The Third Millennium Message, Christ Church Episcopal, Beatrice, NE150th Anniversary YearThe ASCENSION of our Lord, May, 2023
Throughout the Easter Season we have proclaimed at the beginning of our service, ‘Christ is Risen!’ We do this because He has done so. The Ascension (of Jesus to heaven) still falls within Eastertide, ten days before the Day of Pentecost and forty days after Easter. And so we can also say, ‘Christ has Ascended!’ We do this because He has done so.
The Ascension of Christ this year occurs on Thursday, May 18. Since it always falls on a weekday, we have the option to commemorate Jesus’ Ascension on the following Sunday, May 21, the week before the Sunday of Pentecost. We do this, not so much for biblical or theological reasons, but for convenience. Realizing that people’s weekdays are busy, I know we need to be realistic and practical in our scheduling.
The occasion of Christ’s bodily departure from earth to heaven marked the end of one phase of Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of another. This ‘home-going’ not only closed out Jesus’ earthly ministry but began His post-Resurrection ‘rule and reign’ with the Father and Holy Spirit. (acknowledged at the conclusion of many of our prayers) The Ascension signifies Jesus, as the first-ever Resurrected Person, presenting Himself as the Beloved Only Begotten Son of God, to the Father- with His mission accomplished. It must have been a celebratory time! Yet it was serious business, too.
Now Jesus is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father,’ as the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds both state. What does that mean? It cannot be literal since God, being Spirit, has no corporeal body to sit next to! This is figurative: within the Trinity’s dynamic balance of perfect cooperation, communication and harmony in their distinctive roles. The Son has taken His favored place, is ‘seated’ in ‘session’ (Latin: sessio) with the Father: all authority and honor having been given to Christ, co-ruling and reigning with and as God.
One may ask, ‘Where is heaven to which Jesus ascended located? Beats me. If ‘where’ even has any meaning, it exceeds anything we can conceive: utterly removed from the context of physical space and time. Even beyond what the powerful James Webb space telescope can detect. (The instrument has observed objects 13 billion light years away, gazing back in time also [speed of light being finite, not infinite or instantaneous] when the earliest stars were formed. But heaven has existed eternally without beginning or end.)
Because of the limitations of human language and constructs, it is difficult to express much of anything about God in terms that is accurate or make much sense. Jesus typically used parables to convey His message with everyday examples to which people could relate. We often employ analogies or comparisons when we attempt to explain that which we could not begin to fathom otherwise. But an analogy as applied to God can break down if pressed too far.
1) For example, in an effort to make the Trinity understandable, we can compare God to the three states of water (solid, liquid, gas) that essentially comprise the same elements existing in different forms, depending on the environmental conditions they are subject to: heat, cold, pressure. That seems like a good analogy: if God was water! But God is not water or any part of nature, the creation. (That is pantheism.)
Why does this matter? The Deity is not subject to any external phenomena, since God created it all. If God is influenced by God’s own environment that would make the Creator subordinate to what it has made. (The view that God the Creator is its own Creation, The universe, and evolves with it, is called panentheism.) It would reduce God to the level of the creation by ‘lessening’ God, through the removal of one of God’s primary un-transferable attributes: omnipotence. (God’ supreme power)
2) A further analogy as an attempt to comprehend the Trinity breaks down as well: even though for anything else it probably would be a good one. Consider an apple. Consisting of three parts – skin, fruit, and core – it seems to be the perfect analogy. Yet there are difficulties here, too:
From where does an apple originate? A tree which typically bears many apples. But God does not ‘come from’ anywhere or anything; instead God is eternally self-originating, self-existent and self-sustaining.
The other issue is that God is One, singular and unique, with no duplicate or rival. This is the point that the Old Testament prophets continually tried to get across to and convince the Israelites. Monotheism. There are billions of apples but not billions of gods! Only one Deity which ever has been or will be.
A quality that distinguishes God from even other concepts of monotheism is that of personhood: sentience, self-awareness, cognition. God is not an impersonal concept, idea, principle, an evolving universal over-mind, or a blind ‘force’ which can be controlled for various purposes by an adept who possesses the necessary knowledge, experience, or innate natural ability. God is not manipulated by anyone or anything. Yet God can be communicated with and responds to sincere prayer and acts that comport to God’s will.
One of the things that Jesus ‘does’ in His ascended state is to receive and answer prayers by acting as our Intercessor. Anyone can intercede on behalf or another, but only God has the ultimate final intercessory authority in judgment: Christ as ‘seated’ at the right hand of the Father. A practical question: how can Jesus do all this? (not even considering whatever His other duties may be? He must be the ultimate multi-tasker!)
This is where theology enters in. The concepts of Jesus’ Incarnation and Nature are helpful.
1) God as Trinity, Who has been revealed to us in scripture as Father, Son, Holy Spirit (or expressed in similar terms such as Creator/Initiator, Redeemer/Executor, Sanctifier/Sustainer, etc.), has always existed as the Originator of time and space, and all which it emcompasses.
2) The Second Person of the trinity is co-existent/co-equal in divinity with the First & Third Persons. But the Second Person took an additional Nature at a particular place and time: here on earth, roughly 2,025 (give or take) years ago. We call this intersection/union of divine nature with human nature the ‘Incarnation.’ The Son of God, the Second Person, while not the ‘whole’ Trinity itself, was ‘enfleshed’ as human with no loss of divinity. (The natures of Christ as God and Man at the same time were perfectly united but distinct.)
This divine/human Person, named Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua) by the angel Gabriel, voluntarily assumed certain (temporary) limitations of expression by becoming human. He acquired a spatially-located physical form (body), in addition to his divinely spiritual ubiquity (omnipresence). He also possessed human senses and feelings, experiencing: hunger, thirst, fatigue, temptation, joy, sorrow, frustration, pain, and even fear.
Yet even as human Jesus could still supra-naturally control certain phenomena: adjust forces of nature (calm winds and storms with a word or thought); transform matter (multiply very little into very much: loaves and fish); heal (restore hearing, speech, sight); read minds (of those who plotted against Him); and even teleport. (pass through walls, croweds, appearing in locked rooms)
This all was due to His two natures’ flawless interaction. This is the One Who was born into this world as our Savior, Who died on the cross, bodily Rose from the dead, Ascended to heaven; and where today He rules and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit as One God, with our best interests at heart.
3) The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, ‘overshadowed’ a teenager, the Virgin Mary, causing her to biologically conceive a unique Child: the incarnate divine and completely human baby, Jesus.
As we try to comprehend the Holy Trinity and the distinct Persons within, our minds are boggled. Just wait until we discuss the Holy Spirit for Pentecost!
With Faith in the Risen and Ascended Christ,
Pastoral Notes: Our church bells in the tower have been long silent. Not anymore! Thanks to Mike Jones’ repair work, they joyfully ring once more, as they did on Easter and will continue to do on Sunday mornings before the service begins. Thank you for the repairs (without charge), Mike!
March 2023 Newsletter II
The Message – Christ Church, Episcopal, Beatrice, NE – 150th Anniversary Year LENT, March, 2023
Dear Friends in Christ,
Since my wife and I are very interested in history of different kinds, the realization that 2023 marks the sesquicentennial year of our parish’s birth stirred up that curiosity within me which I had mentioned previously. That I also have a great appreciation for church architecture, and with our present church building dating back to 1890, just adds icing on the cake. Can’t help it! I like to understand how things come to be, what led us to where we are today (and why), and what that portends for the future. Thus, the revival of this newsletter.
Now we are in the Church Season of Lent. I explained in my Ash Wednesday and First Sunday in Lent sermons how all that developed, their links to earlier Church history, and back to scripture itself, so I won’t repeat it here. (For convenience and so you know, I refer to those first four Sundays in Lent as Lent 1,2,3,4)
Maybe in the future I can include some of my printed sermons in the newsletter? What do you think? I will be asking your opinions of this & that a lot! Feedback and communication are vital in ministry.
We know that Lent is a somber season of reflection and self-examination, walking in the way of Jesus’ ministry as He moved ever-closer to the cross. People often talk about ‘giving something up’ during Lent. I understand that. If that’s the form of piety and observance you have adopted – omitting things you enjoy: snacks, chocolate, junk food, or certain activities, entertainments, etc., for six weeks – then please do so.
Yet another approach to Lenten sacrifice is to try something that you may not have done. For example, it can involve the practice of reallocating time. In what way? Perhaps in Bible study (individually or in a group setting), devotions, prayer, or works of charity/mercy.
Of the latter, one of Christ Church’s own ministries is worthy of our consideration and very worthwhile: the Tuesday evening Warren’s Supper. This ecumenical community ministry was founded and is centered at our church, while involving various area congregations and other groups. It offers no-cost meals to persons who are experiencing a difficult time feeding their families during these truly inflationary times.
Since COVID, people have been given an option of either dining in the parish hall from 5:30 to 6:30pm, or driving through at that time and picking up their sack supper to take home. Each week, a different group volunteers their time and supplies the meal. I have gone to several of these and came away very impressed. The need is quite real and it’s a great way to help and meet other people: either those volunteering their services or the recipients. Or, if you are shy (like I can be), you can simply work in the background.
That is a suggestion for something perhaps a little ‘different’ during Lent. If you like it, feel ‘called’ or led in this area of service, you would be welcome to continue. Just ask a vestry member or myself.
Moral of the story: even though Lent is a somber season, it still can be a time of exploration and inquiry, trying something new, and perhaps receiving the rewards of that sense of a job well done.
What are we doing in terms of worship for Lent? While the Sunday service times remain the same, the content and atmosphere is different. For one thing, it is simpler, quieter, and more somber. Crosses are veiled in purple, except on Palm Sunday (red). Flowers are not displayed. Communion vessels are plain. Organ preludes are reflective. Songs and exclamations of praise, such as glorias and doxologies, are omitted. Some churches follow an old custom of ‘burying’ the use of Alleluias for Lent and then joyfully ‘resurrect’ (reinstitute) the practice on Easter.
On the First Sunday in Lent (‘Lent 1’) we began worship with the Great Litany, a responsorial order of service that incorporates several normally separate elements in the liturgy: such as the Confession of Sin and the Prayers of the People. (intercessory prayer) This form is used rarely, often only during Lent. We will return to this order of service on Lent 5. On Lent 2, 3, 4 we use the Penitential Order, which places the Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service. We start off by asking for God’s forgiveness/pardon of all our sins. The whole flavor of these services changes. The use of Rite1 with its olde Elizabethan English (‘thee’, ‘thou’) during these weeks makes clear that this is a very different time of year.
The two ‘darkest’ days of the Church Year are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday when the crosses in the church worship areas – Sanctuary, Nave, Memorial Shrine, Baptistry, Chapel – are all draped in black, the old color of mourning. Throughout Lenten services, I wear a black cassock instead of the usual white alb to signify the solemnity of this season. That’s the atmosphere we try to convey during this Season.
The exception to all this is Palm Sunday.(being Lent 5 and the beginning of Holy Week, the color is red) For me it’s like a false dawn, a ‘hollow’ holy day for what it conveys and portends. Palm Sunday re-enacts the exuberance of Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem, being treated like royalty or a conquering general. But as Jesus said, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’
We know that a mere few days after this He would be betrayed, turned over to the authorities, suffer an unjust trial, rejection, humiliation, torture, and death. The apostles, Jesus’ strongest supporters, would flee, desert, and even deny Him. The ‘Hosannas’ heard on Palm Sunday turned into ‘Crucify Him’ just days later. Such is the irony, sincerity, and depth of human loyalty.
Maundy Thursday is the day we commemorate Jesus’ observance of His Last Supper on earth before He died, His institution of the first Holy Eucharist. We will do this by gathering in the parish hall for an agape meal which is included as part of the service. Christ also sanctified the sacramental practice of foot-washing where He took a known, common act and made it holy as an illustration of godly, humble service to others. This will be available to those who want it, with no pressure either way. Very simple but very moving.
The Holy Communion will be celebrated on the altar in the parish hall, after which we will silently process from there to the Nave, where we will pray as the altars are stripped and portable objects are taken from the Sanctuary. We leave in silence. Again, very moving and unlike any other service of the year.
There is nothing ‘good’ about Good Friday, the nadir of the Church Year. Also called ‘Great and Holy Friday’ (which I prefer), the attitude is simple and quiet. The service concludes with the Adoration/Veneration of the Cross, a plain wood cross set before the altar. Once again, we depart in silence.
Holy Saturday is a quiet day of reflection, waiting, anticipation, and preparation. This weekend is a great time for baptisms which would occur either on a Saturday Evening Vigil or on Sunday morning when…
At last, Easter arrives! The gloom of Lent has ended, and what we have anticipated for weeks is finally here – the Day of Jesus’ Resurrection! The tenor of the worship will completely change as we celebrate Christ’s Rising from the dead and our new life in Him. The hymns and responses are joyous, the singing is exuberant, the prayers are heartfelt, the readings are uplifting, the message inspiring (I hope!), and the Eucharist profound. We all come away from worship as renewed people in Christ, ready to go out into the world, our daily lives, recharged in the Spirit’s power.
But first we experience Lent. Although certainly we are biologically alive, without Jesus we still are spiritually dead (separated from God) in our trespasses and sins. Jesus’ suffering led to His death. But that tragedy was not final. His death led to Resurrection, not only for Him but eventually for us.
So, during this next month, I invite you to join us as we step beyond temporal time and limited space to experience the spiritual renewal that can accompany keeping a holy Lent and a joyful Easter.
Sincerely in Christ,
March 2023 Newsletter I
As I was reading about Christ Church’s history, something which caught my attention is that a parish monthly newsletter had been established in September, 1907, when the Rev. William A. Mulligan was rector. At the time he had served at Christ Church for 11 years and would go on to become its longest tenured priest. (1896-1931, 35 years) I will say right now there is no way I can hope to match that! The newsletter established during his rectorship was continued for many years under various names such as the ‘Message,’ ‘Bulletin,’ and ‘New Message.’
Decades later its production faltered, paused, and eventually ceased. We all recall the rise of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic three years ago in 2020 that, in one way or another, has deeply affected us all and altered the ways in which we think about and do so many things.
This included church activities and commitments, when for a while we couldn’t even hold services in person.
We had to learn how to ‘do church’ differently. It became a matter of recalibrate, adapt, innovate, or close.
Many parishes during that time investigated various approaches to continue to offer corporate worship. At my former church, we at first pre-recorded services with just a ‘skeleton crew’ physically present at the church building. Then we went to live-streaming. We continued this even after we began to re-assemble: for shut-ins and as a community outreach. I looked at this as an opportunity presented by COVID of which we could take advantage. We had not attempted this before the pandemic with the resulting isolation of many.
Another reaction to COVID was when we went from a skimpy monthly one page news sheet to an electronic format. We began the electronic newsletter modestly; it also appeared only once a month, at first.
As it seemed the pandemic, with all its resulting restrictions and protocols, was here to stay indefinitely (for so it was thought at the time), I figured that this would be a timely opportunity for us to take advantage of these limitations and utilize electronic communication much more extensively than we had done previously. We evolved that basic monthly news sheet to it becoming an instrument for pastoral communication and care. Since we had suspended all in-person meetings, and even curtailed pastoral visits (home/hospital/nursing home) except for emergencies, what else could we do?
The electronic newsletter became weekly, more comprehensive, and was emailed to our constituency. For those without access to email, we still mailed physical copies, just like in the old pre-pandemic days.
The modified newsletter contained the pastor’s (my) lead article, along with a weekly Bible study I had written either on a contemporary topic of interest or being sermon/lectionary-based. It carried other newsletter features: announcements, calendar, events, parish news, reflections, prayers, milestones, and birthdays/anniversaries. Several parishioners volunteered to oversee its production and distribution. I would like to propose something similar here at Christ Church. Revive and revise the ‘Messenger.’ Keep the name or try a new one. (I personally like ‘The Third Millennium’: it would be 977 years before that name will ever go out of date!) Make it contemporary with an attractive, tasteful, colorful electronic format; try it once a month. If there is interest, expand it to twice a month.
This could be especially meaningful in 2023, since we will celebrate Christ Church’s 150th Anniversary this year, with special recognition during Bishop Barker’s annual Visitation on September 17th! I am sure that much can be said about our history: people, facilities, and ministries throughout the years. What do you think?
Pastor’s Corner One thing you usually won’t find me short of is words: of course, part of my job is to talk! So I do.
If I claimed this article is not ‘all about me’, I would be lying because in this case it is. This time. I believe the kind folks in our parish are entitled to know what you are getting in terms of a priest, so here goes…
Born in Chicago, IL, I grew up on a rural acreage; then we moved to the suburbs while I was young.
My father was a bomber pilot in WWII, in the European theater. My mother worked in a bank; both were native Chicagoans. I have one younger sister who now lives in the Los Angeles area with her family.
After the war, my dad and a few family members started a real estate company, and from that grew a home building business which greatly prospered in the post-war years once the GIs returned home and began to establish families. But some years later our family business fell on hard times, due to internal squabbles and a severe recession. The business closed and my dad had to start all over in another line of work.
My life was typical, I guess, except we practiced no religion when I was young. I was never baptized. After the family business failed, my parents started to attend a church, Christian Science. (not Scientology) My dad’s parents had joined that religion when he was a child. He drifted away from church during his teens in the Depression, but years later returned to it when their business went through its difficulties. My mother was a non-practicing Catholic and went with him to keep the peace. I tagged along and was put into Sunday School. In college I didn’t believe in much of anything until I was talked into attending a Billy Graham Crusade. (another story) I became an evangelical Christian of sorts then. Their organization encourages new converts to join a good ‘Bible-believing’ church. I had no idea of where to look or what that even was. Some months after this experience I joined the Latter-day Saints/Mormon church. (an additional story) I met my future wife Carol at a LDS young adults group. We married in the Salt Lake Mormon Temple in 1974. She was a nursing student at Concordia College in the Chicago area. I worked at a division of General Motors. Eventually we moved from Illinois to Colorado Springs. We later left the Mormon church because of significant doctrinal disagreements and joined an evangelical-oriented Presbyterian church and became active. (yet another story) I was baptized there when I was thirty. Carol had been baptized as a baby at a Lutheran church, but her parents were never actively involved anywhere. That is one of the reasons why she joined the Mormon church: she had nothing to compare it with and knew nothing else. It was while working in Colorado that I felt called to the ordained ministry. A few years later, with great support from our new pastors and congregation, going through a discernment process and looking into some seminaries, we sold our house, quit our jobs, and with our three small children moved to Jackson, MS, where I enrolled in a seminary. (It was an adventure in religious culture shock to be sure!) Once having graduated and completed my internship and fieldwork, we moved to suburban Detroit where I became an associate pastor at a growing 5,000 member Presbyterian church. I was ordained in 1988. My pastoral ministry was to prospective and new members; also I taught religion and other topics. I loved it. We later moved near Pittsburgh PA, where I became senior pastor (rector) at a smaller 450 member church.
What brought us to Nebraska was that I accepted a similar call as senior pastor at a church in Lincoln. While there, my life changed. (again!) I experienced a bad accident and left the ministry for several years while I recovered from the injuries that were sustained.
This proved an unexpected blessing in disguise since we departed from there and began to attend Holy Trinity Episcopal, also in Lincoln. We actually had some previous exposure to the Episcopal Church when we lived in Jackson while I was studying at the Presbyterian seminary. We briefly attended the cathedral, a very positive experience. Eleven years later in 1996 we joined Holy Trinity and were received by Bishop Krotz. Although I was still an ordained minister, I entered the Episcopal Church as a layperson since the Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations are not in communion with one another as are the Episcopal and (ELCA) Lutheran churches. A few years later I served on Holy Trinity’s vestry. At a very difficult time in the life of that parish, I was asked to become senior warden and reluctantly accepted. That was an adventure! My rector had asked if I still felt called to be a minister. Very much so! She then recommended me to Bishop Burnett; and once again, I went through a discernment process. Father Sam Boman, whom some of you may remember as a former rector here at Christ Church, became my mentor. What a wonderful, gracious man! Because I already had graduated from an accredited seminary some years before, I didn’t need to enroll in the same degree program. But I did return to seminary for a year at the School of Theology, University of the South in Sewanee, TN, to become ‘anglicized’, as they say, and received a Diploma in Anglican Studies. That is the path recommended for non-Episcopal clergy looking to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. I next moved back to Lincoln, where Carol had remained at home during the year I was at Sewanee. I did my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Immanuel Hospital, Omaha, and then became the curate at St. Mark’s-on-the-Campus when Father (now Brother) Jerry Thompson was the rector. I was ordained in 2009. We next moved to Norfolk, NE, where I became rector at Trinity Episcopal Church. We established an acolyte corps and began a youth group.
Several years later, crossing denominational lines with the approval of both Bishop Barker and the ELCA Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas, I became pastor at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Stanton, near Norfolk. We were there when the pandemic hit and needed to develop alternate approaches to ‘doing’ ministry. I retired from St. Luke’s in September, 2021. We moved from Norfolk to Papillion, to be near to our son, daughter-in-law, and grandsons, who were moving there from Connecticut, since our son Adam had just been relocated to Offutt AFB. We joined the Church of the Holy Spirit, Bellevue, where Carol is quite active. Once the novelty of retirement had worn off, I soon discovered that I wasn’t yet ready to just relax: I have a lot of life and energy left, and I feel called to do pastoral ministry, which I love. I occasionally have filled in at Church of the Holy Spirit, and often have supplied at Grace Episcopal Church in Columbus and a couple other places. Then, unexpectedly, early last October, Canon Liz called and talked to me about an upcoming vacancy at Christ Church, Beatrice. And here I am!
Currently stationed at Strat/Com, Offutt, our son will retire as a Navy officer this summer after 26 years of active service. Adam and Jenna plan to stay in the Omaha area since her parents live nearby in Iowa. Therefore, we also will be in the Omaha area for the foreseeable future. Our daughters, Dawn and Heather, live in Portland, OR. They visited us for Christmas and became very sick! We also have a new greyhound, aptly named ‘Hurry’, who we adopted last fall in Kansas City. He completes our immediate family.
Things that interest me are: current events, politics, religion, theology, ecumenicity/interfaith dialogues, history, architecture, reading, writing (I’m working on a children’s book), stimulating conversations/exchanging ideas, space exploration, cosmology, classic cars, music, nature, travel, museums, historic sites, dining out, ethnic foods, walking, and sports. (football, baseball, and we are big Husker volleyball fans!)
I admit to be an inquisitive/curious person and have many questions about many things. I call this article ‘Pastor’s Corner.’ As a priest I see my primary roles at this stage of my life as pastoral, liturgical/sacramental, and teaching. (all while learning, too!) Whatever you feel comfortable in calling me, please do. I’ve been addressed and referred to in many ways: Father, Pastor, Reverend – either Robert or Bob – and even worse!
I hope you will find that I am easy to approach. My quiet demeanor is usually due to being reflective. I am here for you, your kids, grandkids, and families, and want to be available. I make house calls; it needn’t be an emergency or a crisis just to see me. I have a wry sense of humor. I try not to take myself too seriously; but I take what I do very seriously.
As we get to know each other, you will see that I enjoy interchange: questions, and discussions. Sometimes in a sermon I’ll ask the congregation questions that aren’t rhetorical: I like to know what you think! And so I ask you for your input, views, opinions: what do we do well as a church? What can we do better? I realize our church (may I say ‘our’ church now?) may have seen more prosperous days, but I’ve been in challenging roles before. We may never return to the ‘good old days’; but perhaps we can do even better! Build upon the best from the past, live in the present, with an eye toward our future needs and opportunities.
What can we do presently and have done well previously? What are we known for, good at doing?
Let’s discover together (the operative word) what that is, where the Holy Spirit leads, and go from there! I pray that we will grow in many ways, and that I may grow with you.
I am happy and honored to be here at Christ Church and to serve with you! Yours in Christ, Father Bob+
PS – Future articles from me will be shorter – that’s a promise!
Please call or text me at 402-215-4422
2114 John St., Papillion NE 68133