Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Looking at Jesus & Jews in the 4th Gospel

Whenever we get to the readings of the Fourth Gospel (John) - I feel we need to take a step back and consider the relationship between Jesus, Jews and the early Church. (This is also helpful for the three other Gospels.)

Here are some helpful articles to consider & read:

Jews, Christians, and the Passion of Jesus

"The Jews" in the Fourth Gospel

Holy Week and the Hatred of the Jews: Avoiding Anti-Judaism at Easter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Supreme Court & Episcopalians

There has been some interesting news as the Senate begins hearings on the Supreme Court nominee:

What is Neil Gorsuch's religion? It's complicated (CNN)

Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch: An Episcopal faith?

Judge Gorsuch’s Episcopalianism a concern to conservatives

Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States (Wikipedia)

21. For Courts of Justice (from the BCP)

Almighty God, who sittest in the throne judging right: We
humbly beseech thee to bless the courts of justice and the
magistrates in all this land; and give unto them the spirit of
wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth,
and impartially administer the law in the fear of thee alone;
through him who shall come to be our Judge, thy Son our
Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Anglicanism & Pope Francis

You might have missed these headlines:

Francis becomes first pope to visit Rome’s Anglican church

Anglican Evensong is celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica for the first time

Here is Pope Francis sermon.


More than two hundred years have passed since the first public Anglican liturgy was held in Rome for a group of English residents in this part of the city. A great deal has changed in Rome and in the world since then. In the course of these two centuries, much has also changed between Anglicans and Catholics, who in the past viewed each other with suspicion and hostility. Today, with gratitude to God, we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism. As friends and pilgrims we wish to walk the path together, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ together...

As Catholics and Anglicans, we are humbly grateful that, after centuries of mutual mistrust, we are now able to recognize that the fruitful grace of Christ is at work also in others. We thank the Lord that among Christians the desire has grown for greater closeness, which is manifested in our praying together and in our common witness to the Gospel, above all in our various forms of service. At times, progress on our journey towards full communion may seem slow and uncertain, but today we can be encouraged by our gathering. For the first time, a Bishop of Rome is visiting your community. It is a grace and also a responsibility: the responsibility of strengthening our ties, to the praise of Christ, in service of the Gospel and of this city.

Let us encourage one another to become ever more faithful disciples of Jesus, always more liberated from our respective prejudices from the past and ever more desirous to pray for and with others. A good sign of this desire is the “twinning” taking place today between your parish of All Saints and All Saints Catholic parish. May the saints of every Christian confession, fully united in the Jerusalem above, open for us here below the way to all the possible paths of a fraternal and shared Christian journey. Where we are united in the name of Jesus, he is there (cf. Mt 18:20), and turning his merciful gaze towards us, he calls us to devote ourselves fully in the cause of unity and love. May the face of God shine upon you, your families and this entire community!

From the evensong: 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Prayer for the Faithful

(A Prayer Attributed to St. Patrick)

May the strength of God pilot us.
May the power of God preserve us.
May the wisdom of God instruct us.
May the hand of God protect us.
May the way of God direct us.
May the shield of God defend us.
May the host of God guard us
against the snares of evil
and the temptations of the world.

May Christ be with us,
Christ before us,
Christ in us,
Christ over us.
May thy Salvation, O Lord, be always ours
this day and for evermore. Amen.

Sermon: March 19

Dear Lord, we rejoice in your gift of water in creation. We give thanks for the resource of clean, safe water that sustains life. We ask your forgiveness where we have misused water supplies or not cared about others. We pray for places where people and creation suffer from a lack of water. Please guide humanity to come together to preserve and share water for the life and flourishing of all. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

“Give us water to drink.” The Israelites were asking for the most basic resource to sustain us. Water. In the wilderness, in tough conditions without water, we die.

According to the Live Science website: “If you're ever stuck out in the wilderness, remember what survival experts call 'the Rule of Threes'. You can live 3 minutes without air... In a harsh environment — it's snowing, say — you have 3 hours to survive without shelter. After 3 days, you need water or you'll perish. You can make it 3 weeks without food, though we promise you that won't be fun…” (http://www.livescience.com/32320-how-long-can-a-person-survive-without-water.html)

The human body is made up of 65% water, water is essential to life.

The Israelites might have been complaining to Moses but they did need water in the wilderness. And God provided but Moses called the spot “Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Those naughty Israelites (hard hearted says the Psalmist). But, I am not so sure that is the best way to look at it. To live in such conditions is to struggle, wrestle with your faith. The Israelites were doing this. They wondered if their lives would have been better in Egypt if they had stayed. Have we not wondered such things in our lives?

They wondered if the Lord was still with them on the journey. And in the waters at the rock at Horeb, the Israelites were reminded that God was indeed with them, quenching their thirst.

In our Gospel of John story this morning, the notion that God is among us is expanded beyond just Jews and again water plays an important part.

Jesus is travelling through Samaritan territory. Let’s remind ourselves that Samaritans and Jews of Jesus day did not get along. They looked at each other through the lens of enemies and 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, the taboos of the time, a man asking a woman who is not part of her family, a Jew asking a Samaritan. It’s just isn’t done this way!

Jesus even knows her history – that she has been married 5 times – 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 or even Gentile, he is not interested in our labels or our limits. The Good News of the Kingdom of God, the living water from above, was for the world.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Water is life. But Jesus is offering more. A way of life that will be a spring of water inside of us, a faith, that will help guide us in our life.

Salva Dut is a son of a Dinka cattle herdsman, has a smile that will light up any room. History calls him, and thousands of other children who fled Sudan, Lost Boys. At age 11, Dut, with other children, fled from his school into the bush through gunfire and jet-bomb blasts. As he ran, each day he was in danger of being conscripted by rebel armies or killed by militiamen from the north…Finally, those who remained settled at an Ethiopian refugee camp.

Forced by Ethiopian soldiers to flee the refugee settlement in 1991, thousands fled across the crocodile-infested Gilo River to Kenya. After another five years in refugee camps, Dut came to the United States under sponsorship of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York, whose parishioners are involved in refugee resettlement.

At Christmas time a decade ago the parish helped him travel to Africa to visit his sick father, who he had not seen in 19 years. At the United Nations hospital there, doctors said that if his father was to live, he must have clean water to drink. Unfortunately, there was none in the village where he lived.

When Dut returned to Rochester, he himself was sick and 10 pounds lighter. He first thought it was from eating peanuts, but believes now it could have been the water. The trip opened his eyes to the plight of his people. "I wish I could do something to help my father and my friends," he said at the time.

As a result, Water for South Sudan was born. To this day they have drilled over 282 wells in South Sudan, providing fresh, clean water to many villages. Dut along with two former "Lost Boys" have gone back to South Sudan to help their young country develop. (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/sudanese-refugee-helps-provide-wells-his-homeland)

It is a story of faith. To provide fresh clean water to those in need. To live into that water that Jesus gives, water first washed over us in baptism, that calls us to witness with our lives what Jesus give to all.

Through her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman at the well is changed. 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 her encounter at the well.

May we on our journey this Lent, remember the imagery of water given to us this Sunday, to help those in need around our world who do not have such clean drinking water be it in Flint, MI or South Sudan to help them find the fresh wells of water, but also remember that this symbol of living water reveals the attributes of God’s Spirit, that we may deepen in us a due reverence for this resource, that we may more fully drink the gift of God’s life giving Spirit in our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sermon: March 12

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ (John 3: 18-21)
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I added those three extra verses to our Gospel this morning because they complete the passage we heard today in the Gospel of John. (see above)

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night, in the dark. He didn’t fully understand who Jesus was and what he was asking of him. He was in the dark. But this encounter with Jesus would prove fruitful as Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, would take care of the body of Jesus after his death. He would be faithful to the end.

But Nicodemus struggled to understand what Jesus was saying. How can one be born again or born anew? It’s not about our flesh, our humanity – it’s about the Spirit, the Spirit of God that is born anew in us. But how do we understand this? how is it lived out? The last three verses are the key…

“The light came into the world, and the people preferred the darkness to the light because their ways were wicked. For the person whose life is false shuns the light and won’t go near it, for fear that their ways will be rebuked. But the person whose life is true comes out into the light, so that it might be clear that their ways are rooted in God.” (Cotton Patch Gospel – John)

If you are born anew, if you are being led by the Spirit – then you prefer the Light (that is Jesus) over the darkness & evil ways of our world which are often too narrowly focused on ourselves alone. Your life is reflected by how you live it out for all to see, and they will see you are rooted in God.

Let me tell a story that helps illuminate this understanding…

Once there was a good and faithful rabbi who led a devout congregation in a poor Russian village. On the night of Yom Kippur, as the congregation gathered to ask God's forgiveness, the rabbi begged for some sign from God that their prayer was heard and his mercy was theirs. And, suddenly the rabbi heard the voice of the Holy One:

"Have Tam offer your prayers to me, and I will graciously accept all of you back into my heart, forgiving all things and showering my mercy upon you."

“Tam? Why Tam?,” thought the rabbi. Nobody really knew Tam - he was hardly ever in the synagogue. And no one was more stunned than Tam, who was in the congregation that night. Tam was poor, unlearned and worked hard so he often missed services. He was a good-hearted soul, but was all but invisible in the community.

The terrified Tam was brought up to the front of the synagogue. The rabbi said to Tam, "I have been praying for mercy and forgiveness for all of us on this night and I have been clearly told by God, blessed be his Name, that we all will be forgiven and taken back into the heart of God if you pray for us, if you give your prayer to God on our behalf."

Tam was speechless. How could he pray? He couldn't even read the prayers in the service book. But the rabbi was insistent: God would only take the community back into his heart and give them a year of blessing, grace, and mercy if Tam prayed for them.

Finally, Tam agreed. But he looked at the rabbi and said: "I have to go get my prayers."
Tam ran from the synagogue to his little cottage not far away. He returned a few minutes later and stood in the front of the synagogue, holding a large earthen pitcher. Tam lifted the pitcher high and prayed:

"O Holy One, you know I am not good at praying, but I bring you all I have. This pitcher holds my tears. Late at night, even when I am tired, I sit and try to pray to you. And then I think of my poor wife and children and the fact that they have no clean clothes to wear to service and are ashamed to come to the synagogue, and I cry. And then I think of all the hungry ones, the beggars on the steps of the synagogue and in the streets, in the cold and rain, miserable and so alone, and I cry some more.

And then, God, I think of what we do to each other. I think of all the gossip and hate, all the quarrels and wars, and I think of you crying, God, of you looking down on us hurting one another so, and I know that you weep for us always.

"God, I cry for you and how we must break your heart and sadden you so. Please, take my tears, accept my prayers, and take all of us back into your heart once again. Give us a blessing and forgive us in your great mercy and kindness."

Tam then took the pitcher and poured his tears over the floor of the synagogue. There was a long silence, and then the rabbi spoke haltingly, "God has heard Tam, and we are forgiven. We are once again the people of God. Let us live this year with grateful hearts.'

The people sang, and then left the synagogue quietly. They never forgot Tam's prayer or his pitcher of tears. Throughout the year they were devoted to making sure there would be less to cry over in the years to come. They looked at Tam and his family differently, more kindly, and their neighbors too. Some even reconciled with their enemies. And they all went home thinking of the tears of God. [From Lent: Reflections and Stories on the Daily Readings by Megan McKenna.]

Jesus challenges Nicodemus and all of us to embrace a new vision of God: to realize that God is not a God of punishment and vengeance but a God of mercy and forgiveness, a God who finds only sadness in our hardship and failings and wicked ways but joy in our reconciliation and peace and good deeds.

“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.

As Tam understands, God is a God of love, a God of healing, a God of tears. He brought his own tears for prayer to the light, and all understood they were rooted in God.

Our Lenten journey means turning away from the ultimately frustrating values of me, first!, the values that make us stumble along our path and turn to embrace the spirit of Jesus' humility and selflessness, enabling us to transform our kitchens and tables, our classrooms and sanctuaries, our cities and towns, in the light of peace, justice and reconciliation of God, the God of tears.

“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…for those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” Amen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Psalms: The Bible Project

The Witness of Ash Wednesday

I saw this in the Washington Post:

I guess I’m giving up silence for Lent this year.

That’s an odd thing to say when you make a living yapping about sports on ESPN. And odder when the show I host, “Around the Horn,” makes a game out of LOUD NOISES. (That is to say, loud, perspicacious noises from the most insightful sportswriters in America!) I press a mute button to shut them down if (when!) our sports debate careens out of bounds (Fake News!). Silence is how I penalize. Silence works. But is silence good?

I’ve been on national television for 16 years and for all 16 I wore an ash on Ash Wednesday. I am grateful to ESPN and fortunate to work in an environment that allows me to be myself. But it’s shocking to me that I’m one of the few faces you see on TV wearing an ash. I did an interview where the reporter told me if you put “The Guy Who Wears Ashes on TV” into Google, I’m the first name that comes up. That’s surprising. (Also true: I’m the first name that comes up for “The Guy Who Proposed In Between The Men’s and Women’s Bathroom at LaGuardia Airport.” Not as surprising.)

Among ESPN viewers, it’s well known I’ll be wearing the ash and there’s an expectation. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sports websites have kept a running tally of my ash through the years. ‘How Heavy Thumbed Will Fr. Mario Be This Season?!’ I see the humor in that; I was tattooed in ‘06, crop dusted in ‘09, this year: “clean, minimal, very on trend for 2017,” according to one tweeter. While I get questions like: “dad n em wana kno wats on ur coconut man,” the overwhelming energy has always been support and praise.

I struggle with the publicness of the ash. I was rolling in the pew laughing (RIPL!) when this year’s Gospel started with “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Isn’t that what I’m doing when I get the ash in the afternoon and go on TV a few hours later? Could I not go to Mass after work? I’m still not sure I have answers to those questions. I want viewers to see an authentic version of me, and on this one day that includes the ash...

Read the whole thing here.  It is a good reflection.  Way to go Tony!

THE PSALMS (Bono & Peterson)

Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) have a discussion around their common interest in the Psalms. Worth watching!

Read the Message here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+1&version=MSG

Some thoughts from Bono on the Psalms:

(Psalm 40 by U2)







40 - A Video Of Jesus In The Wilderness

This is worth watching!

A journey with Jesus on his 40 days...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sermon: March 5

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

But instead of listening to what God asked of them; they looked beyond the words, and with the help of the snake (the adversary) saw all the benefits of eating what God said not to do. They were easily tempted and they ate. And everything changed…

“The worst part about sin is not that we give into temptations, but we gradually adjust to the temptations and begin to see them as normal.” (Prof. Max Stackhouse)

Adam and Eve justified the temptation that led to sin, the fruit looked good for food, it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, it’ll all be ok.”

We all use justifications in our lives, even when we know better. Sometimes, we justify the temptations before us and we sin against God & our neighbors (and ourselves). Often those sins wreak havoc in our lives.

Jesus was tempted like we are. 40 days & nights of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was famished. At his weakest, there the devil tempted him. Food, power, control. It would all be for Jesus if he just listened to Satan. And Jesus resisted the devil & his power, who even quoted scripture to Jesus. Jesus answered him back:

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…Do not put the Lord your God to the test...Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Jesus did not give into the temptations; he remembered, he understood, he lived into his relationship with God. He refused to justify giving into those temptations just because he was tired or starving. He relied on the Spirit that helped him.

This Holy season of Lent is an opportunity for us to repent of our justifications and our self-indulgent appetites and ways, to follow the life of Jesus, trust in the Holy Spirit and remember and understand our place in creation, to use this holy time to focus on repentance and faith. But we must be careful, not to go overboard with such contemplation, not to solely focus on sin.

There is an old rabbinic story about a faithful Jew who every morning would write down on a piece of paper the words I am but dust and ashes and place the paper in his pocket. Throughout the day he would take out the paper and read it; the words, spoken by Abraham in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 18:27), served as a prayerful reminder of his unworthiness and humility before God.

One day he showed the paper to his rabbi. The rabbi was moved by his congregant's reverence. But the rabbi took out a second piece of paper and wrote the Hebrew words Bishvili Novra haslam - For my sake, the universe was created.

"Take these words, as well, and carry them too," the rabbi said. "Let there be balance in your life. Realize that of yourself, before God, you are nothing - but because you are created in God's image, out of love, you possess the greatest dignity imaginable: you are a child of God." [As told by Burton Visotzky in Genesis: A Living Conversation by Bill Moyers.]

Our Lenten journey with Jesus is a time for striking that balance between realizing our humility before God and our identity as God's beloved creation.

When we are consumed by the notion that we are in total control of our lives, when we have arrogantly self-absorbed because of what we possess and what we have achieved, when we feel the sting of sin, we should take out the first paper and remember: I am but dust and ashes.
But when we feel abandoned, when hope seems far away, when we feel lost in the wilderness and unloved, we need to embrace the message of the second paper: For my sake, God created the universe. To remember, I am God's beloved; I am created in God's image.

May this season of Lent be a time for working on that balance in our lives: a balance between humility & belovedness that leads us to selflessness and joy; knowing of the ever-present love of God in our midst.

Let me end with a prayer that I think nicely helps us achieve this balance. Somewhere around 1943, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer, an appeal for grace, courage and wisdom that was later adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs and has appealed to people around the world. May it be helpful for you this Lent.

The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Immigrant Apostles Creed

Original posted to Facebook by Neal Presa, the current moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal.  Round on the blog of the Rev. J. Barrett Lee.
Fruitful food for prayer...

From: https://hoppinghadrianswall.com/2013/04/21/the-immigrant-apostles-creed/

Immigrant Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power. Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.

I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.

I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.

I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


(written in 1943 or whereabouts)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Season of Lent - Resources

Taking the journey of Lent seriously: we are all called to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy word.

These resources available at St. Peter’s:
  • Lenten Prayers
  • Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert
  • Meditations for the Five Sundays in Lent & Palm Sunday
  • Various Pamphlets
Online Resources:

Wednesday Mornings
We gather in the Memorial Room at 10:30 AM for a Lenten Bible Study. The study lasts one hour and will take place March 8 – April 5.

Wednesday Evenings
Wednesday nights during Lent, you are invited to a light Supper and Lenten Study at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 466 Elm Street, Monroe and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 175 Old Tannery Road, Monroe. We begin at 6:30 pm with supper, the program begins around 7 pm.

We alternate locations each week. So on March 8 it is at St. Peter’s, March 15 at Good Shepherd, etc. Our theme is Forty Days: A Journey through the Desert of Lent

At the Presentation of the Bread & the Cup

In conjunction with our work on the Discipleship Project, we will be using words I first heard at the Monastery at SSJE during the season of Lent:

Behold what you are.  May we become what we receive.   
The words used at the presentation of the Bread and Cup derive from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist, a sustained teaching pointing to one of the deep truths of Christian faith:  through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world.  St. Augustine (354 – 430 c.e.), together with St. Paul and Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most influential voices in the Christian tradition, and the clerestory windows of the monastery feature a window in his honor. (from SSJE)

Ash Wednesday: Sermon

O God of grace and glory, you challenge us to reclaim our baptismal identity as those whose lives are built on your call and your promises—not on the easy, seductive forces around us. Stir our hearts that we may engage your transforming word anew and rediscover its power to save. Amen. (W. Bruggerman)

“Rend your hearts and not your clothing” – the prophet Joel tells us. It’s not about the outward appearance, it’s about our hearts, how we open them up to our God.

“Return to me with all your heart.” Our God seeks us out, wanting to restore our relationship with the one who created us. This is grace. But there is an expectation that we will also need to act – “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

Our God of mercy and love awaits us. This time of Lent is our time to ponder anew our baptismal faith, to consider again all the easy, conventional compromises that we make with our faith and how discipline, respect, and gladness for God’s grace and mercy is turned to the ones who return to their faith, who make use of this holy season.

Likewise Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew cautions us about how we live out our faith. It is not for show. It is not for others. It’s for ourselves and our relationship with God.

In Matthew, Jesus wants us to place our heart and mind with God so that what we do is good for others and ourselves. Jesus tells us not to outwardly show our piety because we can lose the intention that unites us together with God. For if we pray, fast and give alms out of a heart that is love, than we are living as God intended, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. So that what we give to others is from God’s grace and necessity in our lives.

For Jesus, it was not outward displays of faith that he wanted his followers to do but instead to have a change of heart when they give alms, when they pray and when they fast. For with the right heart, giving alms, praying and fasting can help us live faithfully. Let me give you an example of such faithful living and giving…

Those who knew Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers & Red Wings owner who died a few weeks ago, have spent the time fondly remembering his impact on friends, on Detroit residents, and on the sports community. Ilitch also had an impact on the daily life of one of the most iconic figures from the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks, who after her famed defiance of segregation sparked the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, moved to Detroit and became an important presence in the city for years afterward. But in 1994, Parks was robbed and assaulted in her home at the age of 81.

Ilitch read the story in the newspaper and called Damon Keith, a Detroit native and federal judge, who was finding a new and safer home for her, offering to pay for Parks' housing indefinitely. With no fanfare, Ilitch continued paying for the apartment until Parks died in 2005, Keith said. (CNN)

Such faithful living is what we are called to do. Without fanfare but with much love. May this season of Lent, be an opportunity for us to rediscover our faith through the practices we use, to rend our hearts, break them open, and to seek out our God who stands ready in our very midst and calls us each by name. Amen.

Ash Wednesday: Prayer

Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God,
give us your creation [miserable ones?]
the grace to do for You alone
what we know you want us to do
and always to desire what pleases You.
Inwardly cleansed,
interiorly enlightened
and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit,
may we be able to follow
in the footprints of Your beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
and, by Your grace alone,
may we make our way to You,
Most High,
Who live and rule
in perfect Trinity and simple Unity,
and are glorified
God almighty,
forever and ever.

Francis of Assisi, circa 1225. Text taken from Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Volume 1. Edited and translated by Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short (New York: New City Press, 2001).


Ash Wednesday: Psalm 51

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 Lord, *
           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: Poem

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their Lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Ash Wednesday by Malcolm Guite