WORSHIP

Sermons

Welcome to the new face of the Episcopal Church. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

 

The Rev. Eletha Buote-Greig St. Ann’s Church

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.


In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. AMEN


There was a rumor that a busload of protestors was coming to the small town of Bethel, Ohio, population 2800, 97% white, and 0.5% black. Neighbors armed themselves with guns and bats and marched towards town. One neighbor observed, “Everybody had a gun…Like a cowboy show.” In Bethel, peaceful protesters were seen by some as looters and rioters. They represented chaos, the problems of other people from other places.

 

In actuality, there were only 80 to 100 people who showed up to support the Black Lives Matter march, including the organizer, a 36-year-old substitute teacher from Bethel who makes arts and crafts. Whereas, hundreds of counter-protesters and curious townspeople, many on motorcycles, and brandishing weapons outnumbered the marchers. Some of the counter-protesters yelled at the marchers to leave, blocked their way, and pushed and shoved them to the ground. A man with a Confederate flag covering his face ripped up one of the marcher’s sign while the crowd cheered. Critics called the town a racist backwater. Fans praised residents for standing up to ignorant marchers. The town’s history didn’t seem to matter. It is mostly known as the home of President Grant’s father and was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. “Why bring it to Bethel?” one man said. Black people are not getting killed in Bethel.”

 

Sharon Middleton who is white and has been living for years with Jon Richardson, an African American man, said. “It’s not a tolerant community.” Richardson wouldn’t carry a sign because he would have been an easy target if things got ugly. Middleton added, “They [the residents] don’t want change.” Richardson then put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She said, “People are just people.” He just has a little more melanin in his skin.” One long-time resident, Donna Henson, said, “I’ve never been around Black people,” I just wish everybody could get along.” She added that she was appalled by the video of George Floyd being choked to death, but she wants the protests to end. She wants her town to get back to normal, back to the way it’s always been. Erin Glynn and Cameron Knight contributed to this report.

 

“Back to the way it always was.” Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” Not peace, but a sword. This is the prince of peace speaking to his disciples and to us today telling them and us that there are times that in order to bring about peace, one needs to help bring about change, to disturb the old way of being, to help bring about a new normal. And sometimes this is done with words, words that can cut through the old with a bit of pain. The resistance to the message is because the message has exposed an uncomfortable reality, a reality that sometimes reveals feelings of supremacy – being ‘better than.’

 

Obviously, Donna Henson was expressing the sentiment of many of her neighbors, but I wonder if she were black whether she would want to go “back to normal, back to the way it’s always been?” Jesus is telling us that we cannot go back to the way it was when others are experiencing violence, oppression, or injustice of any kind. Jesus was not always the nice guy. He was born into an unjust society where even the political and religious institutions laid heavy burdens on people and where racism was rampant. Sometimes he was very challenging and his sharp, cutting words were threatening to the status quo. Those in charge wanted to get rid of him, kill him. They wanted to go back to their normal, go back to the way it always had been.

 

It’s not easy being a disciple of Christ. He didn’t promise us a rose garden. In fact, he said, ‘take up your cross and follow me.’ He did however promise us eternal life. That is the reward for faithfulness, faithfulness in striving to fulfill his teachings, faithfulness for following in his footsteps, faithfulness for proclaiming the good news to others, the good news – the ‘new’ news. Discipleship is not about being complacent or silent in the face of injustice and violence. Disciples do not get tired of proclaiming the message, the good news. They do not want to hide from reality but are willing to look deeply into their own soul and find the courage to live into Jesus’ call.

 

Yes, words can cut like a sword. Words can expose what is hidden in a person’s heart and soul, but if the exposure enables the person to be healed of what is not of God, it can be a gift. Living in the midst of two pandemics is not easy. One could wish that the world would go away. But that is not life and it’s not living as Jesus’ disciple. It can be tiring. It can be overwhelming, but it also can be a gift of grace. The gift is knowing that one is in partnership with God and striving to bring about God’s ways into a world that seems to be focused on seeing differences and not commonalities. It is a gift that is experienced in the heart and spirit. Remember, someday we will all stand in the presence of God. I haven’t met yet a person that is over 150 years old. We are all going to get there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all hear God say to us, ‘Well done my faithful servant! You strived to live as I desired you to live, honoring, loving, and valuing all human beings whom I created. You knew how to love as I love.”

 

Presiding Bishop Curry’s word to the church was; “When the cameras are gone, we will still be here. Out long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. For me and hopefully you, I feel it is a privilege, a gift, and a blessing to be in partnership with God in this time when our brothers and sisters are seeking justice and equality. AMEN

Sunday, June 14, 2020

In the Name of God Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifying Spirit. Amen

 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently open a meeting of the Church’s Executive Council with an emotional address. He began by acknowledging the suffering and anguish that has been caused by the overlapping crisis of the past three months: Covid-19 pandemic, racial violence and police brutality against African Americans, and the Government’s sometimes violent reaction to the protests. I think we all have to agree that these past three months have impacted our emotional, spiritual, and faith stability. I am sure that I am not alone in acknowledging that I have cried more in these past three months than I have in the past seven years since Bill died. I started a bit early when I began to read the book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, thinking it would be a good Lenten study book, a book that would help us talk about racism. But frankly, the stories about how some black people were treated, tortured, and killed because of being black were so horrifying for me that I barely got through the beginning of the book. I just sat there and cried out to God, “How could they? How could they?” Shamefully, I need to admit that I could not read those stories that told the truth of someone else’s reality.


Then the Pandemic came along. As Bishop Curry called it, “a ruthless virus, a plague in the land, sickness and death and hardship visited to one degree or another on all of us,” and exposing “the inequities and moral wrongs that shouldn’t be in our land, or in our world.” The Pandemic did not stop my tears. Like you, I listened to the news and felt the sadness of those who were alone, were vulnerable to the virus, who were on ventilators, and who had died. My cry to God was from the service of compline. It became my mantra. “Make haste to help us, Lord. Make haste to help us, Lord. O God please make haste to help us.” And in this midst of all this plague in the land, the long-lived life of another pandemic came into view - racism. It had been there for years and years. Bandaid after bandaid has been applied to cover the wound, but underneath the covering, the infection kept growing, and for some of us the covering also hid the depth of the wound. Raw bleeding flesh is hard to look at; a wrapping, or a covering, or a bandaid makes it more eye-appealing. Reality struck me with such force that I could not ignore it. The very institution that helps my whiteness feel safe, brings fear and anxiety to those who are not white. More tears for those who died because of police or self-declared neighborhood watch brutality. But this time shame was mingled with tears when in the midst of all of this I watched a woman use her whiteness as a weapon. My prayer this time  “Dear God, how could I have been so blind for so long? I knew the wound was there, but the covering hid the severity.

 

The real question for me was, “Lord, did I not want to see it?” More tears and shame for my silence. I shared with a few of the women the other day that I went to school where one-third of the students were black and one-third Jewish and one-third white. I said that when the civil rights movement began, I said to myself
and others, our differences never occurred to me. But it wasn’t until the latest events that I realized that my experience at school was not the experience of the black students, and I had never thought to ask about their experience as black teenagers. I have come to realize that I need to hear their stories, their experiences, their feelings, and their fears. I need to dig deeper to discover why in all these years, I have seen the covering but have been blind to the infected wound. Something inside of me kept all of this at a distance. It was my tears that revealed to me that I had not lived into my commitment to God to seek justice for all of God’s children.


At the same meeting where Bishop Curry spoke, the President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, told the Executive Council “that the way forward will be difficult, both spiritually and practically. The church, Jennings said, must own up to “centuries of institutional complicity in slavery and Jim Crow and mass incarceration, and the economic and social practices of systemic racism.” She said, “When people across the nation are rising up against racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism, we must not turn away from this deeply painful history, our history.”


Today, Jesus is telling his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
He said, “Go…proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons… Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff…” The harvest is plentiful. There is such need to support this movement, but there is also the need to ask and then listen to our black sisters and brothers as they tell their stories, their experiences, their feelings, and their fears. I heard a comment the other day on CBS. I am sorry I cannot recall who said it, but when Gayle King asked them why s/he thought this movement was different, the response was because the white people have realized that it is their fight, too. That if anything is to change, the white people need to help do it. To respond to Jesus’ charge to harvest, it just takes a listening ear and a voice that is willing to cry out for justice for our brothers and sisters who are not white. It is to use your whiteness, not as weapons, but as a way to insist and bring about change. To use our whiteness to bring about equality for all of God’s children.

 

My sermon today can be viewed as political and it is, because my top boss, teacher, leader, and savior were extremely political and he calls all his followers to be the same when it comes to bringing about justice and equality for all people. He said, “Go…proclaim the good news…the Kingdom of heaven has come near… and become one as I am one with God.” May God help us to do just that, be one with each other so we can be one with God. AMEN

Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020


Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.


In the Name of God Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. AMEN


In the year ‘A’ of our lectionary, we have the opportunity to hear one of the creation stories. Now, obviously, there was no one taking notes and writing the events down at the time of the beginning of creation. Thus, for me, it is a myth, a myth that points to a truth that tries to give an understanding of the beginning. This creation story does just that, it tries to make sense out of how it all began, and of course, as we know it began with God and to me, God is not a myth. God is a reality and every time I learn more about the heavens, the unfolding evidence of more and more galaxies, I am in awe.

 

But back to the story. Personally, I love the cadence of this story. The structure of the verses is symmetrical. There was evening and there was morning on the first day God said, “Let there be And it was so God saw that it was good There was evening and there was morning on the second day, etc., and God saw that it was good. And on the sixth day, God said “let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness. Now on this day, God saw this time as being VERY good. Not just good. Notice also that God used the plural Us and Our, but that is not my focus today.

 

So, what does it mean to be made in God’s image? That is my focus. For Renita J. Weems, who is a writer, minister, and professor of Hebrew Scripture at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, it means that “we bear the mark of God or the life of God. And the people created by God have worth and beauty and dignity befitting a holy.” Because we bear the mark of God or the life of God we are sacred in God’s eyes. The story tells us that we are blessed. We are special. Obviously, we are. When the creation story was created, it did not imply that there was a distinction between different ethnic groups. All human beings are made in the image of God. None have a larger or small mark of God. All are sacred. Sadly, there are those whose ego drives them to believe differently, and in so doing conceal their own marks of God.


Going back to the reading, on this day God saw that it was very good. Again, Renita believes that being good or very good meant that for God, “It works. It has a purpose.” She said, “Good is a function. Something that is ‘good’ works. It fulfills the purpose for which it was created. Fulfilling our purpose, according to Genesis is to “Be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves upon the earth… everything that has the breath of life,”


We have succeeded in being fruitful and multiplying. We have filled the earth. Being fruitful and multiplying has been a pleasurable duty for human beings. Piece of cake! We get high marks in this area. However, having dominion over fish of the sea and birds of the air and all living creatures that move upon the earth, well, we haven’t always done our best. Some species of the earth, sea, and sky are extinct or almost extinct because of human beings having dominion over them. We don’t exactly get high marks in this area. Of course, we are trying to do a better job of preserving species of the earth, sea, and sky. Human beings have realized the losses of the past and are trying not to repeat history with the species that remain. So hopefully, someday we will get a good passing grade from God.

 

But let me go back to where God gives human beings dominion over everything on the earth. Notice, all except one of God’s creatures - human beings, we were not given dominion over each other. Betsy Fornal and I were talking about this very issue. Obviously, it is on the forefront of everyone’s mind right now with all that is going on in our nation and other nations as well. Because of the history of slavery even in the book of Genesis, I asked our neighbor, Audrey, who is Jewish, to define and translate the Hebrew word dominion as it is used in Genesis 1:28. Audrey forwarded to me the information. The Hebrew word for dominion
is Radha. The definition refers to having authority rather than force. In the  Hebrew scripture, Radha is linked with the idea of representing God, showing God’s characteristics. So Radha is not forceful but is the authority that enables things to develop and open up to be what they are created to be. Thus, if God is love, then so should we be towards the rest of creation and other human beings. As Renita says, “‘Good’ is a function, something that is “good” works. It fulfills the purpose for which it was created.” We have fulfilled our purpose to multiply and have dominion over all earthly creatures, but the purpose well Jesus came into the world to give us a clarification of our purpose and it goes beyond the Genesis story. He clarified what it means to be very good in the eyes of God. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your hearts, minds, souls and spirits and love your neighbor as yourself.” To love our neighbor as ourselves is to see the mark of God in ourselves and in our neighbor to avoid needing an ego trip. But there is more, as I said last week. Jesus has asked us to be one with each other (neighbors included) as he is one with God. To be one with our neighbors is to seek justice and peace for the neighbors who are treated unjustly, who are not treated as equals, sacred, and holy. When we do, the image of God in us becomes visible to others. We become representatives of God in this world, in this time, in this situation, but we cannot represent God if we are silent. Silence is too easily interpreted as collusion. To fully fulfill our purpose we need to respond when we see injustice, to help bring about justice for all our brothers and sisters.

 

Speak up, march, pray do something that others can witness to let them know that we truly believe that God created all human beings and loves all human beings equally, which is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. AMEN.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


 

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.


In the Name of God Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. AMEN


In the year ‘A’ of our lectionary, we have the opportunity to hear one of the creation stories. Now, obviously, there was no one taking notes and writing the events down at the time of the beginning of creation. Thus, for me, it is a myth, a myth that points to a truth that tries to give an understanding of the beginning. This creation story does just that, it tries to make sense out of how it all began, and of course, as we know it began with God and to me, God is not a myth. God is a reality and every time I learn more about the heavens, the unfolding evidence of more and more galaxies, I am in awe.

 

But back to the story. Personally, I love the cadence of this story. The structure of the verses is symmetrical. There was evening and there was morning on the first day God said, “Let there be And it was so God saw that it was good There was evening and there was morning on the second day, etc., and God saw that it was good. And on the sixth day, God said “let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness. Now on this day, God saw this time as being VERY good. Not just good. Notice also that God used the plural Us and Our, but that is not my focus today.

 

So, what does it mean to be made in God’s image? That is my focus. For Renita J. Weems, who is a writer, minister, and professor of Hebrew Scripture at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, it means that “we bear the mark of God or the life of God. And the people created by God have worth and beauty and dignity befitting a holy.” Because we bear the mark of God or the life of God we are sacred in God’s eyes. The story tells us that we are blessed. We are special. Obviously, we are. When the creation story was created, it did not imply that there was a distinction between different ethnic groups. All human beings are made in the image of God. None have a larger or small mark of God. All are sacred. Sadly, there are those whose ego drives them to believe differently, and in so doing conceal their own marks of God.


Going back to the reading, on this day God saw that it was very good. Again, Renita believes that being good or very good meant that for God, “It works. It has a purpose.” She said, “Good is a function. Something that is ‘good’ works. It fulfills the purpose for which it was created. Fulfilling our purpose, according to Genesis is to “Be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves upon the earth… everything that has the breath of life,”


We have succeeded in being fruitful and multiplying. We have filled the earth. Being fruitful and multiplying has been a pleasurable duty for human beings. Piece of cake! We get high marks in this area. However, having dominion over fish of the sea and birds of the air and all living creatures that move upon the earth, well, we haven’t always done our best. Some species of the earth, sea, and sky are extinct or almost extinct because of human beings having dominion over them. We don’t exactly get high marks in this area. Of course, we are trying to do a better job of preserving species of the earth, sea, and sky. Human beings have realized the losses of the past and are trying not to repeat history with the species that remain. So hopefully, someday we will get a good passing grade from God.

 

But let me go back to where God gives human beings dominion over everything on the earth. Notice, all except one of God’s creatures - human beings, we were not given dominion over each other. Betsy Fornal and I were talking about this very issue. Obviously, it is on the forefront of everyone’s mind right now with all that is going on in our nation and other nations as well. Because of the history of slavery even in the book of Genesis, I asked our neighbor, Audrey, who is Jewish, to define and translate the Hebrew word dominion as it is used in Genesis 1:28. Audrey forwarded to me the information. The Hebrew word for dominion
is Radha. The definition refers to having authority rather than force. In the  Hebrew scripture, Radha is linked with the idea of representing God, showing God’s characteristics. So Radha is not forceful but is the authority that enables things to develop and open up to be what they are created to be. Thus, if God is love, then so should we be towards the rest of creation and other human beings. As Renita says, “‘Good’ is a function, something that is “good” works. It fulfills the purpose for which it was created.” We have fulfilled our purpose to multiply and have dominion over all earthly creatures, but the purpose well Jesus came into the world to give us a clarification of our purpose and it goes beyond the Genesis story. He clarified what it means to be very good in the eyes of God. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your hearts, minds, souls and spirits and love your neighbor as yourself.” To love our neighbor as ourselves is to see the mark of God in ourselves and in our neighbor to avoid needing an ego trip. But there is more, as I said last week. Jesus has asked us to be one with each other (neighbors included) as he is one with God. To be one with our neighbors is to seek justice and peace for the neighbors who are treated unjustly, who are not treated as equals, sacred, and holy. When we do, the image of God in us becomes visible to others. We become representatives of God in this world, in this time, in this situation, but we cannot represent God if we are silent. Silence is too easily interpreted as collusion. To fully fulfill our purpose we need to respond when we see injustice, to help bring about justice for all our brothers and sisters.

 

Speak up, march, pray do something that others can witness to let them know that we truly believe that God created all human beings and loves all human beings equally, which is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. AMEN.

3 Lent - March 15, 2020

This morning I encourage you to also worship with the Presiding Bishop who is preaching at Washington National Cathedral at 11:15 am. Live streaming is on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUGZLwnLhUU. Also, please know that I am available for prayer and/or conversation by phone 401-258-1651.

Opening Acclamation: Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures forever.

Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer for people critically ill, or facing great uncertainty - Adapted from A New Zealand Prayer Book:

God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to us as we wait in uncertainty. Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you. Amen.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John 4:5

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Here ends the lesson.

 

Sermon

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

In the Name of God, Life giver, pain bearer, joy maker. AMEN

There are times when our whole being thirsts for safety, for wellness, for security. There are times when our spirits and souls, thirst for God. It is both the former and the latter that is satisfied with the water that Jesus was offering. In these times our thirst is for safety, wellness, and security, and it is where we seek to satisfy our spirits and souls. There is an old hymn that says, 'In times like this we need a savior.' In times like this we need faith, faith that gives us hope, strength and courage to quell the emotions that are welling up in our spirits and souls.

Every day we are getting updates either from the CDC, the President or the  Governor. Today the Governor once again asked us to adhere to the guidelines of not to gather in large groups, stay at home if we are not feeling well, discourage our young people from gathering at the mall, etc. and 'not hoard.' She said, "This is not the time to be hoarding."  But if you have been in the grocery store you have witnessed bare shelves in the household section. People are stocking up with items that they are afraid will not be available to them if this virus continues for any length of time. 

 

At a clergy gathering the other day one of my colleagues said that ‘this virus’ was bringing out the worst in people. Yes, we have all seen the images on television of what happens when people are afraid and feel desperate. There are some people who overreact when they are afraid that they will not be able to get their basic needs. This over reaction is driven by fear. Fear is a powerful emotion, one that God endows us with, endows us with so that we can respond to anything that jeopardizes our well-being. Sometimes the response to fear is appropriate. If a mountain lion is coming after you, hopefully a good healthy dose of appropriate fear will initiate the flight response. You will run like '....' to save yourself.

 

Fear of catching a contagious life-threatening disease will also trigger the ‘self-survival' response. A person will stay away from someone who has a contagious disease or take proper precautions such as putting on protective body covering. S/he will also wash his/her hands or clothes if they have come into contact with the person who is contagious. An appropriate ‘self-survival’ response can be a healthy response.We do not talk about it as ‘bringing out the worst’ of a person just because they have taken proper precautionary measures to avoid getting the life-threatening disease.

Hoarding is a reaction to fear driven by ‘self-survival.’ Sadly, when a person is grabbing everything off the shelf, we see someone who is being selfish and not driven by fear into 'self-survival.' Our reaction to that person can be negative that is unless we realize wha tis driving that behavior. There is a lot of fear and anxiety going around  -- not surprising. No one wants to get the coronavirus. We all want to protect ourselves and/or families. We all want to avoid ‘getting it,’ because we know that it can be deadly. It is not the worst of people that all of this is bringing out, it is the fear, fear of the unknown fear of getting ill, fear of dying. How long is it going to last? How many people will ‘get it,’ survive it or die from it? What happens if I do not have enough of whatever I/we need? How can I protect me and my family/friends?

Acknowledging how fearful the time is, how anxiety provoking it is – is the beginning. I wonder if when seeing a person grab as much toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, etc. off the shelf, if we responded with something like, ‘It is a fearful time, isn’t it,’ or ‘All of this uncertainty brings out our anxiety doesn’t it?’ Perhaps helping each other to name the underlining emotional response that has triggered the hoarding desire to this crisis might help that person’s level of anxiety become proportionate. Naming the elephant in the room can help us to disarm our fears and anxiety.

In times like this we need to seek the water that Jesus was offering to the Samaritan woman. In times like this we need to seek God in prayer and in scripture. When we respond to others with understanding and not impatience, with compassion and not judgement, with our hearts and not by pointing-fingers, we will be refreshed with the spirit of God. When we see others through the empathic eyes of God, it will bring out the best in us. 

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, retired Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts passed away this past Sunday. I would like to share with you one of her comments that seems applicable to us today. She said, “The God behind you is greater than the problem in front of you." AMEN

Prayers

 

O Lord God, we now offer up to your loving care those in need of healing that we are carrying in our hearts.

We pray for _______________________________.

We pray for all people who are experiencing fear and anxiety during this time of uncertainty.

 

We pray for those who will experience loneliness during this time, that they may reach out by phone to others for reassurance and company.

 

We pray for the caregivers that they do not feel overwhelmed and that they are kept safe as they care for those who have contracted the COVID 19.

We pray for all of those who are serving in our national health care system as they are striving to meet the demands that the virus has created.

We pray for ourselves, Lord, that you help us to know that you are ever present  with us. Help us to remember that you are 'the God behind us and are much ghreater than the problem in front of us.' AMEN

 

Closing Prayers

 

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15:13)

On Epiphany Sunday here at St. Ann’s, the winter worshipping community had an opportunity to step into the basket (see the story below).  We would like to share this story with others, knowing that God would be pleased with the gift of our striving to offer our whole self.  The 1st Epiphany sermon focuses on what it takes for us to begin living our offered gift.

Epiphany, January 5, 2020

 

They brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

In the Name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer, and Love-maker. AMEN

The story of the King's arrival at the stable in Bethlehem and the offerings of their gifts to the infant Jesus is a story about an Epiphany.  As you all know, the meaning of Epiphany is an appearance, a manifestation, or a demonstration.  Their epiphany was the recognition of God’s presence in Jesus and thus God’s presence in the world. 

 

Tradition has the magi (wise men) as three. Custom has made them men (not surprising considering the norms of society back then) and romance has made them kings or astrologers, professors or wizards, and have even given these poor nameless men, names.  Of course, it really doesn’t matter where they came from, what their vocations were, how many there were, or what they looked like.  What is relevant and consistent throughout all ages is their question: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Obviously, their question conveyed that they too misunderstood Jesus' true identity. They were looking for an earthly king to pay homage to, a child from a royal lineage.

The gifts that they brought were significant. Gold was a symbol of earthly kingship; frankincense was a symbol of deity. Frankincense was used in the sanctuary as part of the meat offering. It was also a symbol of prayer.  It is symbolic of a priest’s work in offering prayers of the people to the Lord.  Myrrh was used in the oil for the anointing of the prophets, Jesus as the prophet of God. Myrrh was also an embalming oil; thus, it was a symbol of death or one who is mortal.  Myrrh was used at his death. But the Magi also gave two other gifts.  They gave their gift of time – following the star to see the child.  Some scholars believe that it took them forty days to arrive and that they had traveled 400 miles. Ten miles a day riding on camels.

 

They gave their gift of talent - their ability to know about the star and where to find it. Again, some scholars believe that they were educated men who were astrologers who obviously studied the stars. Apparently, they also knew about the prophecies. They had studied the Hebrew scripture, knew of the prophecy of Daniel and thus understood that a Messiah was to be born.

And of course, they came to the stables with their gifts, their treasures; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They came and went and we do not know the impact that their Epiphany had on them.  Did it change their lives?  Did they tell others about what they had seen and learned – that God came to be among us?  Or did they simply return home and quietly marveled at their experience – their Epiphany?  Was there another gift that would have pleased God other than their time, talent and treasure?  And what is the gift that would please Jesus the most that we could give?

There is a story that I like to tell at this time of the year and sometimes later on in the year – just as a reminder. I might have told you before, but I will again.  It is a wonderful true story about a woman in Africa.  She lived in Kenya with her two small children.  Every day was a struggle for her and her impoverished family, but faithfully every Sunday she worshipped in the village church. 

 

At the offering, this African mother would remove her ragged scandals, and when the offering basket was passed to her she would place it on the ground.  Reverently, humbly, gently, she would step with her whole body into the basket—and pray quietly.   After a few moments, the woman would step out of the basket, pick it up and pass it on.  Her gesture clearly stated that she was striving to give her whole self to God, knowing that it would please God.

 

The basket is here on the floor.  I invite you to give your whole self to God.  You can step into it in your imagination or step into it literally, but first please remove your shoes, like the woman removed her sandals.  Take a moment while in the basket and silently offer yourself, your whole self to God, the most precious gift that you can give to God.  AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

1st Sunday after Epiphany  - January 12, 2020

 

In the Name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker. AMEN

 

As you might recall, last week I told you a story about an impoverished mother from Kenya who would step into the offering basket indicating that she was striving to offer to the Lord all that she could give – her whole self. I also shared with you that I believe that she gave God the most precious gift that anyone can possibly give to God – him/herself.  There is nothing on this earth that God created, that could be more meaningful and pleasing to God. So, what does it mean to strive to give one’s whole self to God? As I promised, this morning I will share with you what I believe it means.

 

I believe it is first about trust. Trust that God speaks to you - calls you. Trust with an attitude of expectation and openness that God will speak and guide you in dreams, prayer, journaling or in the voices of others.

 

Trust that in the discernment process that God will grease the skids for you so to accomplish your call. However, understand that sometimes what God desires is not what other people desire and thus there may be times when a roadblock just might appear. But trust that another path will be open or that the roadblock may just disappear.

 

Trust that God’s call to you changes as life changes. We are called to serve God in different ways at different times.  For instance, Thomas Merton, who was a mystic, writer and poet lived in a cloistered monastery as a Roman Catholic contemplative Trappist monk. Merton wrote a number of books on spirituality. 

 

But as time went on Merton’s call evolved. He remained a monk but became more concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial intolerance, and social equality. Merton, the monk became a social activist, did not always make his superiors happy by how radical he became in living out his new call. In 1968 his book “In Faith and Violence” Merton offered concrete and powerful social criticisms grounded in prophetic faith about Vietnam, racism, violence, and war. Trust that God’s call to you changes as life changes. You never know where the journey may take you, but the journey is always amazing.

Trust that God is present with you throughout life experiences – experiences that are filled with joy and love as well as experiences that are challenging, i.e., letting go of dreams, disappointments, hurts, and sadness. Trust that God will always redeem, in some way, all of those challenges. Think about it; even death is redeemed by resurrection.

 

Trust that God understands and meets you where you are in life but is always ready to go deeper with you in your relationship with him.

 

Trust that God hears you. Keep an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day acknowledging his presence from your rising to your laying down again. Our ongoing conversation with God also gives us an opportunity to express what we are feeling, seeing, thinking, and remembering, thus making God an intricate part of our lives. 

 

But also make time for prayer, prayers for yourself and others. Find prayers that speak to you. For instance, I love parts of Teilhard de Chardin, ‘Mass on the World’ prayer. Teilhard was a Jesuit priest who was silenced by the Roman Catholic church.

 

Here are a couple of sentences from that prayer that are meaningful for me. “One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life…I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go…” I love it because the prayer reminds me to remember that God’s children are throughout the world.

 

Most importantly, remember that offering one’s whole self to God is a work in progress.  Strive for faithfulness, not perfection.  God created the human race and is well aware that sometimes our free will can be a huge distraction.  Remember also, that each day is a new day, a new beginning, a new start and a new restart in our self-offering to God.  AMEN

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