Online Worship Services
January 17, 2021
The "fierce urgency of now"
This weekend we especially remember and celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, 1929-1968, an African American Baptist minister and the main leader of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's. King had a magnificent speaking ability, which enabled him to effectively express justice. King's eloquent pleas won the support of millions of people and made him internationally famous. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. Martin Luther King heard the voice of God and responded to serve those most in need - those who lived at the fringes of society, those identified in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, as closest to the kingdom of God. Martin Luther King heard the voice of God and responded in the affirmative, in his words, in the "fierce urgency of now."
In Sunday's Gospel from John, Philip and Nathanael respond to God's voice as heard in Jesus' call and readily follow God's call to service in the world. We pray in the collect for the Second Sunday after Epiphany that we too may readily follow God's call to "shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth." And we hear that wonderful story from the third chapter of the first Book of Samuel where God calls Samuel to follow God.
In the time of a worldwide pandemic, civil unrest and racial injustice in our own land that have caused us to critically examine our own practices, beliefs and prejudices, where and how do you hear the fierce and urgent call of God in your life? What is your next step in working toward justice in our own land and time?
January 10, 2021
The Baptism of Jesus (and our own)
When Jesus is baptized, God tears apart the heavens, and a voice declares the truth of Jesus' identity: "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." We read of Jesus' baptism every year after the Feast of the Epiphany. Whether we are gathered around our baptismal font for baptism or reciting the Baptismal Creed, this proclamation, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased" is usually marked as comforting. But at Jesus' river baptism assures us, this proclamation is not about comfort. This proclamation is about Jesus identity and mission. This mission immediately following his baptism drives Jesus back to the wilderness to wrestle with the devil. It leads him to places of suffering, chaos, despair and healing.
When God hears the cries of the creation, God sends Jesus - armed with the power of the Holy Spirit and with his identity and mission as the Son of God. What could be more powerful or vital than such a mission! What is your mission as one baptized by water and the Holy Spirit?
January 3, 2021
Love Comes Down at Christmas
In these unprecedented times of a global pandemic, when our world too is turned upside down and seems to get smaller as we stay closer to home and limit our physical and in person contacts, paradoxically our world is getting larger as we share with every single being on the planet the experience of the coronavirus.
There is another experience that we choose to share this Christmas - it is the greatest love story ever told, the love that comes down at Christmas, and changes everything, forever. And it all begins on a tiny scale, with a vulnerable, baby born in a stable in a little town of Bethlehem.
This remarkable gift of love never diminishes or decreases in the giving; it only expands. Give the gift of Christmas by letting the love of that first Christmas morning, the love of God Incarnate, be born in you this day.
Saint Ann's Lessons & Carols via zoom
This joyous season of love I commend the following piece to you by Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1928. Love is not love until you give it away.
And when we give each other Christmas gifts in his name,
let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars,
and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans -
and all that live and move upon them.
He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit
and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused -
and to save us from our foolishness,
from all our sins,
he came down to earth and gave us himself.
December 24 and 25, 2020
A Christmas Reflection on "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
While Phillips Brooks was the thirty-one-year old rector of Holy Trinity Church, Philadelphia, he planned a trip to the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, he rode on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. He wrote in his diary, "before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a café in it...Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed , the shepherds were still 'keeping watch over their flocks,' or leading them home to fold." Later he attended the Christmas service - which lasted from 10 pm to 3 am! - in Constantine's ancient basilica built over the traditional site of the Nativity. Soon afterwards, he wrote the children of his parish Sunday School back in Philadelphia:
"I do not mind telling you (though of course I should not like to have you speak of it to any of the older people of the church) that I am much afraid the younger part of my congregation has more than its share of my thought and interest...I remember especially on Christmas Eve, when I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices that I knew well telling each other of the 'Wonderful Night' of the Savior's birth."
The experience of being in Bethlehem, at the place of Jesus' birth, made an unforgettable impression upon Phillips Brooks. When Brooks returned to the United States, he still had "Palestine singing in his soul." The images of the memorable Christmas Eve in Bethlehem are embedded in the hymn that Brooks wrote for a Sunday School Christmas celebration three years later, after he had become rector of Trinity Church, Boston It is usually sung to the tune, "St. Louis," composed by Phillips' organist, Lewis H. Redner.
Phillips Brooks, one of the most prominent preachers of his time, became Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891. But he is remembered today above all for this hymn he wrote for "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and was sung at the laying of the cornerstone for Washington Cathedral in what is now the Bethlehem Chapel.
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" reminds us that the babe in the manger, like children everywhere, turns the world upside down. The tiny baby in the manger becomes the Prince of peace for the world. The little lamb becomes the sacrificial lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. And a little town of Bethlehem becomes the birth place for God himself.
This child whose message is as new today as it was over 2000 years ago, brings us goodness and light that our world cannot bring, and we, like the first shepherds in the fields boy listen to the angels' song and follow the star that leads us to the light of the world. Welcome anew to the joy and mystery of the most precious gift ever given that comes from the little town of Bethlehem.
"O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today."
December 20, 2020
Interruptions - the very name implies that it is something negative, to be avoided. Our lives are filled with interruptions. In many ways, how we approach interruptions is a barometer to our spiritual life. I hope that we do well here at Saint Ann's when someone comes through the door looking for company, a warm place, food, shelter, information or a place to worship, we treat every person, friend and stranger, as a welcome guest who is never an interruption.
Today's familiar Gospel, the story of the Annunciation, and the Magnificat that follows, "Mary's song," is all about a big interruption that changed the course of history. The Annunciation, as today's Gospel reading is known, is one of the most challenging passages of scripture - not because I don't know how I think about angels or the virgin birth, but because the passage seems to suggest that to live the life of faith we must let God interrupt us.
Whatever Mary was doing, the Annunciation came as an interruption to her routine, for her life had been proceeding according to plan and then God interrupted her plans. With Mary as our guide, I ask this winter morning, how can interruptions be times when we are surprised by grace and listen and really listen to God?
December 13, 2020
No matter why, seek to be joyful
Our readings for Sunday encourage us to be full of joy. Such is Paul's word to the church at Thessalonica, while Isaiah the great prophet announces good news to the poor, the lowly and the oppressed. A similar note in today's canticle (in lieu of the psalm) is heard in what we call The Magnficat. Sunday's Gospel focuses again on John the Baptist, but this time as witness to the light and life offered to all in Jesus Christ.
The prophet Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist lived in incredibly difficult and uncertain times. In Advent 2020, during a pandemic when we are physically apart and so many are struggling for their lives, coupled with food and employment insecurity, how do we experience joy and share that with others?
December 6, 2020
Prepare the way of the Lord
As our earliest gospel written about 70 AD, or 40 years after Jesus, Mark offers his account of Jesus' life, not by first focusing on Jesus, but by first focusing on the person of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin. Mark firmly sets John the Baptist as the prophet-forerunner foretold in Jewish salvation - history. And Mark compacts 2 prophetic texts into one - and attributes them both to Isaiah. The "messenger" who prepares the way comes from Malachi (3:1), the voice crying in the wilderness is an image we just heard, taken from Isaiah 40:3, made so memorable as the opening tenor solo in Handel's oratorio, Messiah.
John the Baptist preaches repentance and baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Christ. John is that
voice of Isaiah crying in the wilderness. He advocates a road less taken - that of repentance first. John's words are harsh ones - as was his appearance.
We too are called this Advent to prepare the way of the Lord, to be prophets by spreading God's message of mercy and truth meeting and righteousness and peace kissing each other. This is courageous work. During this season of Advent let us stay awake to our call to serve God in our acts of mercy and lovingkindness. Never a day goes by when we are not given the opportunity for such prophetic witness.
November 29, 2020
Listen to the cry of the Prophet Isaiah
The writer of Isaiah longed for God to come crashing down, interrupting his world and making the people pay attention. Isaiah wanted mountains to quake and nations to tremble because of the coming of the Lord.
The text was written around the time the Hebrew people came back to Jerusalem after years in exile. You can imagine that many of those returning were the children of those who left their homeland decades before. They probably grew up hearing stories of Judah and how wonderful it would be to restore the capital city to its former glory. The children traveled to this place, hoping that what their parents said would be true.
When they arrived, their hearts sank. Jerusalem was destroyed, and it would be a long time before it was restored-if it happened at all.
It's at this point, when the people feel miles away from God, that Isaiah asks to meet God-not for proof of God's existence, but because life is chaotic and they need God. They want God to intervene and put things right. We just made the same request of God in our Advent 1 collect when we prayed, "Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light."
During Advent, the cry of Isaiah should be our cry: God, come and shape us, shape our community. In midst of a pandemic, racial injustice and climate change, our world too is deeply unsettled. Things are not well. We wait for God to come and shake things up and change us for the better. We hope for the one who makes mountains quake and nations shake in fear-that this God will come and form us as disciples and bearers of good news. We wait during Advent - an active waiting in which must cast out darkness and put on the Lord's armor of light.
It's a short walk to Christmas. Make every day of your Advent work count.
November 22, 2020
The Gospel on 5 Fingers and Imagining a Different World
In Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew Jesus asks us to imagine a different world, He asks us to imagine a world without hunger, without poverty, without suffering. Until that day comes, we must not only stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, we must also bring and be Christ to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.
In the words of Sunday's Gospel, "Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'" As Mother Theresa of Calcutta described today's message, "The Gospel is written on 5 fingers: 'You did it to me.'" Our imagining a different world begins with how we treat our neighbors.
November 15, 2020
The Parable of the Talents
The Parable of the Talents is about God's life and power and abundant generosity, and how we respond to God's generosity. All three slaves in today's parable received talents that did not belong to them, money that was given but not earned. (Think about how we are inheritors of our beautiful church building - an outright gift). The gift of talents was an act of generosity, a bequest from their master, an indication of trust in their management.
The two trustworthy slaves doubled their money. They risked buying high and selling low. Luckily their gamble paid off. But, it is so easy to miss that what they truly doubled was the audacity of their first gift! They were given something amazing - a reckless unearned, unheard of trust. Recognizing the daring of their master, they respond with daring, courageously doubling both the principle of the bequest and the principle behind it.
Reading today's Parable of the Talents we can be challenged to examine how we are we investing in God's kingdom, beginning with our ministry right here at Saint Ann's. How do we secure the funds necessary to use our buildings not only for us and our neighbors, but also for future generations? We not only take care of the gifts we have been given - i.e., building maintenance, but also, are called to grow our investment in faith.
Starting with this beautiful earth, we have been given gifts of daring generosity from God. When we are called to account for how we tended God's gifts, let us not say, as the third slave says, "Oh, I was afraid, and so I hid the talent." Let us say instead, "I did not hold back in God's service to serve my neighbor."