From the Rector: Changing God’s Mind
Last week, at a friend’s suggestion, I picked up a novel by Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It’s a wonderful read, a little serious, a little irreverent, and very funny. If I were a better storyteller I would make a ton of weekday sermons from it. Moore uses a lot of material very creatively. He has a twist on how Jesus came to the idea he was to die. Jesus, in the novel, is off in another place where child sacrifice is practiced on a large scale. He can’t believe his Father permits it to continue. He thinks his own death will so horrify God that God will put an end to child sacrifice everywhere.
One of the important themes of the Old Testament is that God’s mind can be changed. He doesn’t kill Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, although he had promised them he would do just that. Abraham almost talked God out of destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. He’s ready to slaughter all of the Israelites after they worship the golden calf but Moses talks him out of it. Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord to save Jerusalem from the king of Assyria, and he did. And Jesus himself said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:20). The people who heard Jesus speak believed that God could change his mind. But does God answer our prayers, yours and mine?
I respect prayer. I respect its mystery. I believe there are extraordinary miracles of life and healing as a result of prayer, even if I haven’t experienced them in my own life. I understand the idea of praying to God to ask that I can grow in relationship with him and others. I don’t think I believe God is going to love or help anyone more because I ask him to do that.
I know I can feed a hungry person. I know the witness of my life may encourage another person to feed someone too. But manna has not been descending from on high for three thousand years, despite the prayers of hungry people. Tonight, too many will go to bed victims of cruelty, abuse and evil, not to mention hunger and disease.
So many answers depend on the context of the questions asked. As much as I am horrified by do-it-yourself liturgy in many Episcopal parishes, I wonder what would have happened if, when the first Christians had put out a question on how to baptize, Christian leaders had responded, “You can figure that out yourselves, we are sure.” I wonder how Christian history – and the history of the world – might have been different if Paul had not said, “If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14) and instead quoted Jesus’ words to Peter about how many times he was to forgive his brother.
I don’t know that we can change God’s mind, and I’ve almost stopped trying in my own prayer life. When I pray for people by name I pray in part that I won’t stand in the way of anyone recognizing God’s work in their lives, and that I will do what I can to help others be aware of God’s presence.
You and I do have opportunities to enjoy the gift of life and to share our awareness of God’s plans and purposes for his world with others. You and I can, for example, feed the hungry and help the sick. As difficult and as real as the problem of evil may be – and that truly is a hard one for any honest person, I trust that God is beyond that problem. In our deaths God’s answer is greater than what we can propose. I ask the question of whether God has ever really explained to Mary why her Son had to die. I believe that in the end, resurrection trumps that mystery. God did change his mind about us. If God can be truly said to have changed his mind, Jesus himself is the change, the answer, the way, the truth and the life. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked especially for Mary Ellen, Doreen, Gert, Nicole, Carolyn, Andrew, Audrey, Harold, Robert, Gloria, John, Ray, Sandra, Grace, Tony, Joy, Christine, Danny, Ann, William, Gabriela, Eve, Roy, Deborah, Virginia, Mary, William, Ana, Gilbert, Jeanne, Joseph, Rick, Hilary, Thomas, priest, Louis, priest, and Charles, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Fahad, Joseph, Patrick, Bruce, Brenden, Jonathan, Christopher, Timothy, Nestor, Freddie, Dennis and Derrick . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . October 15: 1957 Lynda Beatrice Roberts, 1971 Florence F. Scheftel, 1987 Harold Polit; October: 19, 1993 Jerome Branch Terrell; October 21: 1988 Philip W. Callanan.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Be sure to check out the end-of-season gift shop sale on October 15th after the solemn mass - special clearance items will be available in Saint Joseph's Hall! New items include books and note cards from the Saint John’s Bible . . . Father Beddingfield and a dozen Saint Marians will be on retreat this weekend at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. They return Sunday afternoon . . . All are invited to a baby shower for the Meads on Sunday, October 15, after Evensong . . . Wednesday, October 18, is the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist . . . Please contact the parish office if you would like to give flowers for the church in October or November . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, October 14, by Father Gerth and on Saturday, October 21, by Father Mead . . . The Board of Trustees meets on Monday, October 16 . . . The Rector will be out of town Tuesday, October 17, through Tuesday, October 24 . . . Attendance last Sunday 363.
LITERATURE AT SAINT MARY’S: THE INKLINGS . . . At 1:00 PM on Sundays, October 22, 29, and November 5, 2006, the Reverend Anne Richards will lead a three-session gathering on The Inklings, the famed literary discussion group formed by Oxford dons C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, among others. We will discuss the friendships formed in the group and read excerpts from their work. We will also discuss the group’s theological orientations. Please contact the parish office if you would like reading materials for this class in advance.
SUNDAY SCHOOL . . . What do children do in Sunday School? At Saint Mary’s we learn about Jesus! Right now we are reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke (which is read in church during Year C, beginning Advent 2007). Sunday School meets Sundays from 10:00 AM to 10:45 AM in Saint Benedict’s Study. If you would like more information please contact Father Mead.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . The prelude before Mass today is Antiphon III (Nigra sum sed formosa), and the postlude is Antiphon I (Dum esset rex), from Les vêpres de la Vierge, Opus 18 by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa in honorem Sancti Iosephi, Opus 21 by Flor Peeters (1903-1986), a Belgian organist, composer and teacher. Peeters, who once played an organ recital at Saint Mary’s, wrote a great deal of sacred choral music, and this appealing and tuneful setting dates from 1929. The motet at Communion is Pater noster, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Stravinsky, who was born in Russia and lived in New York for many years, was one of the twentieth century’s most important composers, whose works span a wide variety of styles. This motet was originally in Russian but is perhaps best known in the composer’s later Latin version . . . The recital at 4:40 is by Jeffrey C. Johnson, organist, with Sarah Pillow, soprano. This superb duo offers little-heard works of Hugo Wolf, Duke Ellington (from his “Sacred Concert No. 1”) and Arthur Sullivan. Robert McCormick
MOVIE NIGHT AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Join us in Saint Joseph’s Hall on Friday, October 20, at 7:00 PM, following Evening Prayer and Mass. We will watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which focuses on the early years of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Food and beverages are provided for every movie night; we ask a few extra dollars to cover the cost.
MAKE A BEQUEST TO SAINT MARY’S . . . Many have responded to our appeal to become charter members of Saint Mary’s Legacy Society, which is organized to encourage, thank and recognize persons who make a bequest to Saint Mary’s through a will or making the parish the beneficiary of an insurance policy or a retirement savings account. There will be a special Evensong on December 7, 2006, the eve of our patronal feast, to celebrate the formation of this Society. The Bishop of New York will be our preacher at the service. If you would like to know more about making a bequest to Saint Mary’s, please speak with the Rector or the parish treasurer, Jim Dennis.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Tuesday Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c. 115
Eve of Saint Luke the Evangelist
Wednesday Saint Luke the Evangelist
Thursday Henry Martyn, Priest and Missionary to India and Persia, 1812
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
Sunday: 8:30 AM Sung Matins, 9:00 AM Mass, 10:00 AM Sung Mass, 11:00 AM Solemn Mass,
5:00 PM Solemn Evensong & Benediction. Childcare from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
Monday – Friday: 8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass,
6:00 PM Evening Prayer, 6:20 PM Mass. The 12:10 Mass on Wednesday is sung.
Saturday: 11:30 AM Confessions, 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 4:00 PM Confessions, 5:00 PM Evening Prayer, 5:20 PM Sunday Vigil Mass