Archives for May 2017

Preparing for Eternal Glory, Third Sunday after Pentecost (A) – June 25, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs his apostles about the cost of discipleship. Christianity just is not an easy life, he seems to say. In fact, you may be handed over to councils who will flog you, dragged before governors and kings, betrayed by your family, and hated by all because of the very name of Jesus.

Who wants that, we wonder? Seriously, what kind of Sunday message is it to hear “children will rise against parents and have them put to death”?

Now that Jesus has their attention—and ours—he goes on to say some things that have more comfort value. Do not fear death, for the forces of evil may kill the mortal body but they cannot kill the soul.

And that beautiful, poetic image: the sparrow, worth half a cent, is cared for and loved by God. Every sparrow. And every hair on your head.

In this bizarrely contrasting narrative, Jesus lays out two fundamental principles of Christianity: First, we are not spared from suffering, and, second, when we suffer God suffers along with us. Let’s examine those two basic tenets of the Christian life, shall we?

First, suffering: we may not be flogged before governors or hated by everyone—but we do struggle, right? We contract diseases, grieve the death of loved ones, lose jobs, and undergo a myriad of nasty experiences—some trivial, and some catastrophic.

And part of what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage—in his own exaggerated manner of polemical hyperbole—is that we will most probably continue to suffer. The Christian life is not a magic fix to the woes of this mortal life.

If it were, we would not have the manifestation of any evil or hate in the world. Instead, everything would just be lovely.]

Imagine: No mass murder of Coptic Christian children in Egypt. No Manchester bombing. No killings in Paris, Ferguson, Orlando, Boston, Charleston, or Newtown.

And as beautiful a picture as that might be, it is a picture of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, what we hope and pray for, what Jesus came to earth to proclaim was coming, and—let’s face it—what is not yet here.

So how are we to live in this world where hate and violence are so rampant?

We need the help of God.

And that’s the second point: our God is with us. “He shall be called Emmanuel, God with us”—remember that from Christmas? The promise made by Jesus is that we are not alone in our struggles. God is here, to comfort us, to help us through the difficult times, to show us the way when we don’t know where to turn, to help us when we cannot help ourselves—and certainly to rejoice with us in good times.

We will sometimes suffer in this mortal life, but God is with us—to comfort and guide us.

Perhaps we might think of these two things when we consider the many current controversies that we seem to be entwined in—in the church, in our nation, maybe even in our families and communities.

Voices on both sides of every issue want resolution—they want to be out of the struggle. And they seek to do this by legislative action, human edict, and having one winner—all based on contradictory interpretations of the same text or tenet.

But could it be that no less than our Lord and Savior, that God-made-human, Jesus Christ is calling us not to make an end to our struggle, but to be in the midst of it?

And could it be that, once we accept our place in the very midst of it, the Holy Spirit could show us the way forward?

That’s, at least, how Jesus seems to imagine it. Oh, we all have opinions of our own—make no mistake about that. But we must be interested in opposing views—hearing them and respecting them. We must not dare to presume that our view is the right view—or the only view.

Time was when we Episcopalians lived like that. We were respectful and polite. We listened to each other. Sure, we didn’t agree on every issue, but we agreed to continue in conversation.

Nowadays, we in the church sometimes take ourselves too seriously. We imagine and presume that our debates and legislative actions will somehow bring about—or perhaps even prevent—the salvation of the world.

It’s really odd, when you think about it. God-fearing people of every political stripe and theological persuasion—faithful, caring, loving people—presume to know the mind of God, in painful detail and with absolute certainty. Or, worse yet, they have decided to take over sovereignty from God.

This is not our calling as Christian people, dear friends. Oh, we will have struggles and issues—every age has its own set of these. And the God-made-human we worship calls us to be in the midst of the struggles of this world.

In our struggles, we are called not to engage in a fight to the finish, in which one group winds up the victorious insiders and other the dejected outsiders. But to proclaim to everyone on God’s green earth that God is here, in the midst of us. And to share with every human being—our fellow pilgrims on the journey—the love that we have known in Christ Jesus.

Because every human heart has the capacity to love and the capacity to hate.

So, what helps keep us on the path of righteousness? What will help tip the balance for good over evil? What can we do to overcome the negative instincts we all have to some extent?

Listen for the still, small voice of God.

The God who was with the infant Isaac, who grew into a great patriarch for God’s chosen people.

The God who keeps watch over our lives, as the Psalmist tells us.

The God who will reunite us all in a resurrection like his, as we read in the letter to the Romans.

And the God-made-human who came to earth to proclaim that love is stronger than death.

For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered. These spiritual truths will be revealed to all in God’s good time.

What you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops:

  • Jesus Christ is risen from the dead,
  • the kingdom of God has come very near us, and
  • when we suffer—and we will—we have the church, the Christian community where we “bear one another’s burdens,” as St. Paul said (Galatians 6:2).

And, again from Paul, “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

In this Christian life, we are not spared from suffering, but when we suffer, God suffers along with us. And this suffering helps prepare us for eternal glory.

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

 

Download the sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert – June 18, 2017

For Such a Time as This

There is a wonderful book that was published some years ago titled “Eat, Pray, Love.” I want to invite you to fast, pray, and love by advocating for those who have no one to advocate for them.

On May 21, I [joined] with Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and many of our ecumenical friends, in fasting for the day, and beginning a fast on the 21st of every month, continuing until the end of the year 2018, when the 115th Congressional session comes to an end. 

Here is the reason for that fast: That time of the month, around the 21st of every month, is a very difficult time for people who are on public assistance and have received their assistance earlier in the month. So we will fast and pray, to pray that our government and our leaders will find a way to do what is just and kind and compassionate in the best of the American spirit.

But we will not only fast and pray. We are asking you to join with us in advocating in a variety of ways for the poor, for those who need public assistance for children who are the primary beneficiaries of most of the forms of assistance that our government provides. We are asking you to join with other Christians and other people of goodwill to help our government reflect the best of the American spirit by feeding the hungry, caring for our children, and making sure that everyone has the opportunities for life and liberty not only in our country, but in our world. 

There is a story in the Bible, in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the story of the people of God who found themselves in some tough times, and there was a woman named Esther who rose up and accepted the challenge at some risk to herself. A challenge to save her people when they were in jeopardy. At a moment of decision when she was trying to decide whether or not she should enter into the work to save her people, someone named Mordecai sent her a word, and said, “Perhaps Esther, you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” 

Maybe we are Esther. Perhaps we in the Episcopal Church, perhaps we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, perhaps we who are Christians and people of faith and goodwill have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, to help our country make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.

“Eat, Pray, Love” is a wonderful book, but I want to invite you beginning on [June] 21 to fast, to pray, and to love by advocating for our children.

God love you, God bless you, and you keep the faith. 

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

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Bulletin Insert – June 11, 2017

World Refugee Day

Every year on June 20, the international community celebrates World Refugee Day. The Episcopal Church joins with individuals and communities to honor the resilience, hope, and innovation that refugees around the world embody.

Episcopal Migration Ministries RefugeeCurrently, there are over 65 million displaced persons around the world, and of those, 21 million are refugees. Refugees are people that have had to flee their home country due to persecution based on religion, race, nationality, or membership to a particular social or political group.  The Episcopal Church’s foremost response to the refugee crisis is through Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Church’s resettlement agency that partners with the federal government to resettle refugees and offer them new life in communities around the U.S.

Refugee resettlement is a final option for refugees—it is a life-saving option for individuals who cannot return home or integrate into the country into which they fled. Refugees who are resettled to the U.S. undergo extensive & lengthy vetting and are partnered with one of nine resettlement agencies, such as Episcopal Migration Ministries, to receive tools to assist them as they integrate, thrive, and become self-sufficient.

On this World Refugee Day, Episcopalians can join in celebration and in prayer to honor the dignity of each refugee. While refugees face often unimaginable situations and loss, refugees are individuals who bring untold skills and talents that reflect the indomitable human spirit. As people of faith, we must recognize those individual hopes and dreams as we answer the call to love as Jesus loved and welcome the stranger.

Get involved in the ministry of refugee resettlement:

Stand to Support Refugees: http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/stand-support-refugees-statement/

Advocate for refugees: http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/RefugeeAdvocacy

 

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Beneath the Trees, Second Sunday after Pentecost (A) – June 18, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Where do you go to encounter God? Do you have a favorite place for divine inspiration? Some of you will instinctually think of going to church. Another way to phrase the question is, “Where do you go when you really need to think and make a decision?” Perhaps some of you embrace nature by going to the park. Others prefer being by a body of water such as a pond, lake, river, or ocean.

Abraham sits by the oaks of Mamre when the Lord appears to him in Genesis 18:1. We do not know why he sat under the trees, but perhaps he needed to think about and heal from the covenant he made with God at the end of chapter 17. Abraham encounters God and receives a divine message under these oak trees.

Trees have been and continue to be important in Christians’ worship and spiritual lives. Some enslaved African Americans in the 1800s met to worship God under a canopy of trees commonly called brush arbors or hush harbors.[1] The faithful practiced Christianity in this holy and hidden manner. Many historically African American churches today trace their founding to believers gathering to worship God under these brush arbors. Today in Ethiopia, some Orthodox Christians worship God within “church forests.” Churches or monasteries sit in the center of a forest that ranges in size from five to a thousand acres. The clergy and laity believe the tree canopy shading them prevents prayers from being lost to the sky. Some of these churches are more than 1,500 years old. [2]

Abraham’s encounter with three visitors changed his life and life of his wife, Sarah. Both Abraham and Sarah show hospitality, inviting these unexpected guests to rest and eat under the oaks of Mamre. One of the visitors speaks to Abraham, saying,  “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah laughs when she hears this as she stands inside the tent. Scripture continues, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son’” (Genesis 18:13-14). Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when their first child together, Isaac, entered the world. Nothing was too wonderful for the Lord when Abraham and Sarah received the manifestation of God’s promise. Abraham and Sarah had a religious and life changing experience connected firmly with the oak tree canopied landscape that sustained them.[3]

American theologian the Rev. Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[4] The Ethiopian church forests I mentioned earlier are examples of Buechner’s quote. Deforestation impacts the environment in many areas of the world, including Ethiopia. Church forests provide important ecosystem services to local people, including fresh water, pollinators, honey, and shade—and they also carry spiritual significance. Natural scientists across the world are partnering with Ethiopian clergy to help preserve these forests.  Locals often clear the forests for agriculture, timber, and firewood, and to use wood to repair church structures.[5] Scientists, clergy, and the laity are working together to make a difference. They are teaching Sunday School children culturally sensitive solutions to help reverse deforestation which will completely deplete these forests in a decade if the current rate continues. This is the place where their deep gladness for God meets the world’s deep need.

Churches in the United States are meeting one of the world’s deep needs by assessing their impact on the local environment. Recycling programs, energy audits, water conservation efforts, and energy consumption reduction are helping congregations decrease any negative impacts on land, water, and air. One midwestern Episcopal Cathedral has a rain garden at the center of a labyrinth. A rain garden collects rainwater runoff from parking lots and roofs, preventing water carrying pollutants from flowing into streams and rivers. A labyrinth is a meditation tool used by Christians as a walking prayer to receive insight and open us to God.[6]

This world needs more people of faith thinking about the human impact on the world. It is unimaginable to think of not having nature to enjoy and make alive our connection with God. Each of us can do something.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

[1] https://www.ohio.edu/infocus/hushharbors/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

[2] http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-43/ethiopias-church-forests/#sthash.nRGaU73U.dpuf Accessed May 21, 2017

[3] Excursus: Abraham. Harrelson, Walter. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 56.

[4] Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC Collins, 1973 p. 95.

[5] http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-43/ethiopias-church-forests/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

[6] http://www.cathedralchurchofstpaul.org/features/labyrinth-rain-garden/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

 

The Reverend Jemonde Taylor is the eleventh rector of Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C. Jemonde serves the Diocese of North Carolina by co-chairing the Nominating Committee for the XII Bishop Diocesan. He has served as a member of Diocesan Council and on the Disciple Board. Jemonde is a board member of the Gathering of Leaders, an Episcopal organization that assists in the empowerment, support, and development of church leaders. He is a consultant to the Office of Black Ministries of The Episcopal Church. Prior to serving Saint Ambrose, Jemonde was priest missioner at Saint Michael and All Angels Church, Dallas, Texas, as part of the Lilly Program. Jemonde studies the spirituality, worship, and history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and leads pilgrimages to Ethiopia for Epiphany.

 

Download the sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost.

Bulletin Insert – June 4, 2017

Pentecost

Today we mark Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit among the apostles and followers of Jesus. Celebrated 50 days after Easter (including the day of Easter itself), the name of the holiday comes from the Greek Pentēkostē, which literally means “the 50th day.”

The events of the day are foretold by Jesus in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, just before his Ascension. While his followers were with the risen Christ, he tells them, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5, NRSV). He goes on to say to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The followers would not wait long for the promised Spirit. The author of Acts, traditionally believed to be Luke, recounts:

Episcopal Church Pentecost

Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, Episcopal Church in Connecticut

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:1-6).

We celebrate Pentecost as the inauguration of the Church’s mission in the world. Empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are to go out into our neighborhoods and the wider world—to Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—witnessing to the risen Christ.

The Day of Pentecost is identified by the Book of Common Prayer as one of the feast days “especially appropriate” for baptism (Book of Common Prayer, p. 312). Because of this, Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” (“White Sunday”), a term used to describe the white baptismal garments worn by those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost and then worn to church on the Day of Pentecost.

Collect for Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 227).

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The Mystery of the Trinity, Trinity Sunday (A) – June 11, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we enter the Divine Dance, a dance that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God. This beautiful metaphor is being used by Father Richard Rohr to interpret the Holy Trinity not just to Christians, but to all believers. In his new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, he writes that in the past,

“In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasized the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!” Please note the word relationship in this Divine Dance and imagine not the classic dances of the forties and fifties when dancing meant two people responding to music together, nor the dance of the young today who seem to be dancing with their own selves, but the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— holding hands and moving in a circle.

Another image, a metaphor that Father Richard borrows from St. Bonaventure, is that of the water wheel. The wheel, carrying three buckets, fills and empties, fills and empties unto eternity. There is the constant emptying of the God-self and the constant filling up, world without end, Amen.

The gift of Father Richard Rohr is that he has become so popular through his writings and speeches that he appeals to all religions and even to atheists. His other gift is his insistence that because of the tremendous advances in scientific thinking in our times, science is agreeing with religion, with the reality of our interconnectedness with the universe. So, surprisingly, this mystery of the Trinity that many preachers dread to approach on this given Sunday is becoming less daunting, much popular, and it is making sense.

The Unity in the Trinity explained in a popular book is not something new, however. The brilliant Anglican writer Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a small, tightly packed treatise on the Trinity in 1941, in the midst of the war that was devastating her native England and the rest of Europe. She had become famous and popular as a mystery writer, but her great passion and the focus of her extraordinary mind were meant for theology. And on this, she studied and wrote in a dizzying diversity until her early death in 1957. Her book on the Trinitarian nature of God and of humanity is called The Mind of the Maker and was praised as the best exposition of the Trinity by no less a writer than C.S. Lewis. The book is short but dense, exploring a number of difficult subjects. She makes it clear that the Doctrine of the Trinity is neither obscure nor impossible to comprehend since our own natures, made in the image of God, is also trinitarian. This is what the first chapter of Genesis says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . .

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers explains that “in our image” refers to the creativity that exists in God-in-three, a creativity which was also given to humanity. She writes that everything begins with the Idea which finds its reality, its incarnation, in Energy, and is disseminated through Power. In theological language, God the Father is the Idea, Christ is the Energy or Activity, and the Holy Spirit is Power. This is also the way human beings think and create. They have an idea, which becomes real only through implementation, and is disseminated through interaction, as someone else put it. The analogy Sayers uses throughout is that of the creation of a book, since that is what she knew best. The writer has an idea for a novel, but if it stays in the mind it has no reality. In the process of writing the idea becomes enfleshed; it is now energy; and then when the book is read by others, it has power.

All of creation was in the mind of God but it became real when “in the beginning God created. . .”  St. John, in the prologue to his gospel tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” Notice that in the Old Testament lesson, in the beautiful creation story, words became important. The phrases, “God said” or “God called,” meaning “named,” occur fifteen times in the chapter. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only continuity between God and God’s work is the Word.” So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the eternal Christ who was with God from the beginning. Because of love, the Eternal, at one specific spec of time—thirty-three years—in a specific place—Palestine—became as one of us and lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth. The mind reels then kneels and offers thanks.

The dramatic beauty of the Creation story as found in the fist chapter of Genesis and the first four verses of chapter two continues in the Psalm appointed for today. This is a Psalm that should be memorized. How many of us who did so as children pause before a sunset, or a clear moonlit night to cry out in awe,

“Oh, Lord, our Lord,

How excellent is your Name in all the earth! . . .

When I consider the heavens, the work of your hands,

The moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him a little lower than the angels. . .”

Of course, women are included in this wonder but language had and has its limitations. What matters is that the One who was with God from the beginning of creation, the One who participated in the glorious act of creation is the One who took on our flesh and lived among us. This is the gift that also revealed the character of God as Father to us. But even that was not enough. When the hour came for the Incarnate one to leave the human flesh and return to the Father, he gave us the gift of the Paraclete, of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God as the Greek language calls the third person of the Trinity.

On this day, let us lose our apprehension in trying to understand the Trinity or to explain it in Athanasian terms to others. Let us rejoice in the most loving promise given to us as we read in today’s Gospel lesson:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Let us then rejoice and take comfort in these last words of Jesus: “I am with you always.”

Katerina Whitley, a writer, biblical storyteller and retreat leader lives in Boone, NC.

www.katerinawhitley.net

Download the sermon for Trinity Sunday.

Come Holy Spirit: Saying Yes, Pentecost (A) – June 4, 2017

[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The disciples were afraid! Their world had come to an abrupt end on a Friday afternoon as their teacher, leader, and friend had died in shame outside the city walls. There was no good news as they scattered from the city in search of safety, security, and something that resembled sanity. The preaching and teaching, traveling and telling seemed for nothing. The miraculous healings and even the raising of Lazarus were distant memories. The peaceful kingdom Jesus preached now lay in ruin, like his body on the cross. The blessing of the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the mournful felt like empty words. The disciples were heartbroken.

But some of their number, following the lead of Mary of Magdala, had gone to the tomb when others couldn’t muster the courage to even venture into the garden. The pain of loss was too new. The longing for the past, the good times, offered little comfort. But Mary had brought strange news: Jesus is alive! That cannot be. We saw the soldiers, the slow agonizing march through the city, the nails, and the cries. The news couldn’t possibly be true. The disciples were confused. They gathered together behind locked doors to comfort each other, to connect with the familiar, to feel safe. Safety in numbers behind locked doors. The world, the pain, the fear all safely kept at bay on the other side of a lock.

The locks, no matter how carefully crafted, cannot keep resurrection out. Even in this room flooded with memory and saturated with grief, resurrection seeps in.  “Peace be with you.” Jesus stands in their midst. Flesh and blood and body. Resurrected. Their fear turned to excitement, the locks forgotten because the one lost is alive with the scars to prove it. Look. Touch. It is really Jesus. Hope lives.

No matter how carefully barred, not even locked doors can keep the risen Jesus, the Anointed One, out. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The voice is familiar but it resounds with urgency and love. In that moment their lives are transformed. They can no longer hide behind doors frozen by fear, seeking to keep the world out. Jesus is alive, out there, out in the world, hidden in the guise of those in need. Come Holy Spirit.

On Easter evening, the disciples once more gather to find comfort in the familiar. Jesus is ascended. After the walk to Emmaus and breakfast on the shore, his work is now done. Once more, in a house behind closed doors, they gather. A violent wind engulfs the house, filling every corner and crevice.  Tongues of flame hover above their heads and unstop their tongues. Out into the world, out from the house, out from behind the doors, out to tell Good News to every nation, tribe, language, and people. Full of new wine? No, filled with God’s renewing Spirit. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit had come.

On Pentecost, we gather like the disciples behind closed doors. We come with hopes and fears, with doubts and certainties, with pain and joy looking to be transformed, to be resurrected, to be made new. We offer a simple prayer. A prayer that the followers of Jesus have whispered and sung, have shouted and signed: Come Holy Spirit. It is a plea, a prayer to be once more filled with the breath of God that called creation into being, to be replenished to enter the wilderness of doubt and uncertainty.

We whisper, we sing, we shout, we pray, we proclaim, “Come Holy Spirit.”

But do we really want the Holy Spirit to come among us? Jesus, after his Baptism, found himself driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness, where things happen, where we are forced to face ourselves laid bare. Do we really want to be filled with that Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes things happen, compels us out into the world to find Jesus present in our sisters and brothers. She opens our eyes to more clearly see Jesus in those we would rather keep at arm’s length, the ones we are more comfortable serving from a distance, from behind the security of locked doors and the safety of a checkbook.

Do we really want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit?

Like the disciples, we the church can sometimes crave the safety of locked doors, locked hearts, and locked minds. Behind locked doors, we can find comfort in the familiar, but if we truly seek to follow Jesus, we know that no locked doors will keep him from appearing in our midst and compelling us out in the world. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” are words of promise if we are open the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in our church, in our world. “Come Holy Spirit.”

Our prayer on this day is a dangerous prayer because it means that we must be open and vulnerable, willing to be challenged and changed so that we can seek and find Jesus in the ones we serve. “Come Holy Spirit” means that we must become open to the transforming power of God in our lives. It means that we will find ourselves standing with those on the margins, on the edges, on the outs.

Our simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit,” is the first step towards saying “yes” to God’s desire in our life of faith. We are called, with the Spirit’s help, to say yes to God!

The question for us is can we say yes to God at work? Can we say yes to stepping out from behind our closed doors and into the deep waters of loving our neighbors? Can we say yes to allowing the locked doors of our hearts and minds to be opened again and again and again?

Edwina Gateley sums up our longing to say yes to God in her poem Called to say yes.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

God’s crazy dream of love is our crazy dream of love. We are called to say “yes” to allow the Spirit of the Living God to fall afresh on us and unlock the doors that keep us from loving our neighbors. God’s crazy dream of love calls us to stand with and work for the homeless, the working poor, the outcast, the refugee, the persecuted, the put-down and the putout. Our sisters and brothers, Jesus in disguise, can no longer be simply petitions in our prayers but persons deserving of dignity, justice, and love.

Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Amen.

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI, for the last eleven years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time, Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.

 

Download the sermon for Pentecost.

Bulletin Insert – May 21, 2017

How Can I Pray with Thy Kingdom Come?

The monastic community of the Society of St. John the Evangelist assisted with the development of 11 Prayers, basing them on the seven principal prayers found in the Catechism (BCP pg. 856), and adding four more: To Jesus, Contemplation/Silence, Celebrate, and Thy Kingdom Come. 

Invitation

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement that invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus.  We invite you to:

How to participateEpiscopal Pledge to Pray

Go to http://thykingdomcome.global and sign up to receive the daily email. Each day of Thy Kingdom Come, there will be an invitation to view short videos with prayer guidance from international and ecumenical church leaders, as well as a special video for youth. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be featured in the lead video on May 25. There is an open invitation to respond on social media with #Pledge2Pray and a hashtag for the prayer of the day. Make sure there is a space between the tags—for example: #Pledge2Pray #ToJesus. On Facebook, go to the Thy Kingdom Come page and post to the Timeline using #Pledge2Pray and the tag of the day—for example: #Pledge2Pray #Celebrate. Make sure your post is set to “public,” or we can’t see it!

 In Advance: 

If you want to get your images ready in advance, here’s a cheat sheet. Remember to share this with 5 friends you want to come to know Jesus and “Pray It – Picture It – Post It” using images and phrases that resonate with #Pledge2Pray and:

  • 25 May #ToJesus
  • 26 May #Praise
  • 27 May #Thanks
  • 28 May #Sorry
  • 29 May #Offer
  • 30 May #PrayFor
  • 31 May #Help
  • 1 June #Adore
  • 2 June #Celebrate
  • 3 June #Silence
  • 4 June #ThyKingdomCome

During the 11 days of Thy Kingdom Come, it is hoped that everyone who participates will deepen their friendship with Jesus and come to know that every aspect of their life is the stuff of prayer.

Pray it – Picture it – Post it | óralo – Imagínalo – Publícalo | Prier- Imaginer – Publier
祈る – 写真を撮る – 投稿する | 그것을기도하십시오.- 그것을 그린다.-韓国語
Ore por isso – Imagine-isso – Poste sobre isso | Kuomba – Piga picha – tia posta
#Pledge2Pray #ThyKingdomCome

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement that invites Christians around the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. What started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. Find out how you can #Pledge2Pray as an individual, family, or church by visiting www.thykingdomcome.global.

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Bulletin Insert – May 28, 2017

Ascension Day

The Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ is celebrated 40 days after Easter Day, marking the conclusion of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and his ascension into heaven. Although Ascension Day occurred on May 25 on this year’s liturgical calendar, many parishes will observe it today.

The Ascension. Hans Suss von Kulmbach, 1513. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.

Celebration of this holy day dates back at least to the late fourth century, and scriptural references to Jesus’ ascension occur in both The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Mark:

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1: 6-11, NRSV).

“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19, NRSV).

The Ascension of Jesus is also professed in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (Book of Common Prayer, pp.120, 358).

Collect for Ascension Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 226).

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Prayer is the Answer to Jesus’ Prayer, Easter 7 (A) – May 28, 2017

[RCL] Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

Jesus prayed. The Gospels reveal that prayer remained the constant refrain of Jesus’ life. Jesus prays frequently and fervently. Why would he of all people need to pray? First, Jesus was God made man, and so he had emptied himself to become human and some things were no longer possible for Jesus. For example, if he were in Galilee, he would not also be in Jerusalem. Jesus was bound by time and space. Secondly, Jesus had also always been connected to the Father and the Holy Spirit in ways that are mysterious to us. They are one and yet three. If that is difficult to get your mind around, that is fine. After all, a God you can fully comprehend isn’t much of a deity. But we see that Jesus prayed as a part of this ongoing relationship within the Trinity. Finally, Jesus prayed to be an example to his followers. We see this most fully on the night before he died. All of the Gospels tell of Jesus praying fervently that night. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear only that Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from him. He did not want to die, but even so, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will.

In our Gospel reading, we get a deeper glimpse into Jesus’ prayer that evening. In chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, which we read part of this morning, Jesus prays. Our reading starts, “Jesus looked up to heaven and said…”

Those words matter, as they tell the reader that what follows is a prayer. The prayer is not written to us. Jesus is talking with God the Father. John gives us not just the content of the prayer, but also the character of Jesus in writing down this prayer for us. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” In John’s Gospel, the word glory points to the cross. It is in his faithfulness unto death that Jesus glorified God.

In Jesus’ words in this prayer, we learn that Jesus values those who believe in him as a cherished gift from God. And in the final lines of our reading this morning, Jesus prayed, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Jesus wanted those who follow him to be protected, not from bodily harm, but from falling away from the faith. And most of all he wanted us to be one as he and the Father are one. This could reduce the prayer to a plea for Christian unity, but that is not all that is going on here. Yes, Jesus would pray for those who follow him to be one in a way that makes unity among Christian denominations an important goal. But here, Jesus is praying for our protection, and for that to happen, he calls us to be drawn into the relationship of love that is the very Trinity. Jesus and the Father are one in a way that goes beyond simple agreement, like, or love. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one at their essence through relationship. Jesus prays for that sort of deeper relationship for us. This is Jesus’ prayer before dying; his dying wish is for those who know him to be drawn into an abiding connection to him and his Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had already demonstrated what an abiding connection to God looks like. Throughout his life, he had taken regular times for prayer both public and private—both liturgical prayers of synagogue and Temple worship and spontaneous prayers offered on various occasions. Jesus maintained his connection to God in good times and bad, in times of triumph, and in the agony of the cross.

With only a few years in which to change the world forever, Jesus should have been a workaholic. Yes, he was faulted for breaking the Sabbath to heal and for letting his disciples pick grain to eat. But instead of being a workaholic, Jesus enabled others to minister as well.

We find in the Gospel what Jesus prayed, but we should also notice that Jesus prayed. His life is soon to end. He is in the last hours with his disciples. Rather than fitting in an all-night cram session to get the last bit of theological information into his disciples’ heads, Jesus pauses and prays. If you ever wonder what would Jesus do, the primary answer is that Jesus would pray. How much more should we first and foremost pray in all the chances and changes that life sends our way?

God will honor the arrow prayers you shoot heavenward in times of need, but you will find yourself more fully connected to God if you set aside routine times to pray. The pattern for The Episcopal Church is found in the brief Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, and even in the one-page devotions tucked into the Prayer Book. Making daily times for these prayers will not earn God’s favor; you already have been given that grace freely. Instead, the daily times of prayer will ground your day in connection to the Holy Trinity.

This was Jesus’ will for you. Jesus wanted you to find and nurture that deep, abiding connection to God. Jesus wanted it so much that he prayed for you to get that sort of relationship and then he trusted his Father in heaven to enable it to happen. Your answer to Jesus’ prayer is found when you make time to pray and so grow closer to the God who knows you fully and loves you completely.

Amen.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He is also a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and serves on the Advisory Group on Church Planting.

 

Download the sermon for Easter 7(A).