Services and Sermons
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.