Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 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

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Conversion of St. Paul - Rector's Rambling for January 25, 2015

Today we have a special Feast Day in the midst of our short Epiphany Season.  Today we are celebrating the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle.  Certain Holy Days, such as this one, take precedence over the regularly assigned Sunday lessons and observance (such as the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, which today is otherwise).
Paul is an apostle, but unlike the other apostles commemorated, his feast day is kept on the day of his conversion, rather than the day of his death.  A person’s day of death is considered one’s ‘heavenly birthday’, since it is through earthly death that we pass to eternal life.  And in the case of all the apostles, except St. John, their death was by martyrdom - being killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  St. Paul was also martyred.  The church believes that under the general persecution of Nero in 64 and 65 both St. Peter and St. Paul met their deaths for being followers (and promoters) of Jesus Christ.   Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was crucified (tradition says head-down) and St. Paul being a citizen was given the quicker execution of being beheaded.
But today the church commemorates St. Paul’s conversion to the faith.  It is one of those stories that is powerful because he was not just a non-believer in Jesus, he was an active persecutor of those who believed that Jesus Christ is Lord.  He consented to St. Stephen’s stoning, his executioners laying their jackets at his feet. (Acts 7:58, 8:1)  His journey to Damascus was to arrest followers of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 9:2).  Paul’s conversion is unique, but gives us hope that no matter what our, and others, spiritual condition may be, God can intervene!
The Diocesan Canons call for the Annual Parish Meeting to occur in January, but we have been advised by the Bishop’s office that we can open the meeting today during the 10:00 AM service, and then immediately recess the meeting until February 1 after the 10 AM Service, at which time we will continue and complete the business of the meeting. It is important that ALL parishioners participate.  A soup luncheon will be served, vestry members elected, finances reviewed, and the good news of what God is doing at St. John’s reported.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Rector's Rambling for January 18, 2015

Today on the new Church Calendar the Church celebrates the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and next Sunday the old and new calendar commemorates the Conversion of St. Paul.  These two Feast Days frame what is known as the week of prayer for Christian Unity.
In the Teaching Notes section of this Chronicle there is an article on the history of this particular week of special devotion and prayer.  It has roots in an Anglican (Episcopal) Religious Order in New York that converted to the Roman Church, but has made it’s ministry to work toward the reunion of all Christianity.
In the 1990s, my favorite author, Dr. Peter Kreeft, published a book called The Ecumenical Jihad.  It was meant to be a provocative title (and even more provocative today with current world political unrest) because both Ecumenism and Jihadism are considered by many to be dirty words.  Ecumenism is often the cry of those who would water down the doctrines of the faith in order to achieve an earthly but false sense of unity, and Jihad invokes a hard-handed approach at conversion that seeks to do so by any means necessary.  By putting these two words together in a title, Dr. Kreeft offends all, but ultimately invites all to read the book to see what he means by that title.
Jesus prayed that we all be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:21–22).  But the reality is that the Church is deeply divided because of human sin.  Divisions have continued over interpretation of the authority of the Church and her Scriptures.  Some of these honest disagreements have been to seek greater holiness, other disagreements are based in a desire for power or to justify sinfulness.  Despite Jesus’ admonition for unity, there are thousands of denominations in the United States alone.
Yet if it is Jesus’ prayer that we be one, then it is our bounden duty to work and pray toward the unity of the Church.  This begins in personal conversion, continues with conversation and lifting up what we have in common, and finally helping to correct, the ways that churches have erred.
And although this is a week to spotlight the need, unity is year-round work to glorify God and work for the common mission to bring the whole world to know Jesus is Lord.

Holy Innocents - Rector's Rambling for December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas!  I hope that you haven’t already tired of hearing that phrase since today is only the fourth day of Christmas!  Christmas is a SEASON, which runs from December 25 until January 5.  The 12 days of Christmas are these 12 days, not the days preceding the Feast.
After Christmas there are three immediate Feast Days on the Church calendar.  December 26 was the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr.  December 27 was the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, our patron because the parish was incorporated on that day in 1858.
Today’s Feast Day is tragic.  The event itself, chronologically, occurred much later after the birth of Christ.  Herod, jealous that the wise men told him that a new king was born, and angry that they did not come back to tell him where Jesus was, orders the destruction of all children under the age of two.  St Augustine says of the slaughter “they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead .” (“Sermo 10us de sanctis”)
These three Feasts are placed on the calendar so close to Christmas because “These dates have nothing to do with the chronological order of the event; the feast is kept within the octave of Christmas because the Holy Innocents gave their life for the newborn Saviour.  Stephen, the first martyr (martyr by will, love, and blood), John, the Disciple of Love (martyr by will and love), and these first flowers of the Church (martyrs by blood alone), accompany the Holy Child Jesus entering this world on Christmas day.”
On the revised calendar, this Feast Day is no longer observed on Sunday.  It is transferred to Monday.  Most members of the Episcopal Church and the other churches using the new lectionary will most likely know nothing of these innocents who died for and in the place of Christ, since not many attend weekday Masses (if they are held at all).
And as the Collect for today reminds us, we should pray that God will “mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace” so that we glorify Jesus this Christmastide, and all our lives.