Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 232


1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111;
Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Dear gentle readers, my Emmanuel Church family: we come with this offering to the last installment of "Padre's Post." The time to say good-bye has come. This Sunday is my last day with you.

Words fail me to express my gratitude to you for the honor of letting me be your pastor, priest, and teacher these nine-plus years. When the 2009 Vestry called me to be your rector, none of us knew what our life together would be like -- though we all certainly had hopes and dreams.

I am here to tell you that the privilege of being your rector has been for me a joy and delight beyond my wildest dreams. We have walked in love with each other, worshipping God in beauty and holiness, through good and hard times, in joy and in sorrow, and as a people who are "forgiven, loved and free" (Hymn 304). We have prayed that God would make us instruments of God's peace. We have cared for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ; and we have also sought to care for those beyond the circle of our fellowship who are in need in this community.

Thank you for being who you are. Emmanuel is graced with people who strive to love God and to love their neighbor. You are a strong Christian community.  You have taken on the mission of embracing and welcoming all whom God loves. To practice unconditional love is to know the heart of God.

To love God, to love one another, and to love our neighbor as ourselves: this is the mission that Jesus has entrusted to all who follow him. It is God's mission. Therefore, it is far greater than any one person's involvement in that mission because it is grounded in the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!

Thank you for striving to be better people and for working to become a better community while accepting one another as we are. The Rev. Dr. Tony Lewis, my Greek and New Testament professor as well as an amazing human being, frequently reminded his students that, "Sin being what it is and people being who we are," we are far from perfect.

Or as our former Assistant Bishop, Francis Gray, once told us at diocesan convention, "If I ever found the perfect church, it would cease to be perfect the moment that I joined it." We have been together long enough to know that none of us is perfect and that as a community we are not there yet. Thank you for your patience with me about my own imperfections. I ask your forgiveness for them. Forgive each other's failings as well. We all have a lot of room to grow into the likeness of Jesus.

This week's collect sums up my prayer for you: May God continue to grant you grace to receive all the goodness that God has prepared for you and may you be strengthened to walk each day in the blessed imitation of Christ that will make you the full and complete human beings you can be because God desires and dreams your becoming like him. (See Philippians 1:6).
God will provide you with a rector whose own contributions will enhance your spiritual growth, strengthen you for service, and lead you to greater deeds that grow God's reign than you thought possible. Remember your name: God is with you.

"All will be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."  -- Dame Julian of Norwich (c.1417)

I take you with me in my heart and in my prayers.

Under the Mercy,

Father Daniel+

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 232


2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130;
Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Emmanuel is about to start a ministry new to us: Eucharistic Visitors. The Bishop's licensing guidelines describe Eucharistic Visitors this way:

A Eucharistic Visitor is a lay person authorized to take the Consecrated Elements in a timely manner following a Celebration of Holy Eucharist to members of the congregation who, by reason of illness or infirmity, were unable to be present at the Celebration. A Eucharistic Visitor should normally act under the direction of a Deacon, if any, or otherwise, the Member of the Clergy or other leader exercising oversight of the congregation or other community of faith.

We are blessed by the ongoing ministry of Deacon Ed, who faithfully makes weekly pastoral visitations in nursing homes, homes, and hospitals. In the course of this work, of course, he often administers the Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament. I also take the Holy Communion to our people from time to time. Our new Eucharistic Visitors will provide a substantial expansion of the ministry of the parish by taking the Holy Communion to people whose "illness or infirmity" renders them unable to be present that day, from the Blessed Sacrament consecrated on that Sunday's services.

We are already blessed to have Lay Pastoral Visitors, people who trained for pastoral ministry through the Community of Hope program. They are spiritual friends who listen to and pray with our people who are in the midst of transitions in their lives, thereby extending to them the love and support of the whole people of God.
(The ministry of the Lay Pastoral Visitors, in addition to the pastoral work of the clergy, helps us all grow more in the likeness of Jesus. Until now, Deacon Ed and I made the referrals for these visits; he will carry on after my departure and then will work with the next long-term priest (Interim Rector) or permanent priest (Rector) the Vestry calls.)

I am delighted that Weldon Bagwell, Dee Childs, Maggie Kyger, Annette Paxton, Preston Sudduth, and Ann Yager are now licensed by the Bishop to take the Consecrated Elements to our ill or infirm parishioners as well. Deacon Ed has trained them to administer Communion on Sundays, directly after the day's celebration. As indicated by the Bishop, Deacon Ed is in charge of their supervision, making assignments, and coordinating with parishioners who, within the parameters established by the Bishop, cannot be present on that day.

We are what we eat. The Holy Eucharist is essential and indispensable to our spiritual life, as the 6th chapter of John's Gospel tells us. We hurt ourselves when we choose to be absent from church on Sunday. (I pray that we may say, "Give us this bread always," as people said to Jesus.) How much more, therefore, do our folks who are ill or infirm and thereby unable to attend, need the Bread of Life! I thank God that the Holy Spirit has put into the hearts of our Eucharist Visitors to help us make sure that none go without receiving the Holy Communion.

Talk to Deacon Ed if you'd like to be considered to have Eucharistic Visitors or if you know of someone who could benefit from receiving the Holy Communion at home on Sundays.

See you in Church.

Under the Mercy,


Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 231


2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14;
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
The sixth chapter of John's gospel is a long narrative on Jesus as the Bread of Life. We will be covering most of it in our Sunday readings from this Sunday through September 2nd. I encourage you to read the whole chapter (as well as the text preceding and following it!) to get an idea of how it holds together, to appreciate the way that John weaves stories with the teachings of Jesus in a series of encounters and confrontations.

John's gospel highlights the centrality of the Eucharist --Jesus is the Bread of Heaven who gives life to the world-for the Beloved Community of this gospel. Paradoxically, the fourth gospel does not have a story about Jesus instituting the Eucharist on the night he was betrayed -- that's in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Instead John tells us that on Maundy Thursday Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. That is something worth meditating about: the parallel to making Eucharist is to love one another in lives of mutual servanthood.

As a sort of Cliff Notes, let me here give you an overview of the chapter as a whole.

John 1:1-14 begins with the growing popularity of Jesus due to his healing ministry. It then tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. It is the only miracle ("sign," in John's language) that is recorded in all four gospels. The event takes place on the east side of the "Sea of Tiberias," [the Roman name for the lake of Galilee] around the time of the Passover. However this is not the one around the time of the death of Jesus.

John 1:15 makes a transition. Jesus gets away from everyone because the crowd wants to make him king. John 1:16-21 has Jesus walking on water -- not the same story in which Peter tries to walk on water too. In verses 22-24, the crowd chases Jesus back to the western shore to Capernaum, which was his base. The rest of the chapter, verses 22-71, is the not-so-friendly discourse/confrontation on Jesus as the Bread of Life.

The section starts with Jesus refusing the flattery of the crowd: you're only chasing after me because I fed your bellies; would that you took "the food that endures for eternal life" (v.27); i.e., Jesus, the Bread of Life (v.35).

At verse 41, the Judeans ("the Jews," as opposed to the Galilean people of the region) object on the grounds that only the manna in the desert was the bread from heaven. Jesus responds with a larger claim of universality: "the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (v.51). Then in verses 52-59, Jesus doubles down against his Judean detractors.

In verses 60-66, many of his disciples have problems with Jesus as well and most choose to leave him. In verses 67-68 he asks the Twelve if they too wish to leave and Peter says, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life," and affirms Jesus' identity as the Holy One of God. The narrative concludes with Jesus pointing out that one of them will betray him.

There is so much to ponder in this chapter! I suggest that we take time to ask ourselves two questions: (1) What brought me initially to want to follow Jesus? He makes it clear that following him is not a walk in the park. So: (2) Will I remain walking in his footsteps?

In The Mercy,


The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 231


2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37;
Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This week we welcome guest columnist Loretta Dredger, older daughter of Robert and Katie Dredger. Loretta, a sophomore at Spotswood High School, gives an account of her participation in our recent mission trip. -- DDR+ 

During my time at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota I learned so much about the native people, God, and myself. On Tuesday, June 12, the 2018 mission team met at the church at 3:00 a.m. to catch our flight from Richmond to Rapid City, South Dakota. I have to admit, that morning was rough, but when we reached Rapid City, rented a car, and started driving my mood lifted entirely. Southwestern South Dakota is a beautiful place, with rolling prairie, abundant wildlife, and multiple National Parks. On our way to the Rosebud, we drove through the Badlands, where we saw beautiful views of eroded rock forming steep slopes. The drive took about three hours until we got to the reservation.

On the reservation, we were greeted warmly by Mother Lauren, a strong, fierce, loving woman who showed us where we would be staying. The building had many dorm-like rooms, a kitchen, and two meeting areas. It was also un-air-conditioned, however it felt mostly comfortable. During the week, the mission team completed many projects for the Rosebud Reservation. We built and painted an arbor outside the Episcopal center which we also painted. We mopped out a flooded basement; we mowed grass and weed-whacked, we moved wood chips to create a mulch pile, and so much more. We had lots of help from local men who ate meals and shared their lives with us for the week. We had a good amount of free time, in which we did a number of things including chatting with each other and calling our family back home. Every evening, we worshipped in the small chapel near where we stayed.

Some other things we did included visiting the local university's cultural center -- where we learned much about the people on the Rosebud -- attending a Lakota church service presided over by Mother Lauren, shopping for local handmade goods at the Rosebud Exchange, and traveling to Chamberlain to see the magnificent statue called Dignity on the Missouri River. We were also visited by two local men, one native and one from New Jersey. The native man, Sage, showed us tribal dances and regalia used in pow-wows. Learning the dance was a highlight of the week, because we were laughing and having a wonderful time. The older man from New Jersey told us about his life and how he came to the Rosebud as a young man and never wanted to leave. He told us about some of the religious customs of the Lakota people, including sweat-lodge ceremonies, which seemed very extreme. Another thing we did was go to a pow-wow, which gave us a glimpse into native life. The singers and dancers captured our ears and eyes -- it was incredible.

The mission trip to the Rosebud Reservation showed me how much one can learn doing God's work, and the variety of ways in which to do it. On our way home, we stopped by Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, but couldn't see a thing because of the fog. However, that was one of the best parts of the trips. I think we all found happiness on the trip, even during the hard times. This mission trip made me appreciate the little things and how blessed I am in life. I hope to go again next year.

-- Loretta Dredger

Padre's Post

July 12, 2018
The Wardens, Vestry, and People of
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Rockingham Parish
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Dear Friends in Christ:

A little over nine years ago, on May 1st of 2009, I came to Harrisonburg to serve as your Rector.  I am thankful and humbled that God called me to be with you and that the Search Committee and the Vestry discerned that God was calling us to grow together in grace and to share God's love with all around us. Being with you as your pastor, priest and teacher, and the accomplishments that we have made as fellow servants of Christ are for me sure signs that God indeed called me to be with you for this time and that the Holy Spirit has blessed us in this shared ministry.

Today I write to you to tell you that my call to serve as Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Rockingham Parish, is coming to an end. I respectfully request that the Vestry of Emmanuel Church release me from the obligations and privileges of being your Rector, effective on September 1, 2018. In conversation with the Wardens, August 19th is set as my last Sunday in the parish.

I have accepted a call from The Rt. Rev. Samuel Rodman to serve under the bishops as Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries of the Diocese of North Carolina. I make this decision with an intense mixture of emotions. These include profound gratitude for the many blessings that we have received here at Emmanuel Church and for the privilege of knowing and ministering to the splendid people of this church. I am also aware of a great deal of sadness because I will be with you no longer. You are very dear to me! It is not easy to leave. I cannot thank you enough for the honor that you have given me in welcoming me into your lives to share your joys and sorrows and to pray together that we all might become more faithful followers of Jesus. I am also thrilled with my new call. I have a lot of excitement and joy in anticipation of the possibilities before me to serve God with the bishops and people of the Diocese of North Carolina.

The Wardens and I will work attentively during the days left to ensure a smooth transition. The Vestry, in consultation with the Bishop's Office, will determine the way forward. Emmanuel is a strong and healthy parish. Know that you are capable of creating a much brighter future. You have answered an awesome call to proclaim and live the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ to every person-no exceptions! You work for the well-being of all people and to the greater glory of God. You are wonderful indeed.

I thank you all: current and past vestry members, all leaders, and all parishioners. What an honor and joy it has been for me to serve the Lord in this beautiful corner of God's creation and in this extraordinary community of faithful people. To our stupendous staff: words cannot express the depth of my gratitude. Wendy Filler, Linell Gray Moss, Brad Lehman, Eva Aguiriano, and Peggy Roy serve Emmanuel week in and week out with great professionalism, effectiveness, cheerfulness, devotion, and love. Deacon Ed is the most faithful and caring pastor anyone will ever have. Bar none. We are so blessed to have you, Ed! I thank all of you and I thank God for you from the bottom of my heart.

Emmanuel Church, I will take you with me in my heart and in my prayers. God bless and keep you.

Under The Mercy,

The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 230


2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130;
2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

As we approach the 242nd anniversary of the founding of our nation, I am reflecting on my 34-year-long commitment never to preach politics from the pulpit. That is part of my compact with myself, my God, and my Church. I abhor the stances of preachers who tell their congregants who to vote for, endorsing candidates from their pulpits and telling their people that voting for the other candidate means that they are not Christian. I am very clear, for gospel as well as for constitutional reasons, that this is improper, abusive, and wrong.

Once in a while someone has taken me to task because he or she thought a sermon was "too political." Indeed, there have been times when I dealt with current events, e.g., after a mass shooting or during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. While I grant that I could possibly go too far on any given occasion, my commitment has been unwavering.

Clarity about not preaching politics from the pulpit does not mean that our faith is apolitical. Not preaching politics is about not being partisan in the pulpit, which is very different. I believe with all my heart that everything is political. Politics is not just the art of the possible -- that is the "how" of politics. The what-for is that politics is all about human relationships -- how a community chooses to live together, and the values, laws, policies, and actions that it embraces as a result.

Michael Gerson is an evangelical who served as a top aide to President George W. Bush. I commend to you his June 21 opinion piece in The Washington Post, titled "A Case Study in the Proper Role of Christians in Politics." He argues that, "The proper role of Christians in politics is not to Christianize America; it is to demonstrate Christian values in the public realm."

Gerson says that

... religious leaders have a moral duty to oppose the dehumanization of migrants -- something that violates the vision of human dignity and equality at the heart of the Christian faith (and other faiths as well). Human beings, in this view, are not merely arrogant hominids, programmed for sex and death. They bear God's image -- and, in the Christian view, their flesh somehow once clothed God himself. This means that cruelty, bullying, and oppression are cosmic crimes.

He also hazards a sermon suggestion for the "audacious borrowers" that preachers are. I have to tell you, he didn't sound very different from what I preach!

I make no claims to originality, to be sure. My preaching and teaching are about Jesus and his example, his grace, and the power of love he gives us. The only question is sorting out how to follow faithfully in his footsteps in our own time. This is not always obvious, though there are times when the options are very clear.

As we celebrate the birth of our nation and pray for its well-being (note the third verse of America the Beautiful: "God mend thine every flaw"), I invite us to reflect on who we are as God's beloved children in Jesus and how we may help our country live more fully its foundational commitment to the proposition that all persons are created equal.

A Collect for the Nation (BCP, p. 258)

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
God bless you. God bless the United States. God bless the world.

Fr. Daniel+

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 230


1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 133;
2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"... and Jesus said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" (Mk 4:38-39)

The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, fed by the Jordan River at the north end of the lake and then continuing on south at the other end. It is relatively shallow, with mountains on its east side and a plain that stretches out west to the Mediterranean. Its particular geography also means that fierce wind storms can and do appear quickly, with hardly any notice, turning its blue waters into a churning and treacherous death trap. Those who first heard the story would not have been surprised at this turn of events for the disciples on their shallow, small boat.

That Jesus was asleep in the stern -- now, that's a surprise! What sort of person sleeps calmly through a storm like that? "Do you not care?" I hear their immense fear in that question, as they shake him awake. Sometimes, for some of us, anger and blaming is our response to fear. We lash out. We lose it.

I wonder if the internal calm of Jesus -- his quieted spirit-is what makes possible his external, physical calm as he sleeps through the storm without a care in the world. (Pun intended -- you know me by now). I wonder if this is why he can calm the storm on the outside, transferring his inner peace to the raging whirlwind.

It seems to me that his commanding words, "Peace! Be still!" are more a conferring than an order. Jesus transmits his peace to the world around him.

The story of the calming of the sea resonates deeply for us. In the middle of life's storms, we wonder if it will ever end; we wonder if we will make it in one piece to see the light of day. That fear can lead us to angrily lash out at the people around us, as the disciples did with Jesus, as we long for clear blue skies and gentle breezes.

What if instead of praying directly for a change in our circumstances -- the storm out there -- we prayed instead for the peace of Jesus to be instilled in our hearts? What if we turned to Jesus and asked him to calm the storm that is raging inside us instead? Perhaps we focus our prayers so often on wanting a change in our situation, on fixing the circumstances outside ourselves, that we miss the opportunity to experience 
and live in the calm and peace of Jesus, whose soul was still and quieted "like a child upon its mother's breast" (Psalm 131:3).

The Peace of Christ is a gift that he is ready, willing, and able to bestow on us, because he indeed cares for us. It surpasses all understanding. It is not whether-dependent and cannot be taken away by circumstance. It is a peace that will quiet our souls, empowering us to deal with our situation knowing that we are as safe as a breastfeeding child, that nothing can ultimately destroy us. It is a peace that will hold us together through thick and thin.

And it is a peace that, by God's grace and, precisely because it is the peace of Christ, we can transmit to those around us who are ready to receive it. Christ's peace is transmissible -- contagious, in the best sense of the word. When Christ's peace dwells deeply in our hearts, we cannot help but share it and give it away.

May the peace of Christ quiet your soul and mine today.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+