Something has been “fishy” at St. Mark’s Preschool!

We had a busy May at St. Mark’s! Early in May, we finished up our Community Helpers theme. The highlight was when the fantastic Henrietta firefighters brought their truck to our parking lot, and the kids got to learn all about it and climb into the driver’s seat. They had a ball! Then, we did our Ocean theme. We read great books, including “Swimmy” and “Rainbow Fish,” manipulated aquarium gravel and seashells in our sensory table, made seashell photo frames and bubble wrap seascapes, and had some fun ocean-related snacks. We’re lucky enough to have tadpoles in our classroom, so we’ve been watching them grow and waiting not-so-patiently for the day when they sprout legs. Feel free to take a peek at them in the preschool room, and cross your fingers that it happens before school ends!

This week, we began our Summer theme. We’ll be learning about the season of summer and how it’s different from the other 3 seasons. We’ll also discuss all the fun activities we can do in the summer and, of course, do some fun crafts and outdoor activities of our own. We already have a tent in our classroom, which the kids are enjoying very much! It’s a great place to read and play, and the zipper is good for their fine motor development! We’ll finish off the school year with our Vacation theme. It’s so hard to believe we only have a handful of weeks left in the school year!

Don’t forget to take a look at our Facebook page for more photos!

A Poem on the Mount

A challenge that was too good not to try. I didn’t get into a serious vein, but the conversation angle seemed to flow.

I enter through the door. Pure gift. For I am certainly poor. Yet the Kingdom is mine. Right now.
So tell me about your Kingdom. What are its glories? What subjects does it bring in train?
The mourners, the meek, the hungry, the merciful
The poor, the pure, the peacemakers
The persecuted. Theirs is the Kingdom. Right now.
Doesn’t sound like much of a realm.
We are just getting started.
In this Kingdom, you’ll notice a difference. It’s in the flavors and the light that comes in in a certain way.
That sounds better. Do you have some coastland to really catch the salt?
If you want the beach, you better start in Nebraska.
What? You mean go out with the pigs.
Well the pigs are ok. I’ve fulfilled that. But there is a law to large spaces. If you want the beach, you you better concentrate on Nebraska First.
Too close together might lead to anger. Get along with your neighbor a mile away first.
Too close together can lead to odd glances. A mutual using so pleasurable at first. But it leads to a cutting.
Eye from eye, limb from limb
Heart from heart.
That’s what happens. Although you don’t see it
This Nebraska sounds like a tough place. Wouldn’t the crowds at the beach be nicer?
What would you do when that guy without a beach umbrella takes yours?
I’d get it back.
Better go back to the door.
What are you talking about? It’s mine.
Track him down and give him your towel also.
He’s a thief!
He doesn’t have what is required.
How is that my problem?
If you want the light to be different at the beach – it just is.
There is no way that I will ever live in your Kingdom.
You are not without a prayer. The door is always open. The bread is given.
You won’t need that other bread here. You need the kind that doesn’t decay. Good for you it is provided.
Where do I get this? I haven’t seen it. How many hours work does it take.
It doesn’t take work. Don’t worry. Your Father’s got it.
Can I get out of Nebraska? The neighbors are just so rough.
Sounds like you need some more time there.
But there is something you can ask for.
I’d suggest a fish, or some bread.
Back to the bread. Ok. Can I have some bread, oh, and by the way could you give my neighbors some? They really need it and it doesn’t seem fair if I’ve got it and they don’t.
Now you’re catching on, maybe a trip to the state fair.
I’ve heard that is a confusing place.
Not every blue ribbon is on a real prize winning hog.
How do I get the good stuff?
Stick to fruits. Avoid the junk food.
But deep fried snickers bars taste so good.
Yes, and houses built to flip to the next fool seemed like a good idea.
So what about that beach?
Do you really want to build your house on the sand?
Where would you suggest?
Its poor land, but the Appalachians might be nice.
That’s ok, I hear poor lands offer great doors.

Autheticity of Faith (June Newsletter Pastor’s Corner)

Apologetics is the big Theological world that means making a defense of the Faith. You can see the word apology in there, but instead of saying “I’m sorry, I believe in Jesus” as modern usage would have it, it is based off of an older use of that word. An apology was a response, but it was a reasoned response, a defense. The other word you might see in there is logos – a report, a word, in the beginning was the Word (John 1:1). So when someone originally gave an apology, they defended their original words and actions. If they did not wish to defend them, or if they had a change of heart, they would repent and ask forgiveness. What a world. We now offer apologies looking for forgiveness. But maybe something remains of that understanding because modern apologies so often are not “I’m sorry, I did wrong” but “I’m sorry that you feel I did wrong”. An apology, a defense, is being offered, just without the hard work of putting words together.

The reason I bring up apologetics is that I have recently read a book that strikes me as deeply true. Traditional apologetics took place on the surface of things. The church would offer an apology or reasons for its teachings. You might be familiar with many of these from the traditional arguments for the existence of God to the typical confirmation class. The entire nature of the catechism, a book of questions and answers, is apologetic. It presents the faith, receives questions to that presentation, and then attempts to answer those questions. So, in a deep way, apologetics is for the faithful. Christ claims to be the Truth and the Word. Following Christ is not about blind faith, but revealed faith. But the ground of apologetics, the questions that are being asked, have moved. Either the standard apologetics have convinced and assuaged doubts or they haven’t. There is a mystery here. The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. The Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. We continue to use these arguments because they are true, but they no longer seem to answer the pressing problem. Instead the pressings questions present as psychological and existential.

The most succinct phrase might be Marx, “religion is the opiate of the masses”, but the deeper claim leveled today is that faith is just a crutch or a mirror. The fact of death scares me, so I along with society have created something called religion to mollify my horror. Or I have a desire for meaning in life, and I live in a certain way, so I along with those likeminded have banded together to create a culture or a religion that affirms my life. The charge being leveled is that instead of being created in the image of God, we have created God in our own image. The corollary is that anyone who holds onto the crutch or the mirror is naïve or childish in some way. The inverse of St. Paul who would argue it was time to put away childish things and grow up in the Faith. The apologetics here are no longer surface answers, but dwell in hearts. The apologetic answers here are a defense of the authenticity of faith. Why is the Christian Faith not just wish projection?

In this season of Pentecost the first answer must simply be the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit that dwells in us calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. And I know that is a nonsensical answer. As I said above it is a mystery. In this day and age many of us might have “tried on” a different religion or no religion, but something didn’t feel right. Why? The Spirit in us testifying to the truth.

But for those of a less mystical bent, what other answers might defend the authenticity of faith? Recognizing that this is a newsletter and not a philosophical treatise, I can only offer an outline. So, my quick outline is this. If I were creating my own religion, if I were making a God that conformed to my image, it wouldn’t be Father, Son and Spirit. It wouldn’t have a call to the cross as part of it. It would probably look more like Joel Osteen and a call to Wall Street or success. If I was making it, it wouldn’t have a Jew who died at the hands of Romans at its center. That is way too particular. It would be much more universal and welcoming. Instead of the image of being grafted into one vine, I’d invent one where each plant could grow on its own, follow its own path to truth. Many paths lead to the same place. And it certainly wouldn’t have such a thing as: I believe in the resurrection of the dead. Instead it would talk about spirituality and how this body is merely atoms that we one day will escape and return to the essence of all.

Instead, my apology for authenticity is the apostolic witness. We saw his hands and his feet. We saw him lifted up to heaven. That cross is really the Son being faithful to the Father and freeing us from bondage to this world’s ruler. The Spirit has been poured out on this generation. As always it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the power of God to us who are being saved. God is not conformed to us, but we are converted by the Spirit and conformed to the likeness of His Son – a likeness that the world always rejects.

Memorial Day:Pentecost::Law:Gospel

Text: John 15:26-17, John 16:4-15
Full Draft of Sermon

Poor Pentecost, it is one of the three High Holy Days of the Church Year (Christmas, Easter and Pentecost), and yet it is the one that often gets forced to share its celebration with a secular holiday. A couple of years ago it was Mother’s Day. This year Memorial Day. In a odd way though that might be appropriate. The Spirit doesn’t call attention to himself. The other thought is that its really hard to make a materialist celebration out of the Spirit.

Putting those thoughts aside, the juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Pentecost makes for some tough but I hope enlightening comparisons. The driving force of memorial day is to hallow something, to make it holy. The graves of soldiers who died fighting the nation’s ware we have a good and natural desire to make holy. The problem is that our efforts still are over the dead. Even the most powerful and permanent of our memorials have limits. These too will pass. But Pentecost, the work of the Spirit, is not to make dead tributes but living stones. It is the work of the Spirit that sanctifies our efforts, gives them life and turns them to the glorification of Christ who released us from our dead stone.

The only empirically verifiable Christian dogma…

From WSJ – “Why We Lie

Not too long ago, one of my students, named Peter, told me a story that captures rather nicely our society’s misguided efforts to deal with dishonesty. One day, Peter locked himself out of his house. After a spell, the locksmith pulled up in his truck and picked the lock in about a minute.

“I was amazed at how quickly and easily this guy was able to open the door,” Peter said. The locksmith told him that locks are on doors only to keep honest people honest. One percent of people will always be honest and never steal. Another 1% will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television; locks won’t do much to protect you from the hardened thieves, who can get into your house if they really want to. The purpose of locks, the locksmith said, is to protect you from the 98% of mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.

Romney, Mormonism and Christians

Luther in one of his more famous quotes (and very shocking for the time) said, “I’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.”

I’ve read two stories about Mr. Romney lately that were surprising. The first from Megan McArdle’s Atlantic blog (by a guest writer).

[O]ur family had out-grown our small home, so we found a larger one and put the word out that we would appreciate any help in loading and unloading our rented moving truck. Among those who showed up that morning was Mitt Romney, now the governor of Massachusetts, who had just completed his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Mitt had a broken collarbone, but for two hours traipsed between our home and the truck, carrying out whatever he could manage with his one good arm.

The second from the NYT through Rod Dreher.

Nearly two decades ago, Randy and Janna Sorensen approached Mr. Romney, then a church official, for help: unable to have a baby on their own, they wanted to adopt but could not do so through the church, which did not facilitate adoptions for mothers who worked outside the home.

Devastated, they told Mr. Romney that the rule was unjust and that they needed two incomes to live in Boston. Mr. Romney helped, but not by challenging church authorities. He took a calculator to the Sorensen household budget and showed how with a few sacrifices, Ms. Sorensen could quit her job. Their children are now grown, and Mr. Sorensen said they were so grateful that they had considered naming a child Mitt. (The church has since relaxed its prohibition on adoption for women who work outside the home.)

What both of those stories tell me, and let’s be clear these are not from right-wing sources seeking to put a halo on Mr. Romney, what they tell me is about something at the core of the man. For a guy who seems to be open the the charge of “there is no there, there”, both of those stories tell me there is a significant there, there. Think about that first one for a second. Mormonism isn’t exactly a big thing in Massachusetts. This article says that Mitt’s stake (what mormon’s might call a circuit or a district in lutheran speak) was about 1000 members all told. Those 1000 members would have been distributed over 5 – 10 individual congregations. So, Mr. Romney’s own congregation was probably similar in size or maybe a little bigger than St. Mark’s. It was not a mega-church outpost. The sitting governor of your state, who has broken a collarbone and just lost a senate campaign, shows up to move furniture. That is an outrageous use of time from a utilitarian standpoint. Then Gov. Romney could probably have paid a couple of college kids to do it and still been dollars ahead. Heck, he could have sent a couple of intern staffers. But, he saw something about his church community that it was more valuable to express community by his own person showing up.

The second story is about how Mr. Romney approached what my be labeled as a typical “feelings” story. Church doctrine said something: families are important enough to have in a quaint term a homemaker. The church would not place a child into a home that did not have one. That doctrine created a conflict with a felt need. The parishoner had a felt need to adopt a child. Anyone who has been part of at least mainline churches in the last 30 years knows that when a doctrine meets a felt need, the doctrine collapses like a house of cards. What do we need to honor these dusty rules for, people are hurting!

What Mr. Romney did was: a) uphold the doctrine as both good and proper, and b) put himself on the line to show how it might be followed and actually help one’s life. Folding the doctrine was the easy way out. Mr. Romney himself was not going to change it immediately to help his person. It would have been very easy to agree with the felt need, write a stern note about how it should be changed, commiserate with the parishoner about the heartless church and point her to secular sources. But instead of painting himself as the emotional good guy, Mr. Romney did the hard thing. He taught and built and sustained a mature relationship.

I say this completely as a Lutheran minister. While I think the Mormon doctrine is a dangerous Christian heresy, the most attractive thing about Mr. Romney is his Mormonism and how he lives it. The wisdom shown in those two stories is deep. Luther’s quote I started with is a shocking application of the Two-Kingdom’s theology. What is needed in the kingdom of the left, the political kingdom of the here and now, is not necessarily piety but wisdom. Not that piety is bad, but one can be a pious fool. That person should be kept far away from the sword of government. (As was said of King Steven – “a good man who did no justice”.) The Mr. Romney in those two vignettes would easily qualify as a wise Turk.

Sanctified Freedom or how finance is a great school of the law

Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
Full Text – note, I deviated more from this text than I typically do.

Here is the question you need to ask yourself – are we bound creatures needing freedom, or largely free creatures needing strict guidelines?

How you answer that question will determine how you hear (or don’t hear) the gospel.

The stories come from the papers and the world of finance. The bottom line, the fact that everything can be reduced to a number and measured, and the relentless pressure to turn in a specific number drive home the lessons of the law and how we are all bound to unobtainable expectations. Only in Christ by the power of the Spirit are we free to produce real fruit.

Two Realms and the New York Times

David Brooks is like the one eyed man in the land of the blind.

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties…Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.

I say one eyed man because David Brooks understands the law. Not the civil law, but the natural law or the religious use of the law. He understands 1 John 1:8, “if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us”. Many politicians of the left and the right think that if only we could implement out program we would get it right. That is a form of denying the truth. Because as St. Paul says all the law does is increase sin. (Rom 5:20). But David Brooks only has one eye. That part after the ellipsis in the quote gives it away. He thinks that just acknowledging original sin or our inclination to break the rules will restore good government. Now turning from complete falsehood to truth might lead to better government, but it might just as well lead to another rash of “men of iron” who would seek to impose that better way. Since all men are rule breakers we need that “strong ruler” to keep them in line. That thinking lead to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and every homicidal dictator of the 20th century left and right. Hitler won elections. Stalin was popular.

The second eye is the gospel. Those founders understood that law only leads to sin. They also understood that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness had political dimensions, but were largely spiritual in nature. For a democratic government to survive required citizens of private virtue (4 Cardinal: Prudence, Patience, Fortitude and Temperance; 3 Theological: Faith, Hope and Charity). And the only way to sustained private virtue is conversion and the indwelling of the spirit. You can have the best system set up with complete understanding of the law, but absent private virtue it will come to naught.

What the democracies of the west are reaping is the coming to naught. Virtues are not built and practiced because the Spirit has been denied. The Spirit has been denied because the Spirit testifies to Christ alone. And we do not want Christ. We can do it ourselves. We can perfect our democracy and our safety net and our war machines. We do not want the grace. Especially a grace given from a cross. Empire always looks better than the cross, until you live in it or under it as the case may be.

Paragraph to Ponder

From Fr. Raymond Brown’s Anchor Bible Commentary on John, John 17:9-16…

If the disciples are sent by Jesus into the world, it is for the same purpose for which Jesus was sent into the world – not to change the world but to challenge the world. In each generation there is on earth a group of men given by God to Jesus, and the task of the disciples is to separate these sons of light from the sons of darkness who surround them. Those given to Jesus will recognize his voice in and through the mission of the disciples and will band together into one.