Friday, July 29, 2016

Faith Lutheran to Host Second Annual Baby Shower for the “Baby Basics Box” - Sat Aug 13

Pioneer, CA, July 27, 2016—The second annual baby shower to benefit the Baby Basics Box, of which there are many located throughout the county, will take place at 2 pm, Saturday, August 13, at Faith Lutheran Church in Pioneer.  Everyone is invited.
Last year, the shower, besides being great fun, yielded a four-foot-tall stack of diapers, handmade quilts and baby blankets, baby furniture, lots of clothing, and baby necessities like wipes, shampoo, lotion and diaper creams. Nina Machado, Director of First 5 and honored guest, filled the back of her SUV with all the gifts.  They were immediately shared with the Baby Welcome Wagon, the Pregnancy Help Center, and the Upcountry Community Center.  An individual recipient was a woman expecting twins and had no support system.
Nina Machado, pictured below with last year’s haul, will again be an honored guest along with Connie Vaccarezza, director of Public Health Nursing.

Last year’s shower guests had a great time decorating onesies and bibs, guessing the amount of M&Ms in a baby bottle, and going on a purse scavenger hunt.  Church member Tasha Burkett will again be in charge of shower entertainment and has many fun things planned.  Overall chair of the event is Mikki Henry, another church member, who originated the idea last year as a project for the Women of Faith.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sermon: Expanding our Neighborhood - By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt

Expanding our Neighborhood     Reading: Luke 10:25-37      Proper 10/C
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA   7/10/16

One day, a man who lived in a suburb of Washington D.C., made up his mind to test Jesus.  He supposedly was a practicing Christian.  He asked: "Teacher, remind me how I am to inherit eternal life."  Jesus said to him, "What is written in the Holy Scriptures?  How do you interpret them?  And he answered, "I must have faith in a living God which leads me to love God and love my neighbor."  Jesus said to him: "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
But the man didn't fully appreciate the answer. He straightened his back, cast a smirk of a smile and said to Jesus, "And just who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied with a story: "A man was driving from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, and cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road.  
Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by. When they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side. But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road.  When he saw the man suffering, he was filled with compassion. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man's injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU.   The next morning he told the hospital billing office, "Here is my credit card. Take care of him."
Jesus looked at the Christian from Washington D.C. with strong eyes and asked: "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man carjacked?”  The man clenched his fist, fumbled with the keys in his pocket and said: "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do the same." (Story from Face Book)
Today’s gospel, commonly referred to as the “Good Samaritan” is often interpreted as a morality story to encourage people to reach out to strangers in need.  And while showing compassion is an integral part of our Christian faith, the crux of the story is really about expanding our understanding of who our neighbor is.  In today’s gospel, the lawyer who was testing Jesus had a narrow understanding of who his neighbor included, thus limiting his compassion for those outside his circle.  Perhaps he wanted to justify holding onto to his age-old prejudices and ignore those who were culturally and ethnically different from him.  We all have a bit of that lawyer within ourselves; a desire to limit our circle of compassion while ignoring those who make us feel uncomfortable.  Sometimes we are conscious of this prejudice and can come clean, working to overcome our fear of foreigners or people who are different from us.  At other times, we just go along in life, building walls against those who are different from us.
The gospel story of the Good Samaritan highlights the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans of the 1st C.  Why there was such hatred between these two groups is not fully known.  The historical roots probably go back to the 8th century B.C.E. when the Assyrians to the North conquered the land of Northern Israel.  They then forced the migration of foreign people into what had once been a predominantly Jewish nation.  This caused a lot of tension between the two different cultures and was an intentional way to destabilize the Jewish people by weakening their cohesive society. 
This same tactic was used following WWI to destabilize the Middle East.  After the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the Allies, the League of Nations divided up the defeated Arab Empire into nations, without regard to the wishes of the people living there, or along ethnic, geographic or religious boundaries.  The borders of the nations of Iraq, Iran, and Syria, were entirely arbitrary and were created by the Europeans as a method of dividing the Arabs against each other.  This error in judgement has come back to haunt us today as the Middle East devolves into sectarian violence.  Unfortunately, instead of having regret for the mistakes we have made in that part of the world, we tend to scapegoat all Muslim people as terrorists that need to be excluded from the United States at all costs.   
Who is our neighbor?  In Jesus’ time, his culture had a narrow definition of neighbor.  But Jesus saw the harm in this narrow definition and how it adversely affected society.  In his deep love for God and for all of human kind, he wanted wars to cease and for all people to live in harmony and peace.  That could only happen when people of different walks of life, joined together in brotherly affection toward one another.  This sentiment of expanding our circle of neighbors was also expressed in Paul’s letter to the Church in Galatia:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
A few weeks ago, a Palestinian doctor was on his way to Jerusalem to join in Ramadan prayers when he made a conscious decision to do the right thing: He helped save the lives of Jewish settlers!  Dr. Ali Shroukh was driving with his brothers along a West Bank road on Friday when they came upon a car that had flipped over onto its roof. The vehicle — big and boxy, with room to fit many children — seemed easily identifiable as belonging to a Jewish settler. The car had crashed after a Palestinian gunman fired on it, killing the driver, Rabbi Michael Mark, 46, a father of 10. His wife was critically injured, and one of the two children in the car, a teenage girl, was seriously wounded. The family was on its way to Jerusalem to visit Rabbi Mark’s mother.  As you know, the Palestinians have a relationship with Jews similar to that of the Samaritans of ancient Israel, giving rise to significant violence between the Jews and the Palestinians.  But like the Samaritan in today’s gospel story, the doctor’s instinct was simply to help. 
Dr. Shroukh got out of his car to give first aid to the Jewish girl and her family.  He compressed the girl’s wounds with a towel and waited until the girl was loaded into an ambulance.  Politics, the injustice of the Jewish settlers depriving him of his land, or the requirement that he had to have a permit in order to enter Jerusalem to pray, was not on his mind as he tended to the Jewish family.  Instead, this Palestinian doctor was filled with compassion.  Using his gifts of medicine, he showed mercy on an injured soul.  This man reflected the true spirit of the gospel: In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Palestinian, slave or free, male or female, black or white, straight or gay.  We are all beloved children of God who are called to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There are a lot of reasons not to expand our circle of neighbors or to reach out with compassion to those in need.  Some of these reasons are biological.  We are hard wired to take care of ourselves first and foremost as a survival instinct.  When we see possible danger on the road or we think we might be harmed in some way, we (like the priest and Levi in today’s gospel story) have a tendency to cross the street.  On an emotional level, we tend to be more compassionate with our family and close friends, taking risks and reaching out to them with acts of kindness because of this special bond.  But risking ourselves to reach out to a stranger or even to an enemy can bring such internal resistance that we often just pass by and ignore their plea for help.
That is why Jesus emphasized the spiritual practice of compassion.  Compassion means to “suffer with.”  Compassion gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.  In ethical terms, it embodies the Golden Rule:  “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Compassion is often regarded as having an emotional aspect to it, but this is not always true.  Much of the time it is a rational decision to respect the dignity of human beings by treating them with kindness and generosity. 
            Practicing the Christian faith has little to do with learning a bunch of facts about Jesus.  It has to do with personal transformation of the heart and societal transformation of our institutions.  The great commandment to love God and love our neighbor is the beginning of an authentic spiritual life.  As we grow in love, the source of that love (which is God) becomes more important than anything else.  This is because we need a power greater than ourselves to overcome the fears of the ego if we are ever to expand our neighborly love.  True religion calls us to a greater love, a love that goes beyond using God to satisfy our own needs to be healed or to get us out of trouble.  True “love calls us to gratitude, relinquishment, service, companionship, intimacy, communion, and always to deeper yearning.  In other words, love calls us to love.”  (Richard Rohr)

            If you were in that ditch dying from a bleeding wound, would there be anyone from any walk of life that you would refuse from giving you first aid?  If not, then go and do likewise!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sermon: Simplicity: A Life of Joy and Balance

Simplicity: A Life of Joy and Balance    Reading: Luke 10:1-11; 16-20     Proper 9/C
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA  95642

            In today’s gospel, Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples to towns and places where he himself intends to go.  Some of these places would be harsh, rejecting the disciples and their message.  But instead of equipping these disciples for a “Holy War,” Jesus de-equips them of all travel baggage:  “Don’t carry a wallet, a knapsack, or sandals.  Eat what is put in front of you and be satisfied with whatever lodging is provided for you. If you are welcomed, offer them a sign of peace, heal the sick, and let them know that the kingdom of God has come near.  If you are rejected, then leave. {Luke 10}  Simple instructions, a simple message, simple travel arrangements, and minimal equipment.  What I would like to talk about today is the spiritual discipline of simplicity.  Simplicity is about embracing an inward reality (i.e. trust in God) that results in a freeing, outward lifestyle that focuses on giving rather than accumulating.  Simplicity is about getting back to the basics, thus freeing us for a life of joy and balance.  “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” {Gal. 5}
            A few years ago, I read an article about how easy it is to identify an American oversees.  Unlike the disciples in today’s gospel who traveled light, many Americans who travel equip themselves as if they are going into a war zone.  This often includes things like a heavy duty watch with dual time zones, date display, alarm, backlight, and stopwatch.  And if the watch is shockproof and waterproof, all the better.  After all, you never know when you might fall off of a cruise ship or a ferry.  Then there are the ‘must have’ polarized sunglasses designed to filter and block glare as well as to protect from UVA and UVB radiation.  You never know when you might be asked to fly a plane after the pilot has ejected himself from the cockpit.  Then there is the much needed backpack, fanny pack, or large purse filled with stuff like a wallet, iPhone, keys, credit cards, Kleenex, sunscreen, water bottle, snacks, and medications.  When it comes to all-weather shoes, having sturdy hiking boots with breathable mesh and waterproof lining is a must.  And don’t forget a waterproof wind jacket, UV protection clothing, and a body security pouch to keep your money from being stolen by pickpockets.  No wonder Europeans think Americans look like they entering a war zone!
            I remember when Steph and I took a trip to Venice, Italy.  It was windy on the canals and so we both wore our rain jackets and carried backpacks filled with supplies, warmer gear, and all the supposed stuff that would make our daily jaunts more comfortable.  While we were looking for seats on the boat, a young Italian woman entered with a small purse, wearing a simple dress and flip flops.  What a contrast!  And while I was taught to always “be prepared,” I wondered how it came to be that I thought it necessary to pack over 40 lbs. of stuff to go on a three week vacation in Europe.
            Jesus purposely had his disciples travel light so that they were not hindered with baggage.  But more important than that, he wanted them to keep their lives simple; to recognize and appreciate the hospitality of strangers and in response, help them.  But most of all, Jesus wanted his disciples to live by faith, to seek first the kingdom of God, creating a space where everything else would fall into its proper order. 
The Dali Lama once said:  “People were created to be loved.  Things were created to be used.  The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.”  The spiritual discipline of simplicity is probably one of the harder disciplines to develop in the 21st century since there are such strong voices out there that convince us that more, bigger, better, and faster is to be preferred over the basic necessities.
But just as we are not our thoughts, we are not our things.  If we give our hearts to things, we divert our attention from God and from relationships, isolating ourselves in overcrowded houses where we can’t even park the car in the garage.  Things take on a life of their own.  Things beget things; one thing, more things, better things.  After collecting things, we must secure our things, protect our things, and work hard to keep them.  We can never be satisfied with things and this causes restlessness and grasping, inner cravings that cause us to go out and acquire more things.
            Is there a way out of this madness?  The answer is yes.  The spiritual discipline of inner and outer simplicity is a place to start.  But lest you think that cleaning out the garage will set you free, then think again.  Simplicity begins with an inner attitude followed by an outer life style.  Both are needed to free ourselves.  Inner simplicity begins with an acknowledgement of a divine Center.  God is where our true security comes from, not from possessions.   Inner simplicity is nurtured when we engage in the other spiritual disciplines like fasting, almsgiving, and prayer of gratitude.  For example:
·            Most people think of fasting as going on a diet or giving up chocolate for Lent.  But this is a diminished understanding.  Fasting is a voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of concentrating on intense, spiritual activity.  This may include: food, TV, shopping, the media, conversation, alcohol, or newspapers.  When it comes to food, fasting is about being conscious of the kind, quality, and quantity of food as well as the frequency of eating.  We all have seen examples of hoarding, gluttony, and bad nutrition that lead to poor health.  Conscious fasting (not dieting or asceticism) is one of the pathways out of these addictive cravings.   
·            Almsgiving, the giving of our money to worthy causes, is another spiritual discipline that not only reflects a generous heart, but can put into perspective our priorities of what we really need for ourselves.  It can also be a tremendous posture of compassion towards those in need.
·            Finally prayer, especially the prayer of gratitude, will make us more aware of all the blessings that we have received and reduce the craving of wanting more.

Once we begin to nurture a spirit of inner simplicity, it becomes easier to practice outward expressions of simplicity by making changes in our choices and lifestyle.  Richard Foster suggests 10 principles of simplicity that are helpful in moving forward with a balanced life:

1.      Buy things for usefulness, not for status. If you are going to buy a car, then buy one that will last, is dependable, and gets good gas mileage.  Don’t buy cars or clothes just for fashion or to impress others. 

2.      Reject anything that is causing an addiction. (e.g. media, chocolate, food, drink).  Learn to distinguish between a real psychological need (that can enhance your life) and an addiction that can enslave you.

3.      Learn to give things away.  If you find that you are becoming attached to some possession, consider giving it to someone who needs it.

4.      Refuse to be propagandized by modern gadgets.  Timesaving devices don’t always save time, especially those that connect us to the world-wide web 24/7, thus hindering intimacy.

5.      Enjoy things without needing to buy them. If you need a power washer only once in awhile, try borrowing one.  If you have a power washer in your garage, lend it to a neighbor in need.

6.      Beware of “buy now, pay later.”  Credit card debt is one of the greatest burdens enslaving the people of our nation.  Simplicity is one way out debt.  “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” 

7.      Develop an appreciation for creation.  Get outside, smell the roses, and listen to the birds.  Simplicity means to discover once again that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”{Ps. 24:1}

8.      Use plain and honest speech.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Avoid flattery and half-truths.  Refrain from posting cynical or critical comments on social media and check to make sure that what you do post is truth and not your personal preference.

9.      Reject anything that will cause the oppression of anyone.  This includes buying food or things that exploit people from making a living wage or is destructive to the environment.

10.  Shun whatever would distract you from the Kingdom of God.  It is easy to lose focus of living a holy life in the pursuit of legitimate and even good things.  “Job, position, status, family, friends, & security can all too quickly become the center of our attention, leaving little space for deepening our relationship with God.  Freedom means being unencumbered by those things that keep us from experiencing true joy. Simplicity leads to an abundant life filled with the fruit of the spirit.  What more could you ever want in life?

May God give us the courage, the wisdom, the desire, and the strength to embrace the Kingdom of God as the number one priority in our lives.  To do so is to live in simplicity and to live freely.   

    “Tis the gift to be simple, Tis the gift to be free, Tis the gift to come down, where you ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”