Thursday, December 15, 2011

Letter from Queen Elizabeth

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:
by Jorge Rodriguez on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 10:54am
In light of your immediate failure to financially manage yourselves and also in recent years your tendency to elect incompetent Presidents of the USA and therefore not able to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas , which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour,' 'favour,' 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise.'Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary'). (I love that one)

Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ''like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u'' and the elimination of '-ize.' ' (I love that one too)

3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.

5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.)

8.You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.

11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).

12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America . Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.

14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Becoming the Light----Being a Voice of Hope

Becoming the Light----Being a Voice of Hope
Text: Isaiah 61:1-4
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 11, 2011

Last week I said in my sermon that there were three prophets named Isaiah and last Sunday the sermon was based on a passage from Second Isaiah. In First Isaiah the people were living well but not focusing on God----and they were going to be in serious difficulty.

In second Isaiah, the people were in captivity and the prophet offered words of hope. Now, in Third Isaiah their captivity is over and they return home, but their homeland has been devastated. Over the span of years three different prophets named Isaiah have witnessed people who were unfaithful and subjected to being conquered; a conquered people in need of hope; and now a people in a kingdom in need of being rebuilt.

It is amazing how this prophet begins and the words he uses:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

The words, in many ways, are timeless words. They are repeated by Jesus as he comes home to Nazareth and unrolls the scroll and reads these very words to the people in the town in which he was raised. He has come and he brings something God has brought to every generation of people who have had faith. Hope.

Isaiah comes full circle. The people had sinned and God sent the prophet to bring warning, but a warning edged with hope. After the people had fallen into captivity, God sent the prophet to bring words of comfort filled with hope. And again, now they are home in a shattered land and God, once again, assures them that God is present and God’s hope is alive and well.

As Christians, as people in St. Marks, we have a part in this. We too are asked, like all Christians, to be a message of hope to the world. The world we live in is unlike the world of the Isaiahs in so many ways, but so very much like their world too.

There have been times when things were good, but we weren’t paying attention to God.

There were times when we felt exiled.

There are times when we have ventured home to find things broken.

And there is one prevailing message that is always there. It is the message of hope and a challenge on how we can be the light of hope to others.

The first way we become voices of hope is learning to see the past as prologue to something else.

For me, Christmas has changed. When I was a child I was irrationally in love with Christmas, the colored lights, the smells, the bells, the carols, and the giving and receiving of gifts. It was, for me, the most exciting day of the year. Okay, I really LOVED receiving gifts. I grew up in a largely Jewish area of New Jersey and had many Jewish friends. I heard that Chanukah last for eight days and the idea of eight days of presents sounded good. I told my parents I wanted to convert to Judaism. When my Dad, a very good evangelist it turns out, told me I generally received more than eight gifts, my faith in Christianity was restored.

Then when we had small children at home it was that exciting again. The joy of watching my children experience such fun and such joy at Christmas and the gleeful wonder they had, much as I had when I was young, was invigorating.

My children are now adults and while they find Christmas to be exciting and fun, it is different. Then the thoughts of Christmas past, and I think of my Grandmother, my parents, my in laws, and so many loved one’s who are no longer with us and I feel the sense of loss. But that past is, in many ways, a prologue of hope.

Jesus came into the world on Christmas and that story, and the retelling of that story from generation to generation reminds us that Christmas is always bigger than ourselves, our lives, and our memories. In many ways, however, it is the journey we make through our lives, and the reflection of life past and present that enables to truly see, understand, and embrace the specialness of Christmas. It is a story of hope.

A second thing is this. It is putting things into perspective and keeping faith as rational as possible in an often irrational world.

Every year, at this time, there is a declaration that there is a ‘war on Christmas.’ This so-called war on Christmas always seems to revolve around the fact that some stores and some people use the expression, “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. Where I grew up, with a large percentage of the population was Jewish, this was a common practice so no one would be rude to one another, but that is now deemed to be the war on Christmas.

The thing about this is that people use this to demonstrate that this is persecution against Christianity.

I have often thought this perception is insulting to Christians who were persecuted over the centuries.

Picture this. You are a modern day Christian and you are taken in a time machine to ancient Rome where you have a chance to talk to a person who is about to go into the Coliseum to fight a hungry lion bare handed. The person knows they are about to die, brutally, in front of a cheering crowd and be eaten by the lion. They are going to die, barbarically, because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

And it is your job to tell them about persecution of Christians in 21st century America where you are able to attend Worship without fear, read your Bible any place you want, but are forced to listen to Happy Holidays in some stores.

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel profoundly foolish. Talk about perspective.

Hope is often about perspective. When we keep things in perspective, we become voices of hope in an often irrational world.

A third way we are a voice of hope is keeping Jesus in the center of things.

I used to live in a town in New Jersey that had an awesome town square. At Christmas, every year, they decorated the square elaborately, and in the center of the square was Santa Claus. Way off to the side of the square, hardly noticeable was a crèche scene. In that town, at that time, when you went to the square, you knew who was the center of Christmas, and it was not Jesus.

Many people, every year, clamor about keeping Christ as the center of Christmas, and, of course, we should. But before we ever get to Christ being the center of Christmas, we have to make Christ the center of Christianity. Often this is not the case. Perceptions of Jesus are often the center of Christianity, not so much Christ.

We have a tendency to make things the way we want to make them.

When I was in college I used to make a collect phone call home every Tuesday evening. For those people here, who are old enough to remember what ‘collect phone calls’ were, the routine was always the same. I’d dial and say that I was making a collect phone call from John Manzo.

Something about my last name, ‘Manzo’ must be really difficult. It is pronounced just as it is written, but it has been botched over the years. Pretty much every telephone operator botched it, and 90% of the time, my parents would hear that they had a ‘collect phone call from John Manville.”

So one day I decided it was easier to join this so I said, “I am making a collect phone call from John Manville.” The operator said, “Wow, that sure is a common name!”

I was stunned because, I figured THEY had made it a common name.

To my point, however, Jesus often becomes what we want Jesus to be as opposed to who and what Jesus actually was and is. Jesus’ name is often invoked by people excusing us from being less than charitable to others; less than loving to one another; killing one another; stealing from one another; or not taking care of one another.

Part of the problem is that we often view Christianity or the Christian Church as a source of hope. We are, can be to the extent we don’t allow ourselves to get in the way of Christ, but when we begin by too finely filtering Jesus, or adjusting Jesus to fit our own needs, we become impediments to hope as opposed to bringers of hope. The only true source of hope is Christ himself.

The words of this third Isaiah are these:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

They are words Jesus himself used to proclaim who he was to his home town, and what he was about. They are, in and of themselves, amazing words of hope to be embraced by each and every generation of believers.