Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 51 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rector's Rambling - July 1, 2012

Two weeks ago the Gospel reading from Luke, chapter 14, told the story of the man who prepared a great supper and sent the servant to bring the invited guests, only to find them making excuses to not attend. So he then invites others to take their places. In my sermon that Sunday I spoke of the various layers of meaning, both to those hearing Jesus speak at the time (the Jews being the original invitees, the Gentiles being incorporated as the new guests), as well as the modern application of the expectation of weekly Sunday attendance at Holy Communion. If you missed the sermon on Jun 17th for the Second Sunday after Trinity, it can be found on the St. John’s Web site at http://www.stjohnsdetroit.org/sermons/ or on iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sermons-from-st.-johns/ (or just go to iTunes.com and type in their search bar Sermons from St. John’s). [ed. Also available via RSS feed at http://rss.stjohnsdetroit.org/podcast/sermons.xml] Now that July is upon us I know that many people are away on holiday, especially on the weekends. But God still desires your worship, and to feed you in Word and Sacrament. If you are not able to attend a church service while away, may I suggest an alternative? We do have Holy Communion at St. John’s during the week as well. We strive to have services every Wednesday at 12:15 PM. When the Rector is not away, as I will be July 8–14 at the St. Michael’s Conference for Youth, we also have scheduled Communion on Tuesdays at 12:15 PM and on Thursdays at 10:30 AM. These services are not specifically a replacement for Sunday (it is your privilege as a Christian to receive Holy Communion more often than just Sunday), but if you are away and unable to attend on Sunday, come and be nourished and give thanks to Almighty God. The services are about 30 minutes long, and without music. They are usually attended by between four and 12 people. If you can’t be here on a Sunday, make the extra effort to be here on a weekday!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rector's Rambling - June 24, 2012 - Nativity of St. John the Baptist

After only a week of ‘ordinary season”, we interrupt the long season of green for a special feast day. During Trinity-tide there are several major prayer book Holy Days, that if they fall on a Sunday, may be celebrated as the collect and readings of the day in place of the “____ Sunday after Trinity”. Saint John Baptist collect and readings (called “Propers”) are found on page 242 in the Book of Common Prayer. Although we don’t know exactly the historical date of the birth of John the Baptist, the date it is placed on the calendar does have significance. The Angel announced to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that not only would she become the Mother of God by divine conception through the Holy Ghost, but she was also told that her kinswoman Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, is now 6 months pregnant (Luke 1:36). Since we celebrate the Annunciation (the Angel announcing this to Mary) on March 25 (9 months before Christmas), June 24 is three months later. A recent revision of the Liturgical Calendar has moved the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) from July 2 back to May 31 so that it fits within that three month period. The Prayer Book Calendar begins on page xlvi and the Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts begins on page l. Some Feast Days like Easter are ‘moveable’ based on the lunar cycle (see page lii), others are fixed like Christmas always being on December 25th. In addition to those Feasts listed on the calendar in the Prayer Book, saints are commemorated at weekday services according to their addition by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the actions of the General Assembly of the Church of England, or ancient usage by the Western Church. These can be found in the books Lesser Feasts and Fasts, The American Missal and The Anglican Breviary.

Rector's Rambling - June 17, 2012 - In the green

“We are in the green” might sound like a proclamation that someone/something has come into money, but in the life of the Church this morning, it means we have finished the season of Eastertide and its ancillary feasts of Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi, and now move headlong into the long season of Trinitytide, also known as the Ordinary Season. The color green was chosen because it represents growth and life. Each Church season has a color appointed to it: white (purity) for Christmas and Easter, red (blood & fire) for the Holy Ghost and martyrs, and purple for penance or special intercession. The green of this season is a symbolic representation of the growth in grace, and the spiritual life, that this long season represents. From now until Advent (December 2), we will be “in the green”, except for occasional special celebration. In the Prayer Book calendar there is the ability to celebrate during the ordinary season those major saints’ days on Sunday. On June 24, we will celebrate the Nativity of St. John’s the Baptist (white); and on October 28, Ss. Simon and Jude (red) because they fall on a Sunday. On September 30, we will celebrate St Michael and All Angels (white), and November 4, All Saints’ Sunday (white) even though the feast days are September 29 and November 1. These two are considered major feasts, celebrated within the Octave (8 days following) and moved to Sunday because of the importance of the Feast Days. So, as we settle (for the most part) into the green, let us make sure we are here every Sunday so we can be nourished in Word and Sacrament. After all, the green season is about growth and life; and as Jesus said, “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Church is the only place we can be fed in this way!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rector's Rambling - June 10, 2012 - Bishop's Visit & Corpus Christi


We welcome today, with thanksgiving, our Right Reverend Father in God, Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr.  Bishop Gibbs is the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.  St. Ignatius of Antioch (died about 117) said, "Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."  The office of Bishop is the outward sign of the unity of the Church, and as members of the One, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, so too we acknowledge his office as the central locus of unity for members of the Episcopal Church in Southeast Michigan.
The bishop is to visit each parish once every three years, but we have been blessed to have Bishop Gibbs here more frequently.  One reason is that we continue to have new members (or children growing into teens) seeking to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, or to be received into the Episcopal Church.  This is done by the bishop, and he will administer the sacrament to 11 people today.  This sacrament is a decision to take for oneself the promises made by you, or for you by your sponsors, at baptism, and by the apostolic ministry of the bishop to “stir up” the work of the Holy Ghost in the candidate.
Additionally, today is the Sunday within the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  We celebrated the Feast Day on Thursday with grand solemnity, and the Feast is so nice we do it twice, albeit with different music.  It is most worth doing again so that more of us can be reminded about the great gift of Our Lord’s Body and Blood under the species of Bread and Wine, and an encouragement by His promise to us that we will be fed by Him and strengthened for Eternal Life.  Jesus said, “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)  We take Jesus at his word, and so we do so in the Blessed Sacrament.

Rector's Rambling - June 3, 2012 - Trinity Sunday

Today we get to recite one of the great statements of belief. In addition to the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, there is the Athanasian Creed, also known as the Quicunque Vult (the opening phrase in Latin). Ultimately, the great mystery of God is unknowable on this side of heaven. We will only fully understand Him in eternal life. But God has revealed what we need to know about Himself to us through the Scriptures, particularly in the teachings of Jesus (second person of the Trinity). By the guidance of the Holy Ghost (third person of the Trinity) the scriptures were written and compiled for us, and the Church, meeting in Councils, have “separated the wheat from the chaff” when it comes to the teachings of who God is in Trinity. We have three creeds because each successive one (Apostles, then Nicene, then Athanasian) were compiled to answer questions arising from previous creeds, or from honest inquiry by the Church. While the Apostles Creed (also known as the Baptismal Creed) is recited during Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed during celebrations of The Holy Communion, the Athanasian Creed has generally been reserved for public recitation on major Holy Days. Interestingly, the Episcopal Church is the only branch of our world-wide Anglican Communion that has not included the Athanasian Creed in our locally adapted version of the 39 Articles of Religion, or Prayer Books until 1979. But as members of the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” in Communion with Anglicans worldwide, we recite it today with thanksgiving for the gift of this knowledge of God in Trinity!

Rector's Rambling - May 27, 2012 - Whitsunday

Today is a wonderful “Red Letter Day” in the life of the Church, the Feast of Whitsunday, or Pentecost. Red Letter Day comes from the old printing of the Prayer Book calendar, when major feast days were marked in Red Letters to remind the Church that his was a major day. Today’s feast is also a red vestment day as well, since the Holy Ghost is wonderfully symbolized in red after the example of the Holy Ghost in the form flames of fire lighting upon the heads of the disciples on this day. The Holy Ghost is a vital portion of the work of evangelism that we are called to as members of the Body of Christ. The last few weeks we have looked in this column at how important it is to evangelize, and how to do it. Last week I came across a great quote from Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a former Episcopal (now Roman Catholic) priest: The best way to evangelize is to be so full of the Holy Spirit that others will see you and want what you’ve got. When this happens you will forget yourself and the radiance of Christ will shine through you. Right on the mark! Ultimately Christianity is a life of attraction more than promotion (although one should do both). Although the St. Francis Prayer of “make me a channel of your peace” is popular, when it come to The Faith, we don’t want to be channels (something that passes through) we want to be reservoirs. We want to be filled up to overflowing, like a reservoir, so that we are not only nourished and filled ourselves, but we over-spill our banks and nourish everything around us. As Fr. Longenecker says, “we need to be so full of the Holy Spirit…” Ask Him to fill you, and fill and fill to overflowing, that you will not only be filled with His Word, but also His Love, that it will ooze out of your pores!

Rector's Rambling - May 20, 2012 - Sharing the Faith part 5

The past four weeks in this column I wrote of the importance of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ, having looked at the importance of sharing about Jesus both in word and deed, that Jesus is the unique and only way of salvation, sharing the faith, and the reality of sin. St. Paul writes extensively of the purpose of Jesus’ coming having to do with our sinfulness. He reminds us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23) No one is exempt, no matter how good they may be. This is the reality of Original Sin, inherited from Adam and Eve, that condemns us to bodily and eternal death, and gives us that propensity to sinful, selfish choices (see also Romans 5:12). The struggle against this sin he sums up when he says, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19) St. John also chimes in when he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) An honest appraisal of one’s self will result in the conclusion that we are in need of a Saviour. The good news is that we have The Good News! That Jesus Christ has conquered sin, and by His grace we have the ability to be good, and to do good! Even when we fail, and fall back into sinful choices, He is there with mercy, for forgiveness and strengthening to amend our lives. St. John continues, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) As we say each Sunday in the Comfortable words, “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation (offering) for our sins.” (1 John 2:1, 2) And as we also affirm each week, “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish by have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Rector's Rambling - May 13, 2012 - Sharing the Faith part 4

The past three weeks in this column I wrote of the importance of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Having looked at the importance of sharing about Jesus both in word and deed, about embracing the reality that Jesus is the unique and only way of salvation, and looking for and making opportunities for sharing the faith, we now look at an important thing – sin and salvation. St. Paul reminds us that “we all sin, and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), but our self-esteem, therapeutic-oriented culture wants to make all people believe that they are basically good, with perhaps a few shortcomings. One challenge of bringing people to Christ is to acknowledge that the relationship we have with him is based on the reality of salvation, and more importantly our need for it. H. R. Niehbur was famous for pointing out that the church has lost its way by trying to proclaim, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross”. It sounds good, but it isn’t the truth! The reality is that we are creatures affected by original sin and in need of a Saviour. Thankfully we have that Saviour in Jesus Christ! But to accept a saviour one must be convinced of sin. And usually this isn’t hard. I am not talking about beating a person over the head with a Bible and screaming at them. Rather, a loving approach to laying out the scriptures in such a way that sin is a reality, all are affected by it, and that there is a solution. Next week we will look at some of those scriptures! To be continued…

Rector's Rambling - May 6, 2012 - Sharing the Faith part 3

The past two weeks in this column I wrote of the importance of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ. As the baptismal liturgy of the 1979 prayer book states, we are to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ Jesus”. Having looked at the importance of sharing about Jesus both in word and deed, as well as embracing the reality that Jesus is the unique and only way of salvation, we are now moved to the question, “how do I share this good news?” For most people, being able to share the good news involves being alert to the situation of the relationship with the person you are interacting with. Although there are certainly instances when conversation with a stranger leads to a discussion of faith, for the most part these conversations begin with those with whom you already have some relationship of trust and familiarity. The other person knows you (or knows of you), and perhaps knows you as a person of faith. This can be the opening to a conversation about faith. The passive approach is to wait for the other person to bring up this, or a related subject. But a more active approach is for you to be attentive to the opportunity to introduce the subject of faith in Jesus, and guide the conversation along to that topic. God the Holy Ghost will certainly help you, and a prayer to yourself for His wisdom, guidance, and yes boldness, can enable you to be attentive to the opportunity to introduce the topic. A conversation about the person’s hard times could be steered to “when I have a hard time I find prayer to be helpful”, followed by the question, “would you like to pray now for some guidance?” This would be followed by a short prayer (even a few seconds) asking God’s help. To be continued…

Rector's Rambling - April 29, 2012 - Sharing the Faith part 2

Last week in this column I wrote of the importance of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ. As the baptismal liturgy of the 1979 prayer book states, we are to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ Jesus”. We like the idea of preaching the Gospel by the way we live, but actually sharing our faith with others can be scary. We don’t want to be thought of as religious nuts by our friends and neighbors. Yet, the two ways go hand in hand. We live the faith, and then present it verbally to others who have inquired because of the way we live! First and foremost we need to be firmly convinced we NEED to share the good news because it is only by Jesus that we are saved! We read in the scriptures that this is cornerstone of our faith. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) If we love others, and want to see them saved, it is imperative that they know Jesus as their Lord. It is His name only that can be called upon for salvation (Acts 4:12). Does this exclusiveness make you bristle when you hear it? Surely this can’t mean that those outside the faith of Jesus are not saved? The question to ask yourself is, “are the scriptures reliable, and is Jesus telling the truth?” If you can answer yes to both of those (and I hope you do), then that is what the scriptures say! But it doesn’t have to be an exclusive message, because this salvation through His name only is available to ALL. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world though him might be saved.” (John 3:17) Therefore it is of vital importance that we not only believe this ourselves, but that we share it with others that they too might be saved. To be continued…

Rector's Rambling - April 22, 2012 - Sharing the Faith part 1

One question I get from people is, “how am I supposed to share my faith with others?” This is a great question, because it comes from an understanding that we DO have to share it. I know that not all of us have the gifts of the Holy Ghost for some of the more extroverted forms of evangelism. Few of us would be equipped for (or inclined to) street corner preaching or walking about with a sandwich style sign board proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. But as the new prayer book asks in the form for baptism, we are to share the good news of God in Christ in word and example. Quite often I hear quoted something attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and only when necessary use words.” This catches an important part of the spirit of evangelism, as long as you are not using it as an excuse to not share the words as well. One of the principles of 12-step recovery programs is that it is one of attraction, not promotion. In the Church this is the “example” side of evangelism. We are to be people who live the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are hopeful, joyful, thoughtful, and attempting by grace to live in love and charity with our neighbors. This will open others’ hearts to hear the gospel because of the impact on our own lives. But we also have to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”! (1 Peter 3:15) And that means not only knowing that Jesus is Lord, and why that is important for us to know, but to share that message with the world, beginning with those closest to us. In the coming weeks we will look at some of those “answers” and “reasons” in this column. To be continued…

Rector's Rambling - April 15, 2012 - Low Sunday

Last Sunday, after having lunch with my family, I settled into a lazy afternoon watching the Detroit Tigers on television, and of soaking in the glory of such a wonderful morning of worship. Holy Week is always spiritually intense, and preparations for worship is not only theological, but also involves a lot of work from many people. I want to thank everyone who was involved in preparations including office staff, music department, altar guild, ushers, servers, and coffee hour volunteers. Many hours were devoted to make all things come together for the glorious offerings from Palm Sunday through Easter Day. As I mused upon the wonderful worship of Easter Day, I thought of all the elements that made it so great: the feast day itself, the music, the decorations, the joyful spirit. But what really made the day shine was the number of people in the pews, twice the number of people who attend on a “normal” Sunday. Many parishioners introduced me to guests, neighbors, and family, whom they invited and brought to Church. We also have friends of the parish who attend elsewhere closer to home, but join us for the big feast days, as well some new faces who discovered us via Internet, print and radio advertising, or by reputation. My guess is that as you are reading this, there aren’t as many people in the pews today as last week. But if we continue to be faithful to our Lord, and persistent in inviting our friends and family to join us week after week, we will grow as a parish family. How great would it be to have the pews that full every Sunday? More people praying together, more people singing together, more people coming together in fellowship. May it be so!

Rector's Rambling - April 8, 2012 - Easter Day

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 The Liturgy for Easter begins with this joyful acclamation that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and although we don’t get to say it very often, it should be said with great gusto! It is a solid and vital statement of faith and who we are as members of the Body of Christ – His Church. We are a “Resurrection People” who have been reconciled to God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, who has conquered death and hell by rising from the dead on this third day. Easter is wonderful in so many ways. After a long Lent, full of extra sacrifices and extra devotions, we look forward to savouring those things we have given up for 40 days (assuming they aren’t sinful things we should be giving up permanently). The approaching spring weather lightens our hearts and moods, appropriate for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection! And the change in tenor of the hymns and readings, moves our hearts and minds from the sins from which we are repenting, toward the grace-filled forgiveness we have received as this free gift from God in His Son, Jesus Christ. And there is no better way to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead than to be here today with the great joy and gusto of this grand celebration. Thanks be to God for all who are here with us to for this great Feast! But Easter is not just a day, it is a Church season. Eastertide, like Lent, is 40 days of celebration, including all the Sundays between now and the Feast of the Ascension (May 13th this year). And Ascension begins another 10 days of prayer and anticipation of the Feast of the coming of the Holy Ghost (Whitsunday or Pentecost). So let us continue the celebration today, tomorrow, next Sunday, and in the weeks to come. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Rector's Rambling - March 25, 2012 - Passion Sunday

As you may have noticed, the crosses on the altars and around the church are now veiled. Although most Episcopal churches follow the modern Roman Catholic form for veiling the crosses on all the Sundays of Lent, we keep to the old tradition of doing so from Passion Sunday onwards. Dr. Taylor Marshall, a former Episcopal priest writes on his blog Canterbury Tales, “In the old days, Passion Sunday (5th Sunday) “ramped up” the Lenten season. Passion Sunday (also called Judica Sunday from the opening Introit) is the traditional day for veiling the crucifixes and statues in the churches. The practice allegedly derives from Bavaria (though I’d love for someone more knowledgeable to shed light on the origin of this custom). The crosses and images remain veiled and add to the dramatic effect of the Paschal Vigil when they are unveiled for the glory and wonder of our Lord’s resurrection. The famous medieval triptychs that opened and closed were constructed for the purpose of closing them for this season.” March 25th, if it were not a Sunday, would also be the Feast of the Annunciation. Today marks 9 months until the celebration of the birth of Jesus, so this day the Church remembers the day that the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son by the Holy Ghost. This can be found in St. Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 1, verses 26 to 38. Since Sundays in Lent take precedence over other Feast Days, we will move the commemoration to Tuesday, March 27 at the 12:15 Holy Communion Service.