Sermons

July 18, 2021: Pentecost 8


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8 PENTECOST: July 18, 2021

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

Our Gospel passage for today seems, when you see it in context, like a very strange piece of selection from the Gospel according to Mark. As you will be aware, we are just now in Lectionary year B, when most of our Gospel readings come from Mark, with a few key moments marked, as they are every year, by readings from John.

Mark’s Gospel, generally believed to have been the first written, gives the appearance of artless and everyday style, grammar and language, which conceals much care and thought in its composition. In the first Gospel Mark organized the often-told and remembered stories of the ministry of Jesus, which had taken place some 30-40 years before the Gospel was written down.

Something that Mark does quite often is to wrap one story around another. As we read a few weeks ago, he wraps the two parts of the story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter around the separate story of healing the woman with continuous bleeding.

In today’s Gospel reading, however, the meat in the sandwich has been left out, and what we have are just the two slices of bread (or the wrap, if you prefer). We have Jesus teaching everyone who streamed out to listen to him in Galilee; then, after a break, we have his equally profuse and generous healing of all those who came to see him in vast numbers.

And what a filling in the sandwich has been left out! In the passages omitted from our reading, we would have heard the feeding of the five thousand – the only miracle attested in all four testaments – and Jesus’s appearance to his disciples walking on the Sea of Galilee. Those stories are, of course, told on other days in our lectionary.

What I wish to suggest today is that the wrapping of Mark’s sandwich is of enormous importance, perhaps it is the very essence of the story, as far as Mark is concerned.

It is rather interesting that Mark chapter 6 tells the story of the feeding of the 5000 and, just after that, Jesus’s walking on the water; and that these two stories are also presented in John (also chapter 6) one after another, and in exactly the same order. The best explanation suggested for this similarity is that there was an oral tradition, shared among the various communities of the followers of Jesus, that these two miracles followed one upon the other in that particular order.

So, for the miracles, Mark is probably drawing on a tradition, which retold the stories that everyone remembered: but the surrounding passages, where he sets the scenes for these spectacular stories, the “wrapping” so to speak, may just possibly be more authentically the voice of the evangelist, than the miracle stories which he learned from others.

Let’s just suppose that Mark was saying something like this: the regular day-by-day mission of Jesus (extraordinary for anyone else but ordinary for him) was teaching and healing. The astonishing, miraculous things that Jesus did were called forth by the circumstances where he found himself. Jesus could not help himself from doing deeds of power to help others; but maybe, just maybe the miracles were not the most important parts of his message. Is Mark, at least implicitly, saying that the everyday, continuing mission of Jesus, of being with the people in love and care, and teaching them the ways of God for themselves and for others, was really more sacred than the miracles?

Hold that thought a moment, while we consider our other readings for today.

Jeremiah was a prophet for an age of desperate crisis. The vital role of the leader, the anointed king who stood in God’s place, was to pastor and to care for the people. In this poetic reading, Jeremiah offers a lyrical passage about good pastoral rulership. Such an ideal was not reflected in the reality of the time that Jeremiah’s prophecies were compiled. In his days the kingdom of Judah was under repeated attack from the Babylonians. The claimants to royal status within the kingdom were humiliated or killed, or both, in rapid succession. In this time of chaos and despair, Jeremiah proclaimed that it was God alone who would, in the fullness of time, establish a new kingship, which would bring peace, order and protection for the people.

It never happened, at least not in that sense. Judaea would exist precariously under the rule of foreign dynasties for the next five centuries and be overwhelmed by Rome. But what Jeremiah offered was a vision of what real care for a people meant: not self-glorification, not oppression of the weak, not hostility to the outsider, but wise dealing, bringing comfort and stability to the people. It’s still a valid vision of good government, which far too many rulers around the world completely fail to acknowledge.

And in the letter to the Ephesians, we learn just who “God’s people” are to be. They are no longer to be divided into the people of the covenant and those outside. All are to be brought together into one universal body, as the love of God is universal and includes all.

God wishes the great all-embracing mass of God’s people to be cared for, looked after, in a way that brings peace, security, and flourishing.

In that light, let me return to Mark’s Gospel. Implicitly, as it were in an undertone, maybe Mark is suggesting that the ordinary business of life, which for Jesus meant being among the people, teaching and healing, was and is more sacred than the moments of special celebration or exaltation.

Here’s a thought: I wonder how many of us still watch award ceremonies on television? If the concern sometimes expressed about declining audience figures is anything to go by, it seems that not many of us do. And there is always something a little absurd about treating an awards event as a piece of entertainment in itself.

Those who receive Oscars, Golden Globes or Emmys earn them by telling stories through their work, and telling those stories well. One believes – one hopes – that what gives satisfaction to a creative artist of any kind is doing the work of creating, rather than being given accolades for doing it. It’s only by being a dedicated creative person that one earns awards in the first place.

The special, spectacular event is froth on the top of the dessert: it is not, so to speak, the substantial nourishment that comes from doing what one loves to do.

The everyday can, in fact, be more special than the spectacular.

How do those insights speak to our lives in the Christian community? Well, every Sunday we participate in something undoubtedly very special. It is something that previous generations of Christians at one time even regarded as miraculous. It is when we celebrate the presence of Christ among us in the form of the bread and wine which he blessed at the last Supper, and which his followers remembered, and learned to bless in his name.

This is a profoundly special thing, but it gains its value, certainly for those in our tradition, by being inseparably linked to the teaching of the Word of God. Teaching and prayer precede the Eucharist and help to give it its sacredness. To celebrate the sacrament without also surrounding it with reading God’s Word, teaching, reflection and prayer would be to deprive the sacrament of what makes it not only holy, but also powerful.

And then, strengthened and nourished by it, we take the insights which come from our shared worship into everyday life. If we are mindful of what we are doing, every day becomes a living out of the message that we have received and reminded ourselves of every Sunday.

Without doubt, we need to engage with the extraordinary holiness and sacredness which comes with the signs of God’s presence with us and within us. But the real reason for that experience of the sacred is to strengthen us for the ministries which we share, by living and doing our work in our communities of friends and colleagues through the week. Sacredness is, by a wonderful surprise, profoundly infectious. It spreads itself throughout the rest of life. And blessedly, we need no vaccine to protect us from its infecting power. It can do nothing but good, for us and for all whose lives we touch.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 11, 2021: Pentecost 7


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7 PENTECOST: July 11, 2021

Cicero, the Roman philosopher, statesman, orator and challenge to every sophomore Latin student, said that the gods of Rome were careful about great things, but neglected the small things. Our God, however, is concerned with the many intimate details in human life. In fact, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures only speak of God in relationship to human beings.

Our God is focused on us. Creates a world for us to inhabit, makes a Covenant with us so we can agree on what is expected of us and what we can expect from God. Gives a law for daily life, sends prophets to remind us of the Law; lists the punishment when we break it, and offers hope when punishment comes. God just can’t leave us alone.

Amos found this out. Today we read that he happens upon God the Builder. God has a plumb line and is checking to see if Israel’s actions are building a strait relationship with God and one another. As we have all learned these recent days, there are rules for constructing buildings and if not done right, disaster will result. The same is true for our relationship with God and one another.

We also meet Herod today and learn he liked to listen to the prophet John the Baptist even though John was warning Herod of his sin. Obviously, Herod listened but did not hear and he has the prophet murdered lest he look weak to friends.

Of course, Mark tells this story to prepare us for the crime that will be committed against Jesus. Again, by a leader that did not want to look weak. Also, Mark teaches us that God so loved the world that the Son was sent to reveal a love without limit and without end. If the human family had been paying attention, we might have suspected this. After all that is the kind of God we have

We are reminded of this in the other reading that is part of our worship, the letter to the Ephesians. Again, the focus of the reading is on the relationship between God and the human family. I want to go back to the verse that comes just before where our reading begins today. The writer greets the community: “Grace be to you and Peace of God our Father…” “Grace and peace” are the greeting Paul often uses. The words in Hebrew would be familiar to a Jewish audience. In the Hebrew Scriptures these are the two words most often used to describe who God is and how God acts. They can be translated as “enduring love” and “faithful, lasting, true”. Over 248 times in the Hebrew scriptures God is presented as enduring, steadfast lover and faithful, true one. They come from the same words, today’s Psalm translates as “Mercy and truth”.

God is the faithful, steadfast lover whose gift, that is grace, has the power to transform us. What we can be is described to the Ephesians: “blessed with every spiritual blessing; chosen by God from before the world was created; holy and blameless; destined for adoption; redeemed; forgiven; taught the mystery of God’s love; inheritors of all that is good; empowered to hope; marked with the seal of the Spirit; one of God’s own people.” All by the grace of God.

The Letter to the Ephesians has been called the “Epistle of Grace”. The words appear 12 times and this amazing grace has the power to transform us to be the people God created us to be.

What is our response to this God who is so focused on us, so extravagant in grace? The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said: The only fitting response to the surprise of living is gratitude. And gratitude is at the heart of all our prayer. A second response is that we look at one another as gifts of God. Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Benedict of Nursia. In his rule for monks, he mentions that monks who live in community may not be the most heroic, but for most of us community is a necessary support if we are to live the life of the Gospel.

So, God, who pays attention to every detail, has given us to each other and with one another we prayed at the beginning of this service: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.

We know that God is the enduring, faithful lover whose grace is everywhere and abundant. God has answered our prayer. Let us support one another as we live out our answer.


July 4, 2021: Pentecost 6


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6 PENTECOST: July 4, 2021

If you have been around town these days, most likely you have seen signs “Now hiring”, Help Wanted”. One of the jobs that has openings but is not advertised is “Prophet”. Matthew’s Gospel promises all prophets will receive a prophet’s reward. However, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus indicates that may not be so great. “A prophet is not without honor except in his/her own town and among their own kin and in their own house. You have to read the fine print.

Even more, if we look at some prophets, we see the reward is often ridicule, oppression and sometimes death. In our first reading, God tells Ezekiel he is being sent to an impudent and stubborn people, a rebellious house. Not an audience that would give great rewards.

Paul, has listed the many indignities visited upon him as his reward for being a prophet.

Why? Well, Prophets can be difficult and what they say can offend. A prophet does not “fore tell” the future, but rather “tell forth” God’s reaction, God’s opinion, about events and actions of people. Prophets are “the conscience of a nation”, as one writer says, and what they have to say is often strong disapproval.

One prophet who learned this was Amos, who we will meet in next week's readings. He lived 750 years before Jesus and some of his famous words are known to many of us: “Let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). Favorite words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

I was greeted by words of Amos the day I arrived at my last Parish, 36 years ago. I found on my desk a book titled “A History of Wallingford”, the town in which I was to serve. There was a marker in the book and I opened it and read the page.

It was a story of the Reverend Samuel Andrews, the Anglican missionary that had established the parish 245 years before. He was described as a hardy priest who established 3 other parishes in the area. A man of prominence, he was invited to give the invocation at the town’s first July 4th celebration. He used as his scripture reading verses that come just before Dr. King’ favorite words in Amos: “The Lord says, I hate and despise your festivals, and I will not be pleased by your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:22)

Reverend Andrews then pointed out the Declaration of Independence declared “all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights”. He went on to point out the slaves of the assembled good people, who were out of the shade, sweating in the hot sun, caring for the horses of the assembled gentry. Not all men were created equal. What else he may have said was not recorded.

Both Amos and Reverend Andrews suffered a similar fate, A few chapters after these words of Amos, he was told by the king to “Get out, go home”, and a short time after his invocation, Reverend Andrews was asked to leave Wallingford.

In our day we are a Nation still in conflict over the fact that the high ideals upon which our Nation is built have not always been lived. Even the men who wrote and signed this declaration owned slaves. Not to mention the fact that women were excluded from these inalienable rights.

On this fourth of July, we are well aware that we fall short of living out our Nation’s creed. Unfortunately, reminding us of our failings is considered by some a greater evil than the failings themselves.

Jeremiah, another prophet who met much resistance, even persecution from his fellow Israelites, wondered if a nation can repent, change its ways. He feared it could not. But at another time in the history of this Nation, a time of even greater stress than we know, a newly re-elected President Lincoln. As the bloodiest and most divisive of our nation’s wars was ending. Lincoln concluded his second inauguration speech with these words:

‘With malice toward none and charity toward all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nations wounds….to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.

Today, we are called again to strive for the lofty goals proclaimed at the foundation of this Nation – “to bind up the Nations wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


June 27, 2021: Pentecost 5

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6 PENTECOST: June 27, 2021

There have been reports these past weeks about Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) as Roman Catholic Bishops discuss the possibility of denying Holy Communion to elected leaders who support Abortion rights for women. That issue is part of a greater concern in the Church about the understanding of the Eucharist among the faithful. Many articles I read describe Holy Communion as the central action of Roman Catholic worship. However, the “bread and wine” being the “body and blood” of Jesus have a variety of understanding among Catholics. The bishops want to establish unity in belief.

Unity of belief is not present in the community of Christians. If you visited a Congregational or Baptist or a Methodist Church on a Sunday, you would likely not find Holy Communion celebrated. In many Christian Denominations the Word of Scripture would be seen as “central”.

We Episcopalians like to see our worship and belief as balancing Word and Sacrament. Our understanding of the Eucharist is more nuanced than the Roman Catholic appears and many of us have been disinvited from receiving Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass. Holy Communion, we are told is a sign of union. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand invites the baptized to receive; seeing Holy Communion as nurturing this union.

In these months of “Zoom Worship”, Morning Prayer has kept us together. But gathering together around the table of the Lord for Holy Communion is our desired way of worship. We prayed in our Opening Prayer: “Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching. To do so we will need to find a way for all of us to gather together around the table of the Lord.

But there is much other work to do. We are now at the point of our worship the BCP calls the Liturgy of the Word. We have read from 4 Books of our Bible. Bible means “books”, plural and our Bible is really a library of many books. But not all Bibles have the same number of Books. What we call the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures, contains 27 books. It is fair to say that most every Bible would contain those same books. However, the Bibles you have at home may differ in the number of books they have in the Old Testament.

This Bible developed over thousands of years and the final decision as to what would be in it was not made until 1500’s. Martin Luther emphasized scripture as central to our faith and worship. Hence, what was scripture, what was in the Bible, became more important. Rules were established and some books that had been used in worship and prayer were not considered to be within the boundaries of Holy Scripture. 39 books made the cut.

The Roman Catholic response to Luther, the Council of Trent, not only condemned Luther and his teaching but created its own category of scripture and it included some of the books Luther did not. 46 books made the cut. These left out books are sometimes called Apocrypha, and, today, Protestant Bibles often include them at the end of the Bible.

One book Martin Luther left out and was kept in by Rome is our first reading today. The Wisdom of Solomon was certainly not written by Solomon. It was most likely written 900 years after Solomon, and shortly before the birth of Jesus. Scholars think it was written in Egypt and appears to have been written for Jews who lived there among people of a different culture and religion in order to support them in the faith of Israel.

In our short reading, we hear the author re-affirm the goodness of creation which is made by the one Creator God in whose image we are all made. What is new is that for the first time life eternal, life after death, is presented as a blessing. The unity, which we prayed for at the beginning of our worship, our source and future, is already stamped on the human family.

Unity is an issue that concerns Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth. The Christians in Corinth were predominantly Gentile. Paul had come to believe one could be Christian without becoming Jewish, especially not having to be circumcised. The Christian community in Jerusalem was predominantly Jewish Christians. They held to the original idea that one had to be Jewish, just as Jesus was and all the early disciples. This included circumcision. This may seem like a small issue to us but it was of fundamental importance at that time and was the source of considerable disagreement.

Today we hear Paul praising and encouraging the Corinthians to be generous contributing money to be taken to support the Jerusalem Christians who were in need. Donating money to people with whom there is conflict can encourage unity.

Paul would not have used the words, but he was participating in the Jewish practice of “Tikkun Olam”, which means “repairing the world”. Some claim It is a concept that dates back to the time of Jesus that Jews bear responsibility not only for their own well-being but for the well-being of all others throughout the world.

In our Gospel, as we have been following Jesus in his ministry freeing people from the power of evil and healing the sick, we could describe him as working to repair the world. A contemporary prayer among Jews says: “Lord, you have taught us to support the failing, heal the sick, free the captive and comfort all who suffer pain.”

Our baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all people, love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every human being”, is participation in the work of “repairing the world”. Such work brings us into that “unity of spirit” for which we prayed. We are called to this unity by the words of scripture, by gathering around the table of the Lord to share bread and wine, by believing in the God in whose image we are all created and whose enduring life is present within is empowering us to participate in “repairing the world”. Amen

June 20, 2021: Pentecost 4

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June 20, 2021: Pentecost 4


“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Well, Mark’s Gospel begins with the proclamation “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. From the very beginning of this Gospel, we, the readers, have our answer to the disciples’ question.

And yet consistently, throughout the Gospel, the disciples fail to realize what is in front of them every day; and just as importantly, the religious elite of Jesus’s day grows progressively more and more hostile and willfully uncomprehending. We saw two weeks ago how some of the scribes accused Jesus of expelling demons by the power of a greater demon, a logical absurdity. Last week, in the passage just preceding this text, Jesus taught in parables about the hidden but growing promise of the kingdom.

At the end of this chapter, in our Gospel for today, Jesus is portrayed as commanding the elements of nature, and they obey him. This is quite a difficult message for us to hear. We are accustomed to think of the physical forces of nature as a quasi-mechanical system, even if an unpredictable one that defies our full comprehension. The idea that a human being could by a word of command quell a storm at sea seems highly problematic.

Here we need to remember that, in the age of Jesus and the evangelists, the physical cosmos was not thought to be like some kind of machine. It was believed both to carry meaning, and to work under the direction of the divine power. Some cultures believed that the natural elements were controlled by intelligent spirit-beings.

The Psalms are full of examples of God controlling the elements. Dramatic events in nature demonstrate God’s power over them and through them. As part of Psalm 104 says: “you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings of the wind.You make the winds your messengers, and flames of fire your servants.”

The Song of the Three Young Men, from the additions to Daniel, used from time to time as one of the canticles at morning prayer, sees nothing strange in calling on the cosmic order to express itself in praise of God: “Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, O shining light and enfolding dark. Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”

So, Mark’s Gospel was making a point here about who, and what, Jesus was. He makes it in an almost comic manner: the disciples panic because of a sudden storm on the sea of Galilee (a lake prone, as the disciples surely knew, to sudden outbreaks of violent weather). Jesus sleeps through it all, until the terrifieddisciples awaken him.

The whole story has a slightly stagey quality; the purpose of the whole account seems to be to show (i) that Jesus bears the same relationship to nature as the creating and sustaining God, and (ii) that his followers are incapable of believing that fact, even when it is forced upon their attention.

In the time of Jesus (and for centuries after) it was credible that the cosmic order was not only created, but sustained by a provident and at times judgmental God. Natural disasters, including floods, storms, earthquakes, and plagues, came as God’s punishment or warnings against sin, or as tests for the endurance of the faithful.

We are now challenged to think of nature in a quite different way. We still can, and should, think of it as the benevolent gift of God who loves to create, who rejoices in the beauty and diversity of nature. Psalm 104, again, speaks of whales thus: “there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it”. God, evidently, makes things for sheer enjoyment. That is a God to whom I can relate.

However, we also have to acknowledge that the created order is a fragile and beautiful thing, constantly in change, but also vulnerable to the excessive impact that the human race, in all our teeming numbers, has upon it. It is both rash and selfish to assume (as some Christians, sad to say, are willing to say and seem to believe) that our provident God not only creates the universe, but so regulates it that it will be utterly unaffected by whatever stresses, imbalances and pollutants we throw at it.

Most thinking people acknowledge that human beings need to make major adjustments to the ways that we live, work, travel, and feed ourselves, if we are not to cause damage to the global system so severe that it will harm everything, including human life, for centuries. That is something which people can see and agree on, without being Christians, or people of any faith at all. What might our Gospel tell us that is special?

We believe in a God who is profoundly invested in physical nature. The God of Christianity is not a God of abstract ideas or rarefied, disembodied wisdom. We have a God who cared so much about the physical order as a place of moral existence, that our God took human flesh to live in that order, subject to the same frailties and vulnerabilities as all other human beings.

In Jesus Christ, we have a leader and teacher who loves the world of nature, to which human beings belong, and who comes to share in its vulnerability, its fragility and its pain. In the light of the incarnation, the frail vulnerability of creation is what makes it sacred. Christ teaches us that creation is something not just to be appreciated, not just to be lived in, not just to be tended and cared for, though it is all of those things. Creation is there to be loved, with the same profound care and nurture that we hope to offer each other.

Loving creation means more than just appreciating what is beautiful and attractive in itself. There’s nothing wrong with that– as a start. I hope that, in a week or two, we may begin to see Monarch butterflies visit, as they did last year, the forest of milkweed plants growing either side of our garden fence.

But it also means appreciating the invisible complexity of nature – the interwoven and interlinked systems where even the unattractive creatures, the bugs and the rodents, yes, even the viruses, have their place. It means loving what is not obviously lovely or lovable.

Loving what is not in itself lovable is what God does with us, for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is what we are called to do, despite the outward appearances, not just to all humanity, but to all that God made.

It means protecting and supporting the wild places, not regarding them as waste ground, or as empty space waiting for us to exploit them. It can also mean tending and beautifying nature. God, we are told, planted a garden; the risen Jesus in John’s Gospel was taken for a gardener.

It also means loving all people, as a part of God’s creation, not as somehow in opposition to it. With a terrifying arrogance, some human beings in the past and even in the present seem to think that they can choose whom, of those created in God’s image, they can love and respect. In the holiday initiated yesterday for June 19th, we were given a strong reminder of the sad legacy of selective love, and the cost of setting that right.

So, our faith should add something vitally important to our relationship with the created order. Nature is not just a mechanism, a support system for our lives and cultures which must be maintained and tended, though that is part of it. It is also a gift of God, whose overflowing love never ceases to create beauty and complexity for the sheer joy of it.

Let us imagine, then, that in our communion today we expand the Lord’s table to include everything and everyone that God has made and loves. Let us with the eyes of faith believe that we are welcoming the entire creation to share in God’s gift to us.


Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron















June 13, 2021: Pentecost 3

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3 Pentecost: June 13, 2021

At this time of great concern about the health of our fragile earth, our island home, it is interesting to have a picture of God acting as a creative arborist planting trees to support life and provide beauty. Last week we had a picture of God taking an evening stroll through the garden enjoying the refreshing beauty of the good creation. And today we find Jesus sharing an image of a farmer at work. Something he would have observed growing up among the small towns and farms in the area around Nazareth.

Our Gospel reading comes from early in Jesus’ ministry. Even though last week we read that large crowds were following Jesus, there were signs of problems. Jesus’ family thought him to be out of his mind and religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. The crowds seem to have been mainly miracle seekers who came and went. We know that when the crunch came, they disappeared.

In fact, in the chapters we are now reading, scholars believe Jesus was responding to questions why his mission, proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God, was having so little success.

We should also note that the community for which this Gospel was written was over twenty years later were in a similar position. Many scholars think Mark’s Gospel was written for a community in Rome who were experiencing persecution during which both Peter and Paul were executed, along with other leaders. They, too, were wondering where was the success. Where was the power of the Spirit and Resurrection? Where was the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed?

So, what was wrong? The parable we read today is among a collection of parables and sayings comparing the word of the Gospel with seeds. Before our story today is the parable of the Sower, sowing seeds over a wide area made up of different kinds of soil. Just like the soil, there are different kinds of people who receive the word. Only some actually receive the word and even then, some will fall away.

Today Jesus explains that the seed, the word he proclaims has real power and will ripen on its own time. And, finally, the word like the mustard seed may seem small at sowing but will result in spectacularly abundant growth.

I grew up on the prairie of Illinois, in an area of small towns and farms. However, the farmers I knew did much more than sleep and rise night and day as the seed grew on its own. They prepared the land, plowed the field, planted the seed, cultivated and removed the weeds and worked to prevent blight. I never got the impression that the seed just grew on its own. Maybe Jesus didn’t know that much about farming.

But I also learned from farmers that they knew no matter how hard they worked the harvest was, in so many ways, beyond their control. To begin with, the prairie’s rich soil was a gift they had not produced. They knew that the time for planting in Spring should not be too wet or the seed could rot. But as the seed began to grow it needed the right amount of rain and the right amount of sun and warmth. The young plants were vulnerable to blight and insects. All of these elements which determined the quality and size of the harvest were beyond the control of the farmer. They harvest truly was a gift.

Among the farmers there was no doubt that grace was essential to their work. The prayers offered in our Church were for rain, for warm sun, for protection from insects, and only then, thanksgiving for the harvest. They did not just sleep and rise in the process, but they believed their hard work needed grace, gifts they could not provide. Blessings over which they had no control, were essential to the harvest.

The members of the community who first heard or read these parables were meant to see them as explaining failures and disappointments in our Christian life. They were also signs of hope that ultimately the blessing of God would come. God had not abandoned them. God was present with them in the midst of life.

A few weeks ago, our Diocese closed a parish. It had been a large community which served many people for many years. It joins a growing list of parishes the Diocese has closed. The same process is taking place in the Roman Catholic and Congregational Churches. We might hear the question where is the success of the word. I don’t want to infer that our Church or any Church is the kingdom of God, but the number of communities are shrinking.

What is our response to this situation? Our opening Prayer today is a guide: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.”

If we do this, our work, we will have the hope that can empower us to endure, trusting God will do God’s work. God will give the grace, be the blessing that will embrace us so that we will endure. Amen

June 6, 2021: Pentecost 2

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2 PENTECOST: June 6, 2021

Today we begin the longest part of the Church Liturgical Year. From now until the beginning of Advent, Sundays will simply be identified by their time after Pentecost. The season begins without much fanfare. The Gospel reading plumps us down in the early stage of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s account. Jesus has been drawing crowds, so many, we are told that he and his disciples could not even eat. Perhaps some disciples were caught up in the wave of popularity. But not everyone else was.

Jesus’ family, we are told, came to restrain him, take him back home, and stop this crazy talk about the kingdom of God. The reaction of these relatives “He has gone out of his mind” is matched by that of some religious leaders who said: “He is possessed by Beelzebul”.

Beelzabul is a name borrowed from one of Israel’s neighbors who believed in two gods – one god of good the other, god of evil – Beelzabul, or Beelzabub, means “lord of the garbage heap”, or “lord of the flies.” Jews saw him as the tempter, Satan. An evil spirit but not a god.

Religions have wondered about the source of evil in our world, in our actions. Some religions imagined a powerful evil god. Others focused on human freedom to choose. So, it is in our first reading. It is a story from the Book of Genesis. Part of a larger story that addresses the origin of evil. The story of Fall is not history, the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil presents an imaginative picture in which human disobedience is presented as a source of evil in our world.

But the reality of evil and sin touch on the mystery of suffering and even who we are in the world. Are we creatures made in the image and likeness of God? Filled with the very presence of the Divine? Or are we fallen, sinful creatures, saved, only, through an abundance of amazing grace?

It seems we can’t even agree about sin and what evil is. Recently, a number of states in this country have passed laws severely punishing abortion providers, even relatives who support a woman in the process. One state even offers a $10,000 reward to a person reporting such people. At the same time, some of these states have passed laws forbidding teaching school children critical history about slavery and racism.

We are members of a Church whose leadership’s response to abortion includes a refusal to support legal barriers to a woman’s right to choose. At the same time, our Church has called upon each parish to examine its relation to the sins of slavery and racism. Indeed, we are called to reflection, study and action. And yet there is no doubt. No disagreement about the reality of evil in our world.

In our Gospel today Jesus speaks about the need to plunder a strongman’s house only after the strong man has been tied up. Jesus is the one who has entered the house of the strong man, that is, the evil one and has tied him up. Evil has no lasting power. And now, Jesus is plundering that house, defeating the power of evil in our lives, in our world. It is as if a tree has been cut down at its roots. However, the leaves have not yet withered even though they are on a dead tree. The enduring power of evil has been destroyed, but this is not obvious, except with the eyes of faith.

Paul sees with eyes of faith. He presents a picture of growth, renewal. Even as some things are wasting away, Grace abounds. For although we have the power to sin, and are capable of evil and our actions often lack justice and compassion, still our Gospel reading ends with Jesus calling us his sisters and brothers and mothers.

With the power of those relationships, we can do what we prayed on our Collect: “Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.”


May 30, 2021: Trinity Sunday

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St. Benedict is called the founder of monasticism in the Western world. Around 500 AD he wrote a Rule for monks. Among his wise words is an admonition to the abbot (the head of the Monastery) to make sure that those seeking admission to the monastic community were people “truly seeking God”. He does not say they should be people who had found God, but seeking God. In fact, Benedict considered the monastery a “school of the Lord’s service” where the monk spent his whole life, seeking God, in a life of prayer and work.

This consideration is fitting for Trinity Sunday. Trinity is at the heart of our faith. The Book of Common Prayer says: “The faith is this, we worship God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity”.

Seeking God is at the heart of faith because it seems to be at the heart of human desire. In the Holy History of our scriptures, as well as the Holy Histories found in the sacred books of the vast human family, in all sorts of tribes and nations, we find a search for God. It is so among our ancestors around the world and down through the ages.

At times, people have thought they found god and made an idol, an object or belief that they tried to appease, control or manipulate. This is a strong temptation faced by one seeking God. So there are dangers on this journey. Isaiah, in our first reading, reminds us of this. Somehow Isaiah has stumbled into the presence of God and, as he is reduced to awe at the magnificence of this presence, he realizes he shouldn’t really be there. In fear and trembling , he finally volunteers to share the wonder of this God with others. Isaiah has been reminded of an important truth, the God we seek is a God who seeks us.


It was so from the beginning. The “holy, holy, holy God” seeks Moses as he herds sheep. Yet Moses must “take off his shoes”, for he is standing on holy ground when in God’s presence. Later, Moses, returning from the mountain encounter with God, receiving the covenant, is told by the people to cover his face because the brightness caused by this proximity to God was blinding to the people. And when God reveals God’s name, it was seen as too sacred to pronounce out loud. The “I AM” in its Hebrew version was not pronounced. Another word “Adonai”, which means “My Lord” was said in its place when scriptures were read.

“Holy, holy, holy” is the human cry. The awareness of how awesome and great is our God.

But when we come to Paul’s reading today we hear him tell the Roman community that they are children of God and when they pray they are to address God as “abba”. “Abba” in the dialect of Hebrew Jesus spoke is best translated as “Dad” or “Daddy, Mommy” in English. In Jesus, God has a human face. Joined us in human history. And yet, Nicodemus struggles with this Rabbi, because Jesus, as Son, also transcends human history. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, we are told at the beginning of this Gospel. We can easily say with Nicodemus: “How can these things be?”

But there is more – always more with this God. When Jesus speaks of one being born of the Spirit, he is not talking of human birth as Nicodemus thinks. The Spirit, which Jesus breathes into the apostles on the evening of Resurrection is the Divine Being that now dwells in all the baptized – in all created life.


And so, in our search we have encountered the awe inspiring High lifted up Holy One who has sought us out in human history. We have been told by human ancestors of the Divine one whose flesh they have touched and who has told us we are children of this “High Lifted up loving parent”. Finally, we have been given the Spirit as the continuing presence of this One to dwell within our human flesh.

Indeed, we are dealing with Incomprehensible Mystery. But we are seekers and we presume to give names to these three faces in which the God we seek, has sought us. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are most familiar, but maybe too familiar. Even names found in our holy history can become idols. A member of my previous parish left when I tried to assure him God was not a male.

We can think of this Triune God as Source and Future/ Transcendent and Imminent/ Indwelling Love as did a theologian of the last century. Source and Future is the Creator God and final home of all that exists; Transcendent and Imminent is God Present in the human Jesus as part of our human existence but also transcendent One who exists from all eternity; and finally Companion God, Spirit dwelling in each of us, here and now, as we continue to seek .

But we don’t have to journey far in our search. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, who died at the dawn of the last century was a Carmelite nun who, as her title suggest was devoted to writing on this eternal Trinity. Elizabeth has written: “ I believe that Being whose name is Love is dwelling within us at every moment of the day and night, and asks us to live in his company.”

So, the invitation has been given. All we need is to respond. Amen

May 23, 2021: Pentecost

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PENTECOST 2021

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to our celebration of Pentecost. Pentecost, in Greek, means 50, and 50 days ago we gathered here to celebrate Easter. It is fitting that we begin to gather together on a regular schedule on this day, after more than a year. For Pentecost completes Easter with the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God’s abiding love that creates the Church, the community, THIS community that gathers to give witness by our words and deed to God’s presence in our world.

The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples while they were at prayer. As we pray, let us be open to the presence of this same Spirit so that we know again the power of God’s love . A love we are called to share with one another; with all others.

Let us pray:

HOMILY

Most of us are old enough to remember the name Dag Hammarskjold. He was a Dutch diplomat who served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 until his death in an airplane crash in September 1961. He was on his way to negotiate a cease fire in a war in Africa. After his death, his family found his journal which revealed a person of deep faith. One of his last entries was made on Pentecost Day in 1961. He wrote:

“ I don’t know who or what put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer YES to Someone or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence had meaning and that, therefore, my life, had a goal.”

Our readings today have two versions of a Pentecost. Each, however, is not as subtle as what Hammarskjold describes. In John’s Gospel on the evening of his resurrection, Jesus enters that locked upper room and breathes on the apostles proclaiming “Receive the Holy Spirit!”

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we find a large crowd gathered in prayer and with even more drama – shaking the house, tongues of fire – the Spirit embraces the disciples. The results, too, are more dramatic. They go out and to the crowd that gathered because of the wind, they begin to proclaim the good news. We are told that the group was made up of people from many different nations, gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast. However, they all heard the disciples speaking in their own native language. What was that all about?

At that time, the Jewish feast of Pentecost had become a thanksgiving for the gift of the Law, Torah, the covenant between God and the Jewish people. At that time, a story developed in which the offering of the covenant with God was offered from Mt. Sinai not only to Israel but to the whole world. The voice of God from Mount Sinai was proclaimed to the whole world, heard and understood by all people in their own language. However, only one nation, Israel, accepted the gift, only one people entered into that relationship.

Now, the Acts of the Apostles is teaching, on the first Christian Pentecost, God is again offering this relationship, the presence of the Spirit, to all the peoples of the earth. Every nation, once again, hears the invitation in their own language. And now, people from every nation on earth are saying YES to this gift.

“All the people of the earth” are represented by 16 tribes and nations mentioned in our reading. Since then, we have learned that the world is a bit bigger. We now have 192 nations united in that group once led by Dag Hammarskjold. And in those nations are as many as 24,000 ethnic groups who speak almost 7,000 languages.

Most of the disciples present at that first Christian Pentecost never traveled more than 100 miles from Jerusalem their whole lives. And Paul, who journeyed all the way to Rome, traveled a distance that was less than NYC to LA.

The world into which the Spirit is renewed today is much larger, the diversity greater, the divisions wider, the tasks greater than those first Christians could ever have imagine. And, as we have seen, the missions of the Church have often led to oppression, violence and enslavement of nations. What is the mission given to us by the Spirit this Pentecost?

In the Gospel Pentecost the Risen Christ proclaims to the apostles “Peace be with you!” The gift of the Spirit is expressed as PEACE/SHALOM. Shalom includes a wholeness that demands justice, a concern for well- being that is expressed in compassion, gratitude that becomes generosity in actions, and a vision of harmony, unity that embraces the other as sister and brother.

In this large, changing world the Peace /Shalom of the Spirit is as present now as it was that first Pentecost. As we prayed in today’s Psalm: “O God, you send forth your Spirit and we are created; and so, through us, you renew the face of the earth”. All gifts ask something of the recipient. What is asked of us today is to believe who God is and who we are. Believe our existence has meaning and our lives a goal. Believe that today we receive the life-giving gifts of justice, compassion, generosity and love. What if the human family lived these gifts? What if you and I did?

May 16, 2021: Easter 7

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Easter 7, May 16, 2021

Since Easter Sunday, the first reading each week has been from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is volume 2 to Luke’s Gospel, composed by the same author. Acts’ focus is the life of the earliest Christian Communities and the leaders who set about proclaiming the Risen Christ to “the ends of the earth”. In the early chapters, Peter is at the center of the group that saw themselves guided by the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s abiding presence, that came upon them at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next week. This guidance did not have the clarity of a road map. It was with difficulty and conflict that they moved out of the security of that upper room into a world of different languages and cultures, laws and beliefs. As the Reverend David Brown has often said, “The life of the Church is like building a plane as we are flying.”

Initially, this small group thought their work would be of short duration since Christ promised to return. As time passed, they realized the “little while” Jesus spoke of would be quite a while. Commenting on this, one writer said that the earliest Christian Community waited in eager expectation for the return of their Lord in glory, but the Church showed up instead.

The community came to focus of Jesus’ words in a new light. By the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, THEY were the “body of Christ” on earth; THEY were the community in which the fulness of Christ dwelt. Although they couldn’t express it this way, THEY were the church, building the plane as they were flying.

If we look closely at these early years, we find one constant element. The community was never far from conflict. They were often groping in the dark, listening to the Spirit, often arguing about the direction they were going, adapting to situations, constantly facing punishment, prison, even death.

How different the situation in which our Church finds itself.Today the Church is close to the center of power, exerting influence on laws and customs. The Church is more apt to be aligned with the powerful, even the persecutors rather than united to the persecuted. A while ago I ordered a product for the Church. When I gave the address – 129 Main Street- the woman, located in Oklahoma asked, “is every Episcopal Church in Connecticut located on Main Street?” Geography hints at our status.

Even more, Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds, aspired to have a restaurant in the shadow of every church in America. He considered the Church the anchor and supporter of societies values and morals. It certainly didn’t start that way.

Our Gospel today presents Jesus refusing to pray for the world. In this Gospel and the Letters attributed to John the “world” is presented as knowing neither God nor Christ. In fact, Jesus says the world hates his disciples because they do not belong to the world, just as he does not belong to the world. And yet both Jesus and the disciples are “in the world”. In an earlier chapter of this same Gospel we read “God so loved the world that God sent the only son that all might have life through him”.

“World” can have different meanings. The created world is called very good, in Scripture. In Paul’s Letters, the created world is presented as renewed through Christ. But there is the “world” that oppresses to poor, rewards the rich and powerful, casts out those who are different.

The Church has often confused the world that hates Christ and the world we are called to serve in his name; the world in which the Church lives comfortable at the center of power and prestige and the world that is offended by a Church that does justice and loves compassion.

As we build the Church in the world we pray in the words oftoday’s Collect: “send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.” Our prayer must always be: “Come Holy Spirit!”

NOTE:

A graveside service for Kathleen Bannister will be held at Centerbrook Cemetery, Saturday, May 22nd at 11 AM.

NEXT SUNDAY, PENTECOST SUNDAY

In Person Worship on Lawn at All Saints. 10 AM. Bring a Lawn Chair. Chair provided if needed.




May 9, 2021: Easter 6

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Easter 6, May 9, 2021

The life of the Church is full of procedures. In the two dioceses where I serve, our bishops have supplied us with detailed directions to meet the requirements of both Church and State for the re-opening of public worship.We hope to begin to worship together at All Saints’ on Pentecost Sunday, following our inspiring and uplifting gathering at Easter. We shall all, of course, follow the requirements to keep everyone safe.

Two years after I arrived at Union Seminary in New York in 2002, I was asked to serve as Academic Dean, and did so for six years, often stressful and sometimes invigorating. I well remember a conversation with one of my successors (there have been three so far) in which I encouraged her to follow the seminary’s procedures, even if they seem to slow one down. Procedures are your friends, I emphasized. Following procedure means that when you make a decision, it sticks.

That was, I now recognize, quite a British way to think. Some of my colleagues in administration and board just wanted to get things done, by whatever seemed the most direct and effective approach. And here was this British person saying, “steady on, let’s go according to the rules, even if it doesn’t seem the quickest or most efficient way to reach our goal”. In my deanship we did some very controversial things, but they were never un-picked by review afterwards, because we had followed our own rules.

The author of the books we know as Luke and Acts was rather keen on procedure too. In the book of Acts, the apostles take on Christ’s leadership role after his ascension. They supervise the distribution of property ascharitable giving within the community. When the task becomes too sensitive and burdensome, they appoint (and in effect, ordain) a group of deacons to take their delegated role. Of all the evangelists, Luke seems to have the strongest sense that the Jesus movement had to work by some rules and, yes, procedures. In Acts, the movement becomes a Church.

Given the taste for structure and process in Luke-Acts, it is remarkable how, in that same work, the Holy Spirit works to bring new followers to Jesus. Last week, we heard the story of Philip and the unnamed eunuch of the Kushite kingdom. The eunuch had been to Jerusalem, so was possibly part of that most distant community of worshippers of the God of Israel. He is converted and baptized all in the same journey.

Two chapters on, in chapter 10, we encounter the story which, for the first time, unambiguously tells of the welcoming into the Jesus community of, not only a pagan, but a member of the hated, oppressive, brutal, and polytheistic occupiers of Judaea, a Roman Centurion called Cornelius. It is emphasized that Cornelius was a “good” Roman, but the insistence on his goodness only shows more clearly how troubling it was to approach such a person.

Our reading from Acts comes at the end of a long step-by-step narrative of how Peter, the most emphatic leader of the Jewish believers among Jesus’s friends, was with some difficulty persuaded by God to go and visit with a pagan. God sends a dream to Peter where all kinds of food are lowered from heaven, and Peter is told to eat of them. He refuses to eat unclean food. God answers with what sounds almost like Jewish humour. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” “Peter, whom are you accusing of serving non-kosher food?”

The story ends on an even more extraordinary note, in the passage we have just heard. The Holy Spirit descends, visibly and dramatically, upon Cornelius and his household after Peter has preached to them. These Romans display the same signs of charismatic inspiration as the disciples did at Pentecost. This is not happening according to due process. The gift of the Spirit was supposed to come after baptism. So, Peter calls for these new Spirit-filled believers to be baptized. (Did you notice that Acts does not say that Peter baptized them himself? Maybe he still had slight reservations, even though he stayed some days in the house of this Roman officer.)

Through successive chapters of the Book of Acts, the key character in the story who refuses to follow procedure is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends whenever, however and on whomever it chooses. And it does so by such evident signs, including speaking in tongues, that it leaves the disciples absolutely no choice but to obey its call.

Luke is by instinct and preference a procedure-bound kind of guy, but in these cases the Spirit of God does away with procedure and due process, and Luke admits the fact. He was saying something about the unexpected, surprising power of God to confound and burst open our tidy organized lives.

Due process is often associated with hierarchy, with a settled order of who gets to make which decision. That is certainly the case in Luke-Acts. But what about our Gospel passage today, from John’s Gospel? This reading comes from what are usually called Jesus’s “Farewell discourses”, the chapters of John’s Gospel which follow on the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and come just before the Passion narrative.

Of all the evangelists, John has the highest and most exalted sense of who Jesus was and is. His Gospel begins with the famous and cherisheddeclaration that the Word, co-existent with God in eternity, took human form and lived among people, revealing its glory through the life of Jesus.

Yet John also expresses the strongest, most emphatic, most often-repeated message that Jesus shares his very being, his closeness to God, with those who are his friends and his beloved followers. Today’s Gospel follows directly on last week’s almost-parable of Jesus as the vine and his followers as the branches. Jesus stresses repeatedly that his followers reside in, are one with, each other, with him, and with God. He uses a Greek word which is translated “abide” in our NRSV, which could also be read as “dwell” or “stay”. There is a permanent, stable relationship here.

There is a paradox: John portrays Jesus as both spiritually and in every other way exalted above us, and yet at one and the same time completely accessible. The only way it makes sense is if the followers of Jesus are, in effect, raised up in the Spirit to an unequalled closeness with God.

It is important, I suggest, to hold on to both sides of John’s (and Luke’s) paradoxes. As a community of faithful people, we are called to be close to each other and close to God. In our support for each other in times of stress, trouble, and grief, we express the love for each other which we are called to live out in our lives.

And at the same time, the Spirit of God has been reaching out, from the very beginning, to people whom human institutions might have been tempted to exclude – because of their religion, their race, their gender, or their sexuality. In the Episcopal tradition, we do not meet many who speak in tongues, but we certainly meet with those who are called by the Spirit. God calls us to welcome those who are different from us, not only into fellowship, but into leadership as co-workers in the ministry of the Gospel.

At seminary, I have had the privilege to meet many people who have at one time or another been declared unsuitable for ministry in the communities from which they came. Then they came to Union and discovered, not only that they were not alone, but that the voice of the Spirit was speaking, to them and through them, so powerfully that it could not be denied. To witness the growth in spiritual gifts of seminarians is to see the unruliness, the boundary-breaking generous love of the Holy Spirit in action.

So let us in all our lives be open to the call of the Spirit, not only to ourselves, but to others. As we approach the Pentecost season, we are reminded to be a Spirit-led community, a community of listening welcome. And let our procedures be open and flexible enough to make that welcome possible.

Submitted by Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron


May 2, 2021: Easter 5

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Easter 5, May 2, 2021

In my younger days, as a young monk, I received a gift of Ella Fitzgerald singing her favorite hymns. I called it my Protestant Record, since it contained such hymns as “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Brighten the Corner, Where You Are”, “In the Garden”, and “Abide with me”.

Only later did I learn that this last hymn was not a protestant hymn, but was written by an Anglican priest, one time vicar of All Saints Church, Devon, England. The hymn was the favorite of Ella Fitzgerald, but also, Mahatma Gandhi.

While the hymn was inspired by a verse in Luke’s Gospel it is quick to come to mind when we read today’s Gospel of John. Jesus said: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” This is an oft repeated theme in John’s Gospel, the Divine Indwelling. To be a disciple meant to abide, remain in Jesus. Remain in an intimate, enduring, personal as well as communal relationship with Christ who remains within each of us. In you, the fullness of the Divine God dwells.

That is hard for many of us to accept. Perhaps we are too aware of our limitations, our faults and failings to place too much emphasis on the reality of God actually making a home in the likes of you and me. Even more, we are aware of the failings of others, to believe God abides in them. In today’s reading Divine Indwelling is joined to the image of the vine and the branches. We abide not only as individuals but as members of the community. Membership in this community is demanding, but entrance is not reserved to an exclusive group. It is open to all who seek.

Why else would Philip do what he did in our first reading. He is sent to meet a carriage traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza. He overhears a man reading Scripture. He is an Ethiopian eunuch. He would be considered some kind of freak by many today, but Philip engages him in conversation. “Do you understand what you are reading? “How can I?” is the response, “no one explains it”.

So, Philip does explain that Isaiah is speaking about Jesus, and tells the man the meaning of the passage. Soon, the man asks to be baptized into this Jesus, to enter into this intimate relationship of remaining in Christ. Surprisingly, when water is found, Philip baptizes the man, then and there. No classes, no trial period of church attendance. The desire, the request is enough. Philip was beginning a work and the Spirit, the Divine dwelling in the man would work to make this presence grow.

The emphasis here was not so much on the preparation of the individual before baptism, but on the transformation of the individual after baptism, a transformation that took place within and in response to the gifts the community shared with one another as they ministered the Gospel.

Since Easter, our scripture readings have focused on the various ways Christ is present within the community. We were told we are “children of God, deeply loved by God who like a shepherd watches over us. These readings, too, dwell on the power and responsibility we have to reflect the presence of Christ in the way we lived, worshiped and served others.

Today we learn that God dwells in each of us, abides with us, empowering us to love, to serve, to care for one another, and all others.

Divine Indwelling, Love one another, for only if we love one another can we love God, forgive, support, reconcile one another. Such words may sound a bit romantic in our age. After all we live in a complex, often hostile world. The reality is, the disciples who wrote and tried to live these words lived in a much more hostile world than we do.

For many, being a Christian was a crime, punishable by death. That was not hypothetical. Each of the Gospel accounts were written down in response to persecution. Living the words we consider inconvenient often meant death to those who handed them down to us.

It is interesting how we decide what words of Jesus are important and what words we think are outdated or suggestions. Far easier to accept the words of comfort than those that challenge. However, the One who abides in us is the same One who says, by this all shall know you are my disciples if you love one another. The challenge is more than we can do, except by the power and presence of the One who dwells within.

April 25, 2021: Easter 4

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EASTER 4 April 25, 2021

“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel reading. “Good” because he cares for the disciples, loves the disciples even to the point of laying down his life for them. Of course this reading comes from mid-point in John’s Gospel, long before the events celebrated three weeks ago; events at the end of the Gospel when these words of Jesus about laying down his life were proved to be true. Such dedication is demanded of a "good shepherd".

In our first reading, Peter, no longer hiding in that upper room has been arrested and stands before Ciaphas, John and Alexander. These are religious leaders who should have been good shepherds. They seem to be among the leaders the prophets have condemned as lousy shepherds. However, scholars today do not think it was these leaders John’s Gospel was warning the disciples about. At the time John wrote these words other Christian communities were creating roles and responsibilities in their attempt to organize their communities. They were giving the name “pastor”, that is “shepherd” to these leaders. These Christians are being warned that there is only one pastor, only one Shepherd- Jesus Christ. History has shown that there is wisdom in this warning as many of us called “pastors” have not been Good Shepherds.

Psalm 23, which we prayed today is among the most prayed words in the Jewish-Christian tradition. This psalm presents a job description of a “Good Shepherd”- guiding, feeding, protecting, working for the survival of those they lead. A pastor is called to follow Christ’s example, even to laying down one’s life for those they lead. I confess this was not part of my seminary training.

Unfortunately, many given the name and role of "pastor" have not been good shepherds but have acted more like hired hand. Care for the sheep has often been replaced by the search for power, prestige, wealth and control. Worse, Shepherds have sometimes acted more like wolves than shepherds.

But there is even more that must be said about the role of the shepherd. Shepherds are to find green pastures and springs of water for those they lead. Pastors must care for all that supports life, and our well being and the well being of others.

Also, Jesus, the Good Shepherd speaks about planting, sowing good seed in good soil, pulling weeds, pruning vines, plowing field's and harvesting abundant crops. He mentions the mustard seed, the fig tree, the vineyard and fishers casting nets, all images and metaphors for living now and in the kingdom to come. Jesus assumes that disciples will care for the creation God brought out of nothing and declared to be very good. Somehow, we seem to have forgotten. But now other shepherds, scientists, call out to us. As we celebrate Earth Day this week, we must hear them, and hear Nature itself and renew our commitment to be disciples that follow the Good Shepherd in caring for what God has so lovingly created and generously given to us. But as with all gifts, there comes responsibility.

One theologian has written that for more than 2000 years we human beings have thought and taught about faith as though we were looking in a mirror – We describe and respond to God in relationship to us : who we are, what we are called to be, to do. Certainly this is important. But, this scholar suggests, we must begin to look out the window, look at the rest of creation, the world of plants and trees, animals and insects, whales and fish - all , like us, God's handiwork.

She quotes the great naturalist, John Muir, who on a trek in the wilderness came upon the dead body of a giant bear. He paused and admired this marvelous creature and then wondered, "Is God's love broad enough to include a bear"?

But even more. Does God's love embrace all of creation: whales and wolves, sheep and cattle. bees and birds? Does God’s love embrace "all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small" with whom we share this Island Home?

Our Holy History recorded in Scripture begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth, and all that crawls on the earth and swims in the sea; and God saw it was very good”. The final words of this Holy History declare: “Behold I make all things new, all creation new.” , St. Ambrose said that in Christ’s Resurrection all creation rose, all creation was renewed, proclaimed anew to be very good.

Concern for creation is not just one of many current issues. This Island Home is the stage upon which God encounters us, embraces us, joins us in Jesus, redeems us and journeys with us. Spiritual writers speak of the Natural world as a sacrament, a sacred sign that reveals the glory of God. The Holy Spirit, God’s continuing presence is not reserved to human beings but enlivens all creation. St. Paul proclaims: “All Creation groans in expectation for God’s children to be revealed”.

Unfortunately, Creation is also groaning because of depletion of ozone, melting ice caps, rising seas, fires, droughts, and floods. We know that God’s love is broad enough to include bears and fish, birds and insects, mountains, seas and rain forests. Is ours?

We are all old enough to remember the picture of our earth taken from Apollo 8. One of the astronauts on that flight commentated that this view of our Island Home was perhaps the most important reason for going to the moon. We see the beauty and unity of our earth.

Sadly, the power of this vision has not transformed how we see our world and our place in it. We need to pause, to be grateful, to be in awe for the beauty of the earth and all that dwells therein. We need to commit ourselves to be good shepherds. Amen

April 18, 2021: Easter 3

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EASTER 3 April 18, 2021

Spring is a time when nature revives and regrows, and we are grateful. Until the rains came on Thursday and Friday, daffodils were holding up their heads in our yard. They are a bit beaten down now, but the forsythia bushes are blazing yellow all across the north-east corner, six feet tall or more, mocking our feeble attempts last summer to prune them down to something more compact.

And at this time, many people mark the return of flowers by sending them as gifts for Mother’s Day. Ruth and I find it slightly confusing, in that Mothering Sunday in the UK comes much earlier in the year than the American version, on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This year that date fell five weeks ago, on March 14th (which was the last time that I preached for All Saints’). Because of the earlier spring made possible by the Gulf Stream, our last parish in England was able, even in March, to present everyone with some daffodils to mark the season.

Easter is a time of much more than natural regrowth. Yes, we remember that in John’s Gospel, 12:24, Jesus likens himself to the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, in order that it may germinate in spring and multiply itself in great fruitfulness. However, Jesus’s resurrection meant something very different from the natural cycle of death and rebirth.

That was why it was so hard to come to terms with.

Something which I love about the New Testament is that, even while it insists that the death and rising again of Jesus was foretold and prepared in Hebrew Scripture, it also consistently describes how bewildering and confusing the appearance of the risen Jesus was to those who were closest to him. Several times it is said how the disciples were “terrified”.

As today’s collect reminds us, on the second Sunday after Easter Sunday (Easter 3) we often read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus joined them, unrecognized, on the road. (You will remember that Jesus then gave them a seminar on Scripture to explain how the Messiah was foretold to suffer as he had done, as though he had never done so before.)

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke follows directly after the Emmaus story. It is still the same day when the tomb of Jesus was found empty. No sooner have the two disciples rushed back from Emmaus to Jerusalem and told their friends of their experience, than Jesus himself appears among them, and insists on proving that he is raised in his body, by eating some food with them.

After that, a few verses describe Jesus taking the disciples out to Bethany and then how “he withdrew from them”. That is the end of Luke’s Gospel. It is a little less compressed than Mark’s, but it’s still almost brutally quick. The development of the story has to wait for episode 2, in the Book of Acts.

The disciples were bewildered, and for good reason. Despite Scripture, or maybe even because of it, there was no script to follow in responding to Jesus’s resurrection. There was all too much experience of confronting oppression, tragedy and loss. That was how it was in the Maccabean revolt, in the sufferings of those who tried to defend Judaea against oppressors. Between Jesus’s resurrection and the writing of Luke’s Gospel there was even more tragedy, in the disastrous uprising against Rome in the 60s and the destruction of the Temple in 70.

It is easier to get one’s head around bad news (because so much of the things that mark life are tragic) than it is to embrace the extraordinary power and promise of the resurrection. There was no pre-prepared way to understand and respond to something so new.

We still struggle with the resurrection. Christians have disagreed and will disagree about what it means. Reasoning it away into something else, such as some profound transformation in the disciples’ minds, has helped some Christians to cope with the scandal of proclaiming resurrection in a scientific world.

What matters is the proclamation which emerged from the disciples’ experience. Jesus was not resuscitated like Lazarus, or the widow’s son at Nain: Jesus rose into a new form of life. Jesus’s incarnation was received back into God, in such a way that Jesus’s complete humanity is not lost, but glorified. Luke takes the most care of any of the Gospel writers to stress that Jesus’s body was raised as a functioning human body, but also one that transcended ordinary limitations. Human nature, created in God’s image in the beginning, is welcomed back into God’s own being.

For the disciples, everything changed and nothing changed.

Everything changed in the sense that they now had the power to preach the message fearlessly, as Peter did in our reading from Acts. Peter, who so recently denied even knowing Jesus, scolded his audience for what they had done to Jesus, then offered them forgiveness because they acted in ignorance.

Nothing changed, in the sense that the disciples were still mortal (it was traditionally believed that of the apostles, only John died a natural death) and that they suffered persecution both from the religious elite and from the political powers. They were strengthened for mission, but mission became much harder. Before Jesus’s resurrection they could not possibly have coped with the hardship.

For us too, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed.

Resurrection joy is not something that we summon up in ourselves. If we make too much effort to do so, it won’t work. The resurrection hope does not abolish suffering and loss. We have experienced too much suffering and loss in the past year, and are continuing to do so.

Resurrection tells us that there is no limit to the will and power of God to love us. That unlimited love was poured out for us in Jesus’s suffering, and there was still infinitely more love left. God’s power showed the disciples, in Jesus’s rising again, that God is far stronger than the pain and loss that oppress our existence.

God calls us to trust that reassurance, without speculating about our eternal destiny. For this life, we have work to do; God will take care of what lies beyond. We are called to build the best possible foretaste of the community that a loving God wishes for us. The risen Christ invites us to spread the message of this special community – traditionally called the kingdom of God. In the community of the first followers of Jesus, we see the familiar paradox with which we still live. Because Jesus was raised in glory, the kingdom is already among us; but its fullness is not yet visible.

In the reading from the first Letter of John, the letter-writer (who may or may not have been the same as the compiler of the fourth Gospel) treats the kingdom as so utterly present, that those who live in Christ will by that very fact become like the risen Jesus. That reading contains the rather intimidating phrase that “all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure”.

In the two-part book that we know as Luke-Acts, there is a more realistic portrayal of a group of followers who are gradually finding their way, amidst a hostile environment and their own internal struggles, to build their new life in Christ. Our scriptures are so precious, because they offer some of the most psychologically honest stories that we shall ever read, about what it means to live in company with each other and the risen Christ.

Our new life is not our achievement or our performance. It is the presence of the Spirit among us, which Scripture also describes as the power of the risen and ascended Jesus. Our new life is liberation, given to us so that we can bring liberation to others. It will not mean that our churches or our communities are perfect. It does mean that we are given faith, power and energy to make them as good as they may be and far better than they are.

As we have seen recently and will continue to see, there is plenty of healing and rebuilding work to be done. As we live into the Easter hope, let that hope inspire us to do all that we can to build God’s kingdom.


Submitted by Euan Cameron

April 11, 2021: Easter 2

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EASTER 2 April 11, 2021

Today is one of the few Sunday's when we read the same Gospel story year after year. Our story, from John's account, begins "when it was evening on that day". And what a day it has been. In the morning three women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. In John's Gospel they found... so they ran to tell the apostles. Peter and the one called the beloved disciple ran back to the tomb and found it as described. Mary Magdalen who had stayed behind encountered Jesus near the tomb and eventually comes to recognize the Risen Lord.

Now it is evening and Jesus comes and stands among the frightened, confused group and says "Peace be with you". He then breaths on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit".

The action of "breathing on them" looks back to a creation story at the beginning of the Bible. (Genesis 2) In that story God is pictured as a potter at the wheel, scooping down, taking clay from the earth and creating a human form. Then breathing into the clay the breath of life, making a living human being. Now, in that upper room life is renewed.

In John's vision, eternal life is present here and now. The life we share is eternal. But even more, the scene presents John's version of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is breathed into the community. The advocate, the helper, the encourager now dwells within us. What glorious news!

Thomas, is out and about and misses this most sacramental moment. When he returns and is told the glorious news, he is skeptical. "You mean to say that the one crucified on the cross, the one the women said was not found in the tomb was here in this room and breathed on you and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit!" Yes they assured him. He doesn't believe it. But he has good reason.

"If what you are telling me is true", Thomas might have said, "why are all of you still locked up in the room; why are you still hiding, bound by fear. Where are the signs of this new and abundant life? Where are the signs of the presence and power of the Spirit." It all looked the same to Thomas.

A few days earlier, when Jesus washed their feet, he said: "by this all shall know that you are my disciples, that you care for one another, that you love one another. Thomas recognizes that something is missing. Where are the marks of the Spirit; where is the power? He had the right to doubt the story.

Thomas hangs around this locked up group and the following week Jesus came again. He invited Thomas to check out the wounds in his hands and feet, the wound in his side. Without doing so, Thomas makes the most profound statement of faith in the Gospel: "My Lord and my God". Thomas is not the doubter, but the believer.

Then Jesus says something more startling. As one scholar has said, it is as if we have been the audience in the darkened theater watching the story of the Gospel unfold on the stage. Now, Jesus pauses and has the lights turned on so that we, the audience are visible. Jesus turns to look at us and assures us: "Blessed are you who come to believe even though you do not have the opportunity to see me."

We, too, are invited: Receive the Holy Spirit! We, too, are challenged how we will be signs of the presence and power of God's love in our lives, in our world, in our very being. In the first reading we see an early attempt to live in a community "of one heart and soul, everything owned in common, sharing all their goods." That didn't last. But we do want a community, as we have been reminded this past year. The "Beloved Community, as John Lewis said.

The lives of those disciples hiding in that upper room teach us that discipleship has a cost. Love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you; feed the hungry, cloth the naked; forgive; do justice, love compassion; have an active concern for the poor, outcast, the foreigner; take up your cross and follow; love one another. Clear, but not easy. Possible, perhaps with the support of the Beloved Community.

In John's Gospel, faith is a verb, presented as a process, something that grows. That is the lens through which we should look at Thomas in today's story. Faith is a verb, which means it changes, grows, faces new challenges. doubts, seeks, finds support, keeps us going. We need a community to keep us going.

The life of faith is expressed in the words of Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright: Sometimes there is a torch in my head and I see all things clearly. But then the light goes out and I am left with images and analogies." So it is in a life of faith. So today we hear Jesus again, turn from the pages of our bible to look at us and assure us: blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. Blessed are you when the torch burns bright; blessed are you when the light seems to have gone out. Know, always, that I am with you; know always that you will always have life in my name, always a place in my presence."

Thanks be to God. Amen

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Note 1: Friday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I sent a note to Rabbi Bellows and the community of Congregation Beth Shalom in Chester that we will remember the cost in human lives of anti-Semitism and oppose it whenever and wherever. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: "Not all are guilty, but all are responsible." Let us respond.

Note 2: Where do we go from here? Having gathered outside at All Saints for Easter Worship, the question is, what next? We are discussing possibilities. At present, I think we return to Zoom until Pentecost (May 23). After that, I suggest we meet outside, on the lawn for Sunday Worship and move toward celebrating Holy Eucharist. People bring lawn chairs and we will provide for those who cannot. My understanding is that Connecticut is stuck at a rate of infection that gives me caution. Vestry will meet in two weeks to discuss the future. We welcome your input. Contact one of us.


April 4, 2021: Easter Sunday

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EASTER SUNDAY April 4, 2021

Easter is such a wonderful feast. Not only does the feast celebrate the mysteries at the heart of our faith but Easter arrives as Spring begins its magic. the changes we long for - Light, warmth, renewal of life all around us. It's a little bashful this year but it is here.

This Easter holds a special meaning. Winter's death-like appearance has been nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of deaths in our Nation and the millions around the world. On this day, the story of Easter light casting out darkness, hope overcoming despair, life conquering death is best experienced through the eyes of faith.

More that ever, today's Easter story pulls us into a living drama. We have much in common with the three brave women who make their way to the tomb. Their hearts ache with tragedy, the death of their friend; their hopes have been crushed. It is a terrible time.

"Come follow me" was the invitation extended by Jesus of Nazareth a few earlier. They did, and heard wonderful words and saw wonderful deeds. The glory of God seemed about to burst into this world. Instead, disaster struck. Jesus was arrested, beaten, executed. All that remaind was to make sure their friend was properly buried with the ritual prescribed by their faith.

We, too, have learned that things do not always turn out as we had hoped. Relationships fail, dreams are often unfulfilled, hopes can be crushed, loved ones die. We share much with these women as we walk with them to the tomb.

Oh, but now another problem. The women remember the tomb has been sealed with a large stone. "Who will roll away the stone for us?", they ask one another. The stone would prevent the sacred rite of burial. Stones have been obstacled for us in life. Behavior, attitudes, prejudices - our own and others- have prevented us from becoming the persons God created us to be. Fears, wounds, grudges, illness have burdened us, kept us in a tomb. "Who will roll away these stones for us?"

But when the women arrrive they are amazed; the stone has already been rolled away. How? By whom? The Gospel does not say. It isn't by magic. We know that in our lives the "stones" that limit us don't just disappear. And yet, there is something more than just our effort at work. There is grace- God's transforming love is real and present. In his Letter to the people of Corinth, Paul tells them three times that God's grace, God's powerful presence, was essential to his growth, the power to become a disciple.

With the stone rolled away, the women enter the tomb. But Jesus is not there. Instead, they find a youth dressed in white who announces the Good News: " Do not be afraid! Jesus has been raised! Go tell his disciples and Peter. He is going before you.." But our passage ends with the women running from the tomb, in fear and trembling and they tell no one because they are afraid.

Something is wrong. If they told no one, how come we are here? Down through history the story has been told and finally told to us. How can this be?

Who has continued to proclaim what the youth in white announced to the women? Well who is this youth dressed in white? From the earliest days of the Church, and down through the centuries, on Easter morning there were many youths dressed in white. They were the newly baptized, fresh from the Vigil just concluded. The baptized are sent to proclaim the Resurrection. Mark has drawn us into the drama. We are given a most important role to play.

We are called to "be not afraid" ; called to proclaim that Jesus goes before us, travels with us, empowers us to live lives of hope and service, of compassion and healing, reconciliation and love. Our live are to proclaim the good news of Easter: Christ is risen! Alleluia.


The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Celebrant Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?

People I do.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People I will, with God’s help.

The Celebrant concludes the Renewal of Vows as follows

May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.




April 2, 2021: Good Friday

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Good Friday 12 Noon

Order of worship

Opening Prayer

Hymn: What wondrous love is this 439

Solemn Collects

Reading 1 Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

Psalm 22

Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross 474

Reading 2 Hebrews 10: 16-25

Passion according to John

Reflection by Euan Cameron

Christ was condemned to death, and died, at what by any human standards seems a horribly premature time, at the height of his ministry of teaching and healing, and through the machinations of corrupt forces.

Why was this necessary? From the earliest years of the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen, Christians have tried to explain exactly what purpose the death of Jesus served.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, probably writing under the shadow of the loss of the Temple, explained that Jesus had become the one sacrifice to end all sacrifice, the one who initiated a new relationship with God.

The letter to Colossians wrote that God through Christ [erased] “the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

So many explanations: none tells the full story; none can express the mind of God.

Suppose that we interpreted the suffering of Christ as the pattern for all our sufferings and those of the whole world?

Suffering is evil; it is not “redemptive”; it is not “worth it” even in the end.

However, it is the special gift of God to show both love and power through and in the midst of suffering

That is what the Psalms so often proclaim: that when life seems bleakest, the power of God is always closer than we can even imagine. We hear that message even in Psalm 22, the psalm of desolation that Jesus quoted on the cross.

God identifies with those who are downcast and humiliated, as in the suffering servant depicted in the poetry of the follower of the prophet Isaiah who wrote our first reading.

And that is what happens here: Christ went to Jerusalem because he could not teach and proclaim the kingdom of God in a corner; he could not minimize or silence the message.

And for whatever complex of bad reasons, enough people decided that he must be stopped.

But the love that forced him to keep on teaching, healing and witnessing would not allow that.

And in his painful torment and death, the loving power of God was revealed: God took what seemed to be a futile waste, and turned it into triumph through the Resurrection, which we shall celebrate in a few short days. God turned Jesus’s death into a unique proclamation, a message that could be read in so many ways … but however you interpret it, it speaks the power of God to save and the endless love of God for those who suffer.

From this point on, suffering whether individual or collective, whether great grief or private pain, is enfolded in the love of God. We are blessed with a saving, loving God who does not rejoice in triumphing over, or humiliating others. Our Christ made himself one with those who grieve, those who are humbled, those who live with affliction. In our care for all those near and far who experience suffering, let us bring the love of Christ to them, as it is brought to us.





March 28, 2021: Palm Sunday

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PALM SUNDAY March 28, 2021

Opening/Introduction

We begin the week we call Holy; the week we celebrate the mysteries at the heart of our faith - the Passion/Death/Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Shouts of praise will give way to shouts of ridicule, humiliation and condemnation. Palm branches vanish and the Cross appears.

We pause, however, to acknowledge that moment of triumph

Reading : Brendan

Blessing

Hymn: All Glory, Laud and Honor

Collect of the Day

Reading from Isaiah 50: 4-9 Mindy

Psalm 31: 9-16 Pat

Reading from Paul's Letter to the Church at Philippi chapter 2: 5-11 Pat

Intro: to Gospel Reading

The fact that we are here today reminds us that the story we are about to hear again does not end with death. Our presence at worship today is witness that life is stronger than death. Also, we are here not to celebrate suffering and defeat, but to proclaim the victory of love and life. We will read the Passion Story today, and on Friday. But in these stories of Jesus' death, the way he died, crucifixion, is never actually described. Typical is Mark's version read today where we are told: "Then they took him out and crucified him". The author did not wish to emphasize the terrible suffering of Jesus, but the love that accepted this suffering - a love without limit and without end. Let that be the drumbeat you hear throughout the Gospel reading and throughout this week, in all our life.

Dramatic Reading of the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ,

according to St. Mark

Following the reading there will be a period of quiet reflection

Hymn 458 My Song is Love Unknown

Prayers

Hymn 473 Lift High the Cross

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Please join us Good Friday via Zoom at 12 Noon for our Worship


Easter Worship will be via Zoom but also outside at All Saints at 10 AM . We will set up chairs properly distanced. Wear Mask. Service will be Morning Prayer.





March 21, 2021: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Years ago an uncle of mine who was a pilot for an international airline told me on his journey to a foreign land he came upon a street vendor who offered to sell him an autographed picture of Jesus Christ. He passed up the deal. The Gospel does not say anything about the physical appearance of Jesus. And, I am sure the paintings by Italian or German or Dutch artists we have seen bear little resemblance to the Middle Eastern Semite named Jesus.

Even though the four Gospel accounts have no physical description of Jesus, they each present an "image" of Jesus, and they are different. This is not surprising when you consider that our Gospel accounts all existed in oral form, repeated in stories over many years in different communities, different nations and societies. Beginning 30 years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the first, Mark's Gospel, achieved the written form we have today, and the other three accounts were written down in different communities and circumstances over the following forty years.

On Palm Sunday we will read the Passion of Jesus from Mark's Gospel account, written down around the year 70 AD, possibly in Rome. Five days later, on Good Friday, we will read the Passion Story from John's Gospel, written down almost 30 years later, possibly in Ephesus, present day Turkey.

We find very different images of Jesus in these two Gospels. Simply stated Mark's account emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, while John's focus is on the divinity of Jesus.

In Mark's Gospel Jesus will say he doesn't know some things and when we find him in Gethsemane praying to the Father on the night of his arrest, he asks if the "hour might pass from him". In today's reading from John, Jesus refuses to pray that he be saved from "the hour", for that is the very reason he has come. The "hour" of his passion and death.

In Mark's account, Jesus prays that " God's will be done"; in John's account Jesus prays that God be glorified. In Mark's Gospel we see the human Jesus struggle with fear and uncertainty; in John's account Jesus seems to be in charge, even directing the events leading to " the hour".

What unifies all the Gospel accounts is that Jesus' passion and death are not the result of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but in the fact that Jesus saw his mission to reveal that God so loved the whole world with a love without limit and without end, even to the extent of laying down his life for us. So often we hear that God sent Jesus to die. Jesus came to reveal God's love for this human family. Humans chose How to react. Jesus is killed by human beings, not by God. We have done this other times to other people who proclaimed a similar message.

In today's reading Jesus paints a picture, demonstrating that life and death are joined together. Only a dying seed bears fruit. Our presence here today shows the truth in Jesus' statements: his death and resurrection have given birth to the Church. But there is a leap of faith required to go all the way with Jesus' words: that we must walk the same path. Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. "Hating one's life" means living in an unselfish way, deeply concerned for the well being of others, willing to give one's life for the life of another. If my whole life is lived only for me, how can my life nurture others?

Human suffering is the challenge. While the Gospels were written at different times and places they were all written in a crisis. Those who had come to faith and been baptized in the power of the Resurrection and filled with the Spirit still found themselves bearing the cross, even suffering death because of their faith in Christ. Where was the victory?

The unifying message of all the Gospel accounts is that in Jesus, God does not free us from suffering but joins us in the midst of human suffering. The promise is that God is present with us and will keep us to eternal life.

In this pandemic where would we be without the people risking their health their lives caring for the ill? Also, we witness people giving their lives doing justice and loving compassion in our world. Many lives do become grains of wheat dying but bearing much fruit.

Today is the first day of Spring. It's been a long winter, but the green shoots of daffodils and bright color of crocuses are visible . New life is returning. All this happens without our work. But mercy and kindness and healing and love, care for the suffering and dying, justice and hope and love can only exist if we plant them life. They exist in our world, in our society because of those who have lived the power of the Spirit and become the seeds of faith and love and hope for us. Easter calls us to live our lives, plant the seeds that will give life to those who come after us.

March 14, 2021: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm: 107:1-3,17-22
Epistle: Ephesians 2:1-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. For those who know the obscurer corners of the liturgical calendar, this is “Laetare Jerusalem” Sunday, or “rejoice Jerusalem”. It has been marked as the Sunday in Lent when the disciplines and abstinences of the Lenten season were eased up for a short while.

On this day, highly liturgical congregations still exchange the purple vestments of Lent for a rose colour. Deeply as we all yearn for the time when we can share the Eucharistic celebration together, let me confess that I am grateful that none of the parishes where I have served has so far chosen to use rose vestments. I’m sorry: I just do not believe that pink is my colour.

However, there is a serious point. The sober, even sombre tone of the Lenten season is not just there to help us feel gloomy, as though there were not already enough in the world for us to lament over. Sundays like this one serve to remind us that, in the Hebrew Scriptures and in our New Testament, lament always happens under the loving gaze of God: the God who stands by us in hard times, and passionately seeks our healing and our restoration. Lent is not just a preparation for Easter and the celebration of resurrection; it is an integral part of it.

The first verse of our Gospel passage today anticipates Christ’s crucifixion by likening it to what in Christian tradition was called a “foreshadowing”: the raising of the bronze serpent by Moses to heal those who had been bitten by snakes in the desert, described in our first lesson from Numbers 21.

This image of the serpent on a pole is enormously familiar, even to those who may not know where it comes from. It has become one of the most universal symbols of healing, whether in the form of two snakes twined round a pole (known as a Caduceus) or a single snake suspended from the top of a pole (sometimes called the rod of the Greek god of healing, Asclepius). You will undoubtedly have seen these emblems on the side of ambulances, on the logos of hospitals, or for that matter on the badges of members of the Army Medical Corps.

For such a widely used symbol, it is intriguing how uncertain the story of the serpent in the wilderness is. In the Second Book of Kings, chapter 18, we read that the reforming king Hezekiah “broke into pieces the copper serpent that Moses had made, for until that time the Israelites had been offering sacrifices to it; it was called Nehushtan”. The detailed story that we read in the Book of Numbers may have been elaborated from the legend that Moses had made the bronze serpent: though in truth serpent-gods were all over the world of the ancient Middle East, and it is possible, even somewhat likely, that the image that Hezekiah destroyed was derived from an Egyptian cult object.

Why, you might wonder, do we associate snakes, which we think of as harmful, with healing? We do not know for certain, but the association seems quite ancient. Possibly the snake’s shedding of its skin was taken as a symbol of new life; possibly the way that snakes, as cold-blooded animals, can regain energy with dramatic speed when the sun reaches them, was taken as a symbol of healing and recovery.

Healing, its wonders and its limitations, has been on our minds for the past year. God has brought healing to many in this terrible pandemic, through the skill of the medical and nursing professions, and through the prayerful support of families and friends, even when that could not be expressed face to face. In the last months, though the skill, determination and energy of the scientific community, God offers us the promise that vaccination will dramatically reduce the severity and the spread of the infection.

Yet not all are healed in body. Far too many lives have been cut short, an unimaginable over half a million in this country alone, and we cannot even know how many millions around the world. Moreover, the entirely justifiable focus on the pandemic has had a secondary impact, in that many people have found that treatment for other conditions has become more difficult. At the very least they have been deprived of the contact with family, friends, supporters, or indeed chaplains, which it is well known often plays an important role in healing.

The Israelites did not become immune to the bite of snakes in the desert. Though God loves us utterly, we still fall sick, because vulnerability to sickness, and mortality itself, are parts of the nature of which we are made.

Yet Jesus, in the account which we read from John chapter 3, says that through his ministry those who believe in him will have eternal life. When John wrote his Gospel, the communities who followed Jesus had been reflecting on the meaning of his death and resurrection for some seventy years. They believed that the loving power of God had been shown to be stronger than death itself: not because death was taken away, but because it did not have the last word.

The healing of which Jesus spoke was of a very special kind. It was a renewal of life even within life itself, which Jesus expressed as a new birth, as “being born of water and Spirit”. Our Gospel reading today comes from the long conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was one of the sophisticated, cultured Jewish philosophers and believers of Jesus’s time. His name comes from the Greek language, which many learned Jews (including our Gospel writers) used as their natural means of expression.

Nicodemus, we learn, sought Jesus out at night, to escape the controversy and distraction which could follow from speaking to a teacher who stood outside the circles of privilege. By an elegant, literary paradox, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, in the darkness, and so doing he enters into a greater light than his own learning and wisdom could ever give him.

As the 17th-century poet Henry Vaughan wrote about this encounter, in his poem “The Night”:

Wise Nicodemus saw such light

As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes

Thy long-expected healing wings could see,

When Thou didst rise!

And, what can never more be done

Did at midnight speak with the Sun!

O who will tell me where

He found Thee at that dead and silent hour?

What hallowed solitary ground did bear

So rare a flower,

Within whose sacred leaves did lie

The fulness of the Deity?

The message that Jesus brought to Nicodemus was one of new life, of freedom from the futility and the condemnation that their own lack of direction and divine light had brought on the Israelites in the desert. From the passage from Numbers, one might conclude that the Israelites were punished for their quarrelsomeness and ingratitude to God. But the author of the letter to the Ephesians gives a psychologically more profound explanation. God “loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses”. The mortality of the soul, the impoverishment of spirit that alienates us from God and from each other, is its own judgment and its own punishment.

It is from that emptiness which ensues when people live only for themselves, that Jesus comes to free us and to heal us. The letter to the Ephesians makes clear that it is God who brings us to new life in Christ; “by grace [we] have been saved”. The healing of soul and spirit that comes through the Gospel is a pure gift. It is grace given to those who not only do not deserve it, but do not know to ask for it. In Jesus the meaning of our lives is both affirmed and transformed. It offers us the possibility of living our lives in this world without being overwhelmed. Most of all, the grace that heals us, also restores us for the service of others. We are, as the epistle says, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand”.

Those who have gone before us are, I believe, safe in the love of God. We who remain, shall emerge from the present stresses and strains of the pandemic: that much is clear. But once we are able to be together, we must redouble our efforts to be present, in spirit and love, to each other in Christ’s name. There are many visible and tangible expressions of love and support for each other, with which we shall need to catch up when we can do so safely.

So, in God’s promises which cannot fail us, let us pray to become lights to the world and to each other.

Amen.

— Euan Cameron

March 7, 2021: Third Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm: 19
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Gospel: John 2:13-22

When Jesus entered the Temple of Jerusalem and began driving out the animals for sacrifice and tipped over the tables of the money changers who helped people like his parents who came after his birth for many years, people were shocked. When he proclaimed: "destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again", they were appalled.

They were in the most sacred place on earth, still under construction after 46 years. At its center was the room of the "holy of holies", God's dwelling place on earth. A place entered once a year by the High Priest. The temple guaranteed God's presence among the people. To declare its destruction was an attack on the faith, on the well-being of the nation.

This was not the first time something like this had happened. Almost 600 years earlier, the prophet Jeremiah stood in the temple and spoke of its destruction. At that time people grabbed Jeremiah and tried to kill him. The intervention of powerful friends saved his life. Jesus got off easy. At least it seemed at the moment.

Perhaps some who heard Jesus remembered Jeremiah. Maybe they remembered that a year after this event the Temple was completely destroyed by the Babylonian Army. The unthinkable had happened. A crisis of faith and survival followed.  They would not have known that it would happen again.  35 years after Jesus' warning, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Army, along with the city. Again, a crisis of faith and survival followed. The words of this Gospel were written in that most difficult period.

The attack of September 11th on the US combined with the attack on the Capitol on January 6th could not have brought more pain to us than these events brought to the Jewish people. I think most of us are aware of what is called the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The wall is really remnants of the foundation of this Temple. We can see the reverence  displayed by Jews who gather there to pray, to remember, to weep. So Jesus' words were uttered at a place considered sacred even to this day. Certainly this was more than that,  a marketplace as Jesus called it. For many it was a "house of prayer. So what was the problem?

Jeremiah's condemnation of the Temple was a condemnation of what religion had come to mean for so many in his day. Religious leaders, said Jeremiah, emphasized elaborate and expensive sacrifice was important, even most essential to belief in God. At the same time, the poor were neglected, oppressed. Doing Justice and compassion were the foundations of worship in the eyes of the prophets. To replace these essential values of the Covenant with Temple worship was, said the Prophets, a counterfeit religion.

Jesus was reaffirming the condemnation proclaimed by Jeremiah. Calling into judgement institutional religion. But the context in which the words we read is important. Things were different.

When these words were written in John's Gospel, toward the end of the first century, the violent conflict between Israel and Roman occupation following the destruction of the Temple, was continuing. The survival of Jewish faith and Jewish identity was threatened. The Jewish faith had been very tolerant of differences in belief among its members. But in an attempt to secure survival, new rules were developed. Jews who proclaimed that Messiah had come were no longer considered members. Christian Jews were in a bind. At the same time, missionary work like that of Paul had brought many gentiles into faith in Christ. An implication in the words of Paul we see that he had argued successfully that such people could be Christian without becoming Jews.

Christianity was becoming a separate religion. Jerusalem was home to the last of the communities that was still predominantly Jewish in its Christian faith.  In this conflict between Christian Jews and the Jewish leadership, the Temple scene we read today was helpful to Christians. Faith in Jesus could live without Temple.

But there was a problem. No longer was this story a call to be careful of the limitations of institutional religion in general,  but on the limitations of the Jewish religion. Tragically, in history this scene would be used to feed anti-Semitic movements.

This helped get the institutional Christian Church off the hook. The warning in the scene was applied to Jews not to Christians, not to us. However at the time of the Reformation, this Gospel reading was popular among Reformers. Christ was not driving out money changers but sellers of indulgences. This text all but disappeared from Roman Catholic worship in those days.

What about today?  When I was a young theology student a question we were asked was :"Did Jesus intend to found a church?" We all had learned theories. After a while the teacher said that he thought the question was poorly phrased. "The  question is", he said, "are we the Church Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, intended?". A good question.

Our Gospel story from today is found in the other three accounts. In all three it is found just before the arrest of Jesus. In Mark's version, Jesus quotes the Prophet Isiah: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all people".

We live at a time when even before the pandemic, institutional churches were declining in membership. We know that. The experience of this year has reminded us how important it is to live in a community of believers, a house of the church. But I think some have learned how to live without the church as we know it. It will be interesting to see the future. It will be different, it will be a challenge.

To say that we will rebuild our "house of prayer for all people" may not be enough, but I think it a good place to begin again.

February 28, 2021: Second Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm: 22:22-30
Epistle: Romans 4:13-25
Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

The Opening Prayer for today, the Collect as it is called in worship, asks God to lead us to "hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word." However, if we look back at the history of the Church, we recognize that the truth is unchangeable but our understanding and the words used to express it cannot be unchangeable.

Sacred Scripture may be the Word of God, but it is the Word of God in human words. Well expressed in the story of the great St. Agustine walking along the beach one morning trying to find the words to express the Trinity. He came upon a young boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was carrying buckets of water from the sea and pouring them into it. Agustine paused and after a while asked the lad,"What are you doing"."I'm putting the ocean into this hole", the boy replied. Agustin laughed and said, "Don't be foolish. You'll never fit the ocean into this hole". The lad replied: "Far easier to put the entire ocean into this hole than put the mystery of God into human words".

In Hebrew , "word" expresses something that is living, dynamic, not merely lines on a page. The same idea is present in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews: "The word of God is living and active."(Hebrews 4:12). At the beginning of his Gospel, John  speaks of Jesus as "the Word", the Incomprehensible Mystery, alive, present, unfolding in new ways the unchangeable truth of God. At the end of John's Gospel Jesus tells us that the Spirit will be with us to teach us down through history the living, new understanding of the mystery of God.  "Easier to put the entire ocean in a hole than the mystery of God in human words''.

And so we are ready to read the living Word of God assigned for today.  We meet Abram, who will soon have his name changed to Abraham.  Three religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity all trace their roots back to Abraham. Jews and Christians plant their family tree in Abraham through his son, Isaac, while Muslims do the same through Abraham's son Ismael. Some of the same Biblical stories are shared in all three traditions.

Abraham is the model of faith for these three traditions. These "Abrahamic" religions are united in that they profess one God. The story we read today presents Abraham as a man whose trust in God is unchangeable even when the words God is speaking make little sense to.

The promise was made a few chapters earlier in Genesis when God first called  Abraham to "go from your land and your kindred and from your father's house to the land I will show you, thus I will make you a great people and bless you, and I will make your name great, so YOU WILL BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS". The problem is that Abraham and Sarah are old and have no son, and they have no land.

We know the story. Sarah will give birth to Isaac and land will be found. Words fulfilled. But what about "Being a blessing to others? If we study the history of the interrelations of members of these three religions tracing a relation to Abraham, it doesn't seem that "being a blessing" has been understood as the unchangeable word of God. There is work to be done.

In our second reading, Paul uses the faith of Abraham to change what many early Christians considered unchangeable truth. Many believed that to be Christian one must be of the tribe of Abraham, must be Jewish. For Paul it is the faith of Abraham and not the blood of Abraham that is important. One is Christian by faith in Jesus, not by belonging to the family of Abraham. We might not appreciate what a change that was in what most thought was an unchangeable truth.

In our Gospel  we meet Peter fresh from his vision of Jesus in glory on the mountain when he heard the voice proclaim "this is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.” Peter forgot that last part. When Jesus began to explain that being beloved Son, being Messiah would mean taking up the cross and suffering, he tries to correct Jesus. Jesus changes the understanding of the unchangeable truth expressed in the words traditionally used to explain the role of messiah.

And so the Spirit, as Jesus has foretold, done down the years; Challenged us to distinguish what is the unchangeable truth from the changeable meaning in human words and experience. The role of women, sexual orientation, our relation to the world about us are examples. Our understanding of God's faithfulness and justice, God's image present in all human beings and in the goodness of Creation extends far beyond our understanding, less than the Spirit teaches us. And when we learn anew we are called to act.

This is the last day of Black History Month. It is a time we witness a great divide between many who profess belief in the unchangeable truth of the word, Jesus Christ. White Evangelical communities have become the bulwark of White Supremacy while Black Evangelical Churches have nurtured and sustained the cause of Civil Rights and racial equality.

White Evangelical communities use scripture to justify slavery and segregation and White supremacy. This is a tradition handed down for hundreds of years. It is alive and well in our day. In fact it is more open and brazen at this time. But so is the Spirit, and the lie that scripture justifies racial injustice must be confronted. As Abraham Heschel has reminded us in situations like this "Some are guilty, but all are responsible."  White supremacy must not be allowed to hide in, or worse, justify itself in the words of our faith. The unchangeable truth that the Spirit is unfolding again, that all are created in the image of God cannot be limited or diminished. This is the unchangeable truth. Let us live it, let us proclaim it. Let us be a blessing to others.

February 21, 2021: First Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm: 25:1-9
Epistle: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

Lent, among other things, has always been a time of preparation for Baptism on Easter. The readings for each Sunday have been selected as a basis for teaching candidates the faith. Today's Gospel goes right to the source, telling the story of Jesus' baptism. A short but dramatic scene:  the "heavens were "torn apart"; the Spirit descended like a dove; a voice from heaven proclaims "You are my Son, the Beloved". Jesus is then driven into the wilderness, by the Spirit, and tempted by Satan. He returns, proclaiming "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the Good news."

There is a lot of material in this short reading, but what strikes me is the question: what is the Good News? How would you express the Good News? What does it mean in our lives? What changes now that the kingdom has drawn near?

Jesus proclaims the "Good News" only after he has been tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Mark does not tell us what the temptation was, but Matthew and Luke list three temptations in which Satan invites Jesus to choose power rather than love as the means to live out his role as "Beloved Son". Jesus was tempted to be something other than the "beloved Son".

Thomas Merton's definition of sin is the refusal to be who God has created us to be. That is what Satan tempts Jesus. To not be the beloved Son God has called him to be.

Our first reading takes us back to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. Genesis begins with two creation stories. The first is a poem describing creation taking place through the power of God's word, in an orderly fashion presented as six days. All creation is good but on the sixth day God creates the masterpiece, human beings.

God created human beings in God's own image and God's own likeness, we are told. Male and female, equal in dignity. In the second story, in Genesis 2, God is pictured as a potter, working at the potter's wheel, scooping up clay from the earth and forming a human being then "breathing into the clay the very breath of God." Humans are of the earth but also the divine breath. In both stories human beings are of great dignity - created in the very image of God and enlivened by the divine breath.

So, the first two chapters of scripture affirm the dignity of every human being. Sin, if we use Merton's definition, is the refusal to be, to act as this image, or refuse to treat one another as made in God's image, animated by the divine breath of God.

That is good news of faith. That is the way Jesus lived as beloved son. Jesus sought out the very people we are tempted to avoid - the poor, the outcast, the powerless, the foreigner. The beloved son recognized the dignity of all, especially those in whom society saw very little. The good news to us is that we all share this image, we all have this dignity. To refuse to acknowledge it, refuse to live it would be sin.

Today's reading from Genesis focuses on Noah. The great act of Creation has dimed. The image of God is hidden, denied in human actions. People no longer live as God created them to be. Remember the story, the first human beings denied who they were and who the other was. In the story, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation to not act as "children" made in the image of God but seduced by Satan tried to be "like God ''.

When the plan doesn't work Adam blames Eve, who, in turn blames the tempter. The process continues as Cain kills Abel, and the division grows to where the whole human family is alienated from one another, and from God. All is lost when human beings are not content being who God created them to be.

Most scholars today read Genesis, not as history but a story that reflects on the source and effects of sin and evil.  They come from human actions. Jesus refused to succumb to the temptation to choose power over love. We, however , can and do, and thereby refuse to be who we are created to be, refuse to treat each other as made in the image and likeness of God.

The Church has fostered this distortion over the years. Some seek personal salvation rather than the beloved community. Some claim to be God's chosen, no longer members of the human family, made in the image and likeness of God. Faith in God is used to build walls, separate us rather than unite us.

The result is that we are alienated from one another. Separated from one another. We refuse to be who we are, made in the image and likeness of God.

Lent reminds us who we are. Lent calls us to repent, believe the good news; believe we are children made in God's image and likeness; alive through the very breath of God. Believe the Good News. Amen

February 14, 2021: Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm: 50: 1-6
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Gospel: Mark 9: 2-9

For the past 3 weeks our Gospel reading has come from the 1st chapter of Mark's account. We have followed Jesus from his baptism, as he gathered disciples and began to teach and heal in small towns. Today we jump ahead 8 chapters to the story of the Transfiguration. Why?

Wednesday, we will begin our Lenten journey,  40 days and 40 nights...that lead to the Passion and death of Jesus. The Transfiguration occurs just before these events. The evangelist records this vision of Jesus' glory, to fortify the apostles as they are about to be challenged by the events of Holy Week. The Church does the same for us disciples. Reveals Jesus' glory to fortify our faith in him, less we grow weary, afraid, discouraged as we follow the way of the cross.

It is important to remember that the Evangelist was writing for us. He was not writing the history of Jesus, but wrote to nurture our faith in Jesus. When crunch time came for the apostles, Peter denied he knew Jesus and James and John disappeared. Crunch time comes for us, too, and Mark is counting on us to  "hear the word and do it", to take up our cross and follow, to believe and act out the Good News. This is all spelled out in the Collect for today:

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son
revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we,
beholding by faith the light of his countenance may
be strengthened to bear our cross...

We have all lived long enough to know faith needs to be nurtured, supported. That is why we have joined this small community. As the Irish poet, William Butler Yates wrote: "Sometimes there is a torch in my head and I see all things clearly. But then the light goes out, and I am left with images and analogies." There are times in life when things seem clear, make sense, are manageable. But there are times when the light dims, even goes out, and we grope in darkness. There are times we are confused, afraid; times  we need support from others.

In the Transfiguration scene Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. Two men who knew all too well  moments of light and assurance but also moments of darkness, doubt and fear.

Moses often complained to God when the people complained to him about the trials and tribulations of the desert. Elijah, whom we encountered in our first reading knew the same.  We have met him before. He lived about 800 years before Jesus, after Israel had divided by civil war into the Northern Kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom, Judah.

In the north,  pagan worship was making a comeback. Elijah was one of the few prophets who remained faithful to Yahweh and he confronted the king who was leading Israel astray. You may remember a previous story in which we saw Elijah on the run, hunted by the king, feeling defeated, alone, without hope , disappointed in God. In the midst of this darkness he received the gift of light;  a "still small voice of God's presence". Elijah listened and received courage and hope and returned to the work of proclaiming the presence and power of God.

In today's reading, we are at the end of Elijah's life. His mission is being handed over to his disciple Elisha. The vision of Elijah taken to heaven in a fiery chariot inspired the Spiritual "Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home." which itself became a light for others seeking freedom.

So, here we have Elijah and Moses appearing in the brightness of God's glory "talking with Jesus". Moses, the foundation of the Law and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, were talking, according to Luke, about Jesus' passing - the way of the cross. Again the voice proclaims: "This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him". Bidden or not, God is present.

In a way, that summarizes  Mark's Gospel message. The presence of God bidden or not bidden, seen or not seen, felt or not felt is with us - even in suffering.  As Paul proclaims to the Corinthians , "the Light shines in the darkness, shone our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

The English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God;
it will flume out, like shining from shook foil;
it gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.

Our technical capabilities make it possible to recreate the brightness of that scene on the mountain. Also, the way we treat our world is not in search of the grandeur.

The Jewish theologian, Abrahm Heschel said that the surest way to undermine our ability to believe is to take things for granted. If we have learned anything this past year it is to not take things for granted.

When we have gathered for worship under what we call "normal circumstances" to celebrate the presence and power of the "Beloved Son" we use simple but very human signs and articles - telling the story of God's saving acts in history, sharing bread and wine in a meal of thanksgiving. In the Middle Ages Thomas Aquinas celebrated this mystery at the heart of our faith. Thomas' hymn is in our prayer book - 314. A poetic translation of this hymn was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In part, he writes:

Godhead here in hiding, who I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shapes and nothing more,
See Lord, at thy service, low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

Lord, can we know the presence of the Beloved Son when darkness clouds the Light. Can we affirm the presence for one another even when we are weary, afraid, distraught; when the cross seems very real. Can we, Dear Lord, be lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art. Amen.

February 7, 2021: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm: 147:1-12, 21c

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

"As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens" is an ancient Celtic saying that describes these days in which daylight grows but so does the cold. For the ancient Celts, these first days of February began the season of Imbolc, the second quarter of the year (February, March, April). In Celtic lore, Spring's approach was heralded by the Goddess Brigid, not some groundhog. When Ireland became Christian, the Church "baptized" Brigid and she became St. Brigid of Kildare, the most popular protector of Ireland after Patrick. St. Brigid's cross, made from straw was hung over the house door as a protection from fire, and the well at Brigid's shrine was famous for healing.

Shrines for healing have been places of pilgrimage throughout human history and are found all over the world, and healing is the focus at the beginning of Jesus' ministry as recorded in Mark's Gospel account. But these healings are presented as exorcisms, the casting out of demons who the people of the day believed were the cause of illness or impairment. It was a common understanding of illness in Jesus's day.

Today's Gospel reading continues Jesus' first day ministry. Last week we saw the day begin in a synagogue in Capernaum with the healing of a man possessed by an evil spirit. Today it continues in Simon's house where his mother-in-law is healed of a fever. Later crowds appear at the door with the sick of the village. In these healings, again, the source of the illness is demonic possession. As was said last week, Jesus' healings are presented as signs that the power of evil is reduced to impotency. It seems to endure but its roots have been cut. Its power is dying.

The reaction to this power of Jesus is voiced by Simon: "everyone was searching for him". Simon states this after hunting down to a deserted place Jesus had found for prayer early the second day and found him in the deserted place Jesus sought for prayer early the second day; after the "whole city gathered around the door where he was staying". By Simons reckoning the good news was working. Jesus' popularity was rising. But why was Jesus seeking a quiet place to pray?

One of the lessons we will learn as we continue our journey through Mark's Gospel is that Jesus continually asks silence from people who are healed; from proclamations that he is Messiah. One reason seems to be that what people think Messiah will be is not whom Jesus sees as "beloved Son". Simon's joy that "everyone is searching for you" clashes with Jesus' desire to "get out of here and go to neighboring towns and proclaim the good news, for that is what I came to do".

What we have here is a problem of communication. It seems Jesus sought out prayer because he realized he was not the "beloved Son" those who wanted to proclaim him Messiah thought he would be. Even more, Jesus realized his Father was not the God we would prefer God to be. Let us pause with Jesus for a minute.

We are about to close out the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of our Church calendar. At the heart of this season we proclaimed: "the Word became flesh and lived as one of us". We will soon begin our Lenten journey that will lead to the way of the cross and we are reminded that the beloved Son has joined us in the very depths of human existence. In Jesus, God does not take us out of human suffering, but joins us, heals us, redeems us in the very midst of human suffering.

As we have learned, each of the Gospel accounts were written, not as biography or history but as a summary of faith for a community in crisis. Over a 35 year period, the four accounts we have were set down in writing for different communities in different places experiencing a crisis, usually persecution for faith in Jesus. Mark's account, the first written, was addressed to a community, perhaps in Rome, experiencing a fierce persecution. Why, some were asking, are we suffering? Where is the power of Jesus' life, death and resurrection? In short, in the Gospel Jesus calls us to "take up the cross and follow". The disciple is not removed from the human situation of suffering, but is joined, by Christ, in the midst of human life, even human suffering.

We might wish it was the reverse. In the Greek tragedies human beings often get themselves in dire, unsolvable, painful situations that have no solution. But then arrives as a "deus ex machina" , literally, "god in the machine". The solution arrives via a god literally descending from heaven "in a machine" to resolve the unsolvable situation. Our God, however, has chosen to "become flesh" and joined us in the midst of human joy and sorrow, hope and fear, a God who suffers with us.

At the end of our reading from Isaiah this morning we read: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." It is a hope repeated elsewhere in Hebrew Scriptures, the assurance of God's saving power present in the midst of human life, especially at those times that seem unsolvable. Present not on some descending machine but within each of us. Present amidst our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows; present in all our suffering and pain. For those among us most in need, may our God's presence not be subtle.

January 31, 2021: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Psalm: 111

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

The beloved Rabbi of a large synagogue addressed his congregation one Sabbath: "My dear people, Messiah has come among us." Eyes opened, jaws dropped. Someone objected: "Rabbi, peace and justice will break out with Messiah's arrival." Another added, "prisoners will be liberated, the oppressed freed." " The wolf and the lamb will sleep together, and the leopard with the goat, " added a third. " I know, I know", responded the Rabbi, " we are still working out the details".

Working out the details is the mission Jesus assigns to disciples in Mark's Gospel. Today we get the first reactions to Jesus' preaching the Good News. The crowd marveled at the authority, the power of Jesus' words. They found such power lacking in the other teachers of the day. However, as we proceed in the Gospel, we will find that this Gospel has very few words of Jesus' teaching when compared to the other Gospel accounts. And we will learn that the crowd really doesn't understand what Jesus is teaching.

The demons, however, seem to know very well who Jesus is and what his presence and power and teaching mean. "You are the Holy one of God'', they shout. And the demons know why Jesus has come." "Have you come to destroy Us?" The answer is yes, as this first miracle demonstrates.

In Biblical times, sickness was ascribed to evil spirits. Hence, many of Jesus' healings are described as exorcisms, casting out the demons responsible for the illness. The focus is not that Jesus is a universal vaccine, but that Jesus possesses power over evil spirits and uses that power to break the power of evil in our lives.

If we pull back the camera on this Gospel story, we can picture Jesus' actions as the cutting down of a giant tree; cut off at ground level. The power of the demons, the source of evil, is cut at the roots. But like a large tree, the branches and leaves still look alive for some time. Just as the tree still appears alive, so evil still seems to have power in our day. But its roots are severed and in time the leaves will fade and fall off, the branches decay and rot. The power of evil has been destroyed.

But this is a vision that is not obvious. It is the vision of the faith Jesus proclaims. Disciples are called to work out the details of such a vision in our daily lives. The Gospel proclaims that not only does the arc of history bend toward justice, but that the future belongs to justice and compassion, peace and truth, hope and love. But if the devil is in the details, evil, though defeated appears very real and very present.

Just ask Paul. Today we find him in Corinth, busy working out the details. This conservative Jew from a small town in Palestine finds himself in what was perhaps the most cosmopolitan city on earth. Corinth is built on a narrow piece of land that divides two seas - the Agean and the Adriatic. Hence, it had two sea ports. It was a shipbuilding center, a military and manufacturing hub. The sports center of the day with a population drawn from across the Roman Empire. Excavations have found 33 taverns. The goddess of the city was Aphrodite- goddess of love; Venus in Latin. And here we find Paul, working out the details of God's presence among us.

The topic of today's reading is food, but the real focus is on the concern believers are to have for one another. At the time much meat was purchased from markets near temples. Animals offered for sacrifice were not entirely burned. Often just a small portion. The rest was sold to support the priests. Often, then, when one ate meat it was meat that had been offered to pagan gods. Some Christians had no problem. These gods don't exist so I can eat. Others thought to do so was participating in worship of a pagan god. Paul agrees that the first are right but that he would eat no meat if it would be a burden to the faith of the second group. The issue is care and concern for others. Our love for others.

The Letter we are reading is best known from what Paul writes 5 chapters further on. "Love is patient and kind, slow to anger and quick to forgive.." His famous poetic words describing love as the greatest of gifts. Paul tells us that one who accepts the call to follow Christ can do so because she is first embraced by God's love. So embraced, the Christian is empowered to love others.

In his book, "The Art of Loving", Erich Fromm says love is not a feeling that sweeps over us but a disciplined decision to act in a certain way. The signs of the presence of love are care, respect, and a sense of responsibility for the other. Love, he says, is an active concern for the well being of the other, all others. Paul would agree.

We have been called to be disciples. We have realized that this is a gift and a great challenge. Words to describe the challenge are found in a love song by Billie Holiday. She sings: "the difficult I'll do right now; the impossible will take a little while".

And so it seems. Working out the details of God's presence is difficult, even impossible. And yet, that is what we are called to do. But this is not something we do alone. As we read the first words in Mark's Gospel. I am reminded of his last words in Matthew's: Know that I am with you always, even to the end."

I am with you as you work out the details. AMEN

January 24, 2021: Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm: 62:6-14

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

Today we are invited to think about how God “calls” followers to help spread God’s word. We began with Jonah’s mission to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Jonah’s story is one of the most memorable of the stories of the prophets. Jonah is called to do something unimaginable, to preach against the misdeeds of a vast city of non-believers in the name of the Hebrew God. Predictably, he runs off in the opposite direction. After his traumatic experiences in the Mediterranean, he preaches as he is told to – finally. And he succeeds beyond imagination. He is so successful that he is embarrassed, because God relents of destroying the people of the city. Jonah then leaves in a huff and camps outside the city to grumble about the capriciousness of his employer. The book of Jonah is almost an extended comic tale. Everything is exaggerated and ridiculous, even the size of the city. What is the moral of the story? Don’t resist the call of God – but even when you accept it, you may end up looking absurd …

Then, in total contrast, we have the story of the call of the first disciples in Mark. John the Baptist has preached the coming of Jesus, and suddenly there he is. Jesus calls Andrew and Simon, and they follow at once. He then sees James and John, and he calls them. They leave their family, their work, their lives, and follow Jesus.

Let’s pause for just a moment (because Mark never does). The Gospel that we know as Mark is written, especially in the opening chapters, in a clipped, laconic style, as though Mark wants to write the absolute basics. Mark was written, we believe, either side of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, maybe a few years before or a few years after. In either case, it was a time of profound crisis for the Judaean people: it felt like the world, or at least the world they knew, was coming to an end. Time was very, very short.

In the past week, this country commemorated Martin Luther King. While reading Mark, I am constantly reminded of King’s famous expression about the “fierce urgency of now”.

King coined the phrase in his very controversial, sermon on the Vietnam War, preached at Riverside Church in New York City (just a few feet away from our seminary apartment) on 4 April 1967. King saw a choice between “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation”. He went on: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.”

That urgency, to get the message out as quickly as possible, is reflected in Mark’s style. One of his favourite words, especially in chapter 1, is the Greek word εὐθὺς (euthus). Mark uses this adverb no less than 11 times in the first chapter of the Gospel alone. It is used so often that translators of the Bible feel the need to use different translations to avoid repetition: in the King James Bible it is sometimes translated “straightway”, sometimes “forthwith”, sometimes “immediately”. For Mark, Jesus’s mission is invested with the same sense of deep urgency as Mark’s own re-telling of it. No-one pauses to think, no-one waits to consider alternative possibilities. No-one even waits to discuss and dispute, in a way that, then as now, came as naturally to Jewish religious thinkers as breathing itself.

We can understand why Mark tells the story in this way. But how can we benefit from, or even learn from, the extraordinarily abrupt way that the disciples are called, and begin their mission with Jesus?

One commentary that I read says rather grandly that “it is quite pointless to speculate, for example, on why the disciples responded without demur, or whether Jesus had met them beforehand. Mark is not interested in the psychology of the disciples or of their response”. Well, maybe not. But we may be interested; because, when we hear Scripture read and the Gospel preached, the disciples are us.

The disciples whom Jesus called were neither religious professionals, nor were they social outcasts with nothing to lose. They were ordinary people, men and women (we read elsewhere that both men and women travelled with Jesus) with lives to lead and business to do. There was nothing predictable about what Jesus was calling them to. In ancient Israel, travelling prophets typically went on their own or maybe with one pupil. Religious leaders taught their pupils in formal schools to study the Torah, as they still do. Maybe only John the Baptist before Jesus began the custom of calling multiple followers to go around with him and help him teach. So, the call to the disciples was to a completely new and rather terrifying vocation, something for which there was no direct precedent. That they responded so positively should be included among the miracles of the New Testament – and not the least.

There are two possibilities: either the disciples were so captivated by Jesus’s instant charisma that they obeyed his words, and followed him silently, like automata deprived of any agency or any control over their own movements. Or they made a decision to follow their teacher, just as any of us makes a decision, based on what and whom they knew, and where their values and hopes led them.

It does not sit well with the reality of faith to suppose that the apostles just moved, as though in a trance, unable to control their movements or make a conscious decision. Nor could they have confronted the enormous risks and challenges of their ministry without having embraced in their inmost selves the choice that they made. We know that the disciples considered the possibility of running out of money, because they kept a common purse. We know that they often muddled in their minds Jesus’s call with those of many “messiahs” who promised the restoration of a physical kingdom by insurrection.

No, I believe that the disciples responded in the same way that any of us responds to a call: consciously and intentionally, because they saw the path of their life and the urgency of their call in a new light, and responded to that call.

And who is to say that the wonderful power of God was not at work in every step in that process, as it brought the disciples to their moment of decision?

Earlier this week, I suspect that many of us watched at least some of the inauguration ceremony for the new President of the United States. In what seemed to me quite a fine speech, there was a good deal of the language of call: calls to the country to unite in order to address the health challenges, the social and economic challenges, and the challenges of deep political division that abound at the present time. The speech ended with a hope that the country would be seen, in future ages, to have answered “the call of history”.

The sentiments were good, and much needed. But we may never confuse calls to do the earthly business of improving our material world, with the call of God to build God’s kingdom. The call to build a community of mutual love and respect, for all our fellow human beings and all of God’s creation, is both intensely practical, and at the same time terrifying in its all-embracing ambition. God asks the impossible of us, calls us to repair the damage of centuries of fear, division, self-centredness, and exploitation, both of the earth and of each other.

Yet in the life of the disciples, we see that God does not call us, without at the same time giving us the means and the inspiration to respond. It was not easy for them. A hymn in our hymnal, which I briefly considered for today’s worship, speaks of how the first disciples were “contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew / the peace of God that filled their hearts / brimful, and broke them too”. Yet I have no doubt that their response to Jesus felt like the most profound and essential thing that they could ever have imagined doing in their entire lives, even though it cost them so much.

We are all a bit like Jonah: we could so easily be tempted to run as far as possible in the opposite direction. But in every word that we utter, every ordinary interaction that we have with others, we can find ourselves building God’s kingdom. It is not a solo endeavour, but a shared work. Most of all, it is not humanity’s call, but God’s message, that makes the difference. The Spirit of God will know, and will tell us in due time, how to dispose our gifts in the best way. Let us be attentive, and when the call comes, as it does, be ready to respond obediently, with confidence and joy.

As our Collect says: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

January 17, 2021: Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)

Psalm: 139:1-5, 12-17

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Gospel: John 1:43-51

"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." This is the key sentence in the scene painted in our first reading. The one who makes this commitment is Samuel, one of the great figures of the Hebrew Scriptures. He lived around 1100 BC, a crucial time in the history of Israel. After entering into the land they considered "promised" to them, Israel found themselves in conflict with the tribes who already lived there. Israel had separated into tribal regions, which made them militarily weak. When attacked by other nations, the tribes would join together under a leader to deal with the threat. When the threat was thwarted they returned to their tribal areas. Hardly an efficient way to defend themselves. Many were calling for a more efficient government. A more centralized government - a king.

Some opposed the idea, saying that Yahweh was their king. Many opposed any centralization of power. Samuel was the figure who led Israel into this new age. He was the spiritual and political leader who convinced a reluctant people to establish a monarchy with David as "God's anointed", "messiah" in Hebrew.

The invitation in our Gospel to "Come and see" was uttered 1100 years later. David's throne had, for centuries, no longer been a political reality. We are now in a land under the heel of Roman domination. The arrival of a "messiah" to free Israel was a hope that united the Jewish people. The belief that a new leader, a new David, a new "messiah" would be raised up by God to liberate God's people. In today's reading we see Jesus, of the House of David, come to Galilee and begin to gather followers. One, Philip, joins the small band following the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about, the hoped for messiah. Phillip immediately went to invite Nathaniel to "Come and see.". When Nathaniel came, he met this Jesus who showed he already knew him. Nathaniel is led to proclaim "you are the Son of God You are the King of Israel!"

We have all been invited to "Come and see". None of us was as clearly called as Samuel. But we were called. Both Samuel and Nathaniel learned that the journey was difficult. Samuel had anointed Saul as King first. Saul had failed to meet expectations and Samuel replaced him with David. Nathaniel will come to realize Jesus was not the messiah he expected. He joined the other disciples who abandoned this "Son of God, king of Israel."

Our journey has not been over a physical trail but a life lived. We have experienced moments of joy and beauty and awe, but we have lived long enough to know that life's journey has hills and valleys, disappointment, dry spells, doubts and feelings of being lost. A number of years ago I was at a lecture by a man who traveled up and down the trails of America. He said there were four rules that one must follow on the journey. 1) Never go alone; 2) Take only what you need; 3) expect difficulty; 4) Pause often to enjoy the beauty.

In these days of confinement to our homes the image of a journey is more inward. We have become aware of how important the companions are who journey with us. Zoom does not replace gathering around the table of the Lord. We don't want to travel alone. We have also learned what is essential and not. We all have a lot of "stuff"; much more than we need. We have been reminded again that life is difficult. We cannot protect loved ones from suffering, from illness, from death. And yet we have become more aware of the beauty around us. The beauty of love and friendship, the support of companions. We are grateful.

So, my dear companions on the journey, let the love we have for one another nurture you on the journey. You are not alone. We have much. Things are difficult, but let us not forget to be grateful for the beauty in nature, in each other, in oneself.

Another companion on the journey is Martin Luther King, Jr. At least we shared life on this earth at the same time. Tomorrow is the day dedicated to his memory. It is a fitting day, in these challenging days to pause and reflect on what he said, how he lived and how he asked other people to live. It is ironic, to put it mildly, that the FBI considered him the most dangerous person in his day. It is also said that at his death, only 35% of White Americans had a positive attitude toward him. I am reminded of what a seminary teacher said: "To live with the saints in heaven, Oh what glory. To live with a saint on earth - that's another story".

Dr. King was certainly a prophet in the Biblical sense. They were the "conscience of Israel", as one scholar describes them. Dr. King called each of us to live out the creed of our faith as well as the creed of our country. He showed a deep respect for our democratic institutions, Constitution, and human life even though he was a person denied so much of the justice these were to protect and preserve. I marvel at his insistence of non-violence. It is a demand so absent from our day. Included in this material I send is a link to one of his most famous writings, "A Letter from Birmingham Jail". It is long but I encourage you to read it. I also include some of his famous quotes. They have only grown in power and importance over the years. Today they offer hope, direction , faith and a path this nation can take to become more of the "beloved community" than the divided nation we have become.

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one it is right."

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in normal times of comfort and convenience, but where one stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

"Let no one pull you so low as to hate them."

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people."

"We may have all come on different ships but we're in the same boat now."

"We must live together as sisters and brothers or perish together as fools."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

***************************************

[Included in this material is a link to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It is a long letter but well worth the time. Written on Good Friday in 1963 from the jail in Birmingham Alabama where Dr. King had come to assist local Black clergy in organizing a boycott of local businesses to shed light on segregation and oppression. Seven local White clergy wrote an open letter to the Black community asking them to disassociate themselves from Dr. King. The letter is Dr. King's response.]

https://www.gracepresbytery.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Letter-from-a-Birmingham-Jail-King.pdf

January 10, 2021: First Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm: 29

Epistle: Acts 19:1-7

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

Around the time of my second Christmas on earth, the poet W.H. Auden wrote:

So that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, put the

decorations back into their cardboard boxes - We've eaten

too much - attempted to love all our relatives, and, in

general, grossly overestimated our powers.


Some of this is true, but this Christmas has been unlike any other. This year, taking down the decorations, especially the lights, seems, to me, a great loss. Why don't we leave them up till St. Patrick's Day. But even the Gospel pulls us away from Christmas. Another poet captures the reality:

When the song of the Angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,

to heal the broken, to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among sisters and brothers,

to make music in the heart, (Howard Thurman)


We should have known this was coming. For many weeks we have been reminded that every celebration in the Christmas Cycle proclaims the paschal mystery of the Lord's passion, death, resurrection and coming of the Spirit. Now that is the Easter proclamation, but the events in the Christmas cycle are rooted in the meaning of the events of the last days of Jesus' life. The events recorded in the story of Jesus' Passion are the foundation of our faith and the reason for our interest in Jesus' beginning.

Last week we were reminded that the first Christians' interest in Jesus' beginning did not focus on the birth. Epiphany, January 6th, was celebrated hundreds of years before December 25th, and the earliest focus of Epiphany was the Baptism of Jesus.

The baptism of Jesus manifests that Jesus entered into the depth of our human condition, shared our strength and weakness, joy and sorrow, success and failure. Also, in Christ we are all members of one body - neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but one in Christ.

Our first reading, the great poetic hymn of creation, paints a similar picture. The entire work of Creation presented in Genesis paints a picture of a loving God, who gives existence to a world that is good, sacred even. All creation is interrelated and interconnected.The vast expanse of the universe, the natural world, the beings with whom we share this earth are all related, all good. And we human beings are made in the very image and likeness of the Creator, and are all sister and brother equal in dignity, equally loved by the Creator.

It is a beautiful and challenging image and, in these days of pandemic and social and civil strife, an image we need to be reflected upon and acted upon. The great Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said that the major responsibility of religion is a continual proclamation that life is sacred, that each human life is sacred.

In a way, the pandemic has affirmed the interconnectedness of all human life. The virus is not prejudiced. It attacks all of us. The behavior of one affects the health of all. Our genes tell us we are one human family.We have a responsibility for and to one another.

The civil life of our nation is experiencing challenges that strike at the foundations of our faith. If the major responsibility of religion is the continual proclamation that all life is sacred, there have been serious sins of neglect. If baptism declares that in Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, then we have much work to do.

I have been thinking these days that in my life there have been two movements fueled to a great extent by Christians - the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's was nurtured by Black Churches, and the current Make America Great movement is strongly supported by White Evangelical Christians.

One movement was non-violent, demanding justice for all, seeking inclusion of all people in the rights proclaimed in the Constitution. The scriptural visions of the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life was proclaimed in this movement. Inclusion into the civil and political life of the nation was demanded through non-violent resistance. The building of a "beloved community" which includes the whole human family was its vision and its goal.

The other movement, which is largely supported by Christians claiming a literalallegience to the Gospel, has its roots, however, in the defense of slavery and segregation. A theme proclaimed is that divisions must be maintained. There is not one human family. God's favor belongs to some and with that favor they are privileged. People who believe differently from them, whether it is religion or politics are to be shunned, defeated, even oppressed. Only some life is sacred. Creation bears nothing of the "goodness" of the Creator. Jesus is the vaccine for the pandemic. On the feast of Epiphany, many in this group applauded an attack on the symbol of our Constitutional Government.

Abraham Heschel also said that true religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us. We learned this at Baptism when we were "sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own". The work of Christmas is the work we accepted at baptism. We live in a world at a time that needs us to do this work.

So, let's do it.

I invite you, as we remember the baptism of Jesus, to renew our own Baptismal Vows. BCP 292