Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 13, 2008, Sermon: The Church is the Body of Christ

Sermon for the third Sunday after Easter, April 13, 2008, by the Reverend Ernestein Flemister.

Last week, an article appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer entitled “Church closes after 139 years.” It went on to say, “Say a prayer for St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church. But not inside the 139-year-old landmark. The church closed Easter Sunday.”

The article quotes the Sr. Warden and Deacon who were obviously very hurt and angry; their remarks reflected their anger. The deacon is quoted as saying, “We should have been smiling and rejoicing and exclaiming, ‘He hath risen!” Instead, the service was as solemn as the funeral of a child.”

The article then says, “Officials with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio attribute the closing to declining attendance. “That’s the main reason,” said the Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal, diocesan bishop. Only 16 households regularly put money in the offering plate.”

It then states that closing churches runs counter to a policy established by the late Rt. Rev. Herbert Thompson, who said in a 1996 speech, “To the suggestion of closing churches, we must ask: is there no more work to do for Christ here?”

A quote from Bishop Breidenthal follows. “This is not my policy. Parishes will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

Even though the church no longer holds services, the soup kitchen and the nurse will remain active to minister to the needs of the people of Avondale. The nurse is quoted as saying that “The closing is an abuse of power.” The head of the soup kitchen says, “Closing a church is a sin, god calls us to serve. He calls us to pray, too, but where? I don’t want to go anywhere else to worship. The sanctuary light over the altar was extinguished – that candle’s flames stands for the life of Christ, but when you close a church, the Lord’s light goes out.”

Bishop Breidenthal in an op-ed article later in the week said, “As some know, the Parish of St. Michael & All Angels has been closed, owing to dwindling numbers. This is understandably a sad time for those who are losing their accustomed weekly gathering for worship in a place they love. But this is not the whole story. The Episcopal Church is not leaving Avondale. On the contrary, we are convinced that now, more than ever, we are called to stand with those who seek peace and justice and the possibility of common life in the inner city. God has provided us in St. Michael’s with a strategic location for such a ministry, and we intend to move forward as quickly as possible to make this a reality.”

I have quoted extensively from parishioners of St. Michael and All Angels to give a sense of their hurt and anger.

This morning, I want to talk about their remarks within the context of our Gospel reading, the familiar story of the road to Emmaus.

Two of the disciples were talking about the events of the past week, when Jesus joins them on the trip. Our gospel says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

Jesus asks them what they’re talking about and they respond by saying to him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

In other words, "What rock have you been hiding under that you don’t know what happened with the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth!" They describe Jesus as, “A prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.”  They go on further to say that they had hoped that Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel.”

They then tell him their version of the story of the women’s visit to the tomb on the morning after: “They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”

After they tell their story, Jesus chides and teaches them by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

After all this, the two disciples still do not recognize him. As they came near to Emmaus, Jesus is about to leave them when they invite him to spend the evening with them. They sit down at the table and Jesus “Took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

Finally, finally, they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

The Book of Common Prayer describes the Holy Eucharist, the breaking of the bread as the principal act of Christian worship. In this act of worship, we are all welcome to the table of the lord as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where we will all be received regardless of race, creed, color and economic status. This bread that we break every Sunday is meant to encourage and strengthen us to go out into the world and serve. In the breaking of the break, barriers and walls are destroyed. The bread that we break can be broken in churches big and small, in villages, in hospitals, in prisons--it can be broken anywhere.

So why do we get so attached to our buildings, the physical structures where we worship? The actual mission and work of the church often happens outside the four walls.

The good people of St. Michael and All Angels are understandably angry and hurt, but the opinion of the one person that the light of Christ goes out when a church is closed is incorrect. While I understand their anger at having to leave their familiar, comfortable and secure worship space, we can in actually worship anywhere. God is not attached to a building or structure. We choose to worship at “our” church. We suffer from building lust when we make worship and church all about the building. The physical structure is not the Church, we are the Church. The light of Christ never goes out when a church is closed; the body of Christ never closes.

The word translated “church” in the English bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo (to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means “the called-out ones.” A more accurate translation would be “assembly” because the term ekklesia was used to refer to a group of people who had been called out to a meeting. It was also used as a synonym for the word synagogue, which also means to “come together,” i.e. a gathering.

Since believers have been united with Christ through spiritual baptism, they are sometimes corporately referred to as the Body of Christ.” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:11,13,18,27; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:30) The idea seems to be that the group of Christians in the world constitute the physical representation of Christ on earth. It is also a metaphor which demonstrates the interdependence of members in the Church, while at the same time demonstrating their diversity from one another. (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:14-17)

When the anger and hurt subside, and the air clears I hope that the former members of St. Michael and All Angels and we will recognize that the mission and work of God still goes on at St. Michael and All Angels; that the bread is still being broken and can be broken anywhere. The care and feeding of those in need breaks down barriers--all are welcome to God’s table.

Sometimes we have to sacrifice our comfort to do God’s work. We need to recognize that God is moving and working even in our hurt and anger; remolding and reshaping the light within us, calling us out to break bread in the world. We sometimes need to be reminded that it is God’s mission, not ours.

We all travel the road to Emmaus. When do we recognize Jesus? Do we recognize Jesus only at our table?

Our collect for the day says, “O god, whose blessed son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.”

God’s mission and redeeming work can be carried out anywhere. Let us not limit God’s mission to the four walls of churches. I ask that we keep the people of St. Michael and All Angels in our prayers at this time when they are angry and hurting. I also ask that we reach out to and minister to them; inviting them to be open to god’s voice in the chaos that they are experiencing.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Health & Wellness: Environmental Conservation

From the Grace Church Health and Wellness Committee, April 2008

April 22nd was Earth Day. That day, I heard an interesting discussion on environmental conservation. Two divergent Christian perspectives were presented. From one perspective, God is characterized as having created the earth and human intervention to preserve or conserve the earth is unnecessary. Alternatively, God created the earth and called man to conserve its resources. I support the second perspective.

Environmental Conservation begins at home. The principles undergirding these lifestyle choices are simple. Look for opportunities to recycle, reuse, repair rather than replace, and when disposal is necessary, do so properly.

· Recycling – The City of Cincinnati asks residents of single family dwellings to recycle their glass and clear plastic containers, paper products and aluminum cans. Residents are encouraged to recycle the following items: mixed office paper, magazines, cardboard, broken down telephone books, junk mail, brown grocery bags, computer paper, and paperboard (such as cereal boxes). Recycling bins are provided for free to these residents and are emptied weekly when set at the curb with your garbage. Recycling bins are also available to residents of dwellings of nine units or less.  Rumpke offers eight free drop-off sites within the City limits. Recycling these items performs two functions. It minimizes the need for manufacturing and packaging plants to buy additional raw material to make these products. In addition, it reduces the amount of solid waste that must be transported to an appropriate site and landfilled. Space within existing landfills is diminishing and siting new landfills for construction is becoming more difficult.

· Reuse - Donating your used car (truck, van, RV) for reuse is an option for us all. Several local agencies (e.g., St. Vincent de Paul, “,” Greater Cincinnati Television Educational Foundation, the Kidney Foundation) all accept donations of vehicles. Most of these agencies will come to your location and pick up the vehicle. All that is required are the keys and title. The vehicle does not have to be in good running order.

· Repair Rather than Replace: This wise saying used to be very common. Admittedly for some items like shoes, electronics and many appliances, this practice is more challenging than it was even ten years ago, but it is still possible. Consider repairing items before defaulting to replacing them. Consider durability of an item during its purchase.

· Dispose of Properly: Once an item clearly falls into the category of waste, its proper disposal is critical. Waste may be categorized as solid waste, construction and demolition debris (baseboard, wood products and concrete), hazardous waste (used motor oil, oil-based cleaning fluids, and turpentine), infectious waste (medical waste, used bandages, needles and other “sharps”) and yard waste (leaves and branches) . Solid waste is what we routinely put in our trash cans for weekly pickup at the curb. Included might be such items as food products, broken toys, and vacuum cleaner bags. Neither construction debris, hazardous waste, nor yard waste, should be put in your trash. Infectious waste may be placed in the “regular” waste stream but should be properly packaged to protect workers from injury.

Should you have concerns or want additional information about the material presented above, please contact your local health department, department of environmental services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (, the Rector, or someone on the Grace Church Health and Wellness Ministry Committee (Chaired by Mrs. Florence Poyer, R.N.)

Prepared by: Walter S. Handy, Ph.D., member, Grace Church Health and Wellness Ministry Committee

Health & Wellness: Counseling & Psychotherapy

From the Grace Church Health and Wellness Committee, April 2008

The theme for April is counseling and psychotherapy. This is also National Counseling Awareness Month. A number of important issues come to mind on this topic and between the first and second editions of this newsletter for the April, we will discuss them. Such issues include but are not limited to the following:

  • Reasons to seek counseling or psychotherapy,
  • What you can expect the first session,
  • Training and experience of your counselor or therapist,
  • The actual counseling process, including length of services, termination and possible referrals to other mental health professionals,
  • Confidentiality,
  • Exceptions to confidentiality and
  • Setback prevention.

Reasons to Seek Counseling or Psychotherapy – Reasons for seeking counseling or psychotherapy generally fall into the category of experiencing persistently mild to moderate trouble getting through the activities of daily living as a consequence of emotional or psychological pain or confusion. An additional reason to seek counseling might be severe emotional trauma secondary to, for example, the death of a parent, spouse or child or extreme anxiety secondary to, for example, the diagnosis of a life threatening, or life altering disease. Clearly, these are also times to call upon prayer but counselors or therapists can often serve as adjuncts to such prayer.

What You Can Expect the First Session? - Your first session will likely include discussion of fees, frequency of meeting and most importantly, a time for you to describe the issues or feelings that bring you to counseling as well as how things will look or feel differently when you have your last session. Discussions may also extend to the history of the problem and what, if any, other strategies you have tried on your own, or with the help of other professionals, to address the problems. Some therapists or counselors may also ask you to describe the things in your life that are going well or that you feel really good about. Such questions are built upon the assumption that you have likely developed social skills that have allowed you to experience many successes, in spite of your current array of problems, and such skills will become important building blocks for the development of future social skills.

Your Counselor – You can expect your counselor or therapist to be either a psychologist, therapist, or clinical counselor, and have advanced graduate degrees (e.g., Masters or Ph.D.). They will have taken many courses in the study of human behavior, assessment and treatment of emotional problems and have, in addition, had many hours of counseling experience under the direct supervision of mental health professionals as a students-in-training before becoming licensed. You should feel free to inquire about your counselor's background and training.

The Process of Counseling - Your experience in counseling or psychotherapy will vary depending on the counselor, what issues and background you bring to the counseling process, and the methods of helping, or professional orientation, the therapist feels most confident will be of help to you. In general, the process involves you and potentially other members of your family, speaking about issues openly and honestly, while your therapist listens to you, asks questions, clarifies points of confusion and works with you (and your family) collaboratively to address your issues. You should expect to be able to discuss with your counselor any concerns you have, whether about your problems or about the process of counseling itself. While your counselor will help you meet your goals, he or she probably will not “tell you what to do”. Rather, you will both work to identify and build upon your strengths while remaining cognizant of problematic behaviors that may have become habitual.

More than likely, your counselor will focus on improving your behavioral skills and self-confidence in dealing with the “real life” challenges that you face. Your counselor is apt to ask you to try out new and more effective behaviors in these “real life” situations and then to report back with assessments about how effective the trial behavior was. Like an effective coach, your counselor will assist you in recognizing the dynamics of interpersonal interactions with specific attention being paid to your role or contribution in how these interactions turn out. Based upon your report, then your counselor may recommend that you “tweak” your behaviors some to achieve a more desired outcome. If, for instance, your usual tendencies are to dominate conversations with friends, family and/or colleagues, your counselor may suggest that you try to listen a little bit more than you are accustomed to doing. Alternatively, let’s say that you are seeking counseling because your supervisor has received complaints from your coworkers or customers that you constantly complain about work. The following scenario might take place. To help keep track of your progress, your counselor may ask you to keep detailed written logs or diaries of the frequencies (e.g., 5 times a day) and durations (e.g., 30 minutes) of troublesome behaviors (I complained about my job to my coworker 5 times every day – for 25 minutes) and your constructive behaviors (e.g., At work, I asked for additional work after completing my customary assignments 3 times last week). Over the course of the counseling experience, one measure of progress revealed by such logs or charting might then be a gradual reduction in the frequency and duration of complaining with a corresponding increase in frequency of positive behaviors.

If you do not feel satisfied with the progress that you are making in counseling, or with any aspect of the counseling process, share your concerns with your counselor. She or he needs to know your concerns in order to be helpful to you.

Confidentiality and Exceptions – Your personal information is kept secure and confidential by your counselor. Several exceptions exist: (a) you choose to sign a release of information authorization allowing your personal information to be shared with designated others (e.g., your medical doctor); (b) personal information shared with your counselor must, by law, be shared with appropriate others if your counselor assesses that you represent an imminent and credible threat or harm to yourself or others; (c) cases of suspected child or elder abuse must also be reported, and (d) on rare instances, courts can ­order or subpoena your records.

Setback Prevention – Changing established habits is difficult. Identifying situations that “trigger” ineffective behaviors or that inhibit prosocial behaviors can be a useful tool. Often the process of rehearsing constructive solutions and/or developing a plan to address problematic situations can prevent tendencies to revert to destructive behavioral solutions.

Should you have concerns or want additional information about the material presented above, please contact your local mental health care provider, the Public Library, the Rector, or someone on the Grace Church Health and Wellness Ministry Committee (Chaired by Mrs. Florence Poyer, R.N.)

Prepared by: Walter S. Handy, Ph.D., member, Grace Church Health and Wellness Ministry Committee