Sunday, February 28, 2016

February 28 Sermon (3 Lent)

Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the power of your Spirit and the wisdom of your son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I heard this song yesterday on the radio…

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her

Those lyrics come from Gordon Lightfoot’s song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which remembers the sinking of that freighter in Lake Superior, killing 29 men on Nov. 10, 1975.

When it comes to death, we often wonder where the love of God goes, did someone die because of some punishment from God or from some sin. When people suffer, is it all part of some plan or purpose?

(If you really want to wrestle with this, I invite you to read the book of Job.)

Jesus takes up this idea in today's Gospel reading with two recent incidents of his day, when some people from Galilee are killed by Pontius Pilate, and some residents of Jerusalem die in a tower collapse. Some must have thought that these victims were being punished by God for their sins and concluded that since these events did not befall them, that they were somehow free from sin.

Sadly, whenever a terrible tragedy happens, some ask who is to blame – it happened after the tsunami in 2004, after Hurricane Katrina, after the Haitian earthquake. They must have done something to deserve such a tragedy…

Jesus denies such assumptions. Those murdered were victims of Pilate’s sin. Those killed by the falling tower may have been the victims of an accident or maybe an earthquake, or perhaps the contractor used substandard materials and caused the death which would be his sin.

No matter what, Jesus tells us not to blame the victims of any tragedy & not to couple that with congratulating ourselves for not being victims. Life is so much more complex than that and we often don’t fully understand. I think of a Zen story about a farmer and his son:

A farmer's only son set off to attempt to train some wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's misfortune. "Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad". they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, "Who knows? We shall see"

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army. As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. "What very good fortune you have!!" the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy." "Who knows? We shall see!", replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you"! But the old farmer simply replied; "Who knows? We shall see."

As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy", to which the old farmer replied, "Who knows? We shall see!" (

Like this story, Jesus invites us to see with God’s eyes, not to fall into the sin of thinking of ourselves as more blessed or better than others, because of circumstances that are often beyond our control.

In this broken world, too many of our neighbors suffer (through tragedies, accidents, illness, natural disasters) and as Christians we are called to try to alleviate suffering and not to increase it. Sometimes, we make things worse.

Sometimes, we try to understand such events by saying "God never sends us more than we can handle." This actually is a misinterpretation from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul says, "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."

Not all afflictions are "tests." Tests are temptations to sin which we may or may not give into - and Paul says there's always some way out, some way to "say no" to temptations. Paul's words are meant to be encouraging when we are faced with such temptations and don't apply to situations which are not tests like tragedy.

"God never sends us something that we can't handle" assumes that anything that happens to us God has sent as a test, which is not true! Similar understandings are often put as “It must be God's will.” Or “Everything happens for a reason or purpose.”

Try saying that to someone who's family member has just been killed by a drunk driver, or died in the Holocaust. This is not a remark of faith; it is a remark born of fatalism. Every time we say the Lord's Prayer, we pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

This means that God's will is done in heaven, & God's will is not yet done on earth. The world is broken and it is on its way to being healed thanks to God's action in Jesus Christ. But the mending of the world isn't finished yet and that's why we pray "Thy kingdom come."

God does not willingly afflict or grieve us. Such things happen because the world and all the people in it have been given freedom by God. And some people abuse that freedom. Why do accidents, tragedies, happen? There may be a cause and effect but we need to take care that we do not blame the victims. For what is God about? As David Bentley Hart put it,
“God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death… sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.”
Suffering and death may be a part of our mortality but they are not part of God’s work or purpose. As Desmond Tutu said, “There's no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love." Even in the darkest moments, God’s work and purpose is love, and that is what our job is today, to offer that love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Listening to our Brothers (& sisters) in the South

With our relationship with the Diocese of Lebombo in Mozambique, I am reminded that the church there is connected to the the Anglican Church of Southern Africa - situated on the southern tip of Africa. This Province was formerly known as the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA).  The Anglican Church in this Province was established in 1870 when its first Provincial Synod was held in Cape Town. It has grown over the years and now has 25 dioceses, found in the countries of Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and the island of St Helena (South Atlantic Island).

The bishops just met together, you can learn about their meeting here:

Statement from the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

To the Laos - To the People of God - Lent 2016 by Archbishop Thabo of Cape Town

Monday, February 22, 2016

Parish Book Study

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church encourage all dioceses, congregations, schools, and other faith communities of The Episcopal Church over the next triennium to commit to studying one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time, “mass incarceration,” and that dioceses, congregations, schools, and other faith communities consider using the New York Times bestseller, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” by Michelle Alexander as a common text that invites the people of The Episcopal Church into engagement.

Some Initial thoughts – Sunday, February 21, 2016

“I want to discuss the race problem tonight and I want to discuss it very honestly. I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.” — Martin Luther King Jr., March 14, 1968

In 1968, after the major civil rights victories had been won, and the old Jim Crow had been torn down, Martin Luther King Jr. warned that things are not always as they seem, and that a parallel universe continued to exist for poor people of color in the United States. He said:

“There are two Americas. One America is beautiful. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”
(From “The Other America,” March 14, 1968).

From 2012:
The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society. The fact that more than half of the young black men in many large American cities are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not—as many argue—just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work. (The New Jim Crow, p. 16).

Read Introduction & Chapter 1 - next meeting in March!

Sermon: February 21

Bless us, O God, in this holy season, in which our hearts seek your help and healing; and so purify us by your discipline that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It is good to know where you are headed, whether its on a big trip or your Lenten spiritual discipline that gets you ready for Easter. For centuries, people looked to the stars for guidance, or natural features like rivers and mountains around them to guide them. Then we began using maps. For the journey – a map is a good thing. It tells us how to get there, what roads to take, places we can stop; sights to see.

Ancient maps, road maps, and now GPS, help us reorient ourselves and get us to where we want to go. But we should also remember that although maps are there to help us, in the words of Alfred Korsybski, "The map is not the reality.” The reality is around us to experience.

So too the disciplines we take on of praying, fasting, giving alms, study are important, they help reorient us to Easter & to Jesus. They cannot become ends in themselves.

As I traveled through Israel some 17 years ago with a group from the diocese, we stopped to visit a Franciscan Church at the top of the Mount of Olives, on the other side of the valley from Jerusalem. As I wondered why we had stopped there on our way into Jerusalem, we entered the Church and the wall behind the altar was clear glass so you can take in all of Jerusalem, esp. the area of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. The view is stunning and I know why Jesus would come to the Mount of Olives. Such a beautiful view of the city!

There is a mosaic that is part of the altar, of a hen gathering her brood under her wings. As you look out at Jerusalem, over the altar & mosaic, we are reminded of the words of Jesus.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Many of these Churches throughout Israel stand as reminders of the places Jesus lived and walked, of the things he said and did. Places where Jesus challenged the crowd to do more than just follow him, but to live as he does, to imitate his ways and have them take root in their hearts.

The map took us there, but with our eyes we took in the beautiful view that Jesus saw and with our minds we understood the longing Jesus has for all of us. The real journey is how we live our faith, the map and the stops are there to aid us on our way.

Following the journey in our first reading, Abram wondered if he and Sarai would have children, heirs to what God has promised. He’s worried, they have traveled far as God had asked them.

And the Lord says to him, do not fear, look at the stars, if you can count them all, so shall be your descendants…and Abram believed the Lord and he was reckoned righteous. And God made a covenant with Abram, that his descendants would occupy the land that they had journeyed to.

To live in faith, is to trust the words of the Lord as Abram did, to trust in what God has given us. To trust the journey.

For Paul in his letter to the Philippians, the journey for the Christians in Philippi is important that they stand firm in the Lord, to imitate other Christians who are following Jesus example. He sheds tears for those who have fallen away or fail to live expecting our savior to come.

“Their god is their belly; and their glory is their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”

Such earthly living puts us at odds with the faithful journey we have before us. It becomes more about consummation and making us happy and sated and the center of everything rather than faithful to Jesus. Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings but you were not willing.”

We have to be willing to take the journey. Jesus is longing for all people to find life, to find that complete joy that God through Christ can give, if we accept it, trust in it, and live it. Abram and Paul are examples for us today, of those who in faith, followed where God called them.

Every day of our lives, we have the opportunity to follow Christ. Sometimes we get it and our day is filled with the glory of God, some days we forget it and things are not what they could be and often we muddle through, sort of getting it, getting a taste of what that love, hope and joy could be in our lives.

This Lent, right here and now, we can decide how today is going to be, to map out our journey ahead and use different disciplines to aid us on the way.

Maps by Holly Ordway

Antique maps, with curlicues of ink
As borders, framing what we know, like pages
From a book of travelers’ tales: look,
Here in the margin, tiny ships at sail.
No-nonsense maps from family trips: each state
Traced out in color-coded numbered highways,
A web of roads with labeled city-dots
Punctuating the route and its slow stories.

Now GPS puts me right at the centre,
A Ptolemaic shift in my perspective.
Pinned where I am, right now, somewhere, I turn
And turn to orient myself. I have
Directions calculated, maps at hand:
Hopelessly lost till I look up at last.

May we look up, to make sure we have not inadvertently gone off the path, and us Lent to reorient ourselves back, so that we put our face again on the way to Jerusalem, to face our true east and the glory of the rising sun. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Healing Process

After hearing the news about what happened at that prestigious RI school, I was glad to read this article which outlines a "healing Process" and what Title IV in our ecclesiastical disciplinary process is all about.

Read this:

An excerpt:

When a complaint is filed with a diocesan "intake officer" about a member of the Episcopal clergy, the church launches a "Title IV" ecclesiastical disciplinary process.
That process seeks to support everyone involved or affected — from the clergy member in question, to those who may have been harmed, to the larger community. It also seeks to resolve conflicts, whether through "healing, repentance, forgiveness," or restitution, justice, reconciliation, or someone's agreement to change behavior.
"This is not a matter of what punishment can a person get. It’s how can we best act to heal all the brokenness and woundedness for everybody who is impacted," said Robin Hammeal-Urban, canon for mission integrity and training for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.
Prior to July 1, 2011, the process in the Episcopal Church was based on a military code of justice, she said. "The question was, what sentence should be imposed on the clergy person? That, at this point, has been rejected."
"The difference between restorative justice and retribution is making sure we've taken care of everybody. In the case of the accused or convicted person, 'Yes, you've done something very bad, you've sinned, but you can be redeemed.' It doesn't mean there aren't consequences," she said.

Sermon: February 14 (Lent I)

Take away, O Lord, the veil of my heart while I hear the scriptures and partake of your sacraments that I may hear your voice and feel your Spirit directing me. Amen.

On Ash Wednesday, I used a quote from the author & Anglican, Evelyn Underhill, to help us think about our Lenten discipline:

“Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps.”

We often get caught up in the busy surface of our lives and Lent is there to help us stop, and plumb our solemn deeps. Traditionally, the church has called us to do this through fasting & self-denial, through giving alms, by a renewed emphasis on praying and studying of Holy Scripture.

We get to our depts. Not solely focusing on our needs, but to ask what God expects us of in our world today. And by doing the hard work, of fasting, giving alms, and praying, we are preparing ourselves for when the road gets rough, when our lives are not all sunshine and daisies.

"Real prayer begins with the plunge into the water." Evelyn Underhill makes this observation in a 1928 retreat and repeatedly affirms that risk is an essential component of healthy spirituality. She attributes much of the beauty of Christian life to the interplay of risk and trust and warns against an insistence on constant comfort. (Donyelle McCray)

Such an idea that going to our depths involves risk and trust in God is good for us to consider as we remember the temptations and tests the Jesus endured in his time in the wilderness.

As we heard in today’s story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lived in the wilderness for 40 days, he ate nothing, he was alone, and he was famished…and the devil came, when Jesus was in a rough patch, longing for food and company; the devil was ready to tempt him.

If you are the son of God…the devil knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows he is the beloved, but it is a test, with Jesus at his weakest. Fix your hunger, Jesus. Use your power. Turn these stones into bread.

“One does not live by bread alone.” Says Jesus.

He could have it done that on day one, use the power, but it is about faith and Jesus refuses to give in. Then the devil led him to place where he could view all the nations of the world.

Worship me, all this is yours to rule. You would be king. Think of the power, prestige, you’d have it all!

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Says Jesus.

He is not interested in the power to rule, Jesus would tell us that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Then the devil led him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem…

Look it here, right here, go ahead and jump, it says in the bible, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Its all in there. Just do it!

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus answered him.

Even with the devil using scripture, Jesus doesn’t fall into the trap, he does not need to show he is the beloved, he knows it. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

When he was at his weakest, in a tough time, Jesus knew the devil would be back to tempt him again, to test his resolve; and it is just as true for us.

Lent is a time of risk for us, because we can either stay on the surface of ourselves, not plumb the depths, and lose ourselves in the tests and temptations of our world; or we can risk going deeper, being challenged by our creator and our savior to live lives that may be different, may be challenging, may be a whole lot richer than what we are living today. For we don’t know what our future lies…

Bob Simpson, a retired UCC pastor, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Over a four-year-period, Bob and his wife, Anne, wrote of their life together with Alzheimer's in their remarkable journal, Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer's: A Guide in Two Voices. Bob died in 2011.

The wilderness is the central image of their life with this devastating illness. Anne writes: "The process of watching my beloved husband deteriorate is painful, lonely, and immensely sad. I cannot deny it; I have spells of depression and self-pity. I have days when I am so frustrated that I go into the garage and sit in the car with all the windows rolled up, so I can scream without being overheard. I can see the losses, the bad side, the half-empty glass."

Bob writes, "I have good days now. If I think about the past, I get sad. If I think about the future, I'm scared. I only have the present. Today is the only day I have to live." But while their wilderness experience has certainly tested their love, it has also deepened it.

"I'm not angry with God," Bob writes. "I believe God is here, somewhere. There is a purpose. I am beholden to find it." After four years of living with her beloved's Alzheimer's, Anne, the devoted caregiver, writes that this wilderness "is familiar now. We have a map of where we have been; we can see ahead to the next bend in the path. We have come this far, mumbling and complaining sometimes, wanting to return to our old life. Yet, we are stronger for the rigors of this passage and we are learning to travel light. We cannot determine our pace or our final destination; we cannot make straight the path. But if we trust God to guide us, we know we will continue to be nourished by the manna of unexpected blessings." (Connections, 2011)

The wildernesses and deserts of our lives are those unknown and terrifying places where we struggle to make our way as a result of circumstances beyond our control or our own mistakes and sins. But it is in those deserts and wilderness places where we may discover the Spirit of God, especially when we have taken the risks, done the hard work for our souls, and put our trust in God. This Lent, the Spirit calls to each of us from our solemn deeps, through fasting and prayer, giving alms and study to discern what God asks of us to make of the time we have been given.

May we plunge right in this Lent and re-center our lives with new hope and renewed vision from the depths of our lives through our Lenten spiritual practices as we continue our journey to the joyful and blessed Easter. Amen.

Science & Faith: #EvolutionWeekend 2016

Having preached on science and faith (search my blog), I wanted to add an addendum to what I have already said. I believe in theistic evolution, I don’t believe in a literal Genesis (from the first book of the Bible and the stories of creation) as some do. I find the words of fellow Episcopalian Alan Jones, to be near my own…

For the first twelve hundred years of the Christian era the predominant way of interpreting the Bible was allegorical. Metaphor, analogy, poetry were taken for granted as vehicles of deep truths. The great change came when language was refined to be the vehicle of only single meanings. This wasn't all bad by any means. It enabled science to flourish and bring us to an even deeper appreciation of the wonders of the universe. The trouble was that religious people were taken in by the triumph of scientific discourse and wanted theology to sound scientific. It wasn't sufficient to affirm that the Bible to contain deep truths. It had to be literally true to be -- well -- true. Whatever the Book of Genesis is it isn't a scientific treatise but it contains a great story about the glory and mess of being human. (
I also believe that science and religion shouldn’t be compartmentalized so they have no interaction with each other. Science might focus on the “how” and religion on the “why” but in today’s world we need both as we face into the issues of our day.

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” ~ Albert Einstein (1954)

So if science and religion can and should exist together, might they also speak to one another and help each other as we live into the 21st Century and all of the religious, technological and scientific advancements that have taken place. What might they say about…
  • · Genetically Modified Foods?
  • · Fracking & Tar Sands?
  • · Climate Change & Pollution?
  • · Drought?
  • · End of Life issues?
  • · Sustainable Development Goals?

These are just a few of the items that the intersection of science and religion should be in dialogue about today. I don’t have the space here to investigate these myself, but I believe we need to hear voices from all corners, and in many cases to tackle them sooner rather than later.

"Science is showing us how this grand system works, and religion is beginning to say more loudly that we have a moral responsibility for those vast consequences of our behavior.” ~ Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori (former Presiding Bishop)

As Episcopalians, we value and believe in the Incarnation, that God is with us in our struggles on our planet. In the incarnation, God who created everything that is, created everything good and places the responsibility of its stewardship on us. May we work together for the betterment of all humankind, and take care of this beautiful planet, our island home, entrusted to us for its care and keeping, so that we can past it on to the generations to come.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lent: A Time For Self-Examination

From The School of Charity, by Evelyn Underhill

Everyone who is engaged on a great undertaking, depending on many factors for its success, knows how important it is to have a periodical stocktaking. Whether we are responsible for a business, an institution, a voyage, or an exploration – even for the well-being of a household – it is sometimes essential to call a halt; examine our stores and our equipment, be sure that all necessaries are there and in good order, and that we understand the way in which they should be used. It is no good to have tins without tin openers, bottles of which the contents have evaporated, labels written in an unknown language, or mysterious packages of which we do not know the use. Now the living-out of the spiritual life, the inner life of the Christian – the secret correspondence of his soul with God – is from one point-of-view a great business. It was well called “the business of all businesses” by Saint Bernard; for it is no mere addition to Christianity, but its very essence, the source of its vitality and power. From another point-of-view it is a great journey; a bit-by-bit progress, over roads that are often difficult and in weather that is sometimes pretty bad, from “this world to that which is to come.” Whichever way we look at it, an intelligent and respectful attitude to our equipment – seeing that it is all there, accessible and in good condition, and making sure that we know the real use of each item – is essential to its success. It is only too easy to be deluded by the modern craving for pace and immediate results, and press on without pausing to examine the quality and character of our supplies, or being sure that we know where we are going and possess the necessary maps. But this means all the disabling miseries of the unmarked route and unbalanced diet; and at last, perhaps, complete loss of bearings and consequent starvation of the soul.

Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps. There we can consider our possessions; and discriminate between the necessary stores which have been issued to us, and must be treasured and kept in good order, and the odds and ends which we have accumulated for ourselves. Most of us are inclined to pay considerable attention to the spiritual odds and ends; the air-cushions, tabloids, and vacuum flasks, and various labor-saving devices which we call by such attractive names as our own peace, our own approach, our own experience, and so forth. But we leave the superb and massive standard equipment which is issued to each baptized Christian to look after itself. There are few who cannot benefit by a bit-by-bit examination of that equipment, a humble return to first principles; for there we find the map and road-book of that spiritual world which is our true environment, all the needed information about the laws which control it, and all the essentials for feeding that inner life of which we talk so much and understand so very little.

The Jesus Movement - Episcopal Branch

During a packed diocesan-wide festival Eucharist in honor of Absalom Jones on Sunday, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry challenged Christians to join a Jesus movement that addresses the daily problems of modern life.

“I’m asking you today to make a renewed commitment; I want you to dedicate yourself to the movement,” Curry preached. “If we ever get this right, then children will not starve; if we ever get this right, then people in Flint, Michigan, will have clean drinking water; if we ever get this right, then politics will be honorable.”

Then people of all ethnicities — white, black, Latino, Asian — “will learn to love each other,” he said.

“The world will know that you are disciples of Jesus not by how well you can recite the Nicene Creed in English or in Greek,” but by love. “I beseech you to leave this place committed to follow Jesus Christ.”

The rousing Eucharist, which featured traditional spirituals and other music by the Theodicy Jazz Collective, honored Jones as the first African-American ordained in the Episcopal Church. Jones, who was born on Nov. 17, 1746, and died on Feb. 13, 1818, was born into slavery in Delaware and traveled to Philadelphia with his master.
Read more here

Watch and listen below!


Bob & Anne Simpson’s Journey Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer’s

(More information on the story I used in my sermon)

Anne Simpson was caregiver to her husband, Bob, as they fought his battle with Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body Dementia that ended in 2011. Her book, Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer’s chronicles their experience with a focus on helping others who must take the same journey.

You can learn more here.

You can purchase the book here

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Psalm 51

A Psalm for Ash Wednesday...

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins, *
and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence, *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again, *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked, *
and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God, *
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O God, *
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17 Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, *
but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

18 The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (prayer by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel) 

Sometimes we need a new perspective. We can get stuck living our lives without really living them. Just going with the flow, accepting the status quo whether it’s a healthy one or not. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

But from what perspective should we examine our lives?

Consider these words from William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during WW II:

John [the Baptist] came, and after him Jesus came, saying, “Change your way of looking at life; the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But we have lowered the term, “repentance” into meaning something not very different from remorse…Repentance does not mean merely giving up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind; get a new mind. What mind?… To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. There need not be any sorrow about it. In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God. (Christian Faith & Life, p. 67)

Lent is about repentance, trying to be in fellowship with God by adopting God’s viewpoint, God’s perspective as our own. Often we go about this with the best of intentions. I think of the practice of giving something up for Lent. Fasting can be a very helpful discipline. However, as a child, my experience was not very deep. Give up chocolate. I would fail at it like one does new year’s resolutions. And that’s it. But the discipline of Fasting can help you deny something in order to live better, to see from God’s viewpoint what we really need.

Can we wake up in the morning and say, today I am getting the mind of God or can we in some way acquire it easily… No, but we start with repentance and how Scripture call us to do just that in our lives.

Think of the reading from Joel…

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”

The prophet Joel calls Israel to return to God with all their heart, for they had followed other Gods, they had not practiced justice and mercy with the poor, the widow and the orphan stranger in the land and God was not pleased.

For Joel, it begins in our heart (which was the place of intellect and not just emotion as we think of it today) and like William Temple, he called the people to repent and to adopt God’s perspective in their heart. To turn to the Lord and not trust in another God or other people, but through fasting, weeping and mourning to come back to the place where God is.

St Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians said, “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Such is the work of Lent, being reconciled with God.

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us not to practice our piety, our faith before others. But to give alms for those in need, to pray and to fast. Not so we are seen by what we do, but that we put ourselves right with God. Storing treasure in heaven not on earth, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. From God’s perspective, Lent is about righting our relationship with God and each other (2 Greatest Commandments!) and we need Lent to pause and consider our Spiritual lives in those relationships. As Evelyn Underhill wrote:

“Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps. There we can consider our possessions; and discriminate between the necessary stores which have been issued to us, and must be treasured and kept in good order, and the odds and ends which we have accumulated for ourselves. Most of us are inclined to pay considerable attention to the spiritual odds and ends; the air-cushions, tabloids, and vacuum flasks, and various labor-saving devices which we call by such attractive names as our own peace, our own approach, our own experience, and so forth.

But we leave the superb and massive standard equipment which is issued to each baptized Christian to look after itself. There are few who cannot benefit by a bit-by-bit examination of that equipment, a humble return to first principles; for there we find the map and road-book of that spiritual world which is our true environment, all the needed information about the laws which control it, and all the essentials for feeding that inner life of which we talk so much and understand so very little.” (School of Charity)

Lent is about using our spiritual disciplines, like fasting, praying, giving alms, and study for such self-examination and repentance can lead our heart and mind to God. It’s not whether we succeed or fail or give up. It is about changing the way we look at our life. Hear the words again of William Temple:

“Repentance does not mean merely giving up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind; get a new mind. To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.”

May we find that at the end of our Lenten journey, we have moved toward a greater fellowship with God and that we have a new perspective on our life. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The one advertisement from the Super Bowl we need to watch! #NoMore

Learn more here:

What is NO MORE?

NO MORE is a unifying symbol and campaign to raise public awareness and engage bystanders around ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Launched in March 2013 by a coalition of leading advocacy groups, service providers, the U.S. Department of Justice, and major corporations, NO MORE is supported by hundreds of national and local groups and by thousands of individuals, organizations, universities, and communities who are using its signature blue symbol to increase visibility for domestic violence and sexual assault.

NO MORE was conceived to amplify the power of the domestic violence and sexual assault movement using a unifying symbol to drive awareness and break down the barriers of stigma, silence and shame that keep people from talking about these issues and taking action to prevent them. Co-founded as a public/private partnership, NO MORE was created as a platform for those working to end domestic violence/sexual assault, in the belief that greater dialogue will fuel enhanced funding for direct service, advocacy and prevention.

Souper Bowl of Sunday - #FlintWaterCrisis

For today's "Souper Bowl of Caring," all monetary donations in the soup kettles and the offering plate will go to #FlintWaterCrisis*; all canned goods will be donated to the Monroe Food Pantry.

*St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Flint & other churches serve as water distribution points to make sure the city’s residents had access to clean water. One of the ways churches are looking to respond to residents’ needs is by making sure they have access to healthy, fresh foods. Evidence has shown that foods rich in iron and vitamin C can ameliorate the effects of lead poisoning, said Rev. Scheid. “The issue is that much of the food that comes through the food bank is on the verge of spoiling and getting appropriate food from the food bank is a challenge,” said Scheid, adding that Flint is a food desert. “This is something we are looking at, could we do something to address nutrition in a meaningful way, could we purchase top quality food for distribution to families.” Another long-term issue is addressing residents’ spiritual and psychological needs. “The trauma, the fear and the anger of the adults, parents and grandparents, knowing that you may have given children contaminated water for months and months and the associated guilt,” said Rev. Scheid.

Prayers of the People for Souper Bowl Sunday

Brothers and sisters in Christ: Before he was crucified, our Savior Jesus Christ promised to draw to himself all things whether in heaven or on earth. Let us pray, therefore, that the peace accomplished through the Cross of Christ may be realized in our own world and our own relationships. Let us pray for the Church and the world God so loves, for peace among all nations, and for the reconciliation of all people and all things in the Name of Christ. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for the one billion people who live on less than one US dollar per day and for each child of God who dies every 3½ seconds from hunger. Lead us, O God, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for the more than 100 million children who are not in school this day.
Lead us, O God, to achieve universal primary education for all children.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for women who because of gender discrimination never realize their full potential.
Lead us, O God, to promote gender equality and empower women.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for those precious children under the age of five who die every 3 seconds due to disease caused by unclean water, sanitation and poor nutrition. Lead us, O God, to reduce child mortality.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for the more than 500,000 women who die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Lead us, O God, to improve maternal health.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for those who die each day from preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Lead us, O God, to combat these diseases. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for our environment. Make us good stewards of your creation so that all of your children may lead productive and fruitful lives. Lead us, O God, to ensure environmental sustainability.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for a fair trading system, increased international aid and debt relief for developing countries so that all peoples may realize their dreams and their potential. Lead us, O God, to create a global partnership for development. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those on our hearts this morning... (Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.)

Rev Kurt will add names and all will end with the following prayer (#62 - p. 833):
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

U2charist X

This was our 10th U2charist on the “Souper Bowl of Caring” Sunday. The U2charist is an Episcopal Eucharist service that features the music of the band U2, and a message about God's call to rally around the Sustainable Development Goals. The music in this service is replete with images of our connection with God and the importance of caring for your neighbor, particularly the most vulnerable and those in need. Bono, from U2, is calling people worldwide to a deeper faith and engagement with God's mission. Our U2charist continues to be an extension of this ministry in our parish.

“I believe in the Kingdom Come…You carried the cross, and my shame. … You know I believe it.” (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, U2 (1987))

Listen for biblical and theological references, for traditional Christian imagery and language, as well as for very nontraditional language, used to paint very traditional images of Christian theology. The traditional understanding of faith as an insatiable desire for God is a common theme, and “you” in U2’s lyrics is often indicative of God addressing the human, as it is the person of faith addressing God.

"We've found different ways of expressing it…. Maybe we just have to sort of draw our fish in the sand. It's there for people who are interested." – Bono

St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing, pray twice.” Join U2 and sing!


Prelude: Where the Streets Have No Name (1987)
Opening Song: Pride (In the Name of Love) (1984)
Song of Praise: Jesus Christ (sung by U2, written by Woodie Guthrie, 1961)
Psalm: 40 (1983)

"So then we had this slightly unusual piece of music and we said, 'OK, what are we going to do with it?' Bono said, 'Let's do a psalm.' Opened up the bible and found Psalm 40. 'This is it. Let's do it.' And within forty minutes we had worked out the last few elements for the tune, Bono had sung it, and we mixed it. And literally, after finishing the mix, we walked out through the door and the next band walked in." - The Edge, U2 By U2 2006

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and hear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song

The portion of Psalm 40 that inspired Bono's lyrics:

I waited patiently for the Lord
And He inclined to me and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction
Out of the miry clay
And He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm
He put a new song in my mouth
A song of praise to our God
Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord

Offertory: Love and Peace or else (2004)
Communion Song I: One Step Closer (2004) – a song for the journey
Communion Song II: White as Snow (2009) – a song to the Lamb
Closing Song: Beautiful Day (2000)
Postlude: When Love Comes to Town (1988 with co-lead vocals from BB King)

Sermon: February 7

Sermon given at 8 AM service.

Most loving God, as your desire for mercy for the poor is unrelenting, may we be unrelenting in our pursuit of mercy for all; as your compassion for the suffering of the poor knows no limit, may our hearts overflow with compassion for all; as you long for justice for the poor, may we strive for justice for all. Open our eyes to the structures of oppression from which we benefit, and give us courage to accept our responsibility, wisdom to chart a sound course amid complexity, and perseverance to continue our work until it is finished. Breathe your life-giving Spirit afresh into your Church to free us from apathy and indifference; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer by the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Rowthorn)

This past September at the UN, countries from around the world adopted a new set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each of the 17 goals has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years and these replace the 8 MDGs.

I have spoken in the past about the MDGs and our role to play in their achievement. This is no less important with the new SDGs.
“Pope Francis' address to the UN General Assembly reminds us of the crucial role played by faith groups in achieving development goals in local communities, but often ignored when governments & development agencies are producing their plans. Faith groups are the key to engaging with communities living in extreme poverty, which are usually the most difficult to reach by other agencies.” (Dr Peter & Jean Rookes)
I think of our work in Mozambique, helping bring a nursery school and clean water from a local well to the people of Magumeto, a small village, many kilometers away from the main road. We helped deliver mosquito nets to prevent malaria and last year helped bring communication to remote parts of the diocese.

Such work is part and parcel of our Christian lives, to reach our in love to those in need.

Our own Bishop, Ian Douglas, believes that this commitment to sustainable goals "is consistent with how we understand God's mission of restoration and reconciliation" and that it supports "the missiological invitation ... to heal a broken world and a broken creation."

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said "Participation by people of faith in the work to abolish poverty and hunger through the accomplishment of the goals is...a witness to the gospel."

So our work in Mozambique will continue. For our faith and these new goals will not let us be complacent, thinking our work is done.

Our first reading today from Exodus tells us that “Moses came down from Mount Sinai, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

The real truth of course is that encounters with God change people, but God doesn’t let them stay where they are. Moses might have had an awesome moment on that mountain, but God sends him back down the mountain to be with the people. He glowed from the encounter but his work had just begun with the Israelites. Captivity was behind them but their lives were before them and they were just beginning the journey.

Peter, James & John on the Holy Mountain had a most extraordinary experience with Jesus. Before them Jesus was transfigured… he glowed like pure white (better than Clorox!) and with him was Moses and the prophet Elijah… and Peter was so into the moment he wants to capture it, remain there, but this experience would lead them onward, down the mountain, back into life, on the way to Jerusalem.

This experience we have with God changes us and calls us to keep going, not just stay where we are, but to open our hearts to the needs we see and hear all around us.

7 year old Scarlette threw her arms open wide and giggled with excitement when she saw the growing mountain of cases of bottled water stacked in the McFall Elementary hallway ready to be delivered across the state Friday afternoon. "It's a whole bunch of water. I think they're going to be happy," she said.

Scarlette said she came up with the idea after her mom, Macenzie Smallwood, talked to her about what was happening in Flint, MI. Scarlette's solution was simple. "I just said why don't we take some of our water to them, so we did," she said.

She and her Mom loaded up their vehicle and drove to Flint last weekend to do what they could to help. "We took about 20 cases over. That's about all we could fit," Macenzie said.

But Scarlette said after seeing the conditions in Flint and watching the families wait in lines to get one case of water, she wanted to do more. "It made me sad to see all the people have to stand in line just to get water. And they could only get one case for everything they need. And they need a lot of water to wash their clothes and wash their hands and take a bath and wash their dishes and just everything," said the big-hearted first grader.

Dubbed "First Graders for Flint" Scarlette asked McFall principal Jon Washburn if other students could help. And it's become a flood of support from there. Scarlette and her family are planning to make a second trip this weekend to Flint to bring even more water. Macenzie said a company is donating a 26-foot cargo van to help move the water from Middleville to Flint and another family friend is planning to follow in a truck and trailer. One local company has also donated three pallets of bottled water.

Scarlette said she's surprised by how many people wanted to help and how many people have donated water. "People just keep bringing in more and more and more. There's like a whole bunch of bottles now," she said with a bright smile spreading across her face.

Macenzie said their plan is to drive into some of the poorer areas of the city and leave cases of water on the curb for anyone who needs it. Scarlette said she hopes it brings smiles to the people who need the water.

"She (Scarlette) always says things like 'Well when I become President...' and I tell her she doesn't have to wait to become President to make a difference. You can be 7 years old and make a big difference and no one needs to vote for you," she said. (

Jane Goodall once wrote, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

God calls us to be transformed, to glow with our faith, but not sit still, our work is not done. We are called to give of our lives serving others; it’s up to us to decide the difference we will make. Amen.