's filled with stress making sure we get ready and do what has to be done.

     Holy Saturday is the Sabbath.  We are commanded to remember it to keep it holy.  Well, we're not very remember-ful, if that's even a word.  We're too busy with other things so Easter will be properly observed.

     Holy Saturday has a rich and sober set of traditions for its observance.  Its fundamental architecture is silence.  Absence.  Even emptiness.  After all, the Savior of the world is not resting.  He's dead.  And we think to be busy is the most appropriate way to keep this one very special Sabbath holy?  Perhaps not.

     The Holiness of this Sabbath is remembered by submission; by turning our busy-ness into a focus on what Jesus has done and what we trust God will be doing,  We wait.  God acts.  

     No tomb is more holy than the one that protects the Lamb of God it his deathly repose.  Our Orthodox sisters and brothers have as part of their ancient liturgy a reminder that Hell groans for having received the one born of Mary.  His descending to the dead redeems all he touches and captive souls are set free.  Hell laments the loss of its power over the dead.  

     Again, we wait and hope in the silence of this Holy Saturday.  God is at work in the silence and for that we will raise our voices in glorious triumph when the sun rises with the Risen Son.



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Easter Meditation

TEXTS:  Jeremiah 31: 1-6

               Matthew 28: 1-10

     Hallelujah!  God has not forgotten his faithfulness.  God has not turned away!  God has not been thwarted by death!  This great and glorious news needs to be heard and proclaimed across the fruited plain!  From ocean to ocean; from the highest mountain top to the deepest valley!  All of creation has reason to rejoice!  Every generation of the Church sings one hymn of thanksgiving!  

     Jesus Christ is risen today!  By God's hand and according to his will, the crucifixion death meant to silence Jesus has been rendered impotent.  The sealed tomb meant to hide and hold a dead body has been invaded by God's Holy Spirit.  Now empty, the tomb bears witness to the God who stands in triumph over all to declare in Jesus of Nazareth: "I am the resurrection and the life!"

     Easter Sunday is no time for trying to find a new or glib way to proclaim what all of the Church believes: "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!"  The scriptures presented for us this Easter tell of a great and magnificent mystery.  

     Women come to the tomb to finish what there wasn't time for Friday afternoon.  They come even after having been told by Jesus he would not remain dead.  God would restore to him his life after his shame and passion.  He told this to his disciples more than once.  Still, the women come to finish preparing his body for burial.  Still the twelve hide and murmur; maybe even weep.  

     However, the God of salvation and redemption and deliverance has not been passive.  God has not rested on the Sabbath.  An earthquake has rolled the stone away.  An angel of the Lord sits and waits.  And when it speaks, guards tremble, women listen, and then hurry to tell the others what they have been told and what they have seen.

     Jesus meets them as they flee and he tells them to tell his disciples he will meet them in Galilee and they will see him there. This is not the Sunday morning anyone thought possible all those centuries ago.

     And today is not the Easter any of us thought possible, either.  We find ourselves cloistered in our homes.  We find bits and pieces of the usual Easter events on line or on television or no theradio.  And more than a few of us are alone with no one to hug or greet and no invitations to Easter dinner, which is usually a feast of sumptuous delights.  This is very different from what is usual.

     But what is not different and is never different is the Glory of God in the resurrected Jesus.  The Good News of the Gospel is the same and will remain the same for eternity.  God continues to stand in the midst of a fallen creation willing its reconciliation to himself.  

     This Easter, we may indeed find ourselves constrained and frustrated given our limitations to celebrate as we have in the past.  Just remember, Christians have never been guaranteed Easter Sunday dinner seated around a peaceful and bountiful table.  

     War and privation have visited our homes in the past.  This year, it's the plague, not to put too fine a point on it.  It will pass.  Soon the fields will again be planted.  The rains will fall.  Sunrise and sunset will bracket the day.  

     Our salvation rests only in Jesus; whether we live or whether we die we are his.  This Easter, as in every past Easter, the faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus is made manifest in our hope and our faith and in our love for one another.  

     Jesus told the women not to be afraid; but to go and tell his friends he will see them in Galilee as he promised.  That promise is ours.  That promise is eternal.  That promise is where we find the Church.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.



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Good Friday Meditation

 TEXTS:  Isaiah 52: 13-53: 12

                     John 18: 1-19: 42

     The hours leading up to the Sabbath are filled with anguish, sorrow, and bewilderment.  The Son of God is being whipped, starved, and mocked.  His disciples and friends are at a loss, to be sure.  They must be wondering a couple of things.  

     First, did they get it all wrong?  Could this son of Mary and Joseph, whom they believed to be the Messiah, be just a healer and teacher?  Though his miracles surely point to something more significant, were the last three years a misleading journey?  After all, he's hanging dead on a cross among criminals.  And the Sabbath is at hand.

     Second, being the Messiah, has Jesus been "forsaken" by God as he cried out from the cross just before his death?  How could the God of Abraham betray and then abandon his Son?  And Israel?  What else might be in store for the Chosen People?  

     As we wonder, we also wait.  As the Sabbath begins and the lifeless body of Jesus is taken from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the women begin to prepare him for burial; even being quick about it, they run out of time.

     Perhaps that is where we should concentrate our minds this Black Friday.  From a radiantly shining Jesus atop the Mount of Transfiguration, to a body wrapped in burial linens, how do we make sense of the time left to us? 

     Jesus knew his time was short when he told his disciples he must go to Jerusalem to be put to shame, suffering, and death.  But, there he went with a forthright willfulness that is sobering.  Jesus does not retreat from his mission nor his destiny.

     When he rides in triumph on the donkey into the City of David, who could have imagined him dead before the dusk of the coming Sabbath?  So much to do and so little time, and when the end does come, the time is very, very short.  The women must leave un-done their sorrowful task and steel their hearts and minds to return Sunday morning.

     No time to finish and now, time on their hands.  Where can grieving hearts turn when time weighs this heavily?  Isn't it both ironic and providential it's the Sabbath when this time is spent?  When this time is at hand in our hands?  

     The 7th Day, the Day of Holiness ordained by God for our benefit and our rest and our reflection; its time is our time to wonder how the Glory of God can be so drenched in blood and cloaked in death.  How much time does it take to break our hearts and then fix them for a healing that takes a lifetime?

     As we ponder the women and their duty; as we lament with disciples and friends; as we contemplate the tomb blocked with a stone; how do we wait for this Black Friday's emptiness to be finished?  Will there be a dawn of grace that consummates our every yearning?  Or not?  Wait and ponder and watch.  What will dawn after the Sabbath bring?



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