Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Big Questions

Do we dare ask the big questions of our faith? Do we avoid them? Do they trouble us?

I think of these quotes from 101 Reasons to be an Episcopalian:
"Asking questions about our faith is expected. In the Episcopal Church, God doesn't get upset if I wonder why some things are as they are. And God doesn't get upset if I suggest that some things should not continue as they are."

"I love the fact that I can have stimulating conversation and yet disagree with the priest, or even the Bishop, and not get kicked because it is all right to use your mind and not be a rubber stamp for anyone. Christ died to save us from our sins, not our minds."

"We don't have all the answers, and we welcome others who love the questions."
I hope that is true of me and St. Peter's, that we are able to sit with those questions and be genuine, even if we don't have all the answers.

Which reminds me of another quote I saw once, "Jesus the question to your answers."

With that in my, read this article: Christians vs. the Big Questions

Here's an excerpt:
When my friend voiced his opinion that Christian faith was not an entrance requirement to heaven, his college Bible study gasped at his nerve, and I’m sure you could almost hear the silent thought: How could he question the Word of God?

“You’re telling me that you have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven,” my friend said. “Does that mean when innocent babies die, they go to hell? I don’t believe in a God who throws babies into eternal hellfire.”

There was an awkward silence. Then the Bible study leader said something about God working in mysterious ways and said they would be moving on.

My friend walked out. Today, he no longer considers himself a Christian.

He is far from the only young believer to leave the Christian faith after believers failed to address or even acknowledge their questions.
Read it all here.

Campaign to End the Death Penalty in CT

We, the undersigned faith leaders, reflecting the rich diversity of faith traditions in Connecticut, call upon our elected leaders to repeal the state’s death penalty. The public often seeks our guidance on tough issues, and we have concluded that the death penalty fails us. In Connecticut, the law already provides a severe alternative punishment for capital murders – life in prison without the possibility of release.

As people of faith, we reaffirm our opposition to the death penalty and belief in the sacredness of human life. We urge our elected officials, to examine the reality of Connecticut’s death penalty and seek ways to achieve true healing for those who suffer because of violent crime. Please support repeal of the death penalty. It is time for Connecticut to move beyond this broken and harmful system.

An excerpt from a Letter that I signed.

For more information visit:

A Prayer for Prisoners & Correctional Institutions (from the BCP):

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy's sake. Amen.

A Prayer for Murder Victims’ Families by Maria Hines

God of merciful love,
Help these families who are victims of murder
To accept the reality of such senseless acts of violence
Without, at the same time,
Succumbing to the despair of so great a loss.

May this violence become for them, instead,
A steppingstone toward greater union with you.
Teach them the forgiveness that was exemplified
By Jesus as he said,
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And through his redemptive love,
Show your mercy to the perpetrators of these crimes.
Fill the emptiness of their victim hearts
With the fire of your divine love
So as to transform their losses
Into a healing power
For themselves and for our world.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month

From ~ Covenant to Care for Children (in CT) ~

We use this month as a call to action for all of us to change the way we think about the prevention of child abuse and neglect and focus on actions that protect children right from the start, so child abuse and neglect never occur. We want all our faith-based partners to join each other and us in offering a special prayer during your services the first weekend in April (April 1-3, 2011). Imagine the power of all Connecticut’s faith communities offering a single prayer or intention to end child abuse!

For more information, visit:

A Prayer:

God of all creation, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus bear that pain with us and bless all who suffer at others’ hands. Look with compassion upon all who suffer from child abuse and with your cleansing love bring healing and strength to them. Open our hearts and awaken our minds to act on behalf of these children, that by your justice, our world might become a haven of peace and safety for all. We ask this in the name of the one who transforms our lives, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(by the Rev. Ann Fontaine, SCLM & the Rev. Kurt Huber)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Continued Prayers for Japan

A message from the Anglican Primate of Japan (ACNS):

A message to the people of the worldwide Anglican Communion

Two weeks have passed since the devastating earthquake on the 11th March. At least I have been able to visit the devastated area in Sendai. The night of the 26th March I flew from Tokyo to Yamagata Airport. The next morning I entered Sendai City. Sendai is the main city of the Tohoku region where the Cathedral of Tohoku Diocese of Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Church in Japan) is located.

On Sunday morning, I visited the Cathedral (Sendai Christ Church) and saw that parts of the walls had fallen down, the walls were cracked. It looked to me as the whole building was lopsided. On the floor of the Cathedral there were various piles of goods sent from churches in different parts of Japan such as foodstuff, fuel and clothing. Because of the frequent aftershocks, the church council members have decided that it is too dangerous to use the Cathedral for worship, so they are having services in the nearby church hall.

In Sendai City they have restored water and electricity supplies, but the supply of gas to houses has not been restored. Although food is available it is still very difficult to get hold of petrol and other fuel. So some of the parishioners who gathered for worship on the Sunday walked a long distance to get there. Due to the continuing aftershocks, some people go to bed fully clothed, wearing shoes. There are those who have not slept at all since the earthquake and look exhausted. The Bishop of Tohoku Hiromichi Kato who preached at eucharist, he tried to encourage the congregation by saying that their faith would lead them to hope even through the hardship and difficulties of the present situation.

You can read the whole letter here.

A Litany for Japan (by the Rev. Jennifer Phillips):

Holy one we raise our prayers for the people of Japan and all those in the midst of disaster and fear…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

You led your people by cloud and fire; now be with those endangered in cloud and fire… Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

You parted the waters of the sea for your people to cross; drive back the waters that now threaten life and recovery…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

You called and empowered warriors to defend your people in time of need; strengthen the resolve of those now battling for the safety of others, [especially nuclear power plant workers]…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

You call others to be healers and consolers of your people; heal and comfort those who give medical care and comfort those in distress…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

Your Son Jesus called those who mourn now blessed; may all those who suffer great loss find consolation…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

As Christ revealed himself as the source of living water and bread of life; assist those transporting food and water to those without them…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

And as Jesus told his friends that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head: hide all those without shelter this night under the shadow of your wings…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

As he taught that no sparrow falls, apart from your knowledge; hold in your compassion and care those who have died unmourned or unknown…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

Stand in strength beside those in desperation and those searching for family and friends…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

As Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb; bring people who are trapped in the rubble to air and light and safety…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

You do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of earth; remind those whose faith is shattered of your steadfast love which endures for ever…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

Lend speed and skill to those rescuing others, endurance to those burying the dead, and fortitude to those who are helpless…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

Grant us the presence of mind and heart to help as we are able, and abide in your peace, trusting in your mercy…Gracious God: Hear us and help those in trouble and pain.

All these prayers we offer in the name of your Beloved Child Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27 Sermon (3rd Lent)

(Sermon given at the 8 AM service.)

Is the Lord among us or not?

The Israelites quarreled with Moses after the flight from Egypt, wanting water on their journey through the desert. Is the Lord among us or not? Will we die of thirst when we wouldn’t have in Egypt… Moses was tested. So too was God. The people felt the burden of the flight and their faith wavered. And yet God was faithful in the midst of it all; and the people had water to drink after Moses struck the rock.

In today’s world, who helps people see the Lord among us? Who gives water to the thirsty? This past week President Obama paid a visit to a tomb in Latin America. He lit a candle, said a prayer. The tomb was for an archbishop who heard the poor in his country crying out for water, for justice, for hope.

His name was Oscar Romero, and Thursday was the 31st anniversary of his assassination, the day he was shot as he stood with chalice in hand at an altar in a chapel in El Salvador. The Archbishop was an out spoken critic of the government and the death squads that roamed El Salvador in the late 70s. He was thought to be murdered by someone from the army, many of whom were trained in our country, with no one ever being prosecuted for the crime. As Archbishop he
“protested the government’s injustice to the poor and its policies of torture. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and complained that the leaders of El Salvador engaged in terror and assassinations. He also pleaded with the American government to stop military aid to his country, but this request was ignored.” (Holy Women & Holy Men)
In Romero’s own words,
“The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being . . . a defender of the rights of the poor . . . a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society . . . that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.” (from 8/6/79)
Archbishop Romero stood in solidarity with the poor and the suffering in his country and let his voice be heard. Some people were scandalized by the Archbishop’s protests against the government and his love for the poor. But He followed the road that Jesus walked and he was martyred for the faith. Consider the story from today’s Gospel.

Jesus is travelling through Samaritan territory. Let’s remind ourselves that Samaritans and Jews of Jesus day did not get along. They even looked at each other as an enemy of sorts, certainly they believed each other practiced their religion wrongly. As Jesus sees a woman going to the well for water, he asks her for a drink. She is right to be astonished. What he is doing breaks all the boundaries, even taboos of the time. It’s just isn’t done this way!

Jesus even knows her history – that she has been married 5 times! – not quite as many as Elizabeth Taylor, may she rest in peace – most likely a levirate marriage, upon the death of her husband, the husband’s brother was to marry her. She outlived 5 of them! I can only imagine the difficulty of that. But we really don’t know about those marriages and Jesus doesn’t really care about it, but uses it as a way to help her understand his identity as the one who is to come, the messiah. And Jesus does all of this because his message is for everyone, Jew or Samaritan, he is not interested in our labels or our limits. The Good News of the Kingdom of God was for the world.

We see this as well when his disciples return and Jesus is speaking to her. They don’t seem shocked that he is talking with a Samaritan; they probably have seen him interact with so many different people, they almost expect it. Blind man, leper, stranger, they have seen it all, or so they thought… But he is talking with a woman and they are astonished. They know all social conventions say he should not be doing this but they don’t ask why. But through this encounter, it changes her, she believes the words of Jesus that he has that living water. And she goes and tells others to come and see and they also come to believe. She in fact becomes an evangelist and a disciple.

In many Orthodox Churches they remember her as such a disciple and evangelist on her feast day of February 26 – she was named St. Photini which translated means enlightened one, for she was enlightened by Jesus and witnessed to this encounter.

In her day, St. Photini did what Archbishop Oscar Romero did in his day, to share the Good News of Jesus, beyond the limits of class, gender, & race. It is meant for everyone and everywhere to hear it. We all have our role to play in helping spread that Good News today. As Archbishop Romero once said:
“How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work, that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench, and each metalworker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, is performing a priestly office! How may cabdrivers, I know, listen to this message there in their cabs, you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.” (November 20, 1977)
Is the Lord among us or not? Some will cry out, in Japan or Haiti, in Libya or Mexico, Bridgeport or Monroe. And it is up to us, the followers of Jesus today, to continue to spread that Good News, the Good News that we have felt in our lives, that indeed God is with us, and to tell that to a world that so needs to hear the words of Jesus, of that living water of love & hope, so none may thirst again. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20 Sermon (2nd Lent)

"With God, one does not just mark time, rather one walks on a path."
These words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer remind us that our faith is a journey with God. Such a journey was what Abram, who would later be called Abraham, went on. The Lord said to Abram,
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
And that’s what Abram did. His family packed up and went where God said to go. Centuries later St. Paul would look back on that journey and talk about the faith that Abram had, the faith to listen to God and go.
"Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
That faith in God, like Abraham, is what Nicodemus wanted. Nicodemus journeys to Jesus at night so he can't be easily seen by others, especially the other Pharisees. He knows about Jesus, and has taken the first steps of faith, but like the darkness around him, he can’t quite understand all that Jesus says to him about faith. It is through faith that we understand God's gift, the grace of God, the grace that gives us the spirit as a free gift. Not something we have earned. Not something we have by birthright or from our ancestors Abraham & Sarah. "The spirit blows where it will; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit," says Jesus. We have no control of the Spirit. But we need to have Faith.

Nicodemus tries to understand but falls short. He tries to reason out what Jesus says. Reason & knowledge are helpful & useful on our journey. However, we will ultimately understand only by living through our faith. Faith holds both knowledge and mystery together. Faith compels us to do things when knowledge or reason would hold us back. It is faith that has us on our journey. In his famous prayer, Thomas Merton puts his finger on the mysterious path that faith leads us on.
“My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so…I know that if I do walk on [this] you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.”
This prayer by Thomas Merton (1915-1968), is a prayer of faith. It acknowledges that the road we are on, is not always known, but the hope that what we are doing on the road pleases God. Our faith leads us to trust in God, who is leading us on our path. But there are temptations on that journey, wonderfully brought out in the essay, THE STATION by Robert J. Hastings:
TUCKED AWAY in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent... (You can read the whole essay here.) Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.
Pastor Hastings, a Baptist preacher and writer, wrote that piece in 1981 and it appeared in an Ann Landers column. He is right, “Life must be lived as we go along.” There are lots of things to worry about, but our lives are meant to be lived in faith, not looking for a station, for the final destination will come soon enough. It is the faith, which we hear about in today’s Gospel:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
Let us humbly walk our journey of faith with Jesus, knowing he has gone down the road before us. For with God, we walk down a path, so we need not regret or fear, but live this day for God has made it. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Litany for Japan

Written by The Rev. Michael K. Marsh (Thanks also to Episcopal Cafe for posting a link!)

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

[Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us and for the people of Japan.]

Hear our prayers, O Christ our God.
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who have died in the earthquake and tsunami striking Japan that they may be given entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of all your saints, Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who grieve the death of family, friends, and fellow citizens that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit that they may be comforted, healed, and given courage and hope,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all aid workers, that they may be filled with strength, generosity, and compassion,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For the wisdom, resources, and technological skill that a nuclear disaster might be averted,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For eyes to see that you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth and linked our lives one to another that we may never forget our common life depends on each other’s toil and that we will always work for the common good,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13 Sermon (1st Lent)

“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame. The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.” (Henri Nouwen, Downward Mobility)
These words from the late Henri Nouwen, author, teacher & priest challenge us to see our faith life, our following Jesus, in a very different way from what the world around us sees as successful. Not upwardly mobile, but in fact the opposite. Nouwen sees the life that Christ lived on earth as the exact opposite from what our society suggests is the good life.
"Indeed, the one who was from the beginning with God and who was god revealed himself as a small, helpless child; as a refugee in Egypt; as an obedient adolescent and inconspicuous adult: as a penitent disciple of the Baptizer; as a preacher from Galilee, followed by some simple fishermen; as a man who ate with sinners and talked with strangers; as an outcast, a criminal, a threat to his people. He moved from power to powerlessness, from greatness to smallness, from success to failure, from strength to weakness, from glory to ignominy. The whole life of Jesus of Nazareth was a life in which all upward mobility was resisted…The divine way is indeed the downward way.”
In many ways, our society tempts us with the good life. Do all you can to get to the top, earn all you can, get all the fame you can, be a success! You will have it all! We love those stories of people who have come from nothing and have achieved so much. But Nouwen is not interested in these, because we can be seduced by them in thinking that is the good life, when followers of Jesus are called down a different path.

On this first Sunday in Lent, we always hear about the 40 days where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, as we begin our own Lenten journey. For Nouwen, those temptations that Jesus faced, are also temptations we face with that upward mobility:

1. The temptation to be relevant.
2. The temptation to be spectacular.
3. The temptation to be powerful.

1st Temptation, Satan’s offer for Jesus to turn stones to bread was a trap, you have the power Jesus to perform it, to be the relevant leader we all want you to be, but Christ resisted that temptation.
“The temptation to be relevant is difficult to shake since it is usually not considered a temptation, but a call. We make ourselves believe that we are called to be productive, successful, and efficient people… But this is giving in to the temptation to be relevant and respectable in the eyes of the world.” (Nouwen)
The second temptation to throw one’s self from the pinnacle of the temple was presented as the desire to do something spectacular. Show the world, who you are Jesus, let those angels catch you! Wow! Nouwen tells us that much of our faithful service would dwell in the realm of the mundane not the spectacular, faithfulness lived in our everyday lives.

And then the temptations are concluded with the temptation to be powerful, look Jesus I will give you the world to control, just follow me and Jesus doesn’t bite. Nouwen warns us this is the most powerful temptation of all.
“There is nothing more challenging to subdue than our obsession with power.”
For Nouwen, Yale represented the temptations he talked about, so he walked away from that. He would travel in South America and his later career took him to a L’Arche community for the adult developmentally disabled. Nouwen’s lived as he spoke, trying to avoid those temptations.

In Arthur Miller’s iconic American play, Death of a Salesman, we watch someone who longs for and gives into those temptations. Willy Loman works a territory in the posh New England countryside. Willy longs for the success, power, and wealth he sees among his well heeled be clients — clients who barely give him the time of day. Despite his poor sales, Willy lives the illusion of success. He brags to his two boys, Biff and Happy:
“Boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you boys up there, the doors will open for all of us. ‘Cause one thing’s for sure, boys, I have friends in high places. I can park my car in any street in New England and the cops will protect it as if it were their own . . . I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. ‘Willy Loman is here!’ That’s all they have to know, and I go right through.”
But, in reality, Loman’s pitch doesn’t cut it. Willy loses his job, his dignity and (he believes) the love of his family. He takes his own life in the hope that his family can cash in on the insurance policy. At his funeral, only his immediate family & best friend are there to mourn him. His grown son Biff, says scornfully,
“He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. He never knew who he was.”
The Spirit leads us into the wilderness this Lent to consider the questions that Willy Loman could never grasp: Who are we? What are we looking for in this life? What do we value and treasure on this journey to eternity?

And on this journey we are tempted: be relevant, be spectacular, be powerful, be upwardly mobile.

Instead, this Lent take the time to go your solemn deeps, to find that essence of life inside you, that authentic self. Make time to look quietly and prayerfully beyond the Willie Loman facades we all hide behind, the upward mobility our society says to follow and realize the promise our lives hold and the joys yet to be realized. As Nouwen puts it:
"It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life."
Our journey has begun, it is a journey to the cross, but let us be faithful to it, for in it, we will find Jesus and life. Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Donward Mobility

Quotes & Link to Henri Nouwen:
"Indeed, the one who was from the beginning with God and who was god revealed himself as a small, helpless child; as a refugee in Egypt; as an obedient adolescent and inconspicuous adult: as a penitent disciple of the Baptizer; as a preacher from Galilee, followed by some simple fishermen; as a man who ate with sinners and talked with strangers; as an outcast, a criminal, a threat to his people. He moved from power to powerlessness, from greatness to smallness, from success to failure, from strength to weakness, from glory to ignominy. The whole life of Jesus of Nazareth was a life in which all upward mobility was resisted…The divine way is indeed the downward way."

"The servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places. The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross."
The Three Temptations for Christian Leaders (and everyone!)

Definitely worth the read, it greatly expands on my sermon and Nouwen is so much better at saying it! A shorter version, looking at just the first temptation can be found here:

Jesus and the Temptation to Be Relevant

A Poem amidst the Destruction

Although Written for World War I, it seems to fit the day, the videos of destruction...

Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees
Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun, and even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in their hands
Eyes in their eyes
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things
And changing skies.

May 1915 by Charlotte Mew

Prayers in the Wake of a Natural Disaster

Prayers for Japan and all those effected by the earthquake and tsunami:

Compassionate God, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: Draw near to us in this time of sorrow and anguish, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are weary, encourage those in despair, and lead us all to fullness of life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. (On the Occasion of a Disaster, Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 733)

Merciful God, in your hands are the caverns of the earth and the heights of the hills: our times also are in your hands. Hear our prayers for those suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; soothe those in distress; watch over those trapped and hoping for rescue; comfort the bereaved; strengthen those who labor to help others, lift up those who cannot help themselves; and in every danger be their very present help by the power of your Holy Spirit; we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (The Rev. Jennifer Phillips)

God of love, whose compassion never fails; we bring before you the griefs and perils of the peoples of Japan; for the necessities of those left homeless; the helplessness of those shaken by earthquake; for the pains of the sick and injured; for the sorrow of the bereaved. Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Father, according to their needs and draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Based on a prayer by St Anselm (1033-1109))

Loving Father, you comfort us in times of affliction: Our brothers and sisters in Japan have suffered a great tragedy and they need your healing. Send your Holy Spirit to soothe the anger, fear, and sorrow of their broken hearts. In the darkness of this moment, shine the light of your radiant love. Be their companion in their grief. In their pain, make them strong in courage, dry their tears, mend their hearts, and gently call them to newness of life. We thank you for the assurance of your love, shown in your Son Jesus, who suffered for us, died, and rose again to prepare our place in your eternal home. Amen. (From an unknown source)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Lenten Poem

A poem to begin your Lenten observance from Diana Butler Bass' favorite Anglican poets. "May you hunger and thirst this season for a closer connection with God and a deeper love of neighbor." - DBB

"Lent" by Christina Rossetti (c. 1886)

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
So it leads us to Easter Day.

Ash Wednesday Sermon

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right. (Hymn #554)
You might recognize these words as an 1848 Shaker dance song written by Elder Joseph Brackett. Tis the gift to be simple – simplicity, I think it is one of the key aspects to trying to live a Holy Lent. What is simplicity? Consider these words from two of the Desert Fathers of the 4th Century:
Abbot Mark once said to Abbot Arsenius: It is good, is it not, to have nothing in your cell that just gives you pleasure? For example, once I knew a brother who had a little wildflower that came up in his cell, and he pulled it out by the roots. "Well," said Abbot Arsenius, "that is all right. But each one should act according to his own spiritual way. And if one were not able to get along without the flower, he should plant it again."
Simplicity isn’t about getting rid of our possessions, being a minimalist, although for some this might be helpful! What simplicity is really about is being authentic. Neither letting things control us nor define us, but instead making sure its about who we are, “each one should act according to his own spiritual way” as Abott Arsenius put it. Sister Joan Chittister, a contemporary monastic, puts it this way,
“Simplicity is an attitude of heart, not a checklist of belongings.”
It’s really not about our stuff, it’s about us. Who we are & when we focus on who we are, centered in our hearts, then we gain freedom in our actions. Again from Joan Chittister:
“Simplicity is openness to the beauty of the present, whatever its shape, whatever its lack. Simplicity, clearly, leads to freedom of soul. When we cultivate a sense of “enoughness,” when we learn to enjoy things for their own sakes, when we learn to be gentle even with what is lacking in ourselves, we find ourselves free to be where we are and to stop mourning where we are not.”
Simplicity and freedom are also in the Shaker Hymn: 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

Both Sister Joan and that Shaker hymn would agree that by seeking to live from our heart, that simple gift, we will be free, which will guide us to where we ought to be – centered in ourselves, all of which is a gift from God. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

The Shaker Communities saw themselves living in those valleys of love and delight. Simplicity ruled their lives, and that simplicity gave them the freedom that lead to justice and equality in their community well before this nation understood equality for all its citizens. Such understanding of justice is like the words from our first reading, Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…
What simplicity seeks is the essence of life, and the essence of life is not disconnected from the rest of creation. Our lives are interconnected, and the essence we seek in ourselves is something we work for in all people. And when we do, the light that is inside each one of us, a God given light, will break forth like the dawn. What might this look like? Again a story from the Desert Fathers:
It was said about one brother that when he had woven baskets and put handles on them, he heard a monk next door saying: What shall I do? The trader is coming but I don't have handles to put on my baskets! Then he took the handles off his own baskets and brought them to his neighbor, saying: Look, I have these left over. Why don't you put them on your baskets? And he made his brother's work complete, as there was need, leaving his own unfinished.
I would say that the monk understood the needs of his neighbor because he is so grounded in who he is. He could share what he had and not feel a loss, even with is unfinished baskets. Our challenge is to be so grounded, and that starts by working towards that simplicity for ourselves, and Lent is the perfect time for us to start. When true simplicity is gain'd, To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.

When we gain that simplicity, know the essence of life and ourselves, we will have come round right and there will be nothing to be ashamed of. In the words of Joan Chittister,
“Simplicity has something to do with being willing to have it known that you are from Bethlehem rather than from Beverly Hills.”
May God help us be our authentic selves and bless our journey to Calvary this Lent. Amen.

March 6 Sermon (Last Epiphany)

I enjoyed watching the Academy Awards. I admit it. The glamour, the jokes, the wonderful movies, seeing 94 year old Kirk Douglas ham it up. But what I enjoy most, every year, is seeing that actor or actress who thought it was great to be nominated, but didn’t expect to win, hear their name read from the stage.

This year, that was Melissa Leo for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was caught by surprise and then she just lit up, and enjoyed the moment that all actors/actresses dream of. It was her mountain top experience!

For Moses, he was called up the mountain, into God’s very midst and was given the Ten Commandments to give to the Israelites and he literally glowed from the experience.

We all have had such experiences. Our wedding day, the birth of a child, graduation day, a job promotion, so many things in our lives are those mountain top experiences, when we think we are on top of it all, it can’t get any better than this moment. I want you to take a second and think about those moments in your life…

For Peter, James & John it was an unexpected moment. Sure they had been called by Jesus to follow him, seen incredible acts, but now Jesus was transfigured before them, dazzling white before their eyes on Mount Tabor. Moses & Elijah are there too! This is that Kodak moment, to capture and hold on to. Let’s build three dwellings here, Peter said. But then the voice from heaven speaks and the three are fearful & fall to the ground until Jesus touches them and tells them to get up and all will be well. On the way down the mountain they are told to refrain from telling about this experience until after the death of Jesus.

That is the hardest moment, coming down from the mountain top. We all have to go down the mountain; we can’t live on that mountaintop. Life is down the mountain; our day to day experiences. The disciples knew it and so do we and it is there in our daily lives, that Jesus called his disciples and us to act. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it:
“God places us in the world as his fellow workers – agents of transfiguration. We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so that there will be more compassion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.”
To be agents of transfiguration we can’t be content with the mountain top experience even as great as they are, for it is in those daily moments in our lives, lived in the valley, in good and bad times that we are to be those agents. Maybe a better way to think about it, is those wonderful mountain top experiences give us the impetus, the push, to be those agents of transfiguration, in a world in so need of change. We want everyone to feel what we have felt up there. Again in the words of Abp. Desmond Tutu:
“God asks us to be agents of transfiguration; the God who could transfigure an instrument of the most excruciatingly painful and shameful death so that it becomes the source of a tingling, effervescent, bubbling eternal life. To proclaim that nothing, no one, no situation could ever be untransfigurable. Nothing, no one, no situation is beyond redemption, is totally devoid of hope.

This God who could snuff out all troublemakers, does not dispatch perpetrators of evil, those who rule unjustly and oppress others. No, God waits, waits on us as those who will provide the bread and the fish so that God can perform God's miracles to end injustice and oppression, to end war, disease and ignorance.”
The miracles that will happen, will happen because we work with God to make them happen, when we share our bread and fish to a hungry world. I think of a traditional folk image from Vietnam. The image tells us the difference between heaven and hell. In hell, people have chopsticks a yard long so that they cannot reach their mouths. In heaven, the chopsticks are the same length—but the people feed one another.

We are to be those agents of transfiguration, to help people feed one another, to help people love one another, to help people see what can be. And it all begins with you & me. Remember your mountain top experience; remember the love, the hope, the sheer joy in it. Now be that agent of transfiguration & in God’s name share that love, hope, joy with all that you meet. Amen.

International Women's Day: A Prayer

I know I missed International Women's Day by two days, but here is a prayer for all women:

Loving Creator God,
you made all things,
your Spirit energizes all things.

We believe you made all human beings in your image.
Bless, we pray you, all the women in your world, that they may come to know they, too, are human beings made in your image.

Help them to understand that your love and compassion, your message of justice and inclusiveness, and your affirmation in the Gospel of Jesus, is for them, too.

Give them the courage and strength to withstand the discrimination and insults that come their way, the fear and hatred that has led your church into the sin of sexism.

We pray that all faith communities, but most especially your church, will use the gifts that women have to offer, listen to women's stories and affirm women's experience, that all people may be enriched on their journey with you.

We ask this in remembrance of your child Jesus, and in the sustaining power of your Spirit, Amen.

Written by Lillalou Hughes from London, England

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Simplicity in Sr. Joan Chittister's words

Simplicity requires that we learn to live a centered life, to “make God our portion”…

Isn’t simplicity really what the ancients called “purity of heart” that single-minded search for the essence of life rather than grasping after its frills?

Simplicity is openness to the beauty of the present, whatever its shape, whatever its lack. Simplicity, clearly, leads to freedom of soul. When we cultivate a sense of “enoughness,” when we learn to enjoy things for their own sakes, when we learn to be gentle even with what is lacking in ourselves, we find ourselves free to be where we are and to stop mourning where we are not.

Simplicity of life in a complex and complicated world is marked, I think, by four characteristics: a life is simple if it is honest; if it is unencumbered; if it is open to the ideas of others; if it is serene in the midst of a mindless momentum that verges on the chaotic.

Simplicity has something to do with being willing to have it known that you are from Bethlehem rather than from Beverly Hills.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Keeping a Holy Lent

Lent is a season of preparation leading up to Easter. It is the forty days plus the six Sundays before Easter. For centuries, it has been observed as a special time of self examination and penitence. Lent is a time for concentration on fundamental values and priorities, and is not a time for self punishment.

The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and taking on others. Both can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation and help bring 'new life.' Some examples of things people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals, and alcohol. In most cases, giving up something for Lent can be made more meaningful by using the money or time for another purpose. For example, meal times on fast days could be spent in prayer. Another example is that if you give up meat or alcohol during Lent, the extra money can be given to a group, such as Episcopal Relief and Development or through our Lenten Offering to the Children’s Mission in New Haven. Some things added during Lent are daily Bible reading, our Lenten Study with the Lutherans, and times of prayer.

Note that the season of Lent is forty days plus the six Sundays. This is because Sundays are always 'little Easters,' celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection and are always an appropriate day to lessen the restrictions of Lent. So that if you have, for example, given up chocolate for Lent, you could indulge in a weekly candy bar on Sunday.

Whatever you deny yourself or add to your personal discipline, the goal is increasing your own awareness of God in your life. Lent should be a time of deeper reflection, a time to discover and remove the self-made barriers that keep you from experiencing God more fully. Then your joy in celebrating Easter and that 'new life' will be all the more meaningful as you will have spent this last six weeks drawing closer to God.


Using the Book of Common Prayer:

“Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” beginning on p. 136 in the Book of Common Prayer. These are one page devotions for morning, noon, evening and at the end of the day.

The "Litany of Penitence" from the Ash Wednesday service, BCP p. 267, is especially fitting for this season.

One form that is particularly broad, inclusive and appropriate for this season can be found in the liturgy for Good Friday on pages 277 - 280. Composed to serve as the Prayers of the People for the Good Friday liturgy and entitled "The Solemn Collects", these prayers remind us that when we pray as the People of God, we are in spiritual communion with Christians past, present and future.


Daily Office

Oremus: daily prayer, liturgy, hymns, prayer resources

Stations of the Cross

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead, to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 282)

(Thank you to the Rev. Frank Logue for his resources on keeping a holy lent.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rev. Peter Gomes, RIP

Our Lenten Study will be looking at the sermons of the Rev. Peter Gomes, who recently died.

From the Boston Globe:
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, who was known internationally as Harvard’s pastor and was just as pleased to be seen as a son of Plymouth, died Monday in Massachusetts General Hospital of complications of a stroke suffered in December.

At 68, he had been dividing his time between a 1799 house in his hometown and Sparks House, the 19th-century residence reserved for the leader of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.

Rev. Gomes cut an imposing figure at Harvard and was as memorable for his groundbreaking roles as he was for his aristocratic presence and a preaching style that set him apart.

He was the first black minister of Memorial Church and the only gay, black, Republican, Baptist preacher most people would ever meet. Descended from slaves, he nonetheless delighted in serving as trustee emeritus of the Pilgrim Society and celebrating his hometown’s Mayflower history, a distinctly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition.

“The oddest thing about being an oddity,’’ he told The New Yorker magazine for a November 1996 profile, “is that there are very few oddities like you.’’

Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, called Rev. Gomes “one of the great preachers of our generation and a living symbol of courage and conviction.’’
Read the rest here.

O God, we pray to you for Peter and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May Peter’s soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

February 28 Sermon (Epiphany 8)

In God we Trust. It is the official motto of the US. (Since 1956) And has been on our paper currency since 1957 (some coinage had it as far back as 1864).

In God we trust. Reminiscent of a line from the Star Spangled Banner, “and this be our motto, in God is our trust.”

President Teddy Roosevelt never liked the motto on the coins of his day – thinking we should not put God’s name on our currency,
“is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege…It seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins.”
He also might have had today’s reading from the Gospel in mind, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon (wealth).” But it is interesting to me, that something that we probably put our hands on everyday, should say to us: In God we trust.

Even if we don’t think about it, it is always there to remind us to place our trust in God, and not money or mammon or wealth or anything else. That trust in God is what we heard in today’s readings. In our first reading, we heard from Isaiah about the Lord’s work among the people: “In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you;” But the people complain, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “I will not forget you,” says the Lord. It reminds me of a quote from Meister Eckhart:
“God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.”
Its not that God has forgotten or forsaken us, it is we who have forgotten. We use our money but forget the inscription. We get caught up in everything, and lose our way. Why trust? Because the Lord says I will not forget you. It was a promise then to the Israelites, it is a promise to us now. Through it all, God does not forget. And building on that foundation is Jesus.
"So do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said. “for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
With his disciple worried about what to expect, Jesus tries to ease such anxiety, by saying, don’t worry about it – put your trust in God. Just like the disciples of Jesus day, or the Church of Matthew’s day, our lives are much more then the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we inhabit, the jobs we do. Wendell Berry, the poet & farmer, understands us well in his poem:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
We get too consumed with our stuff and lose our relatedness to one another & to life. But Berry is not satisfied with such living, and encourages the reader:
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Our faith and trust is in the goodness & creation of God. Jesus wants us to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Look what God has done for them and consider what God is doing for us today. For God knows we need food and clothing and shelter. But God doesn’t want us to focus on them, we are to
“strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Strive for God, work toward God’s will, put your trust there. While today's Gospel speaks of the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field, I read an author who has us consider for a moment the lowly hamster.
The hamster spends its days in its little cage day in and day out. Sometimes it turns a little plastic wheel; other times it gnaws on whatever is available. Whatever the hamster needs "falls from the sky" into its happy little cage. It's a good life: Be cute, keep moving, and all things will be given you, little rodent. Our vision of the good life, though, isn't much different: Keep moving, make a lot of money; be cute, look good, stay young and healthy; stay within your cage.

But there is a problem: In the pursuit of the good life, we become hamsters in a never-ending wheel of motion, moving at a pace that gets more and more difficult to sustain. We have to have what our neighbors have; and we keep pushing ourselves franticly in lives full of busy. But our life on the treadmill is anything but the real thing: the blessed life, rich in joy, rich in peace, rich in the things of God.

Its time to get off the hamster's treadmill and embrace the hope of the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field. [Suggested by "Off the treadmill" by Kenneth H. Carter Jr., The Christian Century, July 24, 2007.]
For Jesus warns us that too often we become the servants of our anxieties, of our stuff rather than the masters of our lives: Jesus tells his disciples & us that we have nothing to fear in our lives, God loves us unconditionally.

In God we trust
must be more than a motto. It must be part of our lives for today's trouble is enough and we must put our trust in God who will help us see it through. Get off the plastic wheel of your life. Plant yourself in God’s creation. Whatever you do today, may it proclaim that in God you trust. Amen.