Online Worship Services
August 9, 2020
Fear and Walking on Water
In Sunday's Scripture readings both Elijah and Peter have to face a stark reality: fear can sideline even the most accomplished of God's great servants. Fear can totally immobilize us and we either do nothing or get in all kinds of trouble, hurting ourselves and others in our path. No wonder Jesus' most common refrain is, "Do not fear."
Gospel writer Matthew shows us how Peter deals with this fright. He cries out, "Lord, save me!" Peter's desperate plea reminds me of the words in today's featured hymn "Precious Lord:"
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
Peter shows (and reminds) us that we don't have to try to be super saints. There may be select moments when we are so focused on the Lord that we float above the world's natural order. But Peter's wave-walking escapade shows me that these moments may be fleeting. I need more confidence that I can ever muster on my own. The bottom line: Jesus never leaves me. Jesus never forsakes me. Jesus is there to take my hand.
August 2, 2020
Healing and Feeding
I am struck by the two key actions we see in Sunday's Gospel and how much they are part of what it means to be a Christian in 2020.
Jesus heals people and Jesus feeds people - that simple. If we counted up the number of things we see Jesus do most in the Gospels - scholars do this sort of thing - helpful for a reality check, it would be healing and feeding. In fact, the story of feeding of the crowd with five loaves and two fish is one story told in six different versions in all four Gospels. No other story appears that many times in the Gospel. If frequency gives a story greater weight and validity, Sunday's Gospel of feeding the crowd is a weighty and important story indeed for all of us who follow Jesus.
It is vital that we here at Saint Ann's live out the Gospel not only because of the COVID 19 crisis and very unsettled economy but also because healing and feeding one another are what Jesus did and what he calls us to do, as his hands and heart in the world. Jesus' deep kindness, compassion and justice, particularly for the poor, need to be ours as well. Going to the lonely places apart are the first places to go, as Jesus reminds us in today's Gospel, And when we do, we will find, as Jesus always did, that our strength and joy return in serving one another as God has called us to do.
Heal one another, feed one another, just as Jesus did.
July 26, 2020
Treasures, Hearts, Seeds and Truth
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
Sunday's readings include parables - again - from Matthew's Gospel and Solomon being given the gift of wisdom. "Give me a listening heart," Solomon requests of God, "so that I can know good from evil and govern your people." To have survived the intrigues of his father David's house, Solomon already has proven his wisdom, his prudence and his extraordinary understanding. That Solomon treasured the most precious gift within him pleased the Lord. Solomon could put away all the distractions of worldly power and find the truth concealed within him - understanding.
Treasures, hearts, seeds.... All words we hear in the 40 parables recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospels, 20 of which are in Matthew's Gospel, 5 of which we hear in today's Gospel alone.
Can we listen to unfamiliar language and think about objects we may not think about much - like mustard seeds and leaven, and then, can we, like those first hearers of Jesus' parables, discover something more? Jesus told parables to them, for them, about them, to encourage them, sometimes even to warn and correct them about being faithful to God. Our challenge as twenty-first century listeners and doers of the word, is to do likewise.
July 19, 2020
Sunday's "Parable of the Weeds" is our focus this day - another story with a lesson, but this time, unlike last week's "Parable of the Sower," we find it only in Matthew's Gospel. It shines a bright light on our inevitable human preoccupation with drawing lines between who is "in" and who is "out." Another gardening tale, it applies to the attraction of Jesus himself, to the life of the church, and to the future judgment at the end of the world - all in a few verses!
This parable addressed times of judgment, gathering and separation, preservation and destruction, very real issues for the earliest Christians. It is about how we live together in our communities, even as we change and grow. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "An individual has not started living until he can
rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And how can true concern flourish without realizing we're all in this together? Our roots inexorably tangle, "whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
The "Parable of the Weeds" it's not really about weeds. It is about the harvest we grow by living in community with one another, good soil and poor soil, rock, thorny parched soil and weeds and wheat all together. We are all in this life together - this inescapable network of humanity. And the church, flawed as it is, is still the best organization I know of where all can gather and share the harvest with one another.
Over the years I have learned and continue to learn that if you ask others to help you with weeding your garden - they will! Thank you for your willingness to grow and try on new ways of being in community in these unprecedented times.
July 12, 2020
As we move our way through Matthew's Gospel, every Sunday Jesus gives us examples of how to be a disciple of his. We are eager students indeed, and even through we don't live in first century Palestine, we can usually relate to the examples he gives us. In today's Gospel we have a parable. A parable is a story with a message - it could very well have happened just the way that Jesus describes it; but is not meant to be taken literally.
It's a familiar parable. As Jesus explains it, we are to be the "good soil." That is, the soil that hears God's word, understands it, has it taken root within us, and then bears fruit-leading to some kind of change and transformation within us and in the world.
The psalm was recorded separately, without the congregation present.
Interestingly enough, however, this parable is not called the "parable of the soil" or the "parable of the seed," although much of the explanation seems to focus on the soil and seed. Instead, Jesus himself calls it the "parable of the sower." What can we learn from this sower?
Sunday's parable of the sower challenges us here at Saint Ann's - and by extension every church hearing this parable this morning - to scatter seeds of goodness broadly and widely, never hoarding or saving certain seeds for those we deem most worthy.
God gives freely, hoping to find good soil but with no guarantee that this will happen. This kind of lavish abundance is a call and a challenge to us to go and do likewise. So, let's keep planting those seeds of love and compassion, kindness and generosity, humility and thankfulness and don't be so concerned about our success rate.
July 5, 2020
"Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
In Matthew 23:4, we hear that the scribes and Pharisees "bind heavy burdens and place grievous weights on people's shoulders." The religion of the Pharisees included 600 rules and regulations. Religion became a weight and burden to be loaded onto one's shoulders. Jesus' yoke was entirely different. It is as if Jesus is saying: "Take my teachings, take my life, take my spirit, take my way of life and learn from me instead of learning from the Pharisees and their religious interpretations and religious legalisms," and not from the Pharisees' rule book.
This first Sunday in July, Independence Day weekend, when we celebrate the freedom we have as Americans, I want to look at how we can be freed from heavy burdens, to look at how to be joyful, to set new pathways for what it means to be disciples of Christ in this world, particularly in the time of COVID-19 and in our vital work towards racial justice and reconciliation.
We apologize for the brief time without video. Please keep watching. Video is restored quickly.
I am reminded of my years as a chaplain in a school where students would come literally heaven laden with their backpacks to Chapel, but I did not allow the backpacks in Chapel. The heavy laden students had to leave all their "stuff" at the door and enter only with themselves. You would see hundreds of very weighty backpacks left in piles outside the Chapel door, students both trusting that their backpacks would be there when they returned for them and saying, "We are entering this sacred space to meet God, burdens left behind."
What heavy burdens can you leave behind this day?
June 28, 2020
Welcome is such a simple word. It is one of those words which is learned early when one is learning a foreign language. Many of us have welcome mats outside of our front doors. Often, our welcome mats simply say, WELCOME. We want to communicate to those who are entering that they are welcomed.
The "welcome" is often also associated with a special guest. We welcome people in many different settings. We see or experience "welcomes" at the airport. We come off the airplane and walk to where people are waiting. There is a group of people welcoming a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, whomever. We are not the person being welcomed but we see all the action.
Sunday's brief Gospel excerpt may seem to merely reinforce our desire to be welcoming at Saint Ann's. But a closer look suggests a greater challenge still awaits us. "Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward," Jesus says.
Welcome a prophet as a prophet, Jesus tells us. Jesus knows his Bible, and so surely he has unrelenting characters like Jeremiah from today's first reading in mind. He knows that welcoming a prophet is not as simple as marking the sanctuary entrance clearly from the parking lot. Instead, we will need to recognize the holy in odd behavior and unusual attire (John the Baptist comes to mind) We will need to discern the difference between feeling good about our actions and hard to swallow truths. We'll need to accept what is right, instead of settling for what is easy.
This kind of hospitality is a hard and holy challenge. But if we follow this calling Jesus promises we will receive a prophet's reward: discernment of what is true in the midst of falsehood and the courage to speak the very word of God, just the prophets did and still do.
June 21, 2020
What is a disciple to do?
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission in the world. They will face dangers, humiliations, possibly death. They observe, as an 8th century Christian prayer puts it, that "things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new..." But do not fear, says Jesus, do not be intimidated, be honest and faithful. You are loved. And by "losing your life, you will find it." These are complex texts not easily explained or understood in a paragraph!
Jesus' comments about not fearing come in the context of his sending his disciples out to preach in towns and villages of Galilee. At the same time, we heard him last week warn the twelve of coming persecutions "See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves." But then he tells his disciples not to fear any of these things. Really?
Jesus is not denying fear and the challenges of discipleship. In today's Gospel Jesus shows his desire to fortify his disciples for the impending opposition by community and family. There is a constant interplay of hard texts (warnings) and comforting texts (promises). What is a disciple to do?
Our guest preacher for Father's Day offers specific ways to be a disciple. To Dave Carter's illustrations I add the gift of a faith community, particularly in difficult times. In Saint Ann's, we find a loving and brave place to believe and belong, supported by fellow pilgrims.
May Saint Ann's continue to invite people into this community of love and faithfulness, ready to serve and not be afraid, especially in the time of COVID-19 and in our work for justice for all people.
June 14, 2020
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God: How do we do that right now?
What do we need for our journey in faith? All 3 readings, as well as Sunday's collect, speak about our faith. From Exodus, we learn that Moses had to trust in God; From Paul's Letter to the Romans, we read "Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We are reminded in the psalm that "God's faithfulness endures from age to age." In today's Gospel Jesus gives us very specific and tough instructions for our journey in faith: "Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff" (vv. 9-10a). The apostles are to make no provision for the journey. They are to depend on the people to whom they minister for their sustenance, but are, more especially, to depend on God to provide what is needed.
In the time of COVID - 19 and as our country is broken apart in our wrestling with racial inequality and excruciating injustice, what is our next best step in working toward racial equality? Can this be a time of interior and exterior examination, where we bare our souls in lament and pray for God's guidance and trust in God to show us the way not as passive listeners, but as eager seekers of the truth, that "will set us free"? In questions given to the clergy of ECCT for our clergy day with the Bishops on June 11, I invite you to ask yourself these questions as we will be exploring (John 8:32) them at Saint Ann's:
What are we learning about God, about the church, and about ourselves in these difficult times?
What is God saying and what are we called to do as Saint Ann's at this time?
June 7, 2020
Welcome to Trinity Sunday: It's all about relationships
Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday specifically dedicated to a formula!: God as One in Three.
But it is really not all about the formula, it's about relationships and how we live our lives. On this Trinity Sunday, the Gospel highlights a charge for us all. It is simple and very much part of the promises I was asked to keep as both an adolescent being confirmed in the church and as an adult being ordained a priest. "Make Christians and teach about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit." The Trinity is right there - and trying to explain it we may lose its mystery. At the end of today's formula of make, baptize and remember, Jesus adds, and not as an afterthought, "I will be with you, until the end of all time."
But like that dreaded algebra class, when I thought mathematics was all about memorizing (and I was never good at memorizing numbers), I failed to see how mathematics is about how numbers relate to one another. The same is true for our relationship to the Trinity.
We heard a great deal about God as Spirit last week on Pentecost Sunday. The spirit or breath of God moves over the face of the waters, comes to frightened disciples almost 2000 years ago and gives them courage to proclaim their new faith in the midst of great a diversity and strife.
God as Son: What makes Christianity the most distinctive from other world religious and spiritual teachings is the Incarnation - the teaching that God becomes human to teach us more about how to relate to God and to see how God wants us to live.
And finally, to begin at the beginning, God as Father, Creator, hat gets our whole big wonderful and messy world going. It is all about seeing God in all creation, the gift, truly a human quality of wonder, marveling at the smallest of beauties around us.
In the time of COVID-19 when we have said it is all about staying connected, relationships matter more to an ever. Trinity Sunday let us celebration the gift of the relationships within God and how we may be guided into all truth by the Spirit of God working in us, and the example of Jesus going before us. Stay connected to one another and to the Trinity.
May 31, 2020
Pentecost Sunday and Why it Matters
Who likes birthdays? I love a good birthday party. For me it's all about the fuss of one's birthday and the food. Having a fuss made certainly seems like a good and appropriate thing to do.
Pentecost is often referred to as the church's birthday. It is certainly a big deal as after Easter and Christmas, Pentecost is the most important feast day in the church. Who knew? We knew.
One writer described this version of a Trinity - Christmas, Easter and Pentecost - in the following way. Christmas answers the question (among others) "Does God care? Does God care enough about the mess we make of our own lives and the life of the world to do anything about it?" Easter answers the question,
among others, "What does God do because God cares?" And Pentecost, the third part of this Trinity, answers the question, "What does it matter?" This feast day I want focus on why Pentecost matters in our lives as Christians.
Whatever else is going on today's first reading from Acts, it is clear that a party is taking place - as dreams and visions are not meant to be dreamt alone but in a diverse community united in the Spirit. This task of dreaming involves all of who we are. We hear and feel it, like the howling of a fierce wind. We see and feel it, like individual flames of fire. We speak it in our native language yet it is understood by foreigners.
I surely know that I live off the dreams and hopes that my parents had for me, many hopes and dreams they never knew in their own full lives. Their hopes and dreams have empowered me to work to be generous and courageous in helping others discover their callings, hopes, and dreams, all enlivened by the Spirit, that Jesus has left behind as his last gift to us. Let us join the party today in celebrating just how alive the Spirit is in our lives, particularly and especially during this unprecedented time of COVID-19. Catch the Spirit! Stay connected. We are not alone.
May 24, 2020
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
We have been preparing for this moment. In his Ascension 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus leaves once and for all the immediate community so the people - that's us - can do the work themselves. They must do this ministry by themselves, but they (and we) are never without Jesus. He has left them the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth.
In ascending Jesus leaves these Christians in training, but he does not leave them without the tools for their journey. He has been preparing them all their lives for this work in the fields. He has been giving them instructions daily on how to travel - light for the journey, never alone, and what to eat, and always to pray and heal. And what is this work? First and foremost, according to our first reading, it is prayer.
So too in our departure from our old way of being, pre COVID-19 we are not alone or comfortless. We have been trained for suffering and challenge, for the unknown and unfamiliar. What remains is the familiar - God in Jesus Christ. Let us continue to move forward in faith, knowing God in Jesus has gone on ahead of us, leaving behind the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.
May 17, 2020
"If you love me"
Sunday's Gospel from John is part of a chapters long goodbye Jesus holds with the disciples. I call this "Farewell Discourse" the "long goodbye," and it is prefaced in today's Gospel with a condition. "IF you love me, keep my commandments." This is unusual for Jesus to make love conditional. What is going on here?
This command is to keep God's commandments - to be obedient, to keep our end of the relationship we want to benefit from. Jesus uses a familiar formula that's about give and take, saying that we need to have a commitment to obedience in this world following God in Jesus Christ. IF we love Jesus, we will follow God's word.
But where this gospel relationship differs is that it's not between equals. We cannot do what Jesus does: ask God the Father to give us another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. Without Christ as our intermediary, it is not in our power to ask God to give of God's self to be with us forever. Jesus expects obedience and mutual love, but he offers himself through invitation, commanding us to do what we must to receive him. No wonder this introduction to the long goodbye needs a few chapters to explain! Love it not easy and it is rarely happens quickly. Join us to discuss this and other Scripture passages Sunday at ZOOM IN Bible Study.
May 10, 2020
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (I Peter, Chapter 2)
Today's readings for this Fifth Sunday of Easter are mostly about stones - stones that kill, stones that represent God's keeping us safe; community as "living stones." Stones are very much part of our heritage as people of faith.
The brutal stoning of Stephen, first Christian martyr, Stephen was stoned for declaring his faith, and maintained that faith even in the face of death. It was the law that enraged his
audience because he accused them, as well as their ancestors, of being responsible for the death of Jesus. As he was dying, he saw the beatific vision and prayed that God would forgive his slayers. Stephen demonstrated the gospel with his last breath.
The verses from the Psalm 31 remind us of the call to turn to God in times of trouble, and to pray for deliverance. "Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold" we pray to God.
Last Sunday on Good Shepherd Sunday we read about Jesus being the gate to the sheepfold, the sheepfold that in his day was made of stones. All up and down SE Connecticut we see beautiful stonewalls, some to designate ancient property lines, some modern day constructions, some for animals.. In these walls, stones represent strength, hard work, courage, preserving, determination, beauty, and longevity. But when we read that we are to come to Jesus, to "Be a living stone...." Whatever does this mean? Join us at 9:30 ZOOM IN BIBLE STUDY to explore what it means to be a living stone.
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 3, 2020
Today is the fourth Sunday of the great 50 Days of Easter, and always, Good Shepherd Sunday. The figure of the shepherd is one the most enduring images of Jesus with deep Jewish roots. In the Hebrew Scriptures many of the most significant characters were keepers of flocks, from Moses to Joshua, who is commissioned to be "shepherd of Israel," to King David, called to be "shepherd of my people Israel." However, no other human leader of Israel is given the simple title, "shepherd." God is the shepherd par excellence, who not only leads the flock, but also natures, feeds, protects and defends it. Then, in the New Testament, the title of shepherd and the shepherd's responsibilities are applied to Jesus.
Jesus proclaims that he is "the way," "the truth," "the life," and in today's Gospel, "the gate" who provides protection for the sheep. He is the gate to God's family; he is the gate to the fullness of life. He is the gate to the banquet, the feast, the green pastures of (Psalm 23). As the gate, Jesus is the way into the safety and security of the sheep pen and the gate out to the green pastures and the abundant life and feasting that goes on in those pastures.
The challenge today to this Shepherd/sheep model from Scripture and especially from Jesus, is that we Americans pride ourselves on our independence and self reliance, and we certainly are independent and self reliant in Connecticut, and we need one another. If we try to go it totally alone, either as a congregation or as individuals we can become isolated, alone, confused and lost without one another. As John Donne the poet of the sixteenth century boldly proclaimed, in Meditation XVII, "No man is an island, ..."
Jesus tells us five times in today's Gospel that he is the gate to this community that knows no end - a vision of the flock living in safety, freedom, peace and abundance, and he himself is the way into that kingdom.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday please know how much I love and care for you as together we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to life in safety and abundance, particularity in this most challenging of time of COVID - 19. Stay connected.
We live in unprecedented times. Keep hope alive!
April 26, 2020
The Bible passages for the third Sunday of Easter are not for the fainthearted. They are about pounding hearts, wounded hearts and burning hearts. They invite us to encounter the living Christ in the heart of who we are. Kathleen Norris and others remind us that "to believe" is not a matter of the mind, but a matter of the heart. For what we "believe" is what we "give our heart to."
This third Sunday of Easter we find the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the spectacular glow of the day has begun to fade. Resurrection, at this point, is nothing more than a story believed by a few. And yet when the disciples meet a stranger on the road, it is clear that the possibility of resurrection has intrigued them. They have been talking about it
for hours, rehearsing the possibilities, arguing about the details, sparring with one another about the theological nuances of an empty tomb. Buried beneath their confused conversation, there seems to be a deep yearning. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope--and their need for God to be alive and present yet they fail to recognize Jesus.
The Third Sunday of Easter is always when we look at the Post Resurrection Story of the Road to Emmaus. It is one of my all-time favorite stories of the New Testament, and found only in my favorite Gospel, the Gospel according to Luke. I am certain that the dramatic disclosure of Jesus as the one whom these traveling disciples have been mourning and this disclosure at a meal are contributing factors to making this a favorite story of mine. Is this a favorite story of ours? What are stories that help you keep hope alive in the age of COVID - 19? Why not ZOOM in at 9:30am on Sunday to discuss this beloved story with us?
April 22, 2020
Toward the end of her career, Helen Keller was speaking at a Midwestern college when a student asked Keller, who was blind and deaf from early childhood, “Miss Keller, is there anything that could have been worse than losing your sight?” Helen Keller replied, “Yes, I could have lost my vision.” May such vision be our inspiration to make our collective voices heard in our religious communities, in our courts and government, in our schools and in our workplaces, in our local businesses, in short, in all that we hold near and dear for the future of this planet. The sense of how blessed we are by the life we share is a reality and vision that we must carry every day. May we each do our part in caring for this "fragile earth, our island home, "(Book of Common Prayer, p 370) this 50th anniversary of Earth Day and every day.
Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
On the second Sunday of Easter, always the Sunday when we read about Thomas "the twin," sometimes called "doubting Thomas," we hear afresh Jesus responding to Thomas's request to see Jesus' wounds, to which Jesus responds, "Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to believe." By his showing the wounds of his crucifixion, Jesus is living proof that death will not have the last word - for him or his disciples, which includes us here this morning. And, as I urged last week, we are in a whole different reality with Jesus, especially because of and after his Resurrection.
April 12, 2020
Welcome to Easter, the day we hail above all others as our most festival day, the promise of new life in the time of COVID-19. I write first to thank you for all the support you have given over the last month to reach out to one another in this extraordinarily difficult time. You have been there for one another, and I as your priest, am forever grateful to you for the support you have provided to one another, and to Saint Ann's. We have been supported by the marvelous leadership of the Vestry and staff. I miss being with you in in person. I pray daily for your health and safety. Thank you for your support of Saint Ann's.
What message of hope can we give midst this pandemic? What lessons can be learned about our dependence upon one another for community, for relationship, for the promise of new life midst despair and death? As Bishop Barbara Harris was known to remark, "We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world." Now more than ever this observation feels right on target. Just take a look at our Gospel for this Easter morn.
In John's version we read how Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone. When she sees that it is empty, she runs to tell the others that the body of Jesus has been stolen. After her announcement, Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb. Both men observe the linen cloths lying in the tomb with no body there. The beloved disciple perceives the truth of what has happened and believes. After the two disciples return to their homes, the focus returns to Mary, who stands weeping outside the tomb.
Only when Jesus calls her by name does Mary finally recognize him and call him "rabbouni." This is a dramatic turning point in the story, as Mary realizes that the impossible has truly occurred! The depth of her love for Jesus compels her to embrace Jesus, who tells her she cannot hold onto him until he has ascended to the Father.
Here is another change in relationship: The God and father of Jesus is now the God and father of Jesus' followers. And Mary moves from the darkness of grief to joyous faith in the Risen Christ. "I have seen the Lord!" she announces to the disciples. What a story, more importantly, what faith!
What are we hailing this festival day? We are hailing the fact that the risen Lord, first made known to Mary, Peter, John and the other first disciples, is made known to us through our eyes of faith. May we too invest our living and our dying in the power of Jesus' great love to triumph over evil, and over death itself. May we be bold, courageous disciples. May we know our need for God and may we continue to learn how to live as Jesus' disciples in uncertain times, one prayer, one phone call, one email, one letter, one Zoom Call, one text, at a time. Thank you for staying connected to one another and to Saint Ann's during these uncertain times. Let us find strength in one another and our Risen Lord. Happy Easter to you and yours.
April 11, 2020
Enjoy this meditative service in Saint Ann's Memorial Garden, on a very windy day in Old Lyme.
April 10, 2020
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross. Our Good Friday service will include the reading of the Passion from John’s Gospel, sermon, the solemn collects, and veneration of the cross in the Memorial Garden.
April 9, 2020
Maundy Thursday commemorates the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. It initiates the Easter Triduum.
Our service will include the first part of the liturgy for this day when Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, and includes the stripping of the altar. The service ends in the Memorial Garden.
Tenebrae in Holy Week in the time of COVID-19
April 8, 2020
Tenebrae, the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows” is an ancient and exquisite service of readings from the Psalms and The Book of Lamentations, characterized by gradual extinguishing of candles.
This year’s service will be offered from the Griswold Room and include prayers for the earth, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day April 22, 2020.
Palm Sunday: What do the Palms say?
April 5, 2020
And so, we have begun the most holy of weeks for Christians here and around the world, appropriately called "Holy Week." It begins with the triumphal entry of Jesus into David's city, the city of Jerusalem. As we sometimes have an early warm weather which in where I grew up was called "false spring," so it is possible to observe a "false Easter" on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of the week of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, which for Jesus ends on the Cross, which is The Passion of Christ, which is why we call today the Sunday of the Passion.. Today is the beginning of the end of Jesus' earthly life. It is not Easter. The palms can help us in our focus in this most holy of weeks. What do the palms say?
Lent 5: Life in the Time of COVID-19
March 29, 2020
Who has been with a loved one when she is dying? Who has been with a loved one when he died and watched his spirit move out of him to be forever with God? Who has been with someone who seemed on the brink of death and then all of suddenly, or even gradually, turned a corner to live again in this world? For all of us who have experienced one of these scenarios first hand - or more, and even if we have not, we can imagine the drama that must have surrounded the death bed of beloved Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha and treasured friend of Jesus, first in his death, and then in his being raised from the dead.
First to those dry bones in our first reading from the great prophet Ezekiel, with his vivid picture of the valley of dry bones. What can be more a sign of deadness than dry bones?
There is no life in those bones in the valley whatsoever. The only chance of resuscitation must come from a source outside that valley. To these hopeless people of the Babylonia exile, away from home, Ezekiel prophesies the vision for God's spirit (in Hebrew, its RUAH - the same word used in Genesis when God breathes life into the lump of clay to create humanity) breathing new life into death. They - and we - are given new life not by what we have done, but by God's spirit, coursing through our bones. What powerful imagery indeed for us today when we are dead or feel lifeless. Like Ezekiel, we cannot keep this vision to ourselves, but must report it to the people.
For the people in exile, Ezekiel's proclamation that these dead bones will rise becomes unqualified good news to those who consider themselves dead. This is the good news that people can live; can be enlivened by the spirit of God this side of the grave. This is a promise of release to exiles that have been oppressed by military powers, by the overwhelming political forces that control their existence. This is good news to the oppressed exiles that have been beaten down by their own sins. To all those and more the spirit of God can and will give life! Fast forward 600 years to Palestine in 33 AD.
Jesus' dear friend Lazarus was so dead that his sisters feared the stench when Jesus had the rock rolled away. Lazarus had been dead for four days. These are dry bones.
This critical story in John's Gospel, a hinge-event in Jesus' history told only in John's Gospel, is miracle that is both a sign of Jesus' true identity and power and a portent of his own personal encounter with death once he reaches Jerusalem. In this raising from the dead, Jesus reveals his true identity as the Messiah.
We read these stories as near the end of Lent, and are in the beginning of our shut down as a state, nation and world in the face of COVID - 19.We see how the people in these ancient texts are gripped by fear - as we may well be in such uncertainty and death. The dean of General Seminary wrote recently of how a thoughtful friend had reminded him, "you know, viruses are not the only things which are infectious. So are fear, anxiety, and divisiveness. But they are always overcome by faith, hope, and love. Those are stronger and are always the antidote." May we find faith, hope and love stronger than any fear and uncertainty we possess. May our prayers this Fifth Sunday of Lent be our consolation and our faith and the community we know as Saint Ann's be our strength, May we, in the words of Hymn 594, "have the wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour, the living of these days."
Praying with the Pope
March 25, 2020
Christians around the world are encouraged to pray together on March 25th, which is also The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to Mary. We invite all of you to join with us at noon, wherever you are, to recite The Lord's Prayer.
Together we face the challenges of these uncertain times. We are a family of faith, hope and love, and these uncertain times will make us all a stronger family.
Sending our prayers to all of you.
Lent 4: A Celebration of Water
March 22, 2020
Reflections on World Water Day, with readings from Gods Good Earth, Prayers for Creation, by our friends and parishioners, Anne and Jeffery Rowthorn.
"Water is humanity's cradle. It was our first home, deep in our mother's womb. Water is all things to all of life. It is as close to us as the tear in our eye, and as distant as the cloud hovering over the open sea..." -Anne Rowthorn
Lent 4: Seeing to the Heart of Things
March 22, 2020
Today I would like to look at blindness as it relates to our faith. Can we trust what God sees? God wants to take away our blindness to the world by looking at our heart.
The temptations of Jesus, which we explored three weeks ago at the start of Lent, spoke of the importance of seeing to the heart of things. Sunday's readings return us to this theme.
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus, when asked whose 'sin' is responsible for the young man's blindness, replies that the man's blindness might become a manifestation of the 'works of
God.' The most ordinary and mundane aspects of our lives can become the moments that transform our lives when we are able to look at one another's hearts and not on outward appearances. Then, and only then can, can our blindness to the suffering of others and our own needs be taken away as we continue to walk the path of love and beauty with Jesus in this life.
In Sunday's Hebrew Scripture lesson we have the near cosmic story of Samuel going to anoint a successor to Saul. Samuel observes Saul disobeying the explicit word of God and it becomes Samuel's job to inform Saul that God has rejected him as king. We are told that Samuel grieves over Saul. God tells Samuel that the time for grieving was over, and that it is time to appoint a new king. The past can be hard to leave behind.
It is time for Israel and prophet Samuel to simply, move on. Samuel is called to rely on what God sees for the future. Samuel must see what is in store, trusting in God's vision, and not his own. That too is a lesson from today's readings - recognizing the time when either circumstances or positions change or it is time, as Saul and Samuel begrudgingly learn, to move on.
At Saint Ann's we are learning to move on and forward in new ways of being and worshipping in the time of COVID- 19. Thank you for worshipping with us remotely and for seeing in less familiar ways. This Sunday is also Laetare Sunday or Refreshment Sunday. "Laeatare" comes from the Latin "to rejoice." This Sunday is also known as Mothering Sunday and Rose Sunday because the use of rose-colored (rather than violet) vestments was permitted on this day. It parallels "Gaudate Sunday," or the Third Sunday of Advent, when we lit the rose colored candle. May you this Laetatre Sunday find refreshment in the prayers of the people of God, which are never silent, "nor dies the strain of praise away" (Hymn 1982, Hymn 24, "St Clement.")
Lent 3: In the Time of COVID-19
March 15, 2020
Today's first reading comes from the saga of God's people in the wilderness. They had been freed from the oppression and slavery of Egypt. Now they are making the trek though the wilderness and they are terribly thirsty. They are also uncertain. God has freed them, but can God really provide for them? They are not so sure. They complain and murmur, but God does provide. Moses strikes a rock with his staff and water flows as a gift from God and sign of God's provision.
The Gospel story today, right on the heels last week of the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus under cover of night, is about a woman at a well and Jesus' being thirsty. It is a story of
courage, faith, longing for a new life, and breaking down of barriers of gender, religion and ethnicity. It all is set in the context of open conversation Jesus has with a woman at a well in Samaria.
We are a community gathered around water. It is essential for our lives as Christians, beginning with our life in community through our baptism. Water is essential for our lives as people in the world. We are called to be stewards of all that we have been given--every blade of grass, every drop of water, the earth, every human being. Let us read this story of the woman at the well, knowing that as Jesus was thirsty and sought to quench his thirst by the choices he made, may we create a world where none are hungry and no one thirsts.
How is God working in us to care for all of God's world, the sun and their planets, the land, the seas and water? Come and see!
Lent 2: Ready, Set, Go!
March 8, 2020
READY, SET, GO! How often we heard that in races as children, in preparing for an event, for a test in a classroom. Are you ready? Are you set? Now GO!
Reading today's scripture passages for this second Sunday in Lent, Year A, I was struck by how Abram (not yet Abraham) and Nicodemus may NOT BE Ready, much less Set, but they are told to GO!
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you..." the Lord tells Abraham. And there he receives the 3-fold promise, the
unconditional covenant, of land, descendants, and God's blessing. Paul retells this story of being sent in today's Epistle to the Romans.
In today's Gospel from John, Nicodemus is being told by Jesus to GO the next step so that the old self may die and be born again in water and the spirit. There are not many more powerful passages in all of Scripture than this Gospel. Explore them in worship and in Bible Study with me this Sunday.
Lent 1: Reflect and Repent
March 1, 2020
Sunday's Hebrew Scripture reading tells the familiar story of the temptations of the first man and woman. Beginning with Adam and Eve's disobedience, humans are disconnected from God, one another and the natural world. They are in a negative cycle.
Fast forward thousands of years to the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to Matthew, where we read an account of Jesus himself being tempted in the wilderness. It is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness, with the devil assuming the role of the tempter. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus is famished. Fasting was understood to be a means of opening oneself to receive God's guidance.
The purpose of Lent is not to make us depressed - depressing as these readings can be! Rather, it is to remind us of our humanity, our mortality, calling us to two basic tasks - reflection and repentance. Lent is about repentance and reflection - two critical parts of our lives as people of faith and as Christians in particular. It is a journey through our deserts and wastelands to discover again, through repentance, reflection, and fasting (which is more than fasting from food) our reliance upon God alone. Our Lenten pilgrimage has begun. May our faith grow as individuals and as a community these 40 days of Lent.
Transfiguration Sunday: Mountaintop Experiences
February 23, 2020
Welcome to the final Sunday of this long green season of Epiphany. We are edging so close to Lent. During this rich season dedicated to outreach, we have followed Jesus through these days seeing him teach with authority and watching him heal with power. Now we hear God's voice again - on the last Sunday before Lent - calling us to follow Jesus to an even more profound revelation of God's love.
Jesus will descend the mountain where today's Gospel story takes place to make his way to Jerusalem and the cross. The sacredness that Peter and his companions see in Jesus on the mountain is part of our identity. That sacredness within us
enables us to transform our homes and communities. Will we follow Jesus ever deeper into the mystery of that identity and, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, become God's fellow workers, "agents of transfiguration?"
Today, also World Mission Sunday, we celebrate those being baptized, confirmed, received, and reaffirmed from the congregations of St John's, Essex and Saint Ann's, Old Lyme. The call to follow Jesus often means leaving our spaces of comfort, coming down off mountains and entering the valleys and plains of our lives, listening to the Spirit in the beauty of creation, and richness of varied cultures and diverse peoples.
Blessings to you as our Epiphany journey ends and our Lenten walk begins. Congratulations to those being baptized, confirmed, received and reaffirmed today.
Epiphany 6: Choose Life
February 16, 2020
I want to look at this first reading today from Deuteronomy, and what is means to choose life by loving, obeying and holding fast to God. Then, I want to look at one of our lectionary of saints, who is an example of such obedience in his call to follow Jesus, in his choosing life for others.
In a farewell address that sounds like he is the valedictorian at a graduation, Moses addresses the people of Israel gathered in plenary session in the land of Moab, just outside Israel. Moses lays out in stark terms the choice that lies before his audience: obedience or death. Love God and live; serve other gods and perish! ...Blessings and extravagant abundance will belong to those who heed the voice of God; unspeakable
calamity, terror, and affliction will be the lot of those who abandon the covenant. In this moment on the brink of the Promised Land and at this crucial point at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts believers to a renewed and fervent commitment to the God who alone is capable of saving us. Here, in powerful language dramatizing the moment of decision, Moses thunders, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity."
Jesus' tough talk today on everything from murder to divorce shows us that he is not lessening any moral standards. In today's Gospel, Jesus brushes past murder and adultery to get to the roots of evil within the heart. It isn't enough only to refrain from killing or from being unfaithful to your spouse, you must uncover the anger and lustful impulses that form into thoughts, desires, and then deeds. Purity of heart is called for. Obedience to God leads us to purity of heart.
Epiphany 5: Your the Salt of the Earth
February 9, 2020
On this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, we begin the series of parables in Lectionary Cycle A with a double parable of salt and light. Is there a person who does not use salt and light every day? Is there a person who does not know from experience what salt and light are? In these parables we are dealing with two universal and indispensable elements of life.
Consider the importance of salt in our lives. Like seawater, our bodies contain salt: a tear, a drop of blood, and a bead of sweat. Without salt our hearts would not beat, blood would not flow, and muscles would not work properly. Before birth a baby develops in a saline solution. Accident victims may
receive a salt solution intravenously. In Roman times salt was so precious that it was used, at least in part, to pay workers. Did you know that the word "salary" comes from the Latin salarium, a word for salt. Consider, too, the importance of light. We never seem to get enough light to rid our lives of darkness. When Goethe was on his deathbed, his last request was, "More light."
Today's Gospel lesson follows the Beatitudes last week, the "blessed." Today's parables begin with verse 13. If Christians had the qualities of the Beatitudes, they would be like salt and light. To understand Christians as salt and light, we must see read the Beatitudes and use them as a way we can be salt and light to the world.
Advent 2: Keeping Watch
December 8, 2019
This Second Sunday of Advent we hear again from the first section of the great prophet Isaiah with images of shoots, a peaceable kingdom of predatory animals lying down together with a child, and a watchman. Today's reading from Isaiah reminds us of at least 3 vital things to our life as people of faith.
We need to know our history, our story. We need to recall not only our stories as Christians (strong recommendation for Bible Study, to be sure) but also our own family trees - to savor the history, the beautiful and less than beautiful, to learn from our ancestors, to see where they have succeeded and learn from their mistakes and our own.
It is our responsibility as people who know our stories - and the visions of peace and justice described so eloquently by Isaiah, so that we see the vision of peace and justice and work for it valiantly every day. Then we must stand up to injustice, just as Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus did.
We are also called to be watchmen! Like Isaiah and John the Baptist, we must respond to the voice of God as we hear it in Scripture, worship, refection and prayer, and proclaim to others that this life's journey is not merely a process of fearful wandering in the dark. Instead, we are following the footsteps of the Prince of Peace toward the dawning day. Indeed, we are not at that day, but be on the path we must be.
Advent 1: "Come let us walk in the light of the Lord."
December 1, 2019
This first Sunday of our new year, I am thinking specifically of two people -the great prophet Isaiah and Jesus. We will hear from the Isaiah every Sunday now, through Christmas Day. Advent is about preparing for Jesus' birth by hearing the prophecies of old, and most of the time that means Isaiah. I will be exploring with you each week of Advent the visions of the great prophet Isaiah, who Jesus quoted the most of all the prophets.
Isaiah's words for this First Sunday of Advent "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord" are Scriptures' first words to the church Advent, our new year. Picture the prophet speaking as in a dramatic scene of a play.
As the curtain rises a prophet walks onto the darkened stage in a circle of light and begins to sing of a mountain, and of nations streaming to it willing to hear holy instruction and be judged by it, willing also to make peace with each other. As the song is ending, another sound rises, the ringing of hammers striking metal - swords into plowshares, so vivid and appealing is the image of swords ands spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks that we may be inclined to just stop there. But lest we get too dreamy about such an idyllic future, the reading hands us a present tense invitation. "Come let us walk in the light." Whatever peaceable future there is to be - and this is what scholars have called "the peaceable kingdom - we who hear this promise are called to go walking toward it "in the light of God."
Let us walk in the light of God with Isaiah and one another this beautiful preparatory season of Advent.
Christ the King Sunday:
“What Kind of a King is Jesus?”
November 24, 2019
This Sunday, on this final Sunday of Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, I want to look at kingship - Jesus' - and power - God's. It's difficult not to talk about both kingship and power without getting them mixed up with our own desires to be in charge. Writers throughout the centuries have struggled with how to show God's view of kingship and power and not our own short sighted one.
I believe that writer C.S. Lewis got it when he chose Aslan the lion to represent Jesus in his immortal story - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Aslan, the King of the Forest, must save Lucy, Peter, Susan and the bratty Edmund, who has been tempted by Turkish Delight and the opportunity to be prince and eventually King, from the clutches of the wicked White Witch. Aslan will die so that Edmund can live. Aslan makes the ultimate sacrifice of his life.
But as the musical and film version of this story demonstrate, Aslan's power is deeper than the wicked White Witch's. There is only one leader whom we can always safely trust: Christ our King. He is a strange kind of king; a king who was powerless politically, an itinerant preacher and healer who was crowned with thorns and put to death as a criminal. Because his reign is based on love, he in fact, has more power - and that, uncorrupted - than any earthly leader has ever known. In him, we dare to put our trust, and to sing, without any qualifying adverbs, this Christ the King Sunday and always.
Pentecost 22: An Opportunity to Testify
November 17, 2019
This will give you an opportunity to testify...for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:13, 15)
As we come down the home stretch of Year C today's collect (a personal favorite, just saying) about our hearing, marking, learning and inwardly digesting Scripture is good advice when the readings are as challenging as today's doom and gloom ones appear to be. I have also learned the good coaching advice, "The best defense is a good offense."
In the Epistle, Paul gets right to the point: "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right - the end is near."
The Gospel is Luke's version of Jesus' (apocalyptic) end of times discourse concerning the end of Jerusalem and the temple, the coming of the Son of man, and the end of the world. Jesus tells us the truth because he wants us to understand the foolishness of placing stock in anything other than God - including all our worldly structures. Even the Temple, he says, in all its glory, will one day crumble and will be gone. Now is your time to bear testimony.
What are these tough readings, along with the beautiful Peaceable Kingdom passage form Isaiah and Canticle 9's Song of Praise of God's salvation saying to me that I need to hear in 2019? Come explore these passages in Bible Study and hear them preached upon in our Sunday worship.
Pentecost 14: Lost and Found
September 15, 2019
In today's Gospel from the middle of Luke, we are given two brief parables of lost-ness: one of a lost sheep and a loving shepherd; another of woman and a missing coin. In both cases the lost is found, and there is rejoicing at the recovery. Both stories tell us that every person is precious to God, of infinite worth - and that the Kingdom will be incomplete if the lost were not found.
I would venture to guess that all of us have been lost at one time or another in our lives. I regularly get lost! The joy is not only in finding our way out of our lostness but knowing that there are people, God and Jesus Christ who are always right there to find us.
Pentecost 13: The Cost of Discipleship
September 8, 2019
In today's Gospel Jesus presents the choices necessary if one is to become his disciple, as he has been doing all summer for us. As he continues on his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus challenges the large crowd that is traveling with him by offering three teachings on the "cost of discipleship" and two short parables on making decisions. The point here is that becoming a follower of Jesus is hard work. But what joy, light, life and love await us in saying yes to such a call.
Episcopal priest and writer Suzanne Guthrie tells the story on her online blog, Edge of Enclosure, about a nun friend of hers, who having put off the decision to make her final vows for as long as she could, made her choice based on this old thought/imaging exercise:
"Imagine you are on your death-bed.
What do you regret not having done?"
When put this way, her decision was obvious. She would regret not having chosen a vocation as a nun. She's still faithful nearly fifty years later. (Not always happy, but profoundly grateful.)
Take up your cross and choose life seem opposed to one another. But when are you most fully alive? Probably when you are taking up your cross, that is, putting your life toward something larger, more meaningful than your own comfort...
What am I going to regret on my death bed? What cross will I mourn not having taken up for the sake of life?" What is the cost of discipleship for you?
Pentecost 12: Jesus' Table Manners
September 1, 2019
In today's Gospel, Jesus is saying, "Don't invite your friends, family or the economic elite to your next supper. Leave out those how make you feel comfortable, who help you fulfill obligations or advance your status. Invite only the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind - guests who all have additional requirements and needs without the likelihood of ever being able to pay you back." In Jesus' view, there is no lower level.
We live in a society of vast abundance that runs on the perception of scarcity. There are only so many spots on the school team, on the admissions lists of elite schools, in the
club and in the boardrooms. It seems we are always competing against the other. The greater our status, the more we are driven to compete." In today's Gospel and epistle, we are seriously challenged with this whole dynamic of being first and best at the table.
The table of Christ goes far beyond warm memories and the family ties. At this table we encounter Christ - and eat and drink in tension with our culture in objection to all that keeps others from the table and prevents us from welcoming strangers into our midst. Today's Gospel is not ultimately about where to sit and how to act in a social setting. It is really about our heart's response to others, about love of neighbor which is a way of tangibly acting out our love for God. We really need not worry about "status," if our eyes are fixed on Christ. God's new order of things, in which the first may be last, and the last may be first, renders our own social scales irrelevant anyway.
We cannot even dictate the parameters of our own humble service. We can only give ourselves to Jesus and trust to him the particulars. This is truly to gain one's life, and to be told by God, "friend, move up higher."
Pentecost 11: Healing on the Sabbath
August 25, 2019
Suzanne Guthrie writes in her weekly lectionary blog, At the Edge of Enclosure, about today's Gospel story from Luke. I quote at length: "A woman afflicted with a bent back, who, for 18 years looked only at the ground, is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath Day. On this day of days, the holy of holies, she experiences a foretaste of resurrection. And she didn't even ask - she just happened to be near Jesus at the right time. Jesus faced the sacred moment: so did the woman.
This causes controversy of course. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, 'There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.'
But the Lord answered him and said, 'You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?' Luke 13:14-16
If it were me, I'd accept healing any day - but healing on the Sabbath day brings home even more profoundly the hope of resurrection, transformation, peace, fulfillment."
Indeed, let's accept healing any and every day, and so today our Presiding Bishop has called Episcopalians to work for racial reconciliation in our own communities by remembering and honoring the first enslaved Africans on our own soil. By our never forgetting this subjugation we can become part of the world's healing this day.