Pastor's Blog

JUNE 2016



Dear Friends,


Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, spoke at the Luther College graduation ceremony a week ago Sunday. Her overall theme was the need for this generation of graduates to lead the way in finding new ways to live in harmony with the natural world—a message dear to my heart, as you know. Cousteau suggested an important attitude for the graduates to keep in mind as they engage this challenging work: "Don't be afraid to fail."


"Don't be afraid to fail." It's one of the current buzz phrases among people who try to understand and promote innovation. It is a fairly substantial shift in outlook from what I grew up with, and one that many people think is essential to the creative process. The tech industry is one of the only places where attempting to start a company and having it fail is considered a plus on your resume. 95% of new startups fail. And yet the successful 5% that currently support our high standard of living could never have emerged unless all those people tried.


It was the 150th commencement ceremony at Luther. There were about 720 students graduating. The first graduating class had 11 students, and they graduated a year late due to illness and the outbreak of the Civil War. Luther was founded to provide an education to the children of immigrants. Their effort did not fail but it was a near thing that first year. "Don't be afraid to fail" is just as important in the world of nonprofit organizations as it is in business.


I remember reading an article some years ago which argued that one of the greatest innovations from the early days of the United States was, of all things, bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy laws are essential to a vibrant and innovative economy because they make it possible to try, fail, and still survive to try again economically. Before that debtors were thrown in prison where they had little chance of paying off their debts.


Of course the entrepreneurs are encouraging us not to fear undertaking some great and challenging endeavor. They are not encouraging moral failure. We should be afraid of moral failure and do our very best to avoid it. But as Christians we know that even here, failure is not the end of the story. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." The Lord's Prayer assumes that, being human, we will fail from time to time in our relationships with God and with our neighbor. When that happens we are called to respond with forgiveness and reconciliation. We are assured by the teaching and example of Jesus that God will respond to our failures with forgiveness and love.




Go forth with boldness to spread the good news of God's love. Be not afraid.


The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries




April 2016


Dear Friends,

In my Easter sermon I used as an illustration one of the trees in our back yard. The bark was peeling off and it looked quite dead. We were afraid it would fall onto the garage, so we had it cut down. Since it was the anchor for the dog's tie-out wire, and there was no good alternative, it was cut about 10 feet up, above the attachment point. Imagine my surprise when four new branches began to grow out from the sides of the stump, turn 90 degrees, and head for the sky! Now 20 years later they perfectly shade our deck. New life emerged where none was expected.

Despite his many predictions, the disciples never grasped that Jesus would have to die, but would also rise again. Only when he appeared to them following the resurrection—on the road to Emmaus, by the Sea of Galilee—did they understand what he had been telling them. Then they were filled with joy. New life arose where none was expected.

We might take those four branches to represent four major teachings of Jesus that are confirmed and completed by his dying and rising again.

                    Faith. Our faith in the goodness of God is confirmed when crucifixion is overcome, and all the powers of death with it. We know, therefore,

                    that God will be with us always, even to the end of the age.


                    Hope. Because of the resurrection we have hope in the communion of saints—that those we love who have died live on joyfully in the nearer

                    presence of God. We have hope that we too are headed for eternal life.  Meanwhile on this earth we hope and believe that wherever there is pain,

                    suffering, or destruction, there is also the possibility of new life arising where none was expected.


                    Love. The crucifixion is the ultimate expression of God's self-giving love for us. No one has greater love that this, to lay down one's life for one's

                    friends."(John 15:13) Yet Jesus lays down his life for strangers, for the sake of the world in general, giving up his own life in exchange for ours.


                    Peace. "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you." (John 14:27) Jesus shows us how to live in justice and peace—by loving our neighbors as

                     ourselves, and by following his example of self-giving love. When we love our enemies, as he commanded, we cannot wish them harm. As a result

                    we seek reconciliation and interrupt the cycle of violence, making room for peace to grow, even where none could be expected.


Alleluia. Christ is Risen!

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Harries










MARCH 2016


Dear friends,

 

            A native of Spain, Egeria spent three years traveling to Egypt, Israel and Syria, around the year 380. She wrote an account of her travels for her sisters back home. In 1884 a partial manuscript of her narrative was found in the library of the Brotherhood of St. Mary in Arezzo, Italy. The eleventh century manuscript had been copied by monks at the monastery of Monte Cassino.

            Egeria described how Maundy Thursday was celebrated in Jerusalem at the time. Here is Marion Hatchet's summary of Egeria's report:

 

The Eucharist was celebrated at 2 PM in the market area, a large basilica built by Helen, the mother of Constantine, over the site of the discovery of the true cross.  After the dismissal at 4 PM the congregation moved to the courtyard behind the church, where a cross was erected at the supposed sight of the crucifixion, for a second celebration. Prayers at the tomb followed; then the people hurried home for a meal before meeting at the Eleona. This church was built near the top of the Mount of Olives over the site of a cave believed to be the place where our Lord delivered his teachings to the disciples during the week in Jerusalem before his death. Egeria wrote: "There they sing hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and the place, interspersed with readings and prayers, until about 11 PM. Then they read passages from the gospel which recount what the Lord said to his disciples as he sat in the very cave which is in the church." At midnight the congregation moved from the Imboman, the church at the top of the mount, for a similar service which lasted until cock crow. Singing, the congregation moved down the mount to the church built at the site where our Lord prayed, and from there to the site of the arrest at Gethsemane. Appropriate prayers, hymns, and lections were used at each of the stations. At daybreak the congregation returned to the site of the crucifixion for the reading of the Johannine account of the trial before Pilate. Then the congregation was dismissed until the first service of Good Friday, though "those with the energy go to sign on to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged."

(Marion J. Hatchet, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, Seabury, 1980)

 

            So you see, when you participate in the special observances of Holy Week, (which in our case total only about 3 hours :-)), you are part of a rich and very ancient tradition. These days the greatest value is placed on the newest things and on technical wizardry. I'm no Luddite. I love computers and smart phones and things too. BUT, I think it's also extremely valuable to be rooted by ritual in an ancient and wise faith. I look forward celebrating the rites of Holy Week with you.


Cordially,

The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries




FEBRUARY 2016
Dear Friends,

Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days.

Forty is a symbolic number in the scriptures. It represents a fullness or completeness of time. A good long time. Enough time. You may recall that in the story of Noah and the Ark, it rained for forty days and forty nights. And the flood also lasted forty days. Forty years was the length of time Israel wandered in the wilderness before they went into the Promised Land. Moses was up on the mountain forty days when he received the Law. Following that tradition, the season of Lent is forty days long (not counting Sundays, which technically are not part of Lent).

The first thing Jesus did as he began his ministry was to spend a good long time, a fullness of time in the wilderness. Apart from the temptations of Satan, we don’t know exactly what he was doing all that time. But I think we can safely assume that he spent a great deal of it in prayer and conversation with God.

Jesus also went out into the wilderness alone to pray several times during his ministry, much to the consternation of his disciples when they couldn’t find him. The rhythm of contemplation and action has been part of Christian spirituality ever since. All of us need time to pray, time to be in the presence of God, and time to receive God’s love. Then we need to return to the work of the kingdom strengthened and refreshed.

Lent is a time we set aside the church year for self-reflection and spiritual growth. The tradition of giving something up for Lent was ideally not for the sake of self-abnegation, but rather served as a reminder of the special season. During Lent we begin the service with confession for the same purpose: to give a tangible sign that we are in a different season—a season for contemplation and learning.

Lent was the time when new converts to the faith were prepared for their baptism at Easter. That tradition has survived in the form of the special Lenten Study Programs offered in almost every parish. Lent was also a time for reconciliation within the parish community.

This Lent, I encourage you to adopt a new prayer discipline or set aside some extra time for contemplation. I also encourage you to find an opportunity to learn more about your faith through our Wednesday evening study, or one of the many other offerings in the community. May you observe Holy Lent.

 Cordially,


Pastor's Notes - January 2016

posted Jan 11, 2016, 11:46 AM by Laurie DeGezelle

Dear Friends,

 

A couple of weeks ago, I caught the flu.  I never got around to getting a flu shot in the fall.  I thought about it on several occasions, but it was always an inconvenient time, or I had the dog with me and couldn’t stay, or something.  Probably the truth is, I didn’t want to get stuck with the needle.  Which would have hurt for all of 2 seconds and ached for maybe an hour.  So instead I was totally miserable for 24 hours and moderately ill and exhausted for another week.  How foolish is that?  But such is human nature.

 

Which set me to wondering what else I might be subconsciously avoiding, because it’s uncomfortable in the short term, even though it is very much more beneficial in the longer term?  One thing on my list is an unpleasant medical check, about which nothing further need be said in polite company.  But what about other areas of life?

 

I’ve reached the age where, as one speaker put it, “If I died today, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention would not consider it a premature death.”  Is my will up to date? Not very.  It would also be a good idea to have a health care directive, chosen representative, and all those other good things in place.  It’s not too soon to lay in plans for my burial service either.  It’s one of the simplest, greatest gifts someone can give to their family, who will otherwise have to make a lot of educational guesses while under stress and facing time constraints.  Pre-planning practical matters surrounding serious illness and end of life is, (assuming reasonable plans, of course) is a tremendous gift to your family.

 

Without being maudlin, remembering that our time on this earth is unknown can serve as a reminder and motivation to attend to those things Stephen Covey categorizes as “important but not urgent”.  Have you told the people you love that you love them, today, or at least this week?  Have you shared your time and talent generously with your community and particularly with the poor and the outcast?  Have you named, encouraged and celebrated the gifts of people who make your life better?

 

As we begin 2016, let us resolve to do those things we might have been avoiding.  Let us attend to those things that are important even though not immediately urgent.  God grant that we may be a blessing to an ever wider circle of people around us.

 

Have a terrific year!

 

The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries

Pastor's Notes - December 2015

posted Dec 14, 2015, 2:14 PM by Laurie DeGezelle

Dear Friends,

This morning when I left the house there was a dusting of snow on the ground - a sign of hope for winter sports enthusiasts, perhaps a sign of dread for others, but in
either case a sure indication of what is to come.

Advent as you know is a season of joyful anticipation of the birth of Jesus and hopeful longing for his return to initiate the reign of God.  In the lessons assigned for
this season we hear some of the most wonderful canticles expressing the promise of God's reign.  (A canticle is a hymn or other song of praise found in the Bible,
other than a Psalm.)

When John the Baptist was born, his father Zechariah, who had been unable to speak for nine months because he doubted the angel's announcement in
the temple, proclaimed:

        Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.
        He has raised up for us a might savior, born of the house of his servant, David.
        In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
        To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
        And to guide our feet into the way of peace.  (Canticle 16, BCP p. 92)

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth and help with John's birth, the boy leapt in Elizabeth's womb, causing her to exclaim: "Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy."   (Luke 1:41, 44, NRSV)

To which Mary responded with the canticle we commonly call the Magnificat:

        My soul proclaims the great news of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
        For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. ...
        He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
        He has shown the strength of his arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
        He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
        He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
        He has come to the help of this servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy.   (Canticle 15, BCP, p. 91)

Let us join with Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Mary in looking forward with joyful anticipation to the birth of Christ our Savior.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas D Harries

Finding God in Nature

posted Oct 9, 2014, 10:05 AM by Tom Harries

For the past week I’ve been reading my bible every day, even though I’ve never picked up a book. I’ve been reading that other bible, the first one really, in the beauty of God’s creation. First we visited Mount Rushmore. It’s an amazing combination of natural granite and human ingenuity. It was inspiring to think of the movements for good those people led, especially, in this context, the establishment of the national park system under Roosevelt.

God has created a world so fabulously beautiful in places that it calls forth deep feelings of awe and wonder. It’s interesting that the largest of the soaring redwood groves in Muir Woods is called the cathedral grove. And at Yosemite, three particularly tall, slender peaks are referred to as the cathedral spires. At Muir Woods, signs all along the trail encourage visitors to be quiet and soak up the awe, as one would in a cathedral. Both places share with the great cathedrals a sense of soaring up to heaven. The trees in particular seem to go on up forever.

Two miracles are involved here. First that creation has brought forth such beauty. And second, just as important, that God has given us the gift of appreciation. As far as I can tell, our dog was not particularly impressed by the mountains. But we are blessed with the capacity to perceive their beauty and be inspired.

At least since Moses went up on the mountain, people have felt the presence of God in high places and soaring trees or buildings. Our faith resonates in such places. They speak to us because faith, at its best, calls forth the highest and best in us.

One aspect of that highest and best, treasures held in trust for the common good, is exemplified in the national parks themselves. Because they are held in common, millions of people each year have a chance to experience the awe and wonder that we felt. Were it otherwise, these areas would either be overrun tourist traps or private preserves. Either way, the general public would be cut off from their beauty.

The great thing about such beauty is that, like love, it is not diminished by being appreciated. (Granted, some care must be taken not to overstress the trails.) When I look at cathedral grove, one infinitesimal part of the light bouncing off those trees enters my eye and I see them. Were all the light bouncing off to hit my eye, as when the sun catches in my rearview mirror, I would be blinded. But my eyes are perfectly tuned to work with the amount of light they normally get. The little light that enters my eye does not detract from the eyes next to me. They too can gather as much as they need to see the beautiful tree.

How much more is God’s love sufficient for everyone to receive what they need. God loves all of us, and his great love is sufficient to reach every last one. God’s love is manifest in compassion, the forgiveness of sins, and the awesome beauty of creation. May I suggest you go outside now, throw out your arms, and soak in God’s love.

Cordially,

Tom

The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries

Finding our Ministry

posted Jan 15, 2014, 8:00 PM by Tom Harries   [ updated Jan 15, 2014, 8:00 PM ]

 Dear Friends,

I went out to Highland Park today for a quick ski today, before the bitter cold arrived. Highland has installed snowmaking equipment for their cross-country trails, and redesigned the trails as well. Because they have more than enough snow to work with, they are able to set nice, deep, solid tracks for us classic skiers. It was absolutely beautiful. Sun shown on bright white snow. Skiers everywhere, in fluorescent gear.

If only our path through life were so clearly laid out and firmly tracked. No worry about getting off course. Sure, there would still be some tough climbs. Sometimes the wax wouldn't hold, and you'd have to stop and redo it. Downhills could still be thrilling to the point of screaming. But we'd have little fear of taking the wrong trail, or getting lost. The tracks sweep us around the corners; all we'd have to do is lean in.

 For a few people, life seems to work that way. They just know from an early age what they want to do, they have the aptitude, and they do it. There may be big hills and some falls, but they know where they are going and they get there. Or God shows up in a burning bush and says, “Here's what I need you to do.” For most of us, though, the process is a lot messier and less precise. Israel had one Moses, one Aaron, and a whole lot of shepherds and potters and such, some of whom thought maybe they should have been carpenters instead.

How are we to find our way? How shall we advise our children and grandchildren?

Spiritual directors, including perhaps most famously Ignatius of Loyola, have pondered these questions for a thousand years. Alas, there is no magic spell to reveal one's singular correct path.  But they have refined a process of discernment that can be of some help. First, of course, any proposed route must be checked against the teaching of Jesus and the Prophets. Any route that harms other people or diminishes the common good or God's creation can be ruled out. On the other hand, routes that benefit creation, people, and the common good are to be preferred.

Many good trails exist. In choosing among them, we employ a turn of phrase by Fredrick Buechner so felicitous it has gone viral. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC) Jesus promises that the way of love and service will bring us joy. There may be steep hills, crazy swoops, and moments of terror, but overall our best ministry will be joyful. So go ahead. Do what you love to do. But, ask yourself, “How can this work (or play) that I love meet the world’s need?” Perhaps you will find that you need to clear an entirely new trail to bring those together. Or perhaps a route exists but more people are needed to keep it open.

May a good, crisp, bright trail open before you, and may your 2014 be filled with joyful service.

Lit from within

posted Dec 14, 2013, 8:54 AM by Tom Harries   [ updated Dec 14, 2013, 8:54 AM ]

Over the years I've photographed quite a few sunsets. Somehow the picture never captured the reality. I've seen paintings that do a little better, but the vibrancy of the color in nature is nearly impossible to capture in a painting or print. Some of that is simply due to the size. Even the four-foot by six-foot Clyde Butcher prints displayed last year at the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul didn't fill your vision like the horizon-filling panorama of a Midwestern sunset. There's not much you can do about that.

When I got a good digital camera, however, I made a delightful discovery. Sunset photos look much better on a computer monitor than they do in a print. I suspect it's because, on a monitor, as in nature, the colors are lit and energized from within. In both cases we see light that is refracted rather than reflected. Add the capacity of a modern digital camera to stitch multiple exposures together into a single wide panorama and it has become worthwhile to photograph those sunsets.

The beauty of a devoted Christian is like the beauty of a sunset. It doesn't come from sunlight reflecting off the outside. It comes from the light of Christ being refracted as it passes from the Spirit within to the world beyond. I am repeatedly amazed when I see a photo of Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu, neither of whom is particularly exceptional in appearance except for the compassion and joy which radiates from their faces. We have no photographs of Jesus, of course. Yet there was something about him that drew people to him in flocks. Fishermen readily dropped their nets and went off to follow him. I'm guessing that when they saw Jesus in person, the light of God radiated from his face.

You also have the light of Christ within you. When you were baptized the Holy Spirit came to rest on you, just as it rested on Jesus. You, therefore, contain the essential ingredient for becoming as beautiful as a sunrise. The key is to let your light shine. As the old song says, "Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm going to let it shine.” Put your light on a lamp stand for all the world to see.

The purpose of course is not that you be noticed and admired, but rather that the light of Christ show forth into the world. We are not the only refractors of the Holy Spirit. But we can be among them. Our calling is to become more and more like Christ, which we could describe as becoming ever more transparent to the light of Christ within.

As light comes back into the northern world with the lengthening days, I pray that you will be filled with the light of God's love. May you refract the light of Christ and create additional beauty as it passes from you out into the world.

Cordially,
Tom

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