Greetings Sisters and Brothers on this snowy morning.
Since we aren't gathering as one in body, I want us to gather as one in spirit; I offer these reflections for the 2nd Sunday in Lent.
In the Collect for today we read: "O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray...""
The 1st reading is from Genesis. Here God bids Abram leave home, family, kin, all that is known, appreciated, accepted and lived, and go to a far away place. Leave here, go there, and do it all on faith.
The Gospel of John in chapter 3 picks up on this with Jesus talking to Nicodemus and offering him a new way of looking at and understanding life. The life from above rather than the life from below. It is called being "born again". The biological (indeed any "logical") way of understanding life is pragmatic, scientific, specific, and has become acceptable to us all. The spiritual ("mythic") way of life isn't pragmatic or scientific or specific. Jesus invites Nicodemus to Leave Here, Come With Me There, and Never Look Back. Jesus takes us into a new, different, Godly realm that challenges our assumptions and our expectations about how things are, how they can be, and what needs to happen to makes them so.
The Letter to the Romans reminds us that promises are fulfilled when we rely on faith. They "rest on grace" not law or human accomplishment. Ours is a God who "gives life to the dead" and calls "into existence the things that do not exist."
As I look out the window and see and hear the calm of the morning I see the flowers that already have begun to bloom. And I know that beneath the surface more life awaits its own growth. Lent is a time for us all to look beneath the surface and see and feel the growth that is yet to come. God will lead us from any and all Here to a There that will be filled with grace and mercy and glory.
Have a safe and holy day.
As we begin another year
May we begin the year with a goodly cheer
While we might be anxious may we never fear
For Christ our Light is forever near.
Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
The Collect for January 1, the Feast of the Holy Name, reads as follows:
Eternal Father, you gave to your Incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.
That HOLY NAME is what surrounds us and holds us up through all that we face and will face in the coming year.
As we begin this 2017th year, may we begin it in the Lord and remember throughout its entirety that we are His and His is the world.
The Word became flesh at Christmas and it lives all year long. It is the sign of our salvation.
May peace be ours today and everyday.
Happy New Year!
"Give Thanks with a Joyful Heart"
May we truly be thankful on this day -
for all the blessings we have received;
for all the challenges that we face;
in repentance for any whom may have deceived;
above all for God's loving and forgiving grace.
Have a blessed day.
In one of daily meditation books, the thought offered for today reads as follows:
"With nothing to do but expect the hour of setting off, the afternoon was long..." - Jane Austen
I will look to the moment, and miraculously, the future will take care of itself. If I can achieve clarity and honesty right here, today, I'll give my future a good start.
On days like this when it's raining, damp, and my aging bones ache and I feel a little chillier than I used to, I like to hunker down and read. The reading needs to be something entertaining. I've tried reading religious books, re-reading some of the theological tomes I still have in the library. I try to read some of the latest books about the "missional church" and what we need to be about if we are to be true to our call to "really" follow Christ.
On days like this I don't want to go near any of these. They are either about my past (some of which I no longer care about) or about the future and its potential (which I'm not interested in at the moment). On days like this I just want to say What about today?
I am reminded of a scene from the play (and movie starring Jack Lemmon) entitled Mass Appeal. The deacon in the parish is asked by Lemmon, the pastor why he insists on pushing the envelope with some of the people and making generalizations in his sermons. The young deacon responds "Because I see what they could be!" The pastor says, "But what about what they are, Mark!"
I'm not suggesting we adopt a Live for Today attitude to govern our lives. That didn't work for me even in the 1960s when it was fashionable. But too often I'd lost sight of the immediacy of the moment aspect of our lives. Our lives in Christ. Jesus tells us in the prayer He taught us "give us THIS day our daily bread." The immediacy of the moment. C. S. Lewis said "next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses".
On days like this "I will look to this moment, and miraculously" I might feel the very presence of God.
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
- William Butler Yeats
This poem is from The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. It is written by Mark Nepo. It is a gathering o thoughts and reflections for each day of the year. This is the selection for August 2. Following the poem, Nepo goes on to point out that sharing our innermost experiences with our loved ones is commonplace. Yet we might easily forget that not everyone can appreciate our experience nor "go into our depth completely. We must travel there alone. It is where we commune with God."
I guess that is true. I must add, however, that as a priest of the church and a disciple of Jesus Christ, I take exception to the "alone" part. I don't believe we travel there or anywhere else alone. There is always a partner, a colleague, a discipleship that travels with us. There is always the God who never departs our side no matter what.
"I feel so alone" is a common sentiment uttered by any of us throughout our lives. Truth be told, if everybody who felt this way said it aloud, I believe we could actually hear a chorus of voices chanting the phrase together. People have said to me, "I can't come to church because I feel so alone and if I came I might break into tears. That would be embarrassing." And I have often responded with something like "this is the place for you to do this; this is the place where you can admit this. This is the place where ALONE can become ALL ONE.
Individualism seems to remain the order of the day, rugged or otherwise. And that may be Christianity's greatest challenge. It is our greatest joy.
It was around 2:00 PM last Saturday in Trinity Church, Asheville that the announcement came. We had elected the 7th Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina! He is The Rev. Canon Jose Antonio McLoughlin, currently the Canon to the Ordinary, the Bishop of Oklahoma. This election was concluded on the fourth ballot, and Jose was chosen from among the four candidates.
His consecration is set for Saturday, October 1 at 11AM. The location is Kimmel Arena on the UNC-Asheville campus. I do hope we will plan to attend.
In that consecration ceremony, many prayers are offered. The one I particularly want to point out is the prayer after communion. It reads in part as follows:
We pray that Jose may be to us an effective example in word and action, in love and patience, and in holiness of life.
Grant that we, with him, may serve you now, and always rejoice in your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord....
That he may be an example; that we may serve with him. This is the important piece of this prayer. We all benefit from examples, be they in ordinary life or in our spiritual lives. Having seen an example, it remains for us to accompany our bishop, serving with him. This is the ultimate mutual ministry. All of us are the diocese, each of us have gifts for the kingdom, each of walk together in faith for the spread and the building up that kingdom.
Among the goals Jose has for his ministry and for our diocese are the following:
1. Create a diocese that is centered on the mission of Jesus Christ to develop spiritual health and vitality.
2. Devote myself to understanding the needs, concerns, hopes and dreams of the diocese. Spend intentional time traveling the diocese in order to get to know the laity, clergy, congregations and institutions.
3. Develop a transparent diocesan structure based on the needs of the people, congregations and institutions of the diocese. Ensure that it is ultimately focused on encouraging, developing and sustaining vibrant ministries with the diocese and helping people to claim their gifts. The diocese should exist to serve congregations, not vice versa.
4. Use innovative programming and technology to engage the diocese, particularly among youth, minorities and underserved populations.
5. Empower lay leadership and develop a Holy Orders Process that looks to develop clergy more in line with the needs of today's Church. Specifically, I would look at recruiting ordained leaders with entrepreneurial spirit, growing the number of bi-vocational priests and minority clergy.
WE HAVE A NEW BISHOP. We will have a new church. We must see ourselves as a new people: redeemed by our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We must be partners in this mission venture so that the kingdom of God is known throughout our diocese and throughout the world.
It appears the article I wrote the other day has mysteriously vanished into the great cosmos. I assume that means I pushed the wrong button somewhere.
So, Sisters and Brothers, I offer these reflections as a substitute.
The Psalm appointed for yesterday's Morning Prayer Office was number 101. In part it reads as follows:
I will sing of mercy and justice;
to you, O Lord, will I sing praises.
I will strive to follow a blameless course...
I will walk with sincerity of heart within my house.
There is more to this psalm than the few phrases I've cited. The psalm contains eight verses, the final of which speaks not only of rooting out all evildoers from the city of the Lord, but also destroying all the wicked in the land. This seems to be the dominant sentiment floating around the world. It certainly seems to be the verbal currency in the political arena in this country. There are also people who have decided who the wicked are and how they can and should be destroyed in order to be removed.
One such example was offered last Monday evening during the candle-light vigil held in Riverside Park. Among the various people who spoke, one cited the Florida pastor who indicated that the murders in the nightclub were the result of an angry God who set out to cleanse the earth of the wickedness rampant there. Fortunately we who gathered did so to reflect on the loss of human life and he sacredness of that life which God bestows upon us. No ranting or raving, but a peace-filled, prayer-filled time devoted to singing of mercy and justice, each one of us seeking to follow the blameless course.
That is one of the reasons I think I hear the words of the Psalmist differently. Another one is the excitement I have for the election of the next bishop of our diocese. A third reason is the enthusiasm I have for our parish and the enthusiasm of the vestry in this missional venture of ours.
There will be plenty more next week once the election has finished this Saturday. There will be plenty more in the months and years ahead for us a the people of Trinity as we discern and develop of understanding of what God calls us to be and to become.
For now the words of the Psalmist suffice. May we continue to sing praises to the Lord - sing them forcefully and without shame; and may we be filled with the love of God and share that love in the world around us.
Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
Memorial Day is always a reminder to me of bygone days: when my family and I went to our church cemetery for the remembrance service; when our high school band marched in all those parades sponsored by local fire houses; when I was in seminary in DC and we went up to Arlington for the wreath laying and changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. My memory jumps from retrieving spent shells from the rifles of the honor guard as a .child to sneaking swigs of beer behind those fire houses to feeling honored to stand on the ground of Arlington.
Yet, so much of that time was also caught up in study and conversation of the futility of war: the loss and waste of human life; the injustices portrayed by those who wage war and the disastrous effects on those who returned. So many times since have I visited men (don't recall any women) in VA hospitals and prayed with them in their rooms while waiting for some miracle to calm their nerves and alleviate their suffering.
We have no service in our prayer book for Memorial Day. However, we do have a number of prayers for service. We, the people of God, called by our Lord Jesus Christ to serve in discipleship, should take time today to recite these prayers. They are listed in prayer book according to the following groups:
For the World; For the Church; For National Life; For Social Order, etc. There are also Thanskgivings, including Thanksgivings for National Life and for Heroic Service. These two deserve our attention. In part they read,
We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them...
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light...
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime..hasten the day when all our people..will glorify your holy Name.
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.
On this Memorial Day there are no parades, no needless empty shell casings to gather. The best may have been Gary Sinise and Joe Montenga on PBS last night. This year the numerous ads suggest that Memorial Day is only about the big sale "going on right now" at the car dealership, the home store, the clothing outlet. But this Memorial Day is definitely a day when we through our prayer can recall and then rededicate ourselves to what can be a lasting tribute to our loved ones, our friends, our country, and our God.
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of life to every race and nation
by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit:
Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel,
that it may reach to the ends of the earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord; who live and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
This Sunday, May 15, is the great Feast of Pentecost. It is the Fiftieth Day of Easter. It is called the "birthday of the church" and as such it signifies to us a new beginning, another beginning. Pentecost is the day when we should sense the Holy Spirit moving among us and within us.
This year, of course, something new IS happening. On this day the four candidates selected as finalists for our Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina arrive in Asheville. That evening, and for the next three days, they will meet with people from around the diocese in two-hour sessions and answer questions that we will have asked them. It is fitting, and perhaps providential , that this occurs during Pentecost week. Perhaps it is a sign that God is shedding abroad the gift of the Holy Spirit so that His word may reach to the ends of the earth.
Something new is happening at Trinity as well. We are becoming the church that God intended. The letter of Acts tells us that God will pour out the Spirit upon ALL flesh. With the addition of a Spanish service each Sunday more people are being reached with the Good News of the Gospel in the native language as well as in English.
The first group that gathered in that "one place" on that first Pentecost day remains a sign for us in our day. Not only were those doors open so that the entire house was filled with the Spirit, but upon leaving that place those disciples brought that Word wherever they went. May it be so with us; and may God guide us as we seek to serve Him.
Peace be with you,