Thursday, November 16, 2017

Matthew 25: 1-13 (As laid out by Rev. David R. Henson)

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

— “But if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”--
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

— In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” –
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

— A smoldering wick he will not snuff out —
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.”

— Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —
“Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

– Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” –
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.

– In the city of God, they will not need the light of a lamp, for the Lord God will give them light. –
The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.

– But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. –
And the door was shut.

– “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. –
Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”

– If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. —

Sunday, November 12, 2017

November 12 Sermon (Offering Sunday)

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP)

Today is Offering Sunday. A day in the life of the parish where we offer our financial resources for the coming year. It is a way to honor our relationship with God, and our connection to this community of faith.

Such faithful giving allows the church to be wise in the decisions it makes to sustain all of our members as they live out their ministry in the world and what we do through St. Peter’s Church. The challenge before us for 2018 is to continue to stay on top of our finances & mission and not go further in debt. Using the image of the Gospel we heard this morning, it is to be wise with our oil and to make sure we do not run out.

In the Gospel, the parable of the ten maidens that Jesus gives us today, is a story about living into hope & the encouragement to stick with it even when we have to wait, be patient, and be prepared which is what we are trying to do as a parish.

As Jesus tells it, 10 bridesmaids were given the honor to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise and prepared (extra oil), 5 were foolish and had only oil in their lamp. The Bridegroom was delayed and all 10 fell asleep. When he finally arrived the foolish ran to get more oil because their lamps grew dim & no one would give them their extra and they were not welcomed back when they returned.

Now Jesus tells us that this parable is how the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, so Keep awake says Jesus, be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the kingdom will come, for the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. And he is looking at our lives, and seeing how unprepared we are to live, how we don’t have that hope oozing through us, we don’t have that extra oil to be ready for what delays may come, we are not fully living out the faith in us.

“Readiness in the Gospel of Matthew is all about living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Many can do this for a short while; but when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed…” (New Interpreters Bible)

I think of the stories Bishop Sengulane shared with us about trying to keep peace before the eyes of the warring parties in Mozambique, year after year after year, until it finally came to fruition.

It is the challenge of living out our faith not just on Sundays, or when its convenient, or when we want to, but at every moment of our lives, to live out those Beatitudes as I talked about last week, climbing the ladder of the Beatitudes, living out of our faith every day of every year.

Recently, I read the words from a hospice nurse, about the valuable lessons she has learned from her care of the dying. In her words:

"Although I struggle, like every other human being, with the daily challenges of overwork, impatience, fear, anger, and disappointment, I know that it is always my choice instead to choose happiness, forgiveness, compassion, and joy, to live each day as if it were my last, and to be grateful for every day that I have.

"Working with the dying has brought light into my own life, illuminating the shadowy corners of negativity that I alone have the choice to relinquish or to transform into something more positive. Even though the work I do is with the dying, it has also been work within myself, and I thank God every day for both of those opportunities.

"So, in the end, what is it that the dying teach others around them? They teach how to love and how to allow ourselves to be loved; how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness; how to find our joy and how to spread that joy around to others. They also teach us how to spend valuable time connecting our earthly self with our spiritual self so that these two separate but vital aspects of our being aren't strangers when they meet as the time of our own death draws near.

"And so it is perhaps meant to be that, with every person's dying, another person is learning to live well. Although I can't know for certain, I suspect from what I have witnessed that, possibly, the very best part of living might actually be the dying." [From Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse's Stories of Dying Well by Janet Wehr.]

The parable of the ten bridesmaids reflects what this dedicated hospice nurse has learned from those entrusted to her care: that we have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus' work of mercy and reconciliation in our world; that we have only so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives, and we must be ready for what may come.

There is so much we want to accomplish in our lives - but the many demands on our time to make a living can derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God's loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all, through what we do and what our church can do.

Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five foolish bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom's arrival & are not ready, but to embrace the wisdom of the five wise bridesmaids, trimming our lamps with the oil of faith: that is compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ's coming.

On this offering Sunday, may we offer our support to this parish in a very tangible and meaningful way through our offering cards. May they inspire us in our work in this world, living those lives God would have us live: to be ready each day and live those good works so all may come to see Jesus in our midst. Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Veterans Day


I posted this in 2014 and it is just as relevant today.

Bishop Jay Magness, who is Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries of The Episcopal Church, who is responsible for the pastoral care and oversight for our armed forces chaplains, military personnel and families (as well as oversight of federal hospitals, prisons, and correctional facilities chaplains), put remembering Veterans this way:
“While remembrance is important, the act of remembering is insufficient. We have among us a significant number of combat veterans, many of whom have invisible though enduring wounds, which must be recognized and healed. It is not enough to thank a veteran for her or his service as though we were wishing them a 'good day.' It is incumbent upon each of us to engage in ongoing care for veterans and to ensure that we provide meaningful assistance in rebuilding their lives and their futures. Providing shelter for the homeless, medical care for the ailing, spiritual care for those who have lost hope, and jobs for those who are unemployed are the responsibilities of a grateful nation to those who have stood the lonely watches, born the heavy burdens and carry the wounds of war for each of us.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bishop-james-magness/while-remembrance-is-impo_b_6106690.html)
So let us pray and remember the prayer calls us to act too:
O gracious God, we pray for those who have served our nation, who laid down their lives to protect and defend our freedom. We pray for all those who have fought & for those who suffered, our wounded warriors, whose spirits and bodies are scarred by war and whose nights are haunted by memories too painful for the light of day. We pray for those who serve us now, especially for those in harm's way: shield them from danger and bring them home, soon. Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and our enemies to the work of justice and a harvest of peace. May the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains us, the peace that saves us. O Lord Jesus, hear our prayer for our Veterans & their families, for those who heard the call in yesteryear and for those who serve today, that we may reach forth our hands in love and gratefully serve their needs even as we pray for a lasting peace throughout the world. Amen. (adapted from the Concord Pastor)
COLLECT FOR HEROIC SERVICE

O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept it disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

From the Bishop of West Texas - On Sutherland Springs

My dear brothers and sisters, Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.

I was in church at 11:30 yesterday, celebrating the Holy Eucharist, as were many of you, when a young man walked into First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, and murdered 26 people, and wounded 20 more, with an assault rifle. Young children and the elderly were among the victims. This evil violence felt all the more obscene because of the place that it occurred: in a little church in a little town, in a setting of familiarity, trust and safety.

Our world seems to be awash in bloodshed, with spasm following spasm of violence against the innocent. Certainly, the media magnify our sense of the pervasiveness of violence (while at the same time possibly numbing our ability to respond). But the awful fact is that the Sutherland Springs massacre is the worst mass killing in the history of Texas, and it follows by mere weeks the Las Vegas shootings—the worst mass killing in U. S. history. This one hits close to home, in part because Sutherland Springs is just 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, but maybe more so, because it happened in church during worship, in a place we rightly regard as holy ground and a sanctuary.

As I drove home from church, listening to the chaotic early reports of the shooting on the radio, I thought of Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. And I thought of Jesus, shortly before what we remember as Palm Sunday, looking out over the city of Jerusalem and weeping. Jesus wept—grief, mourning and lament overtook him, for love of the individual and for love of the community.

There are things we can do—things we, the Church, should do—in response to violence such as this. Bishop Brooke-Davidson and I will reach out, on behalf of the Diocese of West Texas, to the people of First Baptist and of Sutherland Springs, and assure them of our (and your) prayers and of our willingness to support them in their sorrow. If you have family or friends in the area, please let them know the diocese is ready to serve as needed, and then let us know. Please pray for the repose of the souls of those who died, for the healing of those wounded, and for their loved ones and their town.

We need to, perhaps, turn to prayers and psalms of lamentation—expressions of grief, sorrow and remorse—to pray as faithful persons who cry out to God in the face of ungodly and unjust horror. Such lamentation expresses an anguished sense of the absence of God, and also calls upon him to be true to himself and to his promises. It speaks out of the fear and darkness of present circumstances, and also trusts that God is greater. As an example, hear this portion of Psalm 88: “O Lord, my God, my Savior,/by day and night I cry to you./Let my prayer enter into your presence;/incline your ear to my lamentation./For I am full of trouble;/my life is at the brink of the grave.” (See also Psalms 3, 6, 13, 28 and 56)

While the desecration of God’s house adds to the awfulness of the murders, we should remember that assuring our own security and safety while at worship is not the goal. The kingdom of the Prince of Peace is intended for the whole world. The holy desire for the peace of the Lord, and our habit of exchanging it in worship, is meant to form us for how we live in the world, with our neighbors and co-workers, in our schools and towns. We are called to take “church life” out away from church and bless others with the same mercy, forgiveness, grace and love which we have received. Though theories will abound, we will likely never know why the murderer did what he did. (And what could we possibly learn that would make it “sensible” or “understandable”?) But we do know what we have been given in Christ, and we do know “the only Name given under heaven for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (BCP, p. 457, based on Acts 4:12) We can’t solve violence in a fallen world, but we can act in so many ways, large and small, to stand against the myriad factors that contribute to the anger, despair and violence of our times. Spend time in prayer and in conversation about how your own congregation can be a means of healing and peace. By our words and in our actions, individually and in our churches, may we hold fast to our baptismal identity, renouncing evil and turning again to Jesus and following him.

The Psalms of Lament speak with blunt honesty about pain and suffering, both individual and communal. But out of that hurt, they lead back to a renewed and deepened trust in, and reliance upon, the living God: “But I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.” Last night, the people of Sutherland Springs gathered in groups large and small, and deep in their grief, lamented together and sought to turn again and trust in the Lord who desires for us not death, but life. They are, for us in this sad time, a grace-filled reminder.

Please be assured of Bishop Jennifer’s and my continued prayers, and our gratitude for the many ways your church brings light and hope in dark times. Know that we are available for conversation with you about ways your church might be a haven of healing and peace.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

+ David M. Reed

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Builder Or a Wrecker (Poem)

As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”

“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play'

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can'

Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and my labors be
That which will build for eternity!”

A Builder Or a Wrecker by Charles Franklin Benvegar
originally published in 1967 in “The Songs of the Free State Bards” compiled by Vincent Godfrey Burns.

The Beatitudes for Discipleship


To learn more, read these blog posts:

The Ladder of the Beatitudes – Blessed are the poor in spirit

Climbing the Ladder of the Beatitudes
and read his book:

https://www.amazon.com/Ladder-Beatitudes-Jim-Forest/dp/1570752451

or

https://www.christianbook.com/the-ladder-of-the-beatitudes/jim-forest/9781570752452/pd/0752451

All Saints' Sermon

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I was reading a story about John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, about his life after Washington:

“After leaving office, Boehner says a longtime family friend approached him. “You’ve always had a purpose—your business, your family, politics,” the friend said. “What’s your purpose now?” Boehner says the question gnaws at him every day.” - What’s your purpose now? -

Maybe when you retire that question stares at you waiting to be answered as a new chapter unfolds in your life. Or maybe all of us ask that question in our lives, trying to find meaning and hope in what we do.

For a grandmother, Catherine Corless, at the age of 63, in TUAM, Ireland, she found her purpose, in pain, in trying to help a country reckon with its past and remember the lost Children of Tuam.

In the mother and baby home of Tuam, run by an order of nuns at the behest of the Irish government, “kept watch over unmarried mothers and their children. Sinners and their illegitimate spawn, it was said. The fallen.” Mothers who had children out of wedlock.

And of course, the sad thing is, when we delegitimize human beings treating them as “the other,” terrible things happen. Through her work, Catherine helped people in Ireland come out from the shadows, to tell their stories about their time in the home. The Survivors of a place & culture that didn’t want them, the children who were raised their in the home, the mothers who had children their but lost custody.

Over the course of the homes 36 years of existence: the “illegitimate” children who had died in the home numbered 796. But there was no burial ground. No memorial. Only a small grotto for the Virgin Mary.

And that grandmother wanted to know why. Many discounted her work. She’s just a mother, an amateur historian. But her questions, her search for truth would help lead them to discover the terrible secret: in a decommissioned septic tank - investigators had found the missing human remains. (NY Times)

To help heal the past, you can’t bury it. Catherine helped many in Ireland to begin to heal, to face its troubling past, and to begin to properly remember those who died.

What’s your purpose now?

On this All Saints’ Sunday, I want us to think about our purpose as Christians through the Beatitudes, the Gospel reading for today. (The saints found their purpose!) Jesus begins his sermon on the Mount, the beginning of his ministry among the people. A sermon for all who would come follow him. I have been reading a book called the Ladder of Beatitudes by Jim Forest & he put this reading into context:

“We are supposed not just to memorize the Beatitudes — that’s only a first step — but to let them burn in our thoughts like candles. Quite literally, they are meant to illumine us.

The Beatitudes connect with each other and depend on each other. Each Beatitude builds on the ones below. For example if you want to be a peacemaker but have an impure heart, what you will do in the name of peace will only drive people further apart and increase violence in the world. If you hunger and thirst for righteousness but have no mercy, your righteousness is likely to damage rather than heal.

We can describe the Beatitudes as a ladder, 8 rungs, reaching from the hard earth on which we live to a paradise more perfect than the Eden of Adam and Eve, what Christ calls the kingdom of God.”

Let’s take a moment and remember the first rung, the foundation for our discipleship, Blessed are the poor in Spirit.

“None of the Beatitudes that follow are possible without being poor in spirit. “But what does poverty of spirit mean? It’s my awareness that I cannot save myself, that I am basically defenseless, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death, and that no matter what I achieve and acquire in this life, it will be far less than what I wanted. Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. Poverty of spirit is getting free of the rule of fear, fear being the great force that restrains us from acts of love. Poverty of spirit is a letting go of all that keeps me locked in myself, imprisoned in myself. In the words of Dostoevsky, “Blessed are they who have nothing to lock up.”

Poverty of spirit — the condition of being a spiritual beggar — is seeking to live God’s will rather than one’s own… What is crucial is the way we possess what we possess, the care we take not to let our possessions take ownership of our souls, and how we use what we have to express God’s mercy in the world. It is an outlook summed up in a French proverb: “When you die, you carry in your clutched hand only what you gave away.”

What is our purpose now? How do we live following Christ?

"One of the saints of the Egyptian desert, Abba Dorotheos, told a story which reveals poverty of spirit in such a way that an Alexandrian of great importance was able to grasp it:

I remember once we had a conversation about humility. One of the notable citizens of the city was amazed on hearing our words that the nearer one draws to God, the more he sees himself to be a sinner. Not understanding, he asked, “How can this be?” I said to him: “Notable citizen, tell me how do you rank yourself in your own city?” He answered: “I regard myself as first in the city.” I say to him, “If you should go to Caesarea, how would you regard yourself there? He answered, “As the least of the civic leaders there.” Then I asked, “And if you should travel to Antioch, how would you regard yourself there?” “There,” he answered, “I would consider myself as one of the common people.” “And if,” I asked, “you should go to Constantinople and approach the Emperor, how would you see yourself there?” And he answered: “Almost as nothing.” Then I answered him, “So it is also with the saints. The nearer they draw to God, the more they see themselves to be sinners.”

How do we see ourselves? The saints today beckon us forward to find our purpose with Jesus, in a spirit of humility and hope.

At the end of the story the reporter asked John Boehner: “Have you found your purpose?” Boehner shakes his head. “It will become clear. But you can’t force the big guy to give you an answer,” he says. “Just do the right things for the right reasons, and good things will happen.” Boehner shakes my hand and smiles softly. “Be nice to me,” he says. (Politico Magazine)

On our journey, may we be poor in spirit, following our God like the saints of old, in humility and love, doing the right things for the right reasons. May we live into our purpose now. Amen.