Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 50 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 impending hockey arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Monday, September 30, 2013

St. Michael and All Angels - Rector's Rambling for Sept. 29, 2013

Today we are combining two of my favorite autumn festivals: St. Michael and all Angels, and St. John’s Homecoming.
We often think of angels as soft and cuddly creatures, but today’s lesson reinforces the biblical image of angels as warriors!  There are many tasks assigned to the various orders of unseen ministers (see the Teaching Notes on page 4), but in today’s emphasis, the Archangel Michael fights against the evil one.
In our glorious West Window St. Michael is depicted on Christ’s right hand (the Angel on Christ’s left is St. Raphael from the Book of Tobit).  He is in armor and equipped for battle with a shield in one hand and a flaming sword in the other.
St. Michael, in addition to being patron of many parishes around the world, is the patron of our Youth Conference held here in Michigan in July.  He was chosen because he represents a strong faith in our Lord, and we hope to instill in the teens a like-minded resolve to be prepared for spiritual battle, and to be fully equipped for it!
When I arrived at St. John’s 12.5 years ago we began our Homecoming Sunday.  It is an  opportunity to have some of our friends, who attend elsewhere most Sundays, but make St. John’s their Major Feast Day home, come and worship with us again.  Additionally, it is a nice day to welcome other friends and newcomers, not only with sublime worship, but also a potluck luncheon.
Homecoming Sunday has moved around various October and November weekends, but with St. Michael and All Angels falling on a Sunday it is a good idea to combine the two and to also use it as a kick-off to our programming year!
Welcome to our guests and friends, and I hope that all will come again, and frequently, to worship with us.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Joe's Gift - The Rector's Rambling for September 22, 2013

This week I had the chance to read a good book, and I want to recommend it to you for several reasons.
The primary reason is that it is a book that will challenge you to live your life as a Christian in a deeper way, the way of humility and love.  Any book that does this is certainly laudable.  Additionally, the book comes recommended because St. John’s is spoken well of in it, and your rector gets a mention too.
The book is Joe’s Gift, written by St. John’s very own Joseph Alff.  This is Joe’s second book, and is in some ways a sequel to, or perhaps an expansion on, his first book The Secret to Living a More Fulfilled Life.
In Joe’s first book he points out the hollowness of striving after what the church would call “The World” in trying to find happiness.  Instead, Joe offers that Contrition and Humility are the foundation on which a life of fulfillment is found.
In Joe’s Gift he begins by relating a story from college, when a friend said, “the problem with you is that everything you do is average”.  How, Joe has asked himself over the years, “how can I, or anyone for that matter, become extraordinary?”
Joe ponders his answer through the time honored method of storytelling and relating his experience with himself and with others in his 40 years in the mental health profession, as well as living his average, everyday, ordinary life.
I won’t give away the ending.  But let me say that this book can help you to evaluate how you live your own life, how you find meaning in it, and how you can apply a simple principle of saying and doing three words to make the ordinary life extraordinary and meaningful.
Every Sunday that I mention humility in a sermon I know that Joe will have something good to say about it (he is always very complementary, for which I am grateful).  I commend his book to you to aid in your spiritual journey.

This book is available from Amazon, or can be purchased at St. John’s in the undercroft or parish office.


The Church (written in 1956) - Teaching Notes for September 22, 2013

Published in the Parish Chronicle – October 21, 1956

We are too often inclined, in this modern day, to take the Church for granted.  I am sure that most of our people share with me a sense of gratitude for all that St. John’s Church has done for us and for all that it has enabled us to do for others.  However, when life runs smoothly and the days come and go without many serious problems; when no great demands are made in our faith and when we are physically well, we are apt to take all the good things in life as something which just happens.  We don’t realize how many blessings we have and as a result we have no deep sense of gratitude.
And then we think of the tragedies that we have read about as happening to someone else suddenly breaks through into our lives and there comes the testing time.  Can we keep that faith that seems so natural and so easy when it was largely a matter of academic, intellectual acceptance?  Can we hold our hope and still look forward to the days ahead as a great adventure with God?
It all depends upon foundations—whether we have built our “house of life” on rock or sand.  It is in these testing times that are bound to come to all of us at some time or other, that we discover the only kind of a foundation that can withstand all of life’s storms is a spiritual one.
That is one of the basic reasons why the Church is so significant, for it is the Church alone in our western culture, that is the permanent witness that life has an eternal meaning and that the soul alone has the ultimate mastery over all the tragic forces of existence.
When we begin to think of the Church in these terms then we realize it is not just something to be taken for granted.  It becomes not a luxury but a necessity, as necessary to our real natures as food and water and shelter is for our physical bodies.  All of us are in debt to the Church as we are in debt to no other institution in the world except our homes, and they would have been poorer without the Church.  It is when we glimpse this significance of the Church of ourselves and our means to help it carry on its work, but rather how much can we possibly give for its survival?
It is the time, now, for each of us to enlist more whole-heartedly in her service and to regularly attend her services of worship as some measure of our gratitude to God for all the rich gifts that HE has given to us and our children.  One of the truly real ways to thank Him is to share with others what He has so richly given.

 Written by then rector The Rev’d Irwin C. Johnson, who served at St. John’s from 1934 to 1962.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Feast of the Holy Cross - Rector's Ramblings for 9/15/2013

Today as a second Collect we commemorate a very important Feast Day for the Church, which occurred yesterday.  On September 14, we celebrate The Feast of the Holy Cross.
Also known at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it is on this day that we commemorate several events surrounding the object of the Holy Cross.  One is the finding of the Cross itself, and the building, on the spot of the crucifixion, of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by St. Helena, wife of the Roman Emperor Constantine.  Fr. Trent Fraser, formerly of Redeemer, Southfield, and now at St. Michael’s in Denver, also notes in a newsletter article he wrote, that “This feast commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross from Persians by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 627.  It also commemorates the day in 1241 when King Louis IX of France (St. Louis), brought the instruments of the Passion, together with a portion of the Holy Cross to Paris and began construction on the marvelous repository for the Cross, Sainte-Chapelle.”
All of these are wonderful historical events.  But there is something more wonderful: the reason that piece of wood is venerated.  The Cross is the vehicle used by God to offer His only begotten Son, the second person of the Trinity, to pay the price of our sins.
On the hard wood of the cross, Jesus Christ died that we may have forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and the gift of eternal life.
So, as we look to the feast of the Holy Cross, we do so not for the historic relic of wood or a reproduction of that cross hanging in our house, office or church, but for what was accomplished on the Cross by Jesus.
During the devotion of The Stations of the Cross, we repeat at each station a wonderful phrase, which is one everyone should memorize and offer up frequently during our busy days:
“We adore thee O Christ, and we bless thee; because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world!”