Thursday, April 6, 2017

Change, an Invitation to Life: Holy Week, A Journey With Jesus

Change, an Invitation to Life: Holy Week, A Journey With Jesus: Holy Week, A Journey With Jesus For many Christians around the world, the eight days, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Day...

Holy Week, A Journey With Jesus

Holy Week, A Journey With Jesus

For many Christians around the world, the eight days, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Day are the most holy and powerfully spiritual days of the entire year. I pray that reflection on this journey will help us all strengthen our faith and open our hearts more and more to God’s presence in our lives. The whole purpose of the week is for us to remember and rejoice in our relationship with God and God’s people by participating in the events of the last week in Jesus’ life.

The week begins with the somewhat ambiguous double commemoration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem combined with a reading of the Passion Gospel as a preview of the week to come. Holding Palms, we proclaim, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

Then we pray for God’s presence during the coming week:

"Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of Our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

We celebrate with joy and music and parades and Holy Communion before hearing the reading of Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples, followed by his betrayal and execution. Through it all, we solemnly pray for ourselves, the church and the world as we enter into the mystery of the week to come.

On Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. we will celebrate the Passover meal as Jews have done for centuries so that we can gain a better understanding of our own faith through the practices of Jesus and his ancestors. This meal is the foundation of Jesus’ last supper and leads us into the Sacred Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

These three days are like time out of time.  We continue to live our daily lives, working and caring for family and doing all those day to day tasks that hold body and soul together. We also live into a parallel dimension in which we walk with Jesus Christ in his passion, through his death, to his resurrection. These days are referred to as the Sacred Triduum in Latin, the Holiest Three Days in English.  Worship on these days appears to be three services but is, in fact, only one. Worship begins on Maundy Thursday with the prayer:

"Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these Holy Mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, page 274)

There is no dismissal until the end of the Easter worship service when we proclaim, “let us go forth in the Name of Christ, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

These three days are truly the center of the Christian year.  On Maundy Thursday we share in the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples as he gives them, and us, a new commandment which he demonstrates by washing their feet.

"Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord. . . So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you." (John 13:1-15)

"This is my Commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

After this meal Jesus is betrayed, then tried by the Chief priests and later by the Roman Governor Pilate. We end our worship on this evening by striping the altar area of all adornments, symbolizing that the light of Christ is leaving the world.  And then we leave the church in silence and sadness.

On Good Friday we continue our worship with the following words:

"Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross."(Book of Common Prayer, p. 276)

The Passion Gospel of Jesus is then read, leading us on the journey to the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal, and his death and burial.  We remember the passion of Jesus by participating in his journey.  Prayers for all of God’s people follow, ending with prayers for forgiveness and silent communion from previously consecrated bread and wine. This day is not a time for celebration. The following prayer closes part two of our three day journey:
"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. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, page 282)

On the Third Day we proclaim, “Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.” The three days end and the rest of our life in Christ Begins!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Change, an Invitation to Life: In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be bles...

Change, an Invitation to Life: In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be bles...: As we who are God’s people prayerfully travel together this Lenten journey of reflection and repentance, I am led back to the Holy Scri...

In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be blessed

As we who are God’s people prayerfully travel together this Lenten journey of reflection and repentance, I am led back to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. As I seek to understand and to live into my relationships with God and God’s people, I see and understand the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testaments to be the foundation for all of our relationships. This week I am seeking to build on this foundation as I reflect on my relationship to all of God’s people and how God calls us to relate to one another.

My reflection has been guided by reading and re-reading and meditating on two passages which the Episcopal Church recommends for the second Sunday in Lent.

“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. . .so that you will be a blessing. . .and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-4a)

 “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.” (John 3:1-17)


Abraham was led by God to a place unknown to him. In fact, God told him, when you get there, I will let you know. God promised to bless him and his family, and his descendents and to make him a great nation. Who doesn’t want to be a great nation? But God did not stop there; he promised Abraham that not only would he and his family be blessed, but that “all the families of the Earth would be blessed through him.”


Likewise, Jesus tells the Jewish leader Nicodemus that, “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.”


I am convinced that God often leads us, either literally or figuratively or both, into new lands, both challenging us and blessing us. On these journey’s into the unknown, we must depend on the gifts God has given us, as well as the Holy Spirit, to “lead us and guide us into all truth.”


In our world today, we are very often afraid to go into new lands, or new situations, and we can be just as afraid to welcome people who are different from us, either racially or religiously, into our own lands. We do not know the language or the customs of places to which we are led, and I suspect that people who come to our land have the same fear and discomforts that we have.


Our world is indeed filled with dangers and challenges and hatred, but it is also filled with beauty, joy, wonder and love. How do we, like Abraham, balance our legitimate fears with the blessing God has given us in allowing “all the families of the Earth to be blessed through us.”


I believe this is the message Jesus was attempting to communicate to Nicodemus: That you and I cannot, alone, solve all the world’s problems; that we cannot save the world.


But that: “God sent his Son into the world, in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And then, thanks be to God, God chose us to be partners with Jesus, to be his vessels through which He saves the whole world and blesses all the families of the Earth.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lent is a gift that Awakens our Senses

As I was sitting in church on Ash Wednesday, waiting to preach about the beginning of Lent and how we can observe this season to the benefit of our faith and our lives, I had this vision of the Christian year as an hour glass and Lent as the narrow middle of the hour glass through which the sand passes one grain at a time.

Allow me to explain. In the Christian year the two seasons immediately prior to Lent are Christmas and Epiphany, seasons through which we see the glory of God in our worship and in the readings from the Bible that accompany our worship: Isaiah’s prophecy which proclaims Jesus as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6);” the birth of Jesus in the manger; the coming of the wise men; the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River; Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee; his recognition as the Messiah by the Samaritan woman at the well; and finally his Transfiguration on the mount with Peter, James and John.

We also read about and reflect on his proclamation of the Gospel in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5): blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peace makers, blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled. And finally, Jesus ends the beatitudes with some of his most difficult teachings, challenging us and showing us his glory at the same time:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(Matthew 5:43-48)

This is all the top of the Hour Glass, filled with God’s Glory as we see it in Jesus Christ, and as it is, we hope, reflected in our lives. Then all this is pushed through the narrow center of the Hour Glass, one grain at a time. As the sand slowly moves through the narrow opening, we are forced, or perhaps, allowed to slow down and see our life and our faith, one grain, one piece, at a time. When we narrow our focus, all of our senses seem to become sharper and we see and experience things we missed when we were bombarded with the full glory of God all at once.

I am a kayaker and I have spent many beautiful days paddling on lakes, creeks and rivers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. When I am floating down a lazy river my mind can wander and I can daydream, looking at the birds, clouds and sky and the vegetation along the banks. But when the stream begins to narrow and the same volume of water is forced through a smaller and smaller space, all my senses come alive and I am aware of all that is going on around me: the speed of the river, the rocks and other obstructions in front of me and the path and passages the river is showing me. This is what I believe Lent is for Christians. Our senses are more alive, more focused and we become aware of all God is doing in our lives and of how we are hearing and living the Gospel. This is not unlike what happens in the Hour Glass of Lent

As the sands pass through the narrow opening in the Hour Glass, the fall into the larger bottom section and we again see the Glory of God, this time heightened and more visible because our senses have been awakened. We walk with Jesus through Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through the Last Supper and Christ’s New Commandment on Maundy Thursday to “love one another as He has loved us,” through all the sorrow of Good Friday and finally to the fullness of God in the Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day.

Lent is not a time of punishment or pain or agony. No, it is a gift from God through the Church which offers us time and space, and opens our hearts and minds and souls to God’s love for all creation. It opens us up to our place in that love, both as those who receive the love from God, and those who because we have received this love, want to share it with the whole world.

Our eyes are opened and we see that truly, “God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the whole World might be saved!”

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Change, an Invitation to Life: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the M...

Change, an Invitation to Life: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the M...: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, h...

Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount)

Salt and Light
(Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-15)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say to his disciples, “you will become salt and light. Instead, Jesus proclaims, “you are already salt and light.” The disciples are those things because Jesus has called them and they have responded. And we, because we have been called by Jesus to be his disciples and have also responded to that call, are also salt and light.

We too are called by Jesus to let our light shine among all people. We do this by the good works we perform in Jesus’ name which build up God’s Kingdom on Earth. The Prophet we call Second Isaiah gives us a vision of what a life of salt and light looks like as he proclaims God’s message to the people of Judah in the sixth century B.C.

        Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 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, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am. (Isaiah 58:6-9)

What might Isaiah’s vision look like in twenty-first century America? I share three examples from my life experience which I hope will lead you to reflect on your life as a
disciple and as light and salt in the world.

A long, long time ago, when I was just out of college, I served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Two of my many friends in the small mountain town also served in the Peace Corps. Merry worked in Women’s Health and birth control, and Paul helped to organize an Agricultural Co-Operative, fostering team work, better agricultural skills and maximization of profits for subsistence farmers in our area. Through these two friends and my own work as a Forester and Teacher at the National Forestry School I learned to see the world through different eyes, and hopefully was able to be salt and light to some of God’s Children.

Living in New Orleans in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was part of an Episcopal Church coalition which provided meals to the homeless on the one day a week that was  covered by no other organization. After we served the meal we ate with those whom we served. It was not easy. Their daily lives were so different from ours. After lunch they would head back out onto the streets, or go to the public library to hang out, or to a fast food restaurant where it was warm. I would head out to pick up my son and go to the gym with him, or go watch his soccer games. No, it was not easy, but it was important. I learned a great deal about other people, and just as important, I learned even more about myself and my pre-conceived ideas about what life was and is and should be.

Last, but not least, I am privileged and blessed to be the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama where I see the Light of Christ in these people every day as we worship together, provide food in the form of beans and rice to over 100 families every month, prepare Blessings in a Backpack for hungry children in our local schools, and care for each other as we provide food, clothing, shelter, and transportation when needs arise in our own church community,

Take a moment and look at your own lives see where God is using you as the light and salt that you already are. God will bless you and you will be a blessing.