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Pastoral Letter, October 31, 2023

Since I last sent out one of these letters, the Maine serial killer was found dead, the violence in Ukraine and the Middle East goes on, we finally have a new Speaker of the House, etc.  This evening we continue celebrating Halloween in San Carlos; continue celebrating because the Goblin Walk already took place last Friday afternoon on Laurel Avenue.

 

 

In light of the recent slayings in Maine, I have taken the initiative to contact as many San Carlos Pastors I can think of and invite them to somehow get in touch.  If, God forbid, some sort of disaster strikes this area, the pastors and faith communities need to be in communication.  I'll keep you posted as this initiative proceeds.

 

If you wonder how our sister churches respond to this world with love, here are two web pages to check out periodically.  Just poke around a little and you will find some truly inspiring stories.

 

Northern California/Nevada Conference, United Church of Christ:  https://ncncucc.org/

Northern California/Nevada Conference, Disciples of Christ  https://ccncn.org/

 

For prayer support and musical inspiration, please join me and some friends from back east for Evensong this and every Thursday evening at 3:30.  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5241694278

 

This Sunday, November 5, we will celebrate All Saints Day.  If there are loved ones who passed away this past year and you would like a special mention and prayer for them this Sunday, please let me know; send a photograph if you can.

 

Our readings for this Sunday:

 

Genesis 2:4a-9

         In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up -- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground -- then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  

         And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

 

Romans 8:22-27

         We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 


         Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

 

Last Sunday's sermon, texts at bottom.  

These are appropriate readings this week as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation; next week we celebrate the feast of all the saints and all the souls who have come before us.  

 

We are heirs of 2,000 years of Christianity and before that, 1,000 years or so of Judaism.  It is quite a tradition.  We celebrate everyone in it, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel; Jeremiah, Isaiah, Deborah, Judith, and countless others from the Old Testament alone, which of course is a very long book, full of heroes and rogues, and heroes who were also rogues.  We celebrate them all, warts and all.

 

In the Christian tradition we have many heroes, many saints, likewise a number of rogues, starting with the disciples, who were not made of very good material to start with, but nonetheless spread the Gospel.  Then there was Paul, who began as a persecutor of the church and became its most eloquent voice; followed by Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas, Hildegard and others who fused the stories and doctrines of the Old Testament and New into a mighty body of philosophy which is still important to us today.  Then came the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, the English reformers, the New Englanders, who are our direct ancestors in this great tradition, not to mention many others on this new continent and new nation and now in a new century.  

 

500 years ago the young Martin Luther sent a letter to the local archbishop and pounded the text of his 95 theses for debate onto the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg.  

 

These acts led to a trial, not unlike the trial of Paul fifteen centuries earlier, which we hear about in the readings for today.  Paul defended himself before a Roman governor; Luther before the Holy Roman Emperor himself.  Luther was fortunate to depart from his trial a free man, thanks to a promise of safe passage; Paul remained a prisoner of Rome until his death.  More on Paul’s travails in the weeks ahead.  Today belongs to Luther, who, very self-consciously followed in the steps of Paul and of course Jesus.  

 

Luther did not intend to start a revolution, but he did.  He intended to make a few changes in church practice that would make the peace of Christ more available to all.  Briefly, he loved this phrase from the Letter to Hebrews:

 

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, 

that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Hebrews 4:16

 

He thought the great tradition, the great body of law and practices up to that time was getting in the way of people gaining access to God.  He thought the Law was getting in the way of the Gospel.  He was a great writer, preacher, composer – he wrote dozens of hymns – and a great controversialist.  He was a stirrer up of strife, however peaceful his intentions.  He was one of those people who just found themselves in the midst of trouble.  Whether he went looking for it or it just found is hard to say.  

 

Yet Luther unwittingly began the move towards tolerance.  It took a while and it is not something he foresaw.  His was not a tolerant age.  He wanted all of Christianity to be reformed.  His opponents wanted to burn him at the stake.  People played for keeps in those days. 

 

Nonetheless, religious tolerance eventually emerged from the Reformation along with religious freedom and democracy.  It all comes from Luther defending the freedom of the individual Christian conscience.  

 

In addition to tolerating strange people, we have learned something even more important: that somehow the Holy Spirit is capable of working through democracy with all of its messiness, all of its complexity, and all of its slowness.  It takes time to make decisions.  It takes time to implement them.  For centuries many great philosophers did not think democracy would work - certainly not for very long - and recommended an oligarchy or dictatorship by an enlightened handful of people or one very smart person, for that would be more efficient.

 

When the United States became self-governing in the late 18th Century many were the people who thought it would never last.  But it has and it has lasted not just because the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the federal government somehow manage to check and balance each other, but because thousands of small local institutions like the Community Church of San Carlos and the town of San Carlos manage to run themselves and run themselves pretty well.

 

The Holy Spirit can and does work through independent self-governing churches such as this one.  This is the most important part of Luther’s legacy to us today.

 

Now, of course, it does appear to many that the Holy Spirit needs to work extra hard to keep our great nation together.  The vitriol on display in our nation's capital cannot have been caused by just a handful of nasty people, caused by a widespread fear that democracy is not adequately redressing the massive sense of grievance felt by so many, by the sense that our lives are spinning out of control, because of, who knows - technology, computers, the internet, income disparity, freeways, automobiles, too much information, whatever.  This feeling is not unique in America; it is widespread through the world.  

 

So:  the nation - the whole world - needs healing.  They always have.   What else is new?  We know that our Redeemer liveth and He shall stand at the latter day on the earth.  We need to bring this good news to our neighbors, to the people we like and the people we dislike.  

 

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, 

that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

 

Exodus 20:1-6

God spoke all these words: 

I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.  No other gods, only me.  No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim.  Don't bow down to them and don't serve them because I am God, your God, and I'm a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me.  But I'm unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

 

Acts 24:10-15

The governor motioned to Paul that it was now his turn. Paul said, "I count myself fortunate to be defending myself before you, Governor, knowing how fair-minded you've been in judging us all these years.  I've been back in the country only twelve days - you can check out these dates easily enough. I came with the express purpose of worshiping in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and I've been minding my own business the whole time.  Nobody can say they saw me arguing in the Temple or working up a crowd in the streets.  Not one of their charges can be backed up with evidence or witnesses.  "But I do freely admit this: In regard to the Way, which they malign as a dead-end street, I serve and worship the very same God served and worshiped by all our ancestors and embrace everything written in all our Scriptures.  And I admit to living in hopeful anticipation that God will raise the dead, both the good and the bad.


- Pastor Richard Hyde


Community Church of San Carlos



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