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Pastoral Letter, March 7, 2023

To the Saints in San Carlos:

Despite the consistently cool weather, the season is moving along. The sun is shining in through windows where it has not been seen for a while. This Saturday night (March 11-12) will mark the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. Remember to spring your clock forward, assuming you still have a clock or watch somewhere in your home. You may have to re-start your computer or cell phone to get the right time. The first day of spring is Monday, March 20, 2023, at 5:24 p.m. EDT. For more on how come the first days of the season are usually, but not always on the 21st, see Our readings for next Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, will be 1Sam.16:10-13 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here." And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. John 1:29-34 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." The emphasis thus far in Lent seems to be the work of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of a penitential season, in the waning days of winter, the spirit is stirring like the sap in maple trees. Watch for the stirrings of the spirit within. Remember to join us for Evensong by Zoom every Thursday afternoon at 3:30: Ø Last Sunday's sermon: The Bible readings for today are about promises, a promise by God to Abraham, a promise by God to John the Baptist and a promise by Ruth to Naomi. These promises were all portentous: they began something, the magnitude of which was far-reaching Our history as a Christian people began when Abraham followed God out into the desert sky at night. God asked Abraham to look up into that starry sky, the sort of sky we see here on a bitter cold moonless night in the winter. God said, “So many as the stars shall you descendants be.” Abraham believed this promise and set out from his own country. He believed as God promised, as God commanded: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." The bible does not tell us what conversation took place between God and John the Baptist, but John certainly got the word of someone coming, someone far greater than he, someone who would fulfill the promise to Abraham, someone who would remake the covenant with Abraham, someone who would spread the promise of God to all nations. For his response to God’s promise, Abraham prospered and lived a long life and was blessed with many descendants, including us. John the Baptist did not live a long life; he did not prosper. Indeed, he was executed in prison. Yet his spiritual descendants are as many as Abraham’s. He could have said what Simeon said when he saw Jesus at the temple: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel." Even though he was executed, John’s life was a success, a rousing success, for he found what he had been seeking and announced his finding to the world. He fulfilled the promise he made to God and was an agent in the fulfillment of God’s purpose to us. These stories of God’s promises have rippled throughout history and made a Biblical civilization that has lasted a long time. We are still living in it, although it has been buffeted by many shock waves in recent years. The lectionary gives us one more today, one in which all the actors are human. A woman named Ruth gets her own book in the Bible. I love the Book of Ruth, partly because my mother’s name was Ruth and because it was quoted during a very important diplomatic mission to convey a promise, a very important promise, from one of head of government to another. First the Book of Ruth. It is a simple story, although of course in the bible nothing is really simple. Once upon a time, when there was a famine in the land, an Israelite family from Bethlehem, a mother, a father and two daughters moved to nearby Moab. There the sons married two local women and for a while all was good. Then the father died and the sons died as well. Whereupon the mother, Naomi, decided to return to Bethlehem and told her daughters-in-law to return to their own families and remarry. One daughter did as she was told; however, the other daughter, Ruth, decided to stay with her mother-in-law saying: "Intreat me not to leave thee, [or] to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people [shall be] my people, and thy God my God." Ruth goes with Naomi. Naomi marries an Israelite named Boaz and they had a son named Obed: who was "the father of Jesse, the father of King David, the great-great-great-etc.-grandfather of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, we have another story in the Bible about kindness and hospitality to strangers. The God of Abraham is the God of all. Now, how was this story used during a very important diplomatic mission to convey a promise, a very important promise, from one of head of government to another. The winter of 1941, 82 years ago, was one of the most portentous and momentous in history. Hitler’s armies had just overrun France and much of Scandinavia. Great Britain had survived Hitler’s air assault in the summer and fall of 1940, but as winter wore on, the whole world expected Hitler to strike again, but did not know where. Hitler’s submarines were sinking British ships faster than they could build them. It was not clear how long Great Britain could hold out. Meanwhile, in the United States, it was hard to gauge the public mood. People generally sympathized with Great Britain, but were opposed to going to war. There matters sat and had been sitting for a quite a while. At about this time, President Roosevelt, recently re-elected, who did not like to use his own Secretary of State, or his own State Department, or his own ambassadors, sent a man named Harry Hopkins, a close associate, to Great Britain to gather information and to convey his support. Harry Hopkins, the son of a harness-maker and handyman was this unlikely confidant of the patrician President Roosevelt. He was in bad health, smoked too much, as many people did in those days, probably drank too much as well. His usually looked like he had just gotten out of bed; hair unkempt, clothes rumpled, hat askew and even more rumpled. But had an amazing ability to find out what needed to be done and get it done. Off he went to visit Prime Minister Churchill. How he got there and back is a great story, which I’ll tell some other time. He said little in public, but there was one event, a dinner attended by the Prime Minister, generals, government ministers, important people, with the best food and wines they could scrounge up, cigars, brandy, the whole Churchillian works. After dinner Hopkins was persuaded to rise and say a few words. He said: “I am not here to make speeches. I am here only to report what I see to the President. But now that I am here and on my feet perhaps I might say in the language of the old book: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people [shall be] my people, and thy God my God.’ Even to the end.” These words reduced Churchill to tears. A member of his staff wrote afterward: “The words seemed to us like a rope thrown to a drowning man.” History is made by people. Vast unconscious forces have something to do with it of course, but people make the difference. History only seems inevitable afterward. At the time of crisis a million things are happening at once and a few lucky or unlucky people have the opportunity to make a difference. We read stories, stories from the Bible, stories from history, because we learn from those few people who made history and are remembered. Today we have heard about Abraham and John, and Naomi and Ruth, and Obed and David, and Harry and Winston, people who were lucky enough to have the hand of God fall upon them and they obeyed God’s command. They helped to fulfill God’s promise that we will always be God’s people and God will be our God. Call to Worship: I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep. Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep; The Lord himself watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand, So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe. The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore. - Psalm 121 Levavi oculos Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." Ruth 1: 14-19a Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you." And when Na'omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. John 1:25-28 They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. - Pastor Richard Hyde Community Church of San Carlos

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