|Posted by communications on January 13, 2021 at 7:00 PM||comments (4)|
As I write these words, members of Congress are debating about whether to impeach President Trump in the aftermath of the violence at our nation’s Capitol last week. This on top of the worst stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen to date. In light of all this I would like to reiterate and expand upon what I said in my sermon this past Sunday.
As I said on Sunday, I have found myself turning to my Centering Prayer sacred words: “trust Love”. What had been words to help me find that place of silence and stillness for Centering Prayer, have now taken on a deeper meaning in the context of the turbulence we are all experiencing at this time in our nation’s history.
Trusting Love, as I see it, (and I am capitalizing the word Love intentionally) is not to engage in Pollyannish wishful thinking, but rather to allow the truth of God’s enduring love to provide us with a broader perspective in the midst of tumultuous times.
Trusting Love does not mean that we passively accept injustice in our world. Rather, quite the opposite: to trust Love means that when we are confronted with injustice, we actively engage in opposing it. This does not mean, however, that we cross that fine line between the seeking of justice and the hatred of another human being. As we promise in our Baptismal Covenant, to trust Love is to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Or to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Trusting Love means that we take the long view. As people of faith, we trust that God’s love endures, even in the midst of political turmoil and a time of pandemic. Our faith tells us that in the end God’s love wins. God’s love will overcome all injustice. God’s love will overcome all evil. And ultimately, God’s love will even overcome death itself.
In this time of political upheaval and pandemic, I believe that our best path forward is to re-engage in the practice of trusting Love and to renew our capacity to be agents of loving-kindness in a world that desperately needs it.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on January 6, 2021 at 1:45 PM||comments (0)|
Peace be to this house, and to all who dwell in it.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany. An epiphany is an “A-ha!” moment, and throughout the season of Epiphany, we will examine various “A-ha!” moments about Jesus that occur throughout the Gospels, starting with his baptism this coming Sunday.
The Church has an old tradition of blessing homes on the Feast of the Epiphany and the week following. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in our home, our comings and goings, our conversations, our work and play, our joys and sorrows. In this time when many of us are spending a great deal of time at home, don’t you think our houses need a little extra blessing this year?
A traditional way of doing this is to use chalk to write on or above the home’s entryway:
20 + C + M + B + 21
The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus Mansionem Benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” The “+” signs represent the cross and 2021 is the year. If you cannot access the top of the door or entryway, find a brick you can reach or even the steps or sidewalk out front. After using the chalk, pray with these words:
Visit, O God, this home with the gladness of your presence.
Bless all who live or visit here with the gift of your love,
and grant that we may manifest your love to all whose lives we touch.
May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you.
As you guided the magi to Christ with the light of a star,
guide, comfort, and strengthen us, and preserve us in peace, now and forever. Amen.
If you try an Epiphany house blessing this year, snap a photo and email it to me! I’d love to see yours. May your home be a place of blessing for you, so that you may be a blessing to others this year!
Yours in Christ,
P.S. The above words were written prior to the troubling events of January 6, 2021. I enourage you, as you do your Epiphany House Blessings, to also include a prayer for our nation, that this country might be a home where peace, prosperity, and integrity can dwell once and for all.
|Posted by communications on December 30, 2020 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
Here we are at the end of another year, although this one has certainly left us vastly different than any other. We have wrapped up another Christmas and still we feel like something is missing. As we approach 2021, which certainly will have some residual effects from 2020, we must look forward and as Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
If you are like me, this year has left you wondering: when will we get back to normal? When can we go out again? When can we gather to sing in church again? When will we get offered the vaccine? Is it safe? Should my kids go back to school? And many, many others! Wow, it will really get your head spinning if you let it, so we turn to God and our faith. The prayers flow freely, reading many devotions, meditations and taking spiritual walks of faith. We trust in him. We open our hearts, concerns, hopes, desires to him and TRUST in his PLAN! His mercy is great, and we must give ourselves over to his love and grace to get through this stronger than before.
Scripture tells us that when we are presented with challenges that God is calling us closer to him and to rely on him. This is the way our faith is strengthened. We will never be the same after 2020 and it sometimes feels like it was a reset. There are already so many things of our everyday life that are getting re-evaluated like working, traveling, education and others. Is it possible we needed this? Did we become too rushed, too dependent, too comfortable? I don’t know, but it has certainly opened my eyes to what is important, what to focus on, where my energy should be centered and every day, I turn to God to help me understand, learn and gain strength and grace to endure.
Endure like St. Alban’s has, from the grace and strength of the staff to restructure and reinvent how we work to the amazingly understanding Parish and Vestry that has stood strong to adapt, support and celebrate with us. Pride is truly not a big enough word to describe the feeling about our transformation, from the online services and coffee hours, drive thru celebrations, drive in movies, virtual VBS, Sunday School packets, happy deliveries sharing the faith, Youth Bonfire, virtual Christmas pageant, collecting Teddy Bear offerings and one of the most awesomely configured virtual Christmas services that has ever been broadcast! We all rose, joined hands (in a sense) and in my head said, “Bring it on! We got this, because God has us!” May we all walk into 2021 with this same gusto, certainty and faith! It is a pleasure and honor to be part of this parish, staff and team and wishing you all the absolute best in 2021!!
|Posted by communications on December 16, 2020 at 7:15 PM||comments (0)|
I hope you are getting excited about our Christmas Eve liturgies! Your clergy and staff are currently swimming in preparations for them. While it will not be exactly like years past, I can tell you that it will be very, very special. I thought that today, I would share with you some details about what to expect in our two services.
Our 5pm online Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is going to be our big, blow-out service, with the vast majority of our time and energy being devoted to it. There will be something for everyone. If you love to belt out beloved carols, this service for you. If you value hearing the arc of salvation history as told through holy scripture, this service is for you. If you cherish the annual Pageant, this service is for you.
We will have a choir of around 40 St. Alban's parishioners (adults and youth/children) singing carols. We will also have some special guest musicians from near and far. We even recruited a professional Nashville songwriter to share an original song written especially for Christmas Eve. (He just happens to be my dad.) All the music is going to be so beautiful.
In addition to the music, there will be homilies from both Kevin and me, plus poetry and scripture lessons sprinkled throughout. All told, we'll have seven adult lectors and nearly 30 kids participating in the Pageant!
Our 11pm online Holy Eucharist was planned for those who hunger for stillness and sacraments. We know the midnight mass is an important tradition for many, myself included. This simple, spoken service will be recorded ahead of time. After the service concludes, as you are able, you are invited to make your way to 301 Caldwell Lane between 11:45pm and 12:30am. There, in our open-air bell tower, the clergy will be present to share communion wafers from the reserved sacrament in a safe, socially distant way, following all protocols of our Diocese. The clergy will be masked and we ask that you be masked as well. We ask that you approach the belltower from the front walk and depart from the walk leading to the circle drive. If another household is in the belltower when you arrive, please wait before entering. The wafer will be placed in in your hands using tongs. Please wait until you have departed before you remove your mask to consume the wafer. We hope this will be a meaningful opportunity for you, particularly for those who have not been able to receive the Body of Christ in a long, long time.
While we are not able to gather in our nave for many of our cherished traditions, we will still gather for Christmas Eve worship. We gather together right from the safety of our homes, as a people committed to the well-being and health of one another and our neighbors, something that I believe Jesus himself would do given the circumstances.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on December 10, 2020 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
As this very difficult year draws to a close and we focus once more on our Lord’s arrival in the manger at Bethlehem, may our hearts be lifted up and our eyes and minds be opened to all that his coming to us means. In Christ despair can change to hope; grief to joy and the victory over death is won for us. Perhaps, from all that we have seen, felt and gone through this year we might have new perspectives on many things. Perhaps, that new perspective will be gained from someone you know and love or maybe from a stranger.
I was reading stories about the origins of some of our most-beloved Christmas carols and came across a touching note about the man who wrote the words for “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The Rev. Phillip Brooks (1835-1893) was an author, the longtime rector of Boston’s Trinity Church and briefly, the bishop of Massachusetts. In 1865, he went to the Holy Land and was very moved by a Christmas Eve service at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. A few years later his church in Philadelphia was in need of a Christmas song for the children’s service. He decided to write one himself and that is how this wonderful and beloved carol came to be. A touching anecdote shared about a five-year-old girl in his former church might be that help to gain a new perspective mentioned earlier. The girl was upset because she hadn’t seen Bishop Brooks recently. When her mother gently told the girl that he had gone to heaven, the girl’s face brightened as she said: “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be!”
May God give us all this kind of faith and may he bless you and your family with peace.
|Posted by communications on December 2, 2020 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
We don’t generally think of Advent as a time of intentional spirituality in quite the same way as we do Lent. December tends to be a frenzy of activity, with little time left for anything but decorating, gift buying, holiday parties, and end-of-year responsibilities. Some of this remains the same this Advent, but we are being forced into a pared-down version of the “Christmas craziness” this year. Perhaps we can take this as an opportunity for a more spiritually nourishing Advent.
One way of doing this would be to join us in reading Walter Brueggeman’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study. It is a small book that could easily be read in one sitting but is intended to be read slowly and reflected upon over the course of the Advent season. It is available from several on-line book sellers in hard copy or e-book version I will be facilitating a conversation about this book on Sunday, December 27th at 11:30 a.m. via Zoom (link to be provided closer to the time).
Brueggeman, considered one the foremost contemporary Old Testament scholars, bases this book on the familiar words of Isaiah 9:6 – familiar largely because of Handel’s Messiah:
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In their original 8th century B.C.E. context these words, rather than being a prediction about Jesus, were probably offered to celebrate the coronation of a new king of Judah (Hezekiah). Later, early Christians came to understand them as a reference to the Messiah, thereby understanding the four honorific titles to be prescient descriptors of Jesus. Brueggeman invites us to join him in reflecting on these four titles as they relate to Jesus. In so doing he offers some profound and timeless thoughts about Jesus’ identity and purpose. He also provides some important and highly relevant questions for us and our time.
Though we are already several days into Advent, it is not too late to get yourself a copy of this book. It’s divided into four weeks, but you can read it at a pace that works for you. I hope you will consider taking advantage of this opportunity to go a little deeper during this very different Advent. Even if you are not able to join us for conversation on the 27th, I encourage you to read the book. I’m confident that it will enrich your celebration of Christmas.
P.S. You could also take this Advent, which is the beginning to a new Church Year, to add some prayer time to your life. I continue to lead both Morning Prayer (8:30 a.m.) and Centering Prayer (4:30 p.m.), Monday through Thursday via Zoom. You may join me any time your schedule allows.
The link is the same for both: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9497600098
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on November 19, 2020 at 12:45 AM||comments (0)|
We will not be sending out a full newsletter next Thursday, so I’ll offer some thoughts on Thanksgiving today. For a long time, Thanksgiving was celebrated in an ad hoc way. Each colony and then each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at various times. But in 1863, 74-magazine editor Sarah Hale wrote to Abraham Lincoln and advised him to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, with a fixed annual day on the calendar. So in the context of a Civil War raging, the President of the United States of America made this Proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Lincoln goes on to tally the many things the nation has to be grateful for in the realms of agriculture, industry, national defense, and more. He credits God’s mercy alone for any and all blessings. But the conclusion of the Proclamation is where things get really interesting and poignant. He writes:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
Lincoln speaks honestly about how America had grown complacent, how the nation had fallen short of its own ideals. He called on the people to repent and to seek God’s healing of the nation’s wounds through gratitude. His word were fitting for his own time, and they resonate for our time as well.
We really need gratitude these days. In a year with so much loss, we must be grateful for lives and our country and our family and our God, who loves us too much to let us get away with complacency. May our gratitude lead to contentment with what we have. May our contentment inspire compassion. May our compassion lead to justice. May justice build up our community, healing our wounds.
I believe God calls us to gratitude as a way of life, and that living gratefully has the power to change the world. I wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on November 11, 2020 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
Greetings to all of my St. Alban’s family! I think about all of you often and I am really missing hugs, laughs and fellowship! Thankfully we are starting to do a few in person gatherings as I know we all really need it now more than ever. Centering yourself is so important in this crazy time of uncertainty for all of us. There are so many great devotions available in apps and online and even our own wonderful Kevin Lloyd referenced one from Richard Rohr in the powerful sermon this past week. Kevin also offers some amazing options of morning prayer and centering prayer, which I keep meaning to join in on. If you haven’t, please do so, as will I very soon.
This brings me to one of my devotions this morning that literally shouted to me from 1 Corinthians 16:13 saying, “Watch! Stand firm in the faith! Be courageous! Be strong!”. Sometimes I question my overuse of exclamation points, but I have to say in this instance they really spoke to me today. We must stand firm in the Faith in this strange and uncomfortable year of Covid, virtual school, natural disasters and many other various individual challenges we face. May we all feel courageous and strong being fortified by our faith in God and his almighty word. Corinthians also reminds us, “And so Faith, Hope and Love abide and of these three, the greatest of these is Love.” Unconditional Love of God will see us through, but we must not forget the place of Faith and Hope, which I believe to be the channels through which we experience the greatest unconditional love of Christ. May the Love of Christ envelop us all in this difficult time. Stand firm!
We will stand firm, be courageous and strong that we will eventually see each other and hug once again at some point! With that said, we have finally made a first step with 10 of our youth gathering this past Sunday evening for a fire pit, pizza, s’mores, games, fun and fellowship IN PERSON! All of them really seemed to enjoy just having the opportunity to be together, my heart was full seeing all of it take place finally! It couldn’t have happened without dedicated volunteers! Thank you so much! Well there I go again with more exclamation points, but we need them!
Our children and preschoolers seem to be enjoying the Sunday School packets. November packets were lovingly delivered by our wonderful volunteers. This was a surprise and I am so excited we could make it happen. December packets will also be delivered as part of our holiday gift. A new take on Advent wreaths will also be included! We hope you enjoy these Sunday School packets, we have had fun putting them together and including some creative fun for the kids over the holidays.
Happy Thanksgiving! I am so very thankful for all of you!
|Posted by communications on November 4, 2020 at 4:35 PM||comments (1)|
As I write to you on Wednesday morning, our nation is still waiting. Perhaps by the time you read this, the election will have been decided. Perhaps not. But even if there is a decisive victory this week, we will still be waiting. Waiting for the mending of relationships that have been fractured. Waiting for time and space and grace to heal some of the wounds we’ve suffered as a country. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for economic recovery. Waiting to hug our loved ones and belt out our favorite hymns from our favorite seat in the nave. Waiting for our lives to begin to resemble something of what they were this time last year. Waiting to find out what our lives will look like next year, and the year after that.
Waiting can be uncomfortable, but as our Diocesan bishops remind us in this video message, waiting for healing is an important part of our tradition as followers of Christ. Long before Jesus came on the scene in the first century, people of faith waited for a messianic figure to provide salvation, stability, and prosperity. During Jesus’s ministry, sometimes being physically healed required first waiting on Jesus, like when Lazarus died before Jesus made it to Bethany, or when Jesus was delayed in reviving a young girl because he stopped to engage with a hemorrhaging woman, who had waited for 12 years to be cured. Each year during Advent and Lent, we lean into the practice of holy waiting, as we anticipate and prepare for the celebrations of Christ’s birth and resurrection. We may not always like waiting, but we Episcopalians know how to do it.
I wish I had a miraculous formula to make the waiting easier, but all I have in my toolkit are the time-tested strategies you already know about. Prayer. Taking a stroll on a crisp autumn day. Getting outside your own head by finding ways to serve others. More prayer. The words that have been on my heart today as I pray and walk and serve are from the opening hymn we will sing in our online worship service this Sunday:
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient Church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.
Lo! the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise:
grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.
Cure thy children’s warring madness, bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of thy salvation be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore.
God grant us wisdom and courage for the waiting, now and always.
Yours in Christ,
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969)
|Posted by communications on October 28, 2020 at 10:00 AM||comments (0)|
This Sunday is All Saints’ Day. It is such a special day of remembrance and gratitude for all those the Lord has blessed us to know who have passed on. Below is the text for the song that Matt Presson and I will be sharing during the online service this Sunday. It is a beautiful text reminding all those who have put their faith and trust in Christ that we belong to Him. I hope it speaks peace to your soul.
“We Are the Lord’s”
Karl J. P. Spitta(1801-1859) Londonderry Aire tune
Tr. Charles T. Astley arr. Roland E. Martin
We are the Lord’s.
His all sufficient merit, sealed on the cross to us this grace accords.
We are the Lord’s and all things shall inherit; whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
We are the Lord’s. Then let us gladly tender our souls to Him in deeds, not empty words.
Let heart and tongue and life combine to render
no doubtful witness that we are the Lord’s.
We are the Lord’s.
No darkness brooding o’er us can make us tremble while this star affords a steady light along the path before us: Faith’s full assurance that we are the Lord’s. We are the Lord’s. No evil can befall us in the dread hour of life’s fast-loos’ning cords; no pangs of death shall even then appall us. Death shall be vanquished, for we are the Lord’s.