March 2008

March Greetings!

The word on the street is that this has been a hard winter for many people. And I mean on the street literally. In my rounds on Cape Ann, I often run into people associated with St. Paul, either as members or friends of members, or new families, or relatives of people in the congregation. Usually we stop for brief conversations, sometimes held through car windows, or outside shops.

In these on-the-spot pastoral conversations, I have been hearing the toll the times are taking on people, from high oil prices and joblessness, to illnesses and medical costs, to frustration with local and national issues. On the other hand, I hear, too, the profound faith and hope that many people carry with them through all of it. Part of having an inner core of faith, a center or ground on which we stand is the equilibrium or equanimity such a ground provides when external events are tumultuous. We don’t stand on sinking sand, as the old hymn goes, we stand on Christ the solid rock. I have come to appreciate that metaphor even more since living here on Cape Ann. We literally do stand on rock. It’s good to remember the firm ground of God’s grace in the midst of the ups and downs most of us experience.

Lent is one of those times that calls our attention to our need for grace: sustaining, creating, renewing grace, grace that doesn’t depend on what we do or say, but on God’s great will to love us regardless. I was reminded of that again this morning. I went out to walk the redoubtable Elmer, who has finally learned to heel. We went down the street at a leisurely pace, and for the first time, I smelled the mud of spring. Spring mud has a different fragrance than winter. Spring mud smells alive. It’s a wonderful aroma, all that wet earth, rich with life below the surface. Underneath all the snow, the ground is softer. In the woods, the bare limbs of trees and bushes are beginning to change color, from gray to burgundy red and warm brown. Leaf buds soften on the tips of branches.

Spring is coming. With it comes Easter, and all the joys of the risen life. I hope when you go out today, whether you are walking your dog, or getting the mail, or standing on a street corner, the smell of spring coming up from under the snow will gladden your heart. Grace comes all the time toward us; it’s there whether we feel it or not, whether we notice it or not.
We can count on it. May God send you the joy and hope of spring, of Easter. May the living water of new life and the warmth of the Son bring you the certainty of faith that Easter is our way of being.

Blessings and peace,
your sister in faith, Pastor Anne

Snowstorms

We postponed church today, Dec. 16th, until Wednesday night, Dec. 19th at 7:00 p.m. Earlier this week, several of my friends in other churches up and down the Eastern seaboard debated whether to cancel their Christmas Pageants, or their Sunday school rehearsals for this Sunday. Phones buzzed on Friday. Then, yesterday, our Cape Ann community heard the news that a major fire had destroyed two buildings in our downtown area, an apartment house and the Temple Ahavat Achim. One person was killed in the fire, and 22 others are homeless. The temple congregation met for Saturday service at a neighboring church, the Independent Christian Church, a Unitarian Universalist community. Our flurry of worry about our pageant gave way to greater concerns for our neighbors in need.

I spoke last night with a representative from the Red Cross volunteers who are caring for the apartment residents. The need right now is for donations of gift cards from local supermarkets, as well as the Second Glance thrift store. If people would like to donate blankets, clothing, furniture or household goods, those may be dropped off at The Action Shelter, 370 Main Street in Gloucester. The Mayor’s Office is working on a fund to help those displaced by the fire. Should you wish to donate financially, checks should be made out to “The Gloucester Fund” with a note “Middle Street Fire.” For more information, you can also go to the Temple Ahavat Achim website www.taagloucester.org.

I had planned to announce this today in church, but since we are postponed ’til Wednesday, I wanted to get the information out to you as quickly as possible. Pastor Anne

From the Pastor’s Desk:

Greetings All,
On Saturday evening, this week, my husband Michael announced “they” were delivering pallets to the July 4th bonfire site in Lane’s Cove. “They” being the mysterious persons, who, in the next week, will build an imposing hill of wooden pallets, left-over lumber, fish crates, boxes, broken furniture, old wooden doors, sometimes even an old Christmas tree. One year, the bonfire was topped with a small defunct sail boat; another year, an old outhouse graced the summit. We will make trips down to the cove in the evening each day, to watch the progress, greet the various by-standers, and shake our heads in wonder as the bonfire builders swarm up the sides of their creation like sailors swarm up ropes on a ship.

What this has to do with Independence Day, I am not sure, unless the bonfire is a lesser version of those oddly magnificent demonstrations of daring that produced the Boston Tea Party. The Lane’s Cove bonfire is one of those periodic outbreaks of ordered revelry ( I was going to say anarchy) that make life here so interesting. Its appearance certainly is a sign that summer has burst forth, full-bodied, ready for anything, like Athena from Zeus’s brow.

So much for purple prose. By the time you read this, we will be nearing the end of St. Peter’s festival, and entering July 4th celebrations.

This Sunday, July 1st, we will have a celebration of our own during the church service. We will be dedicating all our pledges and gifts for the “Building the Dream” campaign, and we will offer thanks to those who offered leadership during the campaign.

For my part, I thank all of you for your participation in this wonderful time in the life of St. Paul church. Thank you for your prayers, your friendship, your faith, your conversations, your questions, your concerns, your joys, your gifts of time, service and financial offerings. Everyone has been part of this campaign in some way, and I celebrate that. It has brought us together as a church community in many ways, but perhaps the most important is the knowledge that we can do what needs to be done. In the words of one parishioner, we are “the little church that could,” and did.

May God bless you richly this summer with gifts of peace and grace. May you find rest and recreation, and delight in the beauty of this corner of the world.

Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Anne Deneen

Pastor Lane’s Commitment Sunday Sermon

Commitment Sunday – St. Paul, Gloucester, MA
Fourth Sunday in Easter
April 29, 2007
John 10:22-30

The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 10th chapter.

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

This is the gospel of our Lord.

Greeting

Grace and peace be unto you, Christian friends, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

The story is told of a man who lived long ago. He was an art collector. He had one son, who, like so many sons, went off to college. The son was killed in a tragic accident, and in many ways, the father’s heart was broken.

Some time later a young man showed up at the art collector’s door and introduced himself by saying that he was a friend of his son in college. He spoke of how respected and how well liked his son was. Finally, the young man said, “I have painted a portrait of your son. I know it isn’t very good, but I want you to have it.”

The art collector looked at the painting and began to cry. He said, “Oh, no. It is perfect. You have captured his eyes perfectly.” The painting was hung proudly along with the other priceless works of art. Many years later the art collector was quite old, and decided to sell his collection. Dealers from around the country gathered for the auction. The collector stood before them and said, “The first painting to be auctioned is this portrait.” The dealers began to grumble. They had come for the masterpieces, not for this amateurish portrait. No one bid.

Finally, one voice was raised from the back of the room. I bid $100.00. It was the man’s gardener, who had watched his son grow up. The collector said, “I have a bid of $100.00, are there any other bids.” There were none, so he said, “Sold, for $100.00.” And then to the amazement of everyone, the collector said, “And now, this auction is over.” The grumbling changed to open complaining. The collector said, “This auction is over, because the one who has the Son gets it all.”

That is the marvelous news of the gospel – that you who have the Son, receive also all the wonderful gifts our God has to offer. In our gospel Jesus says it this way, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” In the waters of your baptism you were joined to Jesus. In the waters of your baptism, you were given all the gifts of our Lord Jesus. You were joined to the family of God. Your sins were forgiven. You were given the gift of eternal life. And you will never perish.

There is also another incredible image in our gospel. In addition to saying that you will never perish, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” What an incredible promise – that come what will, in this life and the next, no one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand.

Paul says the same thing when he says that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing in heaven, on earth or under the earth can pry you out of Jesus’ loving hand.

I imagine this cosmic game of tug of war going on, with you in the middle, Jesus on one end, and the worst that life can throw at you on the other end. You need not worry. Jesus has you. You are safe. You are secure.

What a promise – you are safely, securely carried in the palm of the Son. Nothing can change that. And being in the palm of the Son means that all the other gifts of God are yours as well. The one who has the Son has it all.

No one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, your life can be lived in the confidence that you are in the care of the one who cares for you so deeply that he was willing to die for you. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, your day to day life can be lived in the knowledge that you are his. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, that means that you can let go of all sorts of things.

We all live with lingering guilt and regret over things we have done and things we have left undone. You can let that go. You have Jesus’ word that your sins are forgiven, that his death on the cross paid the price for your errors. You can rest secure that your past is in Jesus’ hands.

We all live with insecurities about our future, even our eternal future. You can let that go. You have Jesus’ word that even as he rose from the dead, so too someday you will also. You can rest secure that your future is in Jesus’ hands.

Since today is Commitment Sunday for St. Paul’s “Building the Dream” program, I want to talk in a little more detail about another thing you can let go – and that is the possessions of this life. We live in a society that tells us that you are what you have. We are told that the more you have, the more you are worth. Therefore, you should hang on to everything you can get, invest it wisely, and watch your net worth go up.

The message we receive from our Lord is quite a different message. First of all, our Lord tells us that we have value not on the basis of what we have, we have value on the basis of whose we are. We are His, therefore, we have value. Our Lord also tells us that everything you think is yours really belongs to God, and your job is to care for it on God’s behalf. Our Lord tells us that part of what it means to care for that which is God’s, is to give some of it away for God’s work.

If you get value based on what you have, it makes no sense to ever give any money away. But if you know that you are valued already, then it makes all the sense in the world to follow God’s instructions and give generously.

I want to tell you about a little girl I observed last winter. I was in a congregation where the children were bringing their coins forward for their congregation’s capital program, just like your children are going to do in just a few minutes. The difference was that in that congregation, each child had collected coins in an ice cream pail, and they were going to dump them into a large container at the front of the sanctuary.

There was a little girl, probably about five years old, who came forward with a container of coins in one hand, and a ten dollar bill in the other. I have no idea where the ten dollar bill came from, but as she approached the pail into which she was supposed to place her offering, she quickly poured the coins in, and then she froze. She held the ten dollar bill over the pail, but it appeared to be glued to her fingers. Other children passed by, pouring their coins into the pail, and she stood like a statue. Finally, after what seemed like the longest time, the ten dollar bill fluttered from her fingers, and she headed back to mom and dad.

All I could think of as I watched her was – she is just like all the rest of us. Parting with a little money is easy – it really won’t damage our net worth. But parting with a lot – and for her ten dollars was a lot – that is another matter completely. God’s call to each of us is to recognize that our worth is given, not accumulated. God’s call to each of us is the call to generosity.

St. Paul Lutheran Church has been carried in the hand of our Lord for a long time. As I have talked with many of you, I have heard some of your history. Since I was here last month, I have read a history of Lane’s Cove, and have learned more of that history. As I have learned that history, I have learned that through lean years and good years – you obviously have been carried in Jesus’ hand.

Through the last 20 years of that history, you have had a dream. Your dream is that this building might be improved so that all of God’s children can join you free of barriers. Your dream is that your sanctuary might be larger, so that more of God’s children might gather here for worship. Much conversation and much work have gone on to turn that dream into reality. Today is another significant step on that road.

Your congregation has been carried safely in the hand of our Lord. And nothing can snatch it out of his hand. You have been carried safely in the hand of our Lord. And nothing can snatch you out of his hand.

Today, these two facts come together in this call for your generous support to turn St. Paul’s long standing dream into St. Paul’s reality. It is with great confidence that I can stand before you now and invite your generous response to all that God has done for you. For all that God has done for St. Paul’s, and for all that God has done for you. May God bless your future, even as God has blessed your past. Amen.

Come Share the Spirit — Joel Swan

Good morning!

This week, it’s my turn. In all honesty, I thought I was safe. Pastor Anne helped me volunteer to be the Spiritual Leader for the Building Campaign. She has that special way of helping people volunteer. Once I learned that the Spiritual Leader merely had to get others to give inspirational talks, I was breathing easy. But somewhere along this journey, I decided that maybe I did have something to share

I grew up in a small town south of Boston going to a Methodist church. All of my family went to church together, because in those days, Sunday was a day for families. It was my favorite day of the week. I would watch the Davey and Goliath show, walk to church, listen to the sermon and sing all those great Methodist hymns. I’d walk home still humming them many times.

Once home, we’d have a big Sunday dinner and then visit with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Once in college, going to church often meant going alone. More times than not, I found that it didn’t feel like the same service. They didn’t do things the same way. Sometimes, the Gloria Patri had a different tune and other times, they didn’t even sing the Doxology!

After college, Sharon and I were married in her family’s Catholic church and we moved to Texas. For a few months, we alternated between different Catholic and Methodist churches in and around Dallas trying to find the right church for both of us. I never felt at home. Little by little, I just stopped going.

Fast forward a few years, and we moved to Gloucester and started raising our family. We decided that our children would be raised Catholic. It saddened me as they moved through the various stages of their faith, celebrating first communions and confirmations, knowing that it was something I couldn’t share with them.

And then, it all started to change. You see, Sharon and my daughter Meredith had known Miranda and little Rebecca from their times together swimming at the Y. Sharon attended the dedication of Rebecca’s Playground and upon coming home, suggested that maybe this was a church I could attend. We joked a little bit about how even though the church was Lutheran, I always did like that Davey and Goliath show. I put it off for a few weeks and then decided to visit and see for myself. I didn’t expect much at first.

The outside of the church looked very much like many of the other churches I had visited on Cape Ann. I came early and sat in the parking lot for a long time, trying to decide if it was really worth taking a chance. Besides, I didn’t know which door to go in. As some of the newer members can attest, going to a new church for the first time can be a little unsettling. I decided to try the front side door and timed my walk so that I could go in with a crowd. I tried to walk in as if I knew where I was going. That’s when I met Ken Brink for the first time. In the way that only Ken could, he noticed me coming in, introduced himself and began ushering me in the right direction. With that twinkle in his eyes, he told me that he would love to talk with me after the service was over.

I made my way to one of the pews in the back, which are better to hide in and sat all the way on the right end. I’m glad I did because those lovely ladies that followed me in really seemed to want the other end. (By the way, they still let me sit in their pew.) I started to feel a little more comfortable, especially when I recognized one of the hymns listed in the bulletin. But then, the confusion started. The bulletin was listing pages as LBW and WOV but the pastor was talking about green books and blue books. (This was before we had green, blue and red books). Then there was her spiel about individual cups and the common cup. But this was the middle of the month.

Growing up as a Methodist, we only celebrated communion on the first Sunday of each month! I started to wonder if it was too late to sneak out the back door. But those ladies to my left were keeping an eye on me. And then there was that Ken guy with the twinkling eyes.

So here we are, four or five years later. My time here at Saint Paul has changed my life in more ways than I can even begin to count. I became an usher, after making the mistake of cleaning up the pews after church one Sunday. (Some woman named Joanne suggested that I was “usher material”.) I learned more about the Bible by helping to lead a couple of Bible studies. Pastor Anne suggested that I should volunteer. It all started to come together for me a couple of years ago when I was volunteered again to help wash feet on Maundy Thursday. That was most likely the first time I had truly experienced grace, truly shared the Spirit.

Many Sundays, you’ll find me down back, helping to usher people into the church. All too often, I’ve seen the look on people’s faces after they’ve struggled to climb the few short steps at the side entrance, only to see that there are still more steps to go. This has been especially evident during many of the memorial services of the past year. Building the Dream will fix this problem.

There is a liveliness to this congregation which is not always visible to visitors. Then again, that might just be a result of the Finnish roots of many of the members. The openness of the new addition will help that liveliness bubble out onto the street. The redesign of the entryway will practically invite passers-by to join us.

My hope is that this Dream of ours will not only make the church much more accessible but that it will become a place that we use more often during the week. I sense that we’re moving in that direction. There are new families joining almost weekly, the Sunday school program is expanding. We should be able to hold more adult and youth programs and perhaps we can even start up a Men’s Ministry. Things are going to change. Some whom have been at Saint Paul most of their lives might feel uncomfortable with the changes. I’ve already heard of one member remark that he “didn’t know many of the people anymore”.

But think about that. What a wonderful problem to have. As Stan said, “What an opportunity!”. I’d like to leave you with a reading we read almost monthly in the Methodist church whenI was growing up. It’s has taken on a new meaning for me since coming to Saint Paul.

A reading from the third chapter of Collosians. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

For now though, I’ll continue to help at the back of the church welcoming people at the door, always looking for that person that just might need a little ushering into this great family at Saint Paul.I don’t have that twinkle in my eyes yet but some day, just maybe, I will.That twinkle which seems to say “Come on in! Come Share the Spirit!”

Stan Feener’s Temple Talk on 4/15/07

The really interesting thing about opportunities is that we very often don’t recognize them! Or what they potentially represent! And, even if we did, we are more than likely to make excuses rather than face them squarely. I know this very well since I’m as guilty as the next person. But, sometimes, personal choice is not an option.

As a case in point, I was late for an 11:00 service in my pre-choir days when I was literally accosted by Mike Stoffa as I ran through the kitchen. He informed me, in his no-nonsense voice, that a reader was needed immediately and that he had chosen me! I protested vainly, with the strains of the opening hymn in my ears and Mike holding a bulletin toward me, his eyes beseeching me to save the world or at least the upcoming service! Grumbling about a lack of choice, thinking that both life in general and Mike in particular were very unreasonable, I gave in and that was the first step in a journey that has brought me here today for, once committed, there was no turning back.

There is, of course, a Biblical parallel in the Parable of the Great Banquet which is told in the 14th chapter of Luke. You may know this story and the excuses with which the invitations to a sumptuous banquet were turned aside: “I just bought a field and I must go and see it, please excuse me!” I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out, so I can’t come!” I just got married, so I can’t come!” All reasons that may have sounded plausible to their authors but rang false to the ear of their potential host, just as mine did to Mike on that long ago Sunday.

So, you may now well ask, what is this banquet that Stan’s talking about? What is the opportunity? I haven’t received any invitation to a feast of some kind, so I can’t be guilty of turning anybody down!

Well, as I see it, this building project represents just such an opportunity, an opportunity to help us grow and make us a bigger family. This church has already given us a larger family, ready to meet our needs, and, most importantly, it binds us together so that we can more easily fulfill Christ’s mandate: “Go ye into the world and make disciples of all the nations!” Completing this project will literally open us to friends and strangers alike – welcoming them into this special community of Christ of which we are a part, where we experience friendship, good fun, good times, fellowship, sorrow and comfort and a special sense of belonging.

And, make no mistake about this, we are blessed to have many current congregants here because they recognized the unique spirit of community that exists here at St. Paul. They wanted to explore it for themselves and, in their turn, share with us. Making us more accessible to the world at large is a key element to encourage those decisions. Our new members bring us continued vitality and growth and it is exciting to contemplate what our future may hold.

So I ask you to accept the challenge, to give cheerfully to this special opportunity – welcome back old friends and prepare to make new ones but, most of all, do it because you love this place and these people and are excited by the future we can build together. Be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, remembering St. Paul’s admonition: “(Now) it is required that all who have been given a trust must remain faithful.”
In short, as Mike may have put it if he were here in my place, there’s no good excuse to turn me down, we need you now!

Grow in Christ, serve the Lord always. Amen & Thank You!

Capital Campaign — Pastor Lane’s Sermon

Planning Weekend
March 25, 2007
St. Paul, Gloucester, MA
John 12:1-8
Rev. Charles R. Lane

The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 12th chapter.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This is the gospel of our Lord.

Greeting.

I saw a six year olds jaw drop a last winter. Here is how it happened. I don’t know if the Boston Red Sox do this, but each winter the Minnesota Twins have what they call the Twin’s Caravan. Twin’s players break up into small groups and head for the cities and towns of the upper Midwest. It is obviously a marketing trip, but baseball fans, especially the little one, love it.

I’m in the Rotary Club in my town, and two Twins players paid us a visit. After their program, they announced that they would give out autographed baseballs to the club members who could guess their batting averages from the previous season. I got one of those baseballs. It’s not that I’m such a fan, but one person guessed a batting average at .310. The player gave a thumb’s up, calling for a larger number. The next guess was .312. The player turned his thumb down, wanting a smaller number. My fellow Rotarians aren’t too bright, because I was the first one to figure out that there is only one number between .310 and .312.

So I left with an autographed baseball. When I was 6 that would have been a prize kept under lock and key. Quite honestly, I don’t have much need for it now. So I started thinking of 5 and 6 year olds I knew. Immediately a family from church came to mind. They are huge baseball fans, and I knew the six year old, named Thomas, was one of the biggest. So I called his dad and set it up that I would arrive and present the boy with this autographed baseball. When I gave him the ball and told him whose autograph was on it, the little guy’s jaw dropped. Thirty seconds later, it was still in the same position. He was thrilled. I was more thrilled. A couple days later I got a thank you note from him – and my joy was complete.

As I read this morning’s gospel, and thought about what Mary did, I thought about little Thomas. I thought about him, because Mary had also had a jaw-dropping experience, and it was far more jaw-dropping than what happened to Thomas. Mary had experienced what we can only imagine – her brother, dead for three days, was brought back to life. That would make your jaw drop. And in response to that, Mary becomes extravagant. She spends way too much money on perfume, and in a reckless act of servanthood, she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair.

This act only makes sense in response to the jaw-dropping good news, brought into her life by her Lord and Savior.

The marvelous reality of our faith is that you and I have experienced this same jaw-dropping good news. In fact, my claim to you this morning is that you have experienced it in no less magnitude than Mary and Martha and Lazarus did. You have experienced the jaw-dropping good news of the gospel.

As a way of thinking about this, think with me about the words of Martin Luther, who said that we are captive to sin, death, and the power of the devil – and Jesus has freed us from this captivity. You would be captive to sin, except that Jesus died on the cross so that your sins and mine might be forgiven. Each week you come to this sanctuary to hear the marvelous news that you have been washed clean of a week’s worth of dirt by the God whose love for you is unwavering.

You would be captive to death, except that Jesus rose from the dead, and you have God’s promise that someday you will too. Death has been called the last and final enemy, but we know that that is not true. Someday your life here will end – but your life will not end. Through Jesus, you will have the last laugh at death, and you will be raised to live with Jesus forever.

You would be captive to the power of the devil, doomed to leading a life that is just one meaningless event after another. Jesus has changed all that by placing you in a community of God’s people and allowing you to be a part of his great purpose for life.

Is your jaw starting to drop? I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wonder if we shouldn’t go through life with our jaws like this, marveling at the magnitude of God’s blessings.

The jaw-dropping gospel of Jesus Christ has come into your life. In response to that jaw-dropping gospel, the only fitting response is a sort of extravagance that matches Mary’s. As we begin together our journey through “Building The Dream”, extravagance in response to the jaw-dropping goodness of God is a fitting starting point.

There is something about extravagance that can fill a room with its sweet aroma, just as surely as Mary’s perfume filled the room so long ago. There is something about generosity, fueled by the incredible generosity we have experienced from our God, that can make life a delight to live.

The call is “Building The Dream” is the call to this sort of room-filling extravagance, this sort of life-delighting generosity. You people of St. Paul Lutheran Church have the wonderful opportunity to fill this room with the sweet aroma of extravagant giving, and to fill your lives with the incredible joy of generosity. “Building The Dream” isn’t just about improving your church home. It is also about changing your life together as God’s people.

I want to close this morning by telling you a story. It is a familiar story – one that is associated with Christmas. It is a story I try to read, or see in a play or on TV every December. It is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.

At the beginning of the story, Scrooge was very rich, and very stingy, and very miserable. In fact, the one who first told Scrooge’s story described him this way, “Oh, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had every struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Most of you know Scrooge’s story. How he made life miserable for his loyal clerk. How he greeted any sort of kindness with a gruff “Bah…humbug!”

Most of you also know how one Christmas Eve Scrooge had three visitors during the night – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. And you know that when Scrooge was visited by that third ghost, and saw what would happen if his present continued unchanged, well – Scrooge was so startled, so utterly scared that he was changed, he was transformed.

When he woke up he wasn’t sure that it was even the same year, much less the next morning, Christmas morning. He found a young lad walking down the street, who confirmed that it was indeed Christmas. Then Scrooge thought of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Next Scrooge thought of a turkey he had seen at a neighborhood market – the largest turkey he had ever seen. And then he hired the lad to buy the turkey and deliver it to Cratchit, and he hired a cab to take them there, for the turkey was far too large to carry.

And then that first story teller writes this, “The chuckle with which Scrooge said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”

Quite a transformation – from “solitary as an oyster” to “chuckling till he cried.”

Now please know that your pastor has assured me that there are no Ebenezer Scrooges here. But please also know that I do believe that this sort of transformation is possible in each of our lives – not because we have been scared by three Christmas ghosts – not that, but rather because we have been claimed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My prayer for you over the next five weeks is that you will have occasion to have your jaw drop. I hope you will experience in a new way the incredible generosity of our God. I pray that your jaw will drop in amazement as just how good God has been to you. And I pray that together you will fill this room with the sweet aroma of extravagant generosity. Amen.

Newsletter, March 2007

From the Pastor’s Desk:

Lent began last week with ashes and a dusting of snow, a wisp of flurries, nothing to get excited about in the way of storms. This morning, early pale sunshine promises a warmer day. The neighborhood on Duley Street is filled already with birdsong, mostly a crowd of overwintering robins, some cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, and the usual crew of cheerful chickadees. The day is busy already, with several telephone calls about parish matters, people in hospitals or hospice, prayers for their health and recovery, prayers that they might have a peaceful day.

Yesterday, visiting someone at Addison Gilbert, I thought again how frail, and nearly transparent, is the veil between this world and the next. Sitting with a family in a hospice room slows everything down, enough so that I become more aware of each precise detail: the pale light outside the window, the cardinal perched on the edge of the hospital roof, the shallow breathing of figure in the bed, covered lovingly by her family with a Red Sox blanket. Such moments open up in the day in unexpected ways, and in that slowing down, the possibility of deeper prayer happens. But it only seems to happen when we slow ourselves down enough, to let the world be and rest. Things go on all around us without requiring our help. Lent brings up those images of rest, Sabbath, deep awareness of holy things. Lent opens a space in our lives for prayer and meditation, waiting on God, sitting at the feet of Christ as he teaches, time to breathe slowly in the freshness of the Holy Spirit.

This year, Lent is a special time, as well, because we are beginning our Capital Campaign to raise funds for the church addition. We’ve been announcing it on Sundays, putting it in newsletters, telling people about it. The Capital Campaign Committee has started working with the ELCA Key Leader Steward, Pastor Charles (Chick) Lane. We have all been praying for this new venture for our church.

At the Annual Meeting, we discussed some of the details of what would be happening this spring. During this season of Lent, we will start the campaign on March 25th. Pastor Lane will preach that Sunday, and meet with us after church for a luncheon meeting. Pastor Lane will lead us through the fund-raising process, and return in April to preach again. I hope as many of you as are able will come on Sunday, March 25th. I thank Richard Babson for volunteering to chair the Capital Campaign Committee, and George Scharfe to oversee the building project. Should you wish to become more acquainted with what is happening, please feel free to give the Church Office a call, or to speak with me, Mr. Babson, Mr. Scharfe, or members of the Council. Most of all, please keep our church in your prayers this Lenten season as we begin this new phase in our life.

In Christ, Pastor Anne Deneen

Newsletter, February 2007

From the Pastor’s Desk: February, 2007
In central Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg runs south between a series of high foothills. The river cuts a winding valley, bluffs on either side. Each succeeding bend reveals beautiful views of long ridges receding in the distance. If one happens to be driving northwest along the river, the sunset is glorious. Red evening light dances on the bare trees. Coal black rocks dusted with snow turn bright gold. I happened to be driving that way last week, on one leg of my journey, when in the distance, up river, I saw dark hanging clouds, blowing south, at a fast clip, the kind you worry about when you see them hovering on the horizon, up here, across the bay. It had all the look of an approaching thunder storm, but we are in the middle of a cold snap, and I realized what was approaching was a snow storm, one of those strange and sudden squalls that can turn dangerous for those of us so foolish as to be driving on a narrow road by a rushing river in the dead of winter.

Within half-an-hour, I and the few other unlucky people traveling were in the middle of a white out. The wind drove the snow across the road in every direction, buffeting my little PT Cruiser. I was the first in a line of perhaps eight cars. We had all turned on our storm headlights in order to see well. I couldn’t see farther than a few feet, and gradually reduced my speed until we were crawling along at about 10 miles an hour. There was no chance of stopping. There was no place to stop: the shoulders dropped away into darkness, and a mountain of rock rose on one side of the road. Time slowed, the intensity of the wind increased. We passed over a bridge crossing the river. Unable to see anything, I could tell it was a bridge from the sound and feel of the road. For once, when driving, I was truly afraid. I was alone, it was dangerous, and cars were following me. I thought about stopping again, even though that was more dangerous than driving.

And then I remembered I was a pastor. And all those people behind me were trusting me not to mess up on the road, because then they would have an accident, too. I had to keep going, though I could only see the road dimly, no matter how bad the storm was. Just then, in the far west, the wind blew apart the veil of the clouds. The sun had long set, but there, still in the sky, was the Evening Star, the only star in sight, shining brightly for only a moment. The clouds closed again. But it was enough to know that ahead, the storm was coming to an end. We only had to make it around a few more curves, and the snow stopped.
It is Epiphany, season of light. May Christ’s star shine brightly in every darkness, at every turn, and guide us all safely home.
Blessings and peace, Pastor Anne

Newsletter

From the Pastor’s Desk:

November again–it’s hard to believe. The winds last weekend blew all the birch leaves away; some of the tomatoes have split open before ripening; we are disappointed harvesters. Bittersweet berries on vines tangle in the field at the edge of Lane’s Cove. Only a few asters are left, and the blueberry bush leaves are turning red. I came around the corner past the Marine Station a few days ago, when the wind blew so hard the waves were heading out to sea instead of toward Crane Beach, green and blue, whitecaps in every direction, sea birds wheeling against the northwest blast. At our house, we are digging out wool blankets and comforters. As the days grow colder, and the evenings grow longer, our cats and dog are taking more naps, curling round and round on the couch before settling in. There’s no doubt the season has changed.

At church, we have entered our Stewardship season–of course, stewardship is all year long, but in the fall, we raise our awareness of stewardship during October and November. This year, the Stewardship Committee has invited us to think of the ways our lives have been shaped by this church community. Each week, we have been telling the story of St. Paul through the stories of our members. We have asked people to consider the ways their lives intersect with the life of the church: how did we come here, what has our experience here been? What ways have our lives been touched by God working in this congregation? Without exception, we have been hearing beautiful stories of faith, from friends and families who are eager to share their experience of this community. Our lives are enriched by listening to what God is up to in this corner of the earth. Stewardship isn’t an abstract idea; in listening to these stories, we see the faces of people we love, who have been supported by the ministries of each of us in the congregation. For me, listening to these stories has become a celebration of the “priesthood of all believers,” and the richness of treasures of faith. There is no scarcity of gifts here, just abundance flowing out and over and through every life. As I write this, one of my friends, Pastor David Thorpe, of Windham, Maine, passes through the room. He sees what I am writing and reminds me that “compassion is the basis of all stewardship.” I know that’s true from listening to you tell your stories of this place. May God’s compassion accompany you and yours this November.

–Anne