For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.
Learning and Turning in Troubled Times
Not every word of Holy Scripture is joyful; not every moment of the history of God’s people is a victory. While we may turn to the Lord for strength, healing and comfort; sometimes the hand we are dealt is very difficult. Sometimes we may even lash out against God and our fate.
The Prophet Jeremiah knew impossible times. Sent by God to call God’s people back to the Covenant, he was mocked, scorned, and even cast into a dry well, left to die. His prophecies were so stark that he was considered a national traitor who was undermining morale in the face of a terrible siege by the enemies of God’s people.
The prophet’s sad message actually spawned a word! A “jeremiad” refers to a long literary work, in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and it morals with sustained invective. It almost always contains a prophecy of society’s imminent downfall. The Puritans, both in England and in the Colonies, were accused of preaching jeremiads about lax believers in the 17th century. Frederick Douglass spent much of his oratorical career in a jeremiad against the evils of slavery, racism and oppression.
Sunday’s readings remind us of the messages of lament preached both by Jesus and Jeremiah which call us away from self-serving and back to God. They ask us to see, even in our most desperate moments, God’s deep desire that we turn around.
A dear friend and mentor, the Rev. Dick Ullman once told his congregation:
“The testimony of our faith is that there is no great and lasting joy, save through great and lamentable grief:
- It was only after the rain of forty days and forty nights, and weeks and weeks upon the ark, that Noah came to dry land, and the rainbow sign, and the joyful dancing which followed.
- It was only in leaving home, and all the risk and pain which that involved, that Abraham began to receive the fruits of God’s promises to him.
- It was only after he was nearly murdered by his brothers, and sold by them into slavery in Egypt, and there falsely accused and imprisoned, that Joseph came to save not only the great Egyptian nation but also his own murderous brothers from famine and starvation.
- It was only because they were slaves in Egypt, bitterly oppressed, that Israel could know God’s deliverance in Exodus.
There is no great and lasting joy, save through great and lamentable grief.”
Don’t worry; there will be no jeremiad on Sunday, no long bitter lament, no sustained invective, or prophecy of imminent downfall. There will be a serious effort to look for the emergence of God’s grace which is found in defeat, difficulty and loss.
See you then, peace,
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
You will be my witnesses.
Who me, a Witness???
Walking through Savannah last Thursday night, I looked up and saw John Wesley. Of course it wasn’t literally John, but his likeness, in the form of a bronze statue on a pedestal nearly fifteen feet high. Reynolds Square was the site of Wesley’s Parish House from 1736-7. As the first Anglican chaplain to Savannah, John held services and catechized the local population. While he and his brother Charles were notoriously unsuccessful in their missionary work in the penal colony of Georgia, their time there shaped the next decades of their lives.
John Wesley went on to become perhaps the greatest witness to Christ in the English speaking world. But his witness did not begin with his success. A witness is someone who speaks about an event or its meaning to an audience that is unaware or unable to verify it. A witness does not twist or alter what happened. A witness does not have the ability to compel anyone to believe what they say. John Wesley simply witnessed, unsuccessfully and later successfully, to the truth he understood about Jesus.
Almost three hundred years after Wesley came to Georgia, we are now the witnesses to the truth about Jesus. Our testimony can be simple and direct.
- God made the world in love.
- Human beings have fallen short of God’s love.
- God’s continuing love can be seen in the Bible.
- Jesus is the ultimate image of God’s love.
- God has defeated death and sin.
- Everyone who seeks God’s love will be found by God.
I could go on, but as a witness, I need to limit my testimony to the truth that will point others to the way.
You might think that all this “witness work” is just for the clergy. This simply isn’t true. The best witness comes from regular folks like you, who try and try again to follow Jesus. Every one of us has a voice and a story. We are each a unique witness to the work of God in the world. No one can tell your story better than you.
It’s good to practice your story. I’m not talking about memorizing the lines of a script. Our vestry acclaims the parish “Grounded in Christ; Growing in Faith; Giving back to the Community”. Maybe you could use this arc to shape your testimony. Where did you start with God? How are you growing? How to you give back? Things to think about.
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. Amen.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
Friends, you are a vital to the new life at Christ Church Parish!
Sunday School is bubbling. The Choir continues to grow. Soon we will have more “Visitor Friendly” signage and a more robust Neighborhood Network.
I know that many folks feel they can encounter God anywhere and that is true. Church isn’t supposed to be a “God box” shaped only to constrict us. But this Easter, I want to ask you to consider how much Christ Church needs you. You are a sign of God’s vitality and Jesus’ Resurrection.
I became a Christian because someone other than my parents taught my Sunday School. My faith became real to me because two Marine Lieutenants led my youth group. My vocation emerged as I hung around people for whom Christianity was more than a one-hour-a-week thing. None of those folks were paid; all of them became the church for me.
During the Fifty Days of Easter, I would like to ask you to be that person of faith for someone at Christ Church. Be a chopper on Wednesdays that welcomes new folk into the life of service. Ask Lindy how you can help with our Children’s Ministry. Come hang out at Ponder, Pause and Pray and consider what your sisters and brothers think about the Bible. No one of us has to have all the answers; we each just have to be who we are.
Lastly, I ask you to help me get “out of the box” at Church this spring. Let’s do a House Blessing at your home. Invite a few friends. Plan a snack or a meal or a cookout. The service is very short, but it is a clear indication that you want to invite God into your dwelling. Maybe someone will come closer to God just because you invited them over.
Every choice we make this spring can add to the life to Christ Church Parish. Come, and be that person for someone in your parish.
Note: Every week, Fr. Mark writes a meditation on one of the Scriptures coming up for the next week. It comes out in the Weekly eBlast from the church along with all the announcements and a link to the Bulletin! If you are not receiving the eBlast and would like to: please send an email to Brenda@ccpki.org
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope. Psalm 130:4
Hoping Hopefully for Hope
Tucked away near the end of the 150 Psalms, it is possible to detect an ancient songbook for campers. Of course, all of the Psalms are songs. They are sung by Jews and Christians sometimes daily, sometimes weekly. But the 14 Psalms of Ascents (120-134) represent a thematic gathering of songs for pilgrims.
Tradition has it that these songs were sung by travelers head up to Mount Zion, to Jerusalem for prayer. “I lift up my eyes to the hills” … “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord” … To you I lift up my eyes” … these verses echo the encouraging words people might say to one another as they rise more than 2000 feet from the Mediterranean Sea or the Jordan Riverto the gates of the Temple.
Sunday’s Psalm 130 is, perhaps, the most ominous of the collection. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord.” Here is a sudden cry of abandonment and fear. Biblical references to the depths tend to focus on being at sea, but the metaphor can carry all the way to the Temple heights. The Psalm focuses on the perception of a broken relationship with God and loss.
Verse 4, quoted above, stands at the turning point of the Psalm. The author changes the mood from fear towards hope. Indeed Robert Alter, a contemporary Jewish scholar translates the verse: “I hoped for the Lord, my being hoped, and for his word I waited.” Such hope involves a leap that takes us beyond our current fretting, beyond our current distress.
“Life is difficult”, Scott Peck told us forty years ago in The Road Less Traveled. Our personal, relational, congregational, communal, national, planetary life includes loss and brokenness and alienation. Hope is remedy in the face of difficulty. Hope reminds us that God is present in every living thing. Hope reminds us that Jesus loved us beyond all measure. Hope reminds us that the Holy Spirit comes to us in every breath.
I guess that’s why this Lament Psalm made it into the Pilgrim songbook. Toes get stubbed. Ankles get twisted. Nerves get frayed. At the frayed point, we pilgrims do well to gather and remind each other the God is in charge. Distress is not permanent. Watch for God and see what happens next.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:5
For our Children, our Youth, and Ourselves
I have witnessed a new beginning. Last Sunday afternoon, members of Christ Church Parish gathered at Lindy Coltharp’s home to share ideas, hopes, and begin planning for Sunday morning classes that will engage our families with young children. About a dozen folks: parents, grandparents, new and long-time members of the congregation talked about Sunday morning programming for Children and Youth and we are excited about this new energy and enthusiasm that is emerging. It’s all about forging new and lasting relationships with each other and our children.
The Sunday School movement began 200 years ago as a way to teach mill children to read. Today, our children are in school on weekdays, and sports and other activities fill their weekends, but it still falls to the church to teach faith, prayer and morality. This work is done, not by rote or by examination, but by experiencing the stories of the Bible in community.
The new program will begin this Sunday at 9:45 am. Parents are welcome alongside their children. Every child will need to be registered. Younger children and parents will be photographed to help teachers learn the children’s names. The first project for this Sunday will feature the story of the early church Lenten practice of making pretzels and will include a ‘hands on’ baking experience. A fun and delicious project for all ages!
God’s love is freely given to each of us. It has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit so we in turn may share it with others. I hope that you will pray for our fresh start with Sunday School. If you are a parent, come a little early on Sunday to help us make a good start. If you want to help in the classroom, get in touch with Lindy: email@example.com or cell: 410-212-6269 and see how you can help in the weeks to come. In everything, give thanks.
Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children: Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For a fascinating history of the Sunday School Movement click here:
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, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:1-2
Going with God to a New World
Most people who come to church are seeking comfort. It’s a good thing, you know, the church is a place of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Gathered in community we become a safe haven where God can minister to those in need.
Many also come seeking knowledge and counsel for themselves or their children. Church is a place where God’s wisdom and empowerment can be found. The elders and those who have walked the path can help newer believers come to faith.
Our Lenten journey is less about “coming to church” and more about following God into the world. In Genesis, God first calls Abram’s father from east of the Euphrates (near Basra, in modern day Iraq) to go to Canaan (Palestine). The family pauses for an unspecified time in Haran (a roadside town in western Turkey) during which his father dies. Sunday’s first reading picks up as God renews the call telling Abram to leave his country, his family, and his father’s household.
This trek would have been a bold rejection of all of the safety nets that protected people in that time. To leave ones’ country meant becoming an immigrant. Leaving ones’ kin meant leaving behind a social system that provided employment and security. To walk away from ones’ father’s house, meant turning away from ones’ very identity.
God’s call to Abram and his wife Sarai includes new promises, a kind of divine safety net. God promises that their family will become a great nation. Instead of being immigrants, God will make them a whole new country. God promises to bless them. Their work and their security will come from God’s bountiful provision. God promises to make their name great. The very identity of this new people will be that they are children of wandering Abram and Sarai.
What would it be like for us to live like these faithful who have gone before? How might we rely more on God’s care and provision? Even more importantly, how might we actually become part of God’s care and provision for our neighbors, for the stranger, for those who have no one to care for them? God says that we will be a blessing for the world.
Every week, we come together for comfort, for healing, for reconciliation. We come together for wisdom and good counsel. But the most important part of our life in Christ is lived when we go out into the world. In the world we learn to rely on God’s promises and God’s blessings. In the world we take on God’s name as Christians. Happy wandering. Happy Lent!
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Then I acknowledged my sin to you, * and did not conceal my guilt. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5-6
Sin – Repentance – and Wow!
I don’t preach directly about sin very often. I guess that most of the shouting I’ve heard about sin since my childhood was directed at other people. There are many out there who rejoice at discovering the faults of others and making a big deal out of the wrongdoings of others. Lent is less about chronicling our neighbors’ guilt and more about a healthy dose of introspection and self-awareness.
The Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer is a good place to start as we think about our sin. On page 848 it asks, “What is sin?” The answer comes: “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation”. So the brokenness we experience in sin comes from self-seeking. Our misguided assertion of our will as more important than God’s will is at the root of sin.
Frederick Buechner, one of my heroes, describes sin like a centrifuge, which “tends to push everything to the periphery”. Not only is God pushed off, but even bits of ourselves are shattered. For religious folk, sin includes both the sense of “holier-than-thou” which pushes others away; but also a secret suspicion our own holiness is deficient, thus pushing parts of ourselves away. In the end, we may even resent God’s will so much that we push away the very source of our lives.
All this spinning has great power. Returning to the BCP we read: “Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted”. A self-centered world is more than just out of focus, it’s actually a prison. Self-seeking chains us in a world of haves and have-nots. Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? He is literally chained by his choices, unable to help or to care or to relieve the suffering of others.
Lent is a time to stop the spinning. God’s call to repentance isn’t about shouting or shame. Buechner says “To repent is to come to your senses”. Sunday’s psalm is a great recitation of God’s loving care and forgiveness. The psalmist acknowledges personal selfishness. The psalmist confesses overstepping the boundaries. Then, quite simply, God forgives.
Jesus has already paid the price for our redemption, but we need to joyfully receive this relief from guilt and the freedom it brings to love like God loves. Buechener concludes: “True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying ‘I’m sorry,’ than to the future and saying ‘Wow!’”
So “Happy Lent, y’all”. Jesus has paid your tab. The selfish chains of rebellion have been loosed. Set aside sin and move close to God. There are great things in store!
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them:
You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Leviticus 19:1-2
The Imitation of God
Most of us, I’m guessing, don’t rush off to the rule book very often. While our daily actions and behaviors are often shaped by the rules we have internalized, reading the rules of the game might just upset the apple cart.
Leviticus contains a great number of rules. Scholars tell us that Leviticus is an important link between the tribal law of the wandering “Children of Israel” and the more developed Jewish identity expressed during the era of the Kings and the Exile. The majority of the 613 Mitzvot or Commandments of Jewish law can be found here.
Sunday, we will read from Leviticus 19. The passage is a miscellaneous collection of laws about harvesting crops, paying just wages, personal honesty, justice, rejecting cruelty, and letting go of grudges. After a great, long list of “what not to do” the passage arrives at the pinnacle of the Law “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
Being commanded to love can seem a stretch to us. “Hug your sister,” I was often instructed after a fight. It never seemed like a good idea at the time. Yet at our core, we are made not for profit or for winning, not for self-advancement or triumph over others. We are made for love. Self-giving care is in our make-up because it is in God’s being. Love moves the universe.
Some will say that the act of self-love is even harder than love of neighbor. We live every day in our inward thoughts, our shame, and our fears. The cultivation of a healthy self-love is a lifelong task: not too little, but also not too much.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus will tell those gathered at the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We may be tempted to throw our hands in the air, crying that we are doomed to fail. But Jesus is simply quoting Leviticus. “Be complete”, “be whole”, “be entirely the self you were made to be”. The whole point of the rules, the law, is to throw us into the arms of a loving God. Without God, we can do nothing. With God’s help, everything is possible.
It’s good to look at the rule book from time to time. How am I doing in trying to imitate God? How am I showing love for those around me? How am I showing the right measure of love for myself? God knows. God loves. And God wants you to imitate that knowledge and love with your life.
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord! Psalm 119:1
Every Possible Way
Most folks never give Psalm 119 a chance. Seriously, 176 verses? Clearly King David or Daniel or whoever wrote this song had too much time on their hands. What could one possibly learn from climbing such a mountain? Well, let me try to help.
Psalm 119 is an Acrostic Poem. Each section of the Psalm includes eight verses each of which begin with one letter of the Alphabet. Twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet give you 176 verses. These are not the only acrostics in the Bible. Eight other Psalms, most of the last chapter of Proverbs and large portions of Lamentations are organized this way. Remember your early years in school? “A is for apple. B is for ball”? That’s what is going on here.
Psalm 119 is a Meditation on God’s Law. This might not sound like something you want to spend a lot of time on, but let’s think about it. Most of us think of the Law as a list of things we are not supposed to do. But God’s Law does not make God love us. In the Exodus, God declares that Israel is God’s people before giving them the Ten Commandments. God’s Law is like GPS for the soul pointing the way.
Psalm 119 is a Love-List. Remember: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Well in this Psalm the author is trying to describe the believer’s relationship to God using every letter of the alphabet. All the “A reasons” all the “B reasons”; there is a catalogue of ways God reaches out and the believer reaches back.
Psalm 119 offers a World of Words. The Psalmist is not content to write 176 verses with the “Law” in it. Synonyms abound that help round out the relationship: “commandment, ordinance, way, path, word, promise, statues, decrees”; all these shape the image of the deep relationship between God and the believer.
Sunday we’ll share the “Aleph” section of Psalm 119. Watch for the ways the psalmist speaks of God’s Law. The Law offers a reminder of how God loves us and how we may respond by walking God’s path, keeping God’s instruction and seeking God’s word for our lives. Maybe you will be drawn into this astonishing meditation.
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP p. 216)
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:36-38
Learning, Growing, and Living in Faith
Most of those who are baptized in the church didn’t get asked about what we believed first. For more than a millennium the church has regularly baptized infants and young children at the earliest possible date. Infant Baptism is a sign of God’s Grace, received as a gift and not because of our own accomplishment or understanding. When we baptize infants we require parents and sponsors to make promises to raise the child in the faith and prepare them for life in community.
If you have a child who has not been baptized, the first step is to speak to the clergy so we can begin to prepare. We don’t baptize during the weeks before Easter and Christmas because our preparations for the holy days is significant, but we try to offer Sundays when families and friends can gather and share the moment. Call the church if you want to talk about baptism.
First Communion is not mentioned in the Prayer Book. Theologically, we become communicants of the church at Baptism. I remember one of my professors said it this way: “We didn’t expect our children to understand hygiene before we bathed them or nutrition before we fed them. Why should we expect them to understand the sacrament before they receive it?” Of course, there are developmental issues which make receiving more difficult for toddlers. This is why we have a short class to prepare children to celebrate their First Communion. If you have a child in the Second Grade, your first step is to call the church so we can begin to prepare them for First Communion in the Spring.
Children Baptized at an early age and adults who have never professed their faith before a bishop are expected to be confirmed. Confirmation Classes for young people in the 9th Grade or older will begin February 19th. I’ll be holding an info session after Church on February 12th for parents and confirmands. If you have a 9th Grader or older who has not been confirmed, your first step is to call or email the church so we can begin to prepare. Bishop Marray will join us April 23rd to celebrate confirmation.
Many adults in this parish have never been transferred in from their old parish and many others have never been officially received as Episcopalians. This is not a matter of renouncing your previous experience. I am proud of my heritage as a Southern Baptist and a Presbyterian. If you are an adult and would like to know more about the Episcopal Church or renew your commitment to Christ and the church, your first step is to call the church and tell Father Mark, “I’m in”. We’ll work out a mutually agreeable time to meet and learn together about the faith. Maybe you too will want to be confirmed!
I pray that every member of the church from infant to elder will make the effort to Learn and Grow and Live the Faith. We can never know enough. We are never through growing. God willing, we will live out faith until we meet our Savior face-to-face!
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
How Many Questions? How many Answers?
Neither the original Hebrew nor the Greek included any punctuation. Translators had to use a careful ear to determine which sentences were statements of fact, where an exclamation is shouted, or where a question is asked.
Modern Bibles include more than 3,000 question marks. From the first question, asked by God in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” to the last question, “What city was like the great city?” in Revelation 18:18, questions come from mortals and from God. The Book of Job has more than 300 questions as Job interrogates God and God interrogates Job.
Sunday’s Psalm 27 begins with two of my favorite Biblical questions. I love them because the Psalmist gives the answer before asking the question! While two questions are clearly asked: “whom shall I fear?” and “of whom shall I be afraid?”, each question is prefaced by the answer to that question, a statement of confidence and trust.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation”. Clearly this psalm is custom-made for the Epiphany season. God provides the remedy for darkness, both physical lights: like the sun and moon and spiritual light: for the dark places of gloom and pain within us. God also provides salvation. As I have written several times, salvation has both a physical sense of rescue and a spiritual sense of the salve or balm that provides healing. This verse is a good one to keep handy in times of anxiety and discomfort. Naming God as our source of light for direction/orientation and salvation for rescue/healing can help us drive away the fears that keep us from moving, keep us from feeling safe.
“The Lord is the strength of my life”. In the ancient world, many forces surrounding humans were considered to have power over them. Various kinds of demons were counted alongside the governmental powers which could force people to do their will. When we speak of the “Lord God of Power and Might”, we are acknowledging God’s overarching strength which allows believers to exercise their full human will. In Jesus, we learn that God’s ultimate strength is expressed not in wielding power but in love. It is love which rules the world and love which embraces and strengthens our lives.
The Psalmist asks these questions, because life is scary. There are things to be legitimately afraid of. Yet the psalmist also knows the answer. The Lord of light, salvation, and strength provides everything we need. For both these questions and their answers, we give thanks.
O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Known, Worshiped, and Obeyed
The Collect for the Day is a prayer which carries the theme of the Scriptures and the Season of the Church Year. Many of our collects are more than a thousand years old, having come to us from Latin sources and the 1549 translation of the first Book of Common Prayer. Sunday’s collect is special in that it is only about 50 years old. It comes to us through the Church of South India, a unique consultation of the many different Protestant missionary churches which have worked in South Asia for generations.
Like most Epiphany Collects, the prayer begins with the Light of Jesus Christ. The gift of God’s Son into the world brought light into a world plunged into darkness by sin and violence. It is moving to me to think that the Light of Christ shines equally on all sides of the world. One can literally follow this collect around the world as morning dawns on every continent.
The Light of Christ is shown to us here in Word and Sacrament. It’s not simply in reading and hearing God’s Word that we are illuminated. In Baptism we begin to share in Christ’s light. In Holy Communion we take that light into our bodies in the Bread and Wine. We are intended to shine, like Jesus. We are made to carry Christ’s glory, the evidence of God, into the world where we live.
The collect then swells to a great summit; it gives us the job description for the Christian life. First, we are to shine so that Jesus may be known. How many of our neighbors do not truly know Jesus? How many people in the world have never heard of God’s offering of the Beloved Child? Knowing Jesus brings us to worship him. In worship we acknowledge our debt for his saving work. True worship affirms the invaluable worth of Jesus’ life, teaching death and resurrection. And then, worshipping Jesus, we must also obey him. The Christian life is shaped by the commandment to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves; not just as a good idea, but as an action of care, compassion and concern.
I rejoice that this great prayer was offered to us by our sisters and brothers in India. Bishop Santosh and his wife Lynn both have relatives there. Their elders went to Guyana in South America as slaves to serve in the rice fields. God so loved the whole globe that he sent his son, Jesus to illuminate the people of Israel and India and Guyana and the people of our land. Now we can shine with that same light, so that Christ may be known and worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.
Happy Epiphany Season,
There came three kings from eastern land, Star-led by God’s Almighty hand,
To Christward thro’ Jerusalem, Unto the crib at Bethlehem.
God, thither to our footsteps guide, To serve that Babe at every tide.
Chalking It Up
This Friday is January 6 and that means the Feast of the Epiphany. It is now days since we celebrated Jesus’ birth and many Christian households celebrate the occasion by marking up their doors!
First, a word about “epiphany”: the word is taken directly from the Greek word which describes: “shining forth”. An epiphany is a revelation, a coming-to-see, a manifestation. You might have an epiphany about who ate the last cookies when you find crumbs on your spouse’s side of the bed!
The Epiphany is the shining forth of God’s love for the salvation of all people. While the angels message to the shepherds tell us that God’s love is for those on the margins; the Epiphany star tells us that God’s love is for every human being: Jew and Gentile.
The Magi, astrologers from the East, came to Jerusalem looking for a new king announced by an auspicious star. Failing in Jerusalem, they were re-directed to Bethlehem by the current King Herod. Finding the newborn Jesus, they offered royal symbols: gold for kingship, frankincense for priesthood and myrrh as a dark suggestion of the impending death of the newborn leader.
For about 1,000 years Christians have welcomed these sages into their homes, literally marking the Epiphany on the top of their front doors. In Great Britain, the service commonly takes place on Twelfth-Night, January 6th. This date is also observed as Epiphany, commemorating the visiting of the Christ Child by the three Magi (Wise Men) with their gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. Many families gather in their homes to celebrate this feast with friends, food, singing, and gifts. It is at these Twelfth-Night celebrations that “Chalking the Door” is most often observed.
The inscription written above the door is as follows:
20 + C + M + B + 17
The numbers at the beginning and end of the inscription simply refer to the current year. The letters C M B come from the traditional names for the three kings: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Some also suggest “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means, “May Christ bless this dwelling!”
Chalk is used in this service as an ordinary substance made of common elements of the earth, put to holy use. Chalk will not permanently mark the dwelling. As its image fades from view over time, those who participated in its original placement will remember it and the purpose for which it was intended. In doing so, they may rededicate themselves to that purpose. After a year passes and a new Epiphany arrives, they will have the opportunity once again to celebrate the themes of this season and once again to seek God’s blessing on their homes and on those who come and go through its doors.
Whether you chalk your door this Epiphany or simply offer a prayer to the newborn king, remember that Jesus is for everyone: those we love and those who trouble us; those nearby and those far away; those who know the story and those whom we may help to meet this most amazing child.
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.
God’s Grace made Visible
One Christmas Eve the epistle reading tends to shoot right by. In between “Angels we have heard on high” and “Hark the herald angels sing” we hardly even notice the joyful proclamation written to one of Paul’s trusted companions.
Titus is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters. He was apparently the “go-to fix-it guy” when troubles arose in Corinth. Twice Paul sent him back to the cosmopolitan church in central Greece to remind the Corinthians that while they were surrounded by freedom and grace, there were still behaviors and attitudes which a Christian must exhibit. In the Letter to Titus, Paul, or someone writing in Paul’s name gives instructions for the administration of the new churches on the island of Crete.
God’s grace, cited in the epistle, is essential to all we are or have or do. Frederick Buechner describes it this way: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.”
In the Letter to Titus we read that this gift has been made visible. This is the essence of Christmas. No longer would God’s people be dependent on an idea or a concept. God’s gift was made real and warm and vulnerable in the infant child born to Mary and Joseph.
Every year, we return to the stable, an unsteady place for the birth of a child. Every year we hear how unwed parents a long way from home watched over God’s greatest gift. Every year we rush in with the shepherds to receive the gift. Returning to Buechner: “There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
See you in Church Saturday night at 5:00 pm with the kids, or at 10:00 pm with choir and candlelight. See you Sunday morning at 10:00 am for Carols and Communion and the Blessing of Toys. God’s grace has been made visible. God’s gift is waiting. Come let us adore him. Come let us receive God’s great gift of visible grace.
Peace, Mark +
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. Psalm 80:3
Seeking Rescue – Seeking Renewal
This Advent may seem even more troubled than usual. There are transitions all about: in our nation, our diocese, our parish, and in our own lives. We have a new president and a new bishop. Most of you have heard by now that Kim Willard will be ending her work as Minister of Children, Youth and Families in January. Many of you have shared your own experiences of grief, illness, and loss with me.
In times like these, our eyes turn to God for help and direction. The psalmist looked to God regularly for comfort, for counsel, and for restoration. The Bible is clear; no one could see God face-to-face and live. But the light that comes from God’s face (God’s countenance) could be turned to enlighten the believer. Looking into God’s light could change one for the better.
Another significant word in Sunday’s psalm is “saved”. Both in Hebrew and in Greek the word saved means two things at the same time. We can be saved in the sense that we are rescued from sin and death and danger. We can also be saved in the sense that we are healed, renewed and made whole. So by asking God to save us we mean both in soul and in body. We ask for rescue and healing all at once.
This coming Wednesday, we will observe the Longest Night Service at 7:30 pm. On the longest night of the year (December 21) we will seek the light of God’s face on our darkened world and in the dark places of our lives. The world may be singing “Joy to the World” while some of us need quiet reassurance of God’s care. The Longest Night is for those who need a quiet sanctuary.
The service is simple and soothing. Quiet music and Scripture full of God’s care are offered to those present. Prayers are offered recalling our losses, our deep needs, and our desire for God’s saving power. Then, we light candles … dozens of candles, filling the room with light. If you want, there will be clergy present to pray with you.
Our New Bishop, San Marray will be with us. Deacon Melody will be here, too. Gary Van Essen will help with the music. The service will be simple, grace-filled and open to God’s light.
However you experience this Advent, find the time to look for the light. God offers healing to those in need and rescue to those in danger. As God’s turns towards us, let us seek God’s saving help.
Peace, Mark +
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. Isaiah 35:1
The early church kept Advent as a time of penitence and fasting. No one was thought worthy of communion or celebrating the Christmas feast unless they had denied themselves worldly pleasures and rejected the excesses of sin. Celtic Christians in particular kept the fast from St. Martin’s Day, making the Advent fast even more daunting than Lent.
We have a more open approach to communion and feasting. While some introspection is part of our worship, many if not most of us are caught in the hustle-bustle of daily life. So what does Gaudate (Rejoice) Sunday mean in our context? What does this third week of advent have to offer us as we prepare for Christmas?
Cultivating Joy: Robert Schuller reminds us, “Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” Advent is a time of joy because of all that God has done for us. We can cultivate this joy by expressing our gratitude. A “joy jar” or a “gratitude notebook” can help us to catch glimpses of God. Those glimpses can add to an increasing joy.
Sharing Joy: The great Mark Twain once observed: “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” Joy is bigger in community. Not the bragging of “look what I have”, but the more biblical expression “rejoice with me.” Maybe this is the week to pull someone aside and share a little joy.
Seeking Joy: Those who came before us knew that joy was a destination, something we strive for. Five hundred years before Jesus, Gautama Buddha wrote: “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” Maybe those Advent candles and their shadows have something to teach us.
The Joy of God: We know where the story is going. We know that Advent will bring us again to the manger, the birth, and the song of the Angels. Take this week to dive deep into the joy that comes from knowing God is on our side!
So deck your halls, green your homes. Our King and savior is drawing near!
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-7
Turns out your Rector is Made of Flesh and Bones
If you have been around me for any length of time, you know I struggle with a persistent spastic cough. It’s tied to a lifelong battle with asthma, but I’ve known for a while now that something was triggering it. In October, a “Scope” revealed a polyp sitting on the right hand side at the top of my vocal chords.
On Monday, I will go to Anne Arundel Hospital and have this thing removed. The doctor says I will only be “out” for a half an hour. There is no external incision and only a small cut at the site. I’ll be silent for 48 hours and then can resume normal activities.
I’ve always said that my experiences as a patient have made me a better pastor. This time, my experiences as a pastor probably made me a better patient. I often counsel parishioners to make a list of questions before going to see the doctor. I did. It worked.
Bishop Bud and Rev. Mary Garner will be around during my silent days for pastoral support in the parish. The Wardens and Vestry will step up, too. Turns out, I am surrounded by caring and competent staff, leaders and parishioners. We’re all in good hands.
So add Mimi and me to your prayer this week. St. Paul reminds us in Romans that we don’t have to give God exact instructions. The Holy Spirit can sort it all out. But it won’t hurt to jingle the celestial switchboard this week.
I’ll see you all this Sunday. God willing, I’ll also see you on Thanksgiving Day at 10:00 am and again on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27!
Strengthen your servant, O God, to do what he has to do and bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, he may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP page 459)
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. Micah 4:1-2a
Duty to Country … Duty to God
Most Episcopalians know that the clergy don’t pick the scripture to be read at Sunday Services. We follow a lectionary, a chart of readings that take us through the majority of the Bible every three years. The basic shape of our current lectionary was devised in Rome during the Second Vatican Council about 1965. Those who put the lectionary together had no idea that fifty years later the US would be coming out of a contentious, even divisive, election season. They just knew it was the next to the last Sunday of the church year and it was time to talk about the end times.
Sunday’s Gospel reading is even more foreboding than Malachi. Jesus says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” He goes on to tell his followers: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” Wow, Jesus, where do I sign up? (Please note the sarcasm here.)
But Luke’s careful narration of these events isn’t just written to scare us. Luke carefully shapes this narrative to remind us of Jesus’ care and God’s protection. Jesus tells us: “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Luke and his followers had seen the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. and they knew that God had seen them through it.
Tuesday’s election marks the 58th time our nation has engaged in the presidential election process; the 38th when all black men were entitled to vote; and the 24th since women were allowed to vote. It was not the first contentious national election campaign in our history; but it was most certainly contentious.
Beginning this Sunday, we will pray for our new President-elect Donald by name. This will complete the cycle of name changes in the prayers of the people. Since I arrived we have prayed for two Presiding Bishops, three Bishops, two Presidents and two Governors. Things should settle in at least for the foreseeable future.
Governments change, but our Christian obligations do not. The Prayer Book teaches that every Christian is to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. The Bible teaches “the earth is the Lord’s” and so we must continue to work to protect and restore the environment. We have promised to “respect the dignity of every human being”, which includes our continued obligation to end racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia.
Pressed by the authorities in the Temple, Jesus taught that Love of God and Love of Neighbor accomplishes all that God requires of us. As our nation begins a new administration may we who follow Christ never cease to be a people of healing, a people of reconciliation, a people of love.
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
Dwelling in God’s Courts
We who live in this corner of God’s creation on the Chesapeake Bay are fortunate indeed. Four centuries of beauty, holiness, and security surround us. Every place where Christ Church Parish has prayed has its own story to tell.
Kent Fort (1631-40?) is long lost to us. It was a trading post where goods from England were stored to offer to the native populations up the Bay. In exchange, furs and other unique items were carried from the north back to England. Yet while the fort was a commercial center, the Rev. Richard James was brought to lead prayers daily and celebrate communion regularly. If you find yourself at Bloody Point at the southern tip of Kent Island, remember it is a place where prayers were said daily.
Broad Creek Church (1652-1880) is still a place of pray and reflection. It’s hard to imagine that the site was once a bustling village with wharfs, warehouses, taverns, and homes. The Broad Creek Church was a colonial hub of prayer and action which survived the British invasion forces during the War of 1812. Today it is possible to go and pray on that sacred site and the surrounding Broad Creek Cemetery where God’s praise has been heard for centuries. When you find yourself at Broad Creek Cemetery, remember your prayers align with theirs.
The Town Church (1880-1995) was a center for worship and education for over a century. As the Industrial Revolution brought new devices, the church on East Main Street became the place to be. The ancient wood and plaster rings with the praise of four generations and is open the first Saturday of the month for tours and prayer. Walk in and join the ancient chorus.
The Parish Center (1995-2006) on Romancoke Road includes the Parish Offices, the Day School and Shand Hall, where worship was held for a decade. Now the Sunday home to Living Water Lutheran Church, it is still a good place to pray looking out on the encircling trees. Join the bustle of the Thursday Farmers Market and Sunday Night Cornerstone Youth Group and you may hear with the flutter of attending angels.
The Worship Center (2006-present) is a grand place for great prayer and also a collection of smaller circles. A public Labyrinth on the north side of the building offers a space for personal meditation and walking. Stations of the Cross encircle the interior of the building. Two small chapels on the north side invoke St. Francis and the animals we love and the daily evening prayers of the church.
How lovely are God’s dwelling places. Inhabit them and join the prayers that echo there.
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 1 Timothy 3:1
Welcoming Bishop Santosh Marray, our new Leader
This Saturday, October 15 will be a great day in the life of the Diocese of Easton. In the presence of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and many honored guests, we will welcome and install the Eleventh Bishop of Easton, Santosh Marray. The event is at Chesapeake College and begins at 11:00 am. Everyone is welcome to take part in this great milestone event.
Bishop San and his wife Lynn come to us most recently from the Diocese of Alabama, but they have lived in a variety of places. They were both born in Guyana on the Northern Atlantic coast of South America. San converted to Christianity from Hinduism (the faith of his parents) when he was 16 and has been ordained since 1981.
In addition to serving in Guyana, San served in the Bahamas and in Florida before being consecrated the 3rd Bishop of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean in 2005. Return to the US, Bishop San served as an Assisting Bishop in East Carolina and Alabama before his election in June of this year.
San and Lynn will live in Easton and look forward to inviting us to visit once they settle in. They will be joining us at Christ Church at least twice in the coming year. Wednesday, December 21 they will be here for a pot-luck supper and conversation before our Longest Night celebration. Then on Sunday, April 23rd Bishop San will be here for his first parish visitation and confirmations.
In addition to Bishop San’s investiture this Saturday, the diocese will also gather around our new bishop Sunday, October 23 at 3:00 pm when he will be officially seated in Trinity Cathedral, Easton. This day will also be a special one for the diocese and everyone is invited.
Please pray for our new bishop and his wife. Christ Church Parish has always a special place in the life of the diocese and the years to come with San and Lynn will continue this bond of fellowship and prayer.
O God, by your grace you have called us in the Diocese of Easton to a goodly fellowship of faith. Bless our Bishops Santosh and other clergy, and all our people. Grant that your Word may be truly preached and truly heard, your Sacraments faithfully administered and faithfully received. By your Spirit, fashion our lives according to the example of your Son, and grant that we may show the power of your love to all among whom we live; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.