Online Worship Services
October 25, 2020
We all have them - words and phrases to live by that we can quote any time of the night or day. 12 step programs require and swear by them- - powerful phrases and memorable verse that you quote at the drop of a hat, lifelines that you call to mind when you need to be rooted in something much larger than your own immediate problems and deep sorrows, horrific and scary as they may be.
An anonymous and memorable quotation reads, "Man is an able creature, but he has made 32,647,389 laws and hasn't yet improved on the Ten Commandments." Not only had the Pharisees categorized and classified six hundred and 32 laws, they quibbled over which of them were most important.
In today's Gospel, these leaders again make an attempt to trip up Jesus by challenging him to say which law is the most important one. As occurred in last week's Gospel, Jesus does not fall into their trap, but takes this challenge to a whole other level, when he tells them what is most important, what the real priority for living in community is all about.
Jesus' calm confidence stems from the fact that he is an observant Jesus and familiar with the scriptures. He also knows the heart and mind of the lawgiver, God. From Jesus comes a response so simple, yet so profound, that effectively silences his challengers. The greatest commandment is to love God. The corollary or close second commandment after that great first one is too quite simple. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This is one of my favorite anchor verses from Scripture. What is one of yours?
October 18, 2020
Jesus' admonition to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's is a clever response to those who would seek to trap him, not only because he refuses to fall into another trap, but also because he is inquiring where our duty lies: Where are your priorities? Where is your treasure? In a human ruler or in God? We all can have many masters, including our own schedules and agendas. Jesus' answer is simple: "Give to God the things that are God's."
As we heard in our first and second readings from both the prophet Isaiah and in Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians. we are all stamped in God's image and belong to God.
God in Jesus Christ shows us again and again that if know who we are - God's, and a follower of Jesus, our priorities we fall in line. Try it today! Remind yourself that you have been made in God's' image, called by God, a follower of Jesus. Remind yourself of this identity and let this identity shape your priorities. Look at that coin, that dollar bill, that check book, that calculator, that smart phone and then, "Give to the world what are the world's and to God, what are God's."
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.
October 11, 2020
What about the wedding garment?
In Sunday's Gospel we have the story of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, the last of three parables in Matthew's Gospel spoken by Jesus in the Temple to religious leaders. And what a social disaster it is! Invited guests who do not show up for a wedding! As Kathryn Z. Johnston states in this week's Christian Century blog posting: "The original guests to the wedding banquet cannot even be bothered to attend. This man with no wedding robe comes to the party as a last second invitee. What does it matter what he chooses to wear?
Maybe it is less about outerwear and more about how what the guest is wearing reflects where his heart is. My lack of originality in costume design back in the sixth grade was
absolutely an outer reflection of my own inner apathy about Halloween (and apparently about fitting into the middle school social scene).
Maybe it is less about outerwear and more about how what the guest is wearing reflects where his heart is. My lack of originality in costume design back in the sixth grade was absolutely an outer reflection of my own inner apathy about Halloween (and apparently about fitting into the middle school social scene). The king doesn't want just anyone at the wedding banquet; he wants those who care to be there. A lack of a wedding robe reflects an inner apathy toward being a guest at the banquet.
When we are baptized, we are welcomed into God's grace and covenant with the church. We symbolically put on the fresh garment of Christ. But day in and day out, how do we dress our hearts for this banquet that, by God's grace, we are invited to attend?"
October 4, 2020
Reflection on Saint Francis
Today we take a break from a Scriptural reflection to honor St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology and animals, for whom the current Pope took his name. Sunday is his feast day and as such the church worldwide officially celebrates a saint of great humility and courage, one more renowned for his relationship to four legged beings than two.
St. Francis of Assisi models a phrase that became quite popular in the 1970's and that is making a reappearance: "Small is beautiful." The smallness of St. Francis's gestures exhibited the growing size of his faith and trust in God, one act of kindness and humility at a time. Francis of Assisi, a monk who grew up in a life of great luxury, chose to adopt extreme poverty as a way to live. His brown-robed friars were
a familiar sight in ancient Italy, traveling from town to town begging for alms. They used their order to nurse lepers and the sick and to rebuild ruined churches.
Francis and his order of monks' single-mindedness of purpose was not limited to people living in poverty. He chose to befriend all of the created order, and indeed, has become known as the patron saint of ecology, for his affinity to animals, nature and children. And he is in our pet garth! Look for him - he is there! And join us for the annual favorite-the blessing of the animals, Sunday at 1 pm. We will also remember animals that have become extinct and species that are endangered.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.
September 27, 2020
Authority and the Parable of the Two Sons
It is a fair question, "By what authority do you do these things?" in Sunday's Gospel. Jesus' opponents seek to trap him with a question, and Jesus responds in kind. Jesus has, by any account, drawn attention to himself. His responses to the question of authority come in two parts. First, he connects himself and his authority to John the Baptist. Then he tells a parable about two brothers.
Both sons in Sunday's parable insult their father. Both sons clearly need a change of mind and heart. The one that acted, however reluctantly and late, proves to be the righteous one with the prostitutes and tax collectors who repent, knowing their need of grace. The first son shows up and does the work and the will of his father. Where do you find yourself - if you do - in Sunday's Gospel?
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.
September 20, 2020
Life's not fair
If I were to put a sign board out front the way some churches do with a saying of the week or the theme for the sermon, today's might read, "Today's Sermon Topic: Life is not Fair." Forget, Jesus' saying, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last, " when I work hard and long and all day, shouldn't I get more credit - and money than the person who arrives at the last hour? Maybe in the eyes of labor law, I should, but not in the eyes of God, and that's good news for all of us.
In our Old Testament reading, we step into the very end of the Book of Jonah where we find Jonah, the very reluctant prophet, is told to preach of God's mercy to a foreign people. He wants no part of showing mercy to foreigners. He does not believe that God would do for the Gentile people of
Nineveh what God did for Israel. Through a series of adventures, including the famous three days in the belly of a great fish, Jonah was finally led, albeit very reluctantly, to see that something was seriously wrong with a religious system that enabled him to be more compassionate toward a tree than he could be toward the Ninevites. But they were! Jonah resents God's generosity and wants to hoard God's mercy. God will not have it that way. God wants justice for all of God's creation.
Sunday's Gospel from Matthew is not really about working in the fields and growing crops (We saw earlier this summer that Jesus does not seem to know or care anything about planting crops). It is about the generosity of God. It is not about equity or proper disbursement of wages; it is about a gracious and undeserved gift.
What can we learn from both these Bible stories about God's justice and not our own desire for "fairness?"
September 13, 2020
How far does forgiveness go?
In Sunday's Gospel Jesus is asked, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" The parable that follows reminds us that we forgive repeatedly because we have first been forgiven, also repeatedly. Jesus reminds us that forgiveness has very little to do with how we feel about the person we are forgiving. Forgiveness is a decision we make. Being able to forgive is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as human beings. Forgiving makes us whole and good, putting us back on a right pathway with God.
Five years ago Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, opened fire and murdered nine people.
Roof, a self-admitted white supremacist, was found guilty on all 33 counts lodged against him and sentenced to death. Through this tragedy, many of the people affected by the hate crime were able to forgive Roof. "I never thought I would be able to forgive somebody for murdering my mom," Chris Singleton told USA TODAY about choosing to forgive Dylann Roof for gunning down his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eight others at church. The former minor league baseball player's story of grace isn't a rare narrative though it may be hard to imagine such literal following of Jesus' command to forgive.
Today I urge you to be inspired by Jesus' call to forgiveness and those of the Emanuel Church community to see how far forgiveness and grace, God's unconditional love, will extend. Such actions are not easy, but they are how community is held together - by loving our neighbors as ourselves and by extraordinary forgiveness, as Jesus models. They are decisions we make.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.
September 6, 2020
Be a Sentinel
What do we take home from this Sunday's readings about keeping watch, loving and forgiving one another?
From the first reading in Ezekiel, we can see ourselves also called to be sentinels, watchers of the day and night. Proclaiming that 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. We are not at that day; we are on the path.
This intense watchfulness, and wakefulness (Imagine yourself a sentry or a ship's deck hand standing a late night watch) is what being a follower of Jesus is all about. So be strong in the Lord, be a reconciler, beginning in your own household, go the
extra mile in helping others, pray daily, work for justice in all aspects of your life. Midst all the changes and chances of our lives, be a person of hope. And, follow Paul's words in Sunday's Letter to the Romans, "Owe no one anything, except to love one another." More words to live by this Labor Day weekend and every day.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.
August 30, 2020
Jesus' rebuke of Peter
From the very beginning of his teaching in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus teaches authentic living isn't found in or measured by length of days or the accumulation of wealth, but rather in the submission of one's will to God and service to others.
Today's Gospel marks a pivotal moment in Jesus' ministry. After last week when Peter affirms Jesus as "The Messiah, the Son of God," and Jesus sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah, today we see again Jesus restricting much of his teaching to an inner circle of disciples as he heads to Jerusalem. There is an ominous feeling to today's Gospel as Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Given all the good that Jesus had done, when the disciples hear Jesus explicitly depict his future demise they probably question how these things could ever come to pass. Beyond that, if Jesus is "the Messiah," as their prior conversation had indicated, how could he possibly suffer and die in Jerusalem, and in the hands of the religious leaders who had hoped for ages that the Messiah would finally appear and deliver Israel from all her oppressors?
Whether prompted by his own ego, a fear that the same fate awaits him and his comrades or merely an all-too-human response in the face of the inconceivable, Peter is appalled by what he has just heard. And so he takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus, however, promptly rejects Peter's reproof. Rather than qualify, modify or entirely withdraw his testimony, Jesus turns and says to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Following this intense exchange, Jesus returns to the task of tutoring his band of disciples, but now his instructions entail deeper meaning because they relate to his reprimand of Peter, namely Peter's refusal to follow Jesus on Jesus' terms. Peter has attempted to force his vision of the future on Jesus.
August 23, 2020
In today's Gospel, Jesus asks of his followers in the district of Caesarea Philippi, "BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? In the end, it is not that important what others say about Jesus, who do WE say that he is? As followers of Jesus in the twenty first century, we share a common name, "Christian." It is not a negative name, as it was when first given to followers of Jesus, called "Followers of the way," but certainly one that can be used derogatorily and often misunderstood.
The best way to give our answer to "And who do you say that I am?" may not even be in a solely verbal response. Maybe our best response to that question, "And who do you say that I am?" is in our actions, reflecting on words attributed to St Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
Names matter. Jesus' question from today's Gospel, "But who do you say that I am?" is not his final one to his first disciples or to us. Like the first 12 who still had the Last Supper, the moments at Gethsemane, and Jesus' final words on the cross yet to come, our lives of faith have plenty more space in them to learn and grow into what it means to follow Jesus. Confession is not a once and done event. It is an ongoing, unfolding process as part of "being a disciple of Christ." Today, and every day, be ready to say and show your identity as a Christian. When you are asked the question, "Who do you say that Jesus is?" what will YOUR answer be?
August 16, 2020
In Sunday's Gospel Jesus leaves familiar, comfortable territory and people-the disciples and yes the Pharisees-to enter a sort of red-light district, a place most people would not dare to go. Going there is socially unacceptable. This is where the so-called outcasts, unclean, and undesirable people live. But the "outsider" is always especially and particularly welcome by Jesus.
Being both a Canaanite and a woman is a double whammy. Yet the Canaanite woman is not afraid to confront this Jewish man named Jesus. He's in her neighborhood now, and she has a desperate need-her daughter is tormented by a demon. What mother would not want her child healed? She goes against social and religious norms for the purpose of receiving healing
for her child. She speaks up and out to this man she calls "Son of David" for mercy, not knowing what his response will be. She takes a stand, a risk, and crosses a borderline. She is desperate to see her daughter healed.
When we are confronted by desperate people for help, as we are today in the time of COVID -19, racial injustice and unemployment, what will our response be to people crying out in need? It is not so much "What would Jesus do?" but rather, "What would Jesus have me do?"
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.
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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!
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Season of Creation worship service in the Memorial Garden.