Friday, January 22 2021
Hope and Good News are in the Air!
This has been such a difficult year for most of us and recent events have added to our continued angst and feelings of hopelessness. But it is important for us to remember that there is always hope for Christians. With the change in our government along with clearer ways that we may receive our vaccinations, we may begin to see a brighter future ahead.
All of the scripture for Sunday is pointing toward that hope. The Psalm is so comforting – reminding us that God is our rock, our salvation and our stronghold. We can indeed trust God and lean on him. He is undeniably powerful and steadfast, and promises never to abandon us, even in the midst of turmoil and confusion.
The Gospel message has asked us to be available – to be ready to respond to Jesus’ call to ministry. That call for all of us at St. Johns is to deepen our knowledge of Christ and to make Christ known in our world. That, dear friends, is what evangelism is all about. How we spread the good news may depend on our unique personalities, our gifts and our temperaments, but there are as many ways to spread the Gospel as there are parishioners here at St. Johns. Of course, the easiest way is to know who Christ is and to live out his message in your daily actions. Perhaps taking a meal to one of our fellow-parishioners in need, or helping to transport a friend who is unable to drive to a medical appointment. It may be as simple as picking up the phone and reaching out to someone from whom you haven’t heard in awhile. This is not hard…we can all share the Gospel message of love and charity through our actions.
Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that the “present form of this world is passing away.” We are being instructed to make the most of our time before Christ’s return. There is an urgency about answering the call. Let us not wait, like Jonah, for God to call us twice. We have been given the Good News. Now we too have been called, just like Jesus’ disciples to spread that good news – whether it be in words or actions, but please, let’s make our words and actions reflect the heart of who Jesus is.
Friday, January 15 2021
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry uses the 2nd Inaugural Speech of Abraham Lincoln and the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to ask the question, “Who will we be?” Should we as a nation go forth in chaos or community? Jesus taught us to move towards the Kingdom of God. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then unselfish sacrificial love is the way beyond chaos to community. The Episcopal Church asks us to work together on a path away from chaos to Beloved Community. Please be an agent of God’s love by blessing someone in need this very day.
“God, the Gospel proclaims, works that Divine Will not through the overwhelming demonstration of power, but rather by working from powerlessness and vulnerability that is both apparent and real. What transforms, what transfigures this powerlessness into the power that God uses to the Good is the willingness to be open to God. To be made, and remade, in God’s image. And that takes imagination, courage and faith” (The Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk).
In today’s Gospel from the first chapter of John Nathanael meets Jesus and says to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Phillip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”
In the Gospel of Mark, it is the Roman Centurion that acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God after he dies on the cross for our sins. In John’s Gospel, Nathaniel declares that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Jesus knew us well before we knew him and we are anointed with the Holy Spirit to be the Beloved Community that God calls us to be.
If you are wondering how we will proceed as a nation through all the chaos, I ask you to put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is in our vulnerability and powerlessness against this Covid virus that we need to stay safe and put our faith in God. Together we can make it through this. Once you have faith that God can transform this chaotic mess into community again, you are able to reflect the light of Christ to a dark world. We do that through proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, seeking to develop our relationship with him in prayer and worship, and loving our neighbor. Please join me in prayer and worship on Sunday in person at 8 and 11 or on zoom for Morning Prayer at 8 and 9:15. I ask you to turn in prayer to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We would also like for you to join us at 9:00 for daily Morning Prayer and on Tuesday evening at 6:30PM for a dramatic Reading of the Gospel of Mark.
Let me end with the question that Presiding Curry asks us,” Who will we be?” Please have trust in God that we can break free in our vulnerability from the chaos and into Beloved Community if we love God and one another.
In Christ’s love,
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Friday, January 08 2021
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke1:26-38).
One of the greatest surprises in the story of God’s coming into our midst is that God did not choose a queen or a princess to be the mother of God’s Son. In fact, God chose a very unlikely person. Instead of choosing royalty from a high and mighty family, God chose a lowly maid. In a period of history that emphasized the importance of age, God chose a young virgin. In an empire where wealth was power, God chose a poor servant, betrothed to a Jewish carpenter.
God comes to ordinary people with an incredible plan to bring God’s reign in heaven on earth. As we look at the many ways God has come to people in the past, we can see a pattern in their response. Mary says, “Here I am Lord, let it be according to your will.” There is an incredible relinquishing of control that takes place when we faithfully say these words. I am convinced that giving up control to God is one of the most important keys to deepening our relationship with God and following God’s will and purpose for our lives.
God comes into this broken Covid world to make it whole. Mary was uniquely favored to be the “Holy Mother of God” the Theotokos or God bearer. God comes to ordinary people, but the grace given to Mary is especially unique, because in a short time, God will come from heaven to earth in a way that God has never come to earth before. A child is to be born very soon. God wants to heal this broken world through turning people’s lives and hearts to God’s will. God’s reign on earth can only come when people turn control of their lives over to God. At St. John’s we are drawing closer to God through out outreach, worship, and prayer. Please join us this Sunday for a zoom Christmas Concert. I know zoom and facebook live are not the same as being at church in the Christmas season, but we have a unique opportunity in a time of deep distress to turn again to God. Let’s make this Christmas extra special by patiently waiting for God to come into the world and into our hearts. God also waits patiently for ordinary people like you and me to be part of this incredible plan. We are simply asked to be faithful to God’s plan and either say yes or no to God’s will. My hope is that this Christmas our faithful response will be to say, “Here I am Lord, let it be according to your will.”.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, January 08 2021
Thank You God for Your Greatest Gift
I used to have a regular Sunday routine after church. Covid-19 has changed that routine drastically and my cardiologists has said “No visitations.” So now after Zoom services, it's time for the newspapers. Some sections can be discarded easily: automobiles (not interested), employment (don’t need it), business (don’t understand it), classifieds (don’t want it), store circulars (no coupons for what I buy—all that stuff about hair coloring and mascara). But the comics usually offer something, and when they don't I go to my files and last Sunday I discovered a Christmas piece that I had saved from 13 years ago. The strip is Mallard Filmore.
Mallard: “Wow! Look at this date! I think this is our traditional ‘Sunday before Christmas comic strip’”
Censor: “I hope it’s not going to be one of those ‘religious’ ones.”
Mallard: “Last time I checked Christmas was a ‘religious’ holiday.”
Censor: “But what if the cartoon makes some people uncomfortable?”
Mallard: “What’s that you always say about pornography: ‘they don’t have to read it’?”
Censor: “What if they’re just reading along and it sneaks up on them?”
Mallard (pen in hand): “WARNING! The following may offend the habitually offended: Thank you, God, for your greatest gift, and for a land in which we can worship him freely.”
Censor: “Can I open my eyes?”
Mallard: “Hey, why start now?”
Several significant elements present themselves in this exchange, the foremost of which is that the greatest gift we can receive is Jesus Christ. In the midst of the Christmas season, when our eyes are often focused elsewhere—existing in the midst of a pandemic, cleaning up the mess, surviving the pandemic, paying the bills acquired over the last fifty days, wondering about the vaccine—we are reminded by a CARTOONIST that the best present of all is Jesus. What an inspired connection this duck, this Mallard Fillmore, makes with today’s gospel from John: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, is NOT merely an adjunct to the presents of Christmas morning, is NOT merely an appendage to often economic madness; rather, Jesus Christ is instead ultimate reality, ultimate fact, from the beginning and at the root of the universe, the one who says to each of us “Be not afraid.”
When the politically correct censor asks whether he can open his eyes, and Mallard responds, “Hey, why start now?” we are the ones who are targeted. As I sit with Susan, perhaps alone this year, sequestered, quaratined, my thoughts will turn often to the greatest gift that renders all other joys real. I open my eyes and behold, see and believe, because NOW is always the right time. The love of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, bursts through the threat of the global pandemic and reminds me that I am a story whose chapters are being shaped and written by a God who chose to become like me, like you, so that we might become like him, by a God who says to each of us “Open your eyes and behold in my Son the greatest gift that the world has ever received.” The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus is significant part of our stories because how we respond to him shapes all else that we do and the world would like to keep that a secret; the birth of Jesus is a watershed in human history though the world would like us to see it as a “cleverly devised myth”; the birth of Jesus, God incarnate, transcends our understanding of time though the world would like us to be confined by clock and calendar.
A Christmas reminds me: “Jesus Christ was born to save…Christ was born to save.” Therein lay the entire purpose for Christmas: “God’s greatest gift” is the source of your redemption and mine. As Saint Paul wrote in the passage read from Galatians this morning: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”
Someone remarked once to a friend as they drove by a church that displayed a crèche outside the entrance, “O Lord! They bring religion into everything. Look—they’re even dragging it into Christmas now!” The Gospel of John reminds us that even such ignorant and cynical darkness will not quench the light of Christ; Saint Paul reminds us that we have been set free in Christ and made heirs of his kingdom; and exploding forth out of the darkness of the politically correct post-modern world, a comic strip duck reminds us that Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift.
“Thank you, God, for your greatest gift.”
Friday, January 08 2021
Bishop Curry was recently asked what he would say to all the people that feel disconnected. Our Presiding Bishop replied, “I think we have got to figure out ways to be connected to each other. I mean, I have jokingly said, if you're high-tech, Zoom, if you're low-tech, text, if you're no-tech, call, send a note, stay in touch, socially distanced, following what the public health folk tell us, but stay in touch. Don't get disconnected. Don't get cut off. The psychologists tell us, cutoff is unhealthy. We actually need each other. So, if we can't touch each other physically, we can touch each other on the phone by writing, across the fence, but find a way to stay connected to other people, and to intentionally, if you're able, connect with other people. Sometimes, I experience love when I love myself, which is to say, when I step beyond Michael and reach out to somebody else, you know, like that song says, reach out and touch somebody's hand. When I do that, somehow, I begin to experience love myself in a very different way, when I give it away.
When Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River the heavens are torn apart, the spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from heaven says to Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” At that moment of Mark’s Gospel, at the age of thirty, Jesus' ministry begins. Jesus' baptism is a moment of literal divine intervention into the realm of this world. Jesus will come to challenge the status quo and centers of political and economic power. Isaiah and other prophets promised justice for the poor and disenfranchised and Jesus came from heaven to proclaim God’s justice and to show us what the peace of God feels like. Jesus comes out of the river, still wet from the waters of baptism and goes to the margins of society where people feel disconnected. Jesus then teaches how to give your life for the sake of others.
St. John’s has always been known for the hospitality of our coffee hours and breakfasts. In the pandemic world that that we live in, it is impossible for St. John’s to gather for service and breakfast. We offer live services at eight and eleven on Sunday mornings, but they cannot compare to the hospitality that our congregation offered in a pre-Covid world. There is no doubt that many Americans feel a disconnect because of the Covid restrictions that have been placed on us, so that we may stay safe and stop the spread of this terrible pandemic.
We will offer all types of connections in the months ahead. We offer live Eucharistic services, zoom Morning Prayer, and streamed services in the comfort of your home. We have daily Morning Prayer, Education for Ministry, Bible study in the evening or day, Hilda’s Guild, Thrift Shop, Laundry Love, and C.A.R.E. I also ask every member to connect with a few of the parishioners that you have not seen in the last few weeks. We must all reach out our hands to the lonely, the elderly, the disenfranchised, and the discouraged. Zoom, text, or call as our Presiding Bishop suggests. The darkness of our time is depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The light of Christ could be a text, note, or call to someone that need a little love right now to endure this time of separation. Please connect with one another as much as possible in the months ahead. At the Baptism of our Lord, the connection with God is established and Jesus heads out into ministry to restore all people with God and one another. We are called to do likewise.
In Christ’s love,