Monday, August 13, 2018
Almighty God, have mercy upon us,
as we awaken to this day you have given:
accept our prayers and praises
as we anchor our hearts and intentions in You,
O Shepherd of Our Souls.
You sent your Light into the world, O Lord,
for reconciliation, not condemnation,
for mercy and faithfulness
are the foundations of your throne.
Merciful One, even in the darkness
your Light shines brightly,
giving witness to your tender compassion for us
to overcome theshadows of anxiety and fear:
may we ever sing of your love
that rises as the dawn conquers the purpling sky.
Blessed Jesus, Light of the World,
lead us in gentleness and integrity this day,
and enlighten us and shape us by your holy wisdom.
Extend your healing embrace to all who wait upon you,
O Lord of Our Hearts,
and pour out your blessing upon those we now name.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
There’s an illustration that has gone around the internet and has caught my eye several times. It shows an empty cardboard box, flaps flung open, with a post-it note inside. On this post-it note is this message: “I don’t fit in your box,” and it’s signed “—God.”
This pointed yet humorous reminder is definitely what we see going on in our gospel reading today. First the crowds, and now Jesus’s opponents in the religious community of Judea try to force Jesus into the box they have created for who they think he is. If he IS the Messiah, he should do “X.” If he’s only “Joseph’s son,” he should only be able to do “Z.” All of these descriptions come with specific presuppositions.
For the second time since Easter, we get a gospel reading that includes people scoffing at Jesus and selling him short, based on their perceived familiarity with him and his family. This reaction of “who does he think he is?” is a common one that many of us experience in our lifetimes. How many of us have experienced that at one time or another, or maybe even right now, in some area of our lives? In my own life, people often assumed that because of my slight drawl on certain words, I just wasn't very smart. It’s maddening, isn’t it?
Jesus has just fed a multitude, and the religious leaders are shaken by that, and resentful. Just who does this Jesus think he is???
It is at this point that I remember something I learned a long time ago in the early days of my teaching career: be careful what you ask, because you just MIGHT get an answer you were not expecting. I learned this after watching a colleague ask a surly teenager, “Do you think I’m stupid?” Let me tell you, don’t ask a teenager that question, especially a surly one. You will probably get an answer you won’t like.
Jesus answers his critics, and he answers them forcefully and directly. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Unsurprisingly, this was NOT the answer they were looking for.
This statement is the first of the seven “I am” statements in the gospel of John. This particular claim is shocking because only Torah was referred to as the bread of life in Judaism at that time, so those who do not follow him see this claim as Jesus approaching if not crossing over toward blasphemy. What Jesus is saying here, though, for those who approached him then, and for those of us who approach him now, is that he is not going to fit in our boxes.
Ultimately, there is a very important question embedded in this gospel: who IS Jesus, especially for us today? How do we encounter Jesus, living in the time we do?
Part of the answer lies in the importance of community, which is necessary for us as Episcopalians each time we prepare to celebrate Holy Communion. In our theology, it is impossible to have communion as a solitary act. There have to be at least two or more people in order to ask the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and the wine—I mean after all, that’s part of what communion means-- being together. Gathered around this table, we declare that we are “com-panions,’ literally, those who share bread. In the original Latin, com means “together with,” and “pan” means bread.
It is also in the sacrament of the Eucharist that we remember Christ’s incarnation from birth through death and resurrection and then taste and see Christ—where we obey his commandment to eat of his body and drink of his blood.
As the Son of God incarnate, in common human flesh, Jesus is not going to be the kind of leader or Messiah that people want. Rather, Jesus became human so that we could see God in a way we have never seen God before—and so that we could then imitate his example to the utmost of our abilities.
Some people have used these verses in our gospel today to make exclusionary claims about God—that God will care for you ONLY if you do “X” or “Y.”
Yet that’s OUR box, again.
What we also remember is that God’s call is to everyone. God is the One who makes sure ALL are fed, and fed abundantly—who sent the Son of God to be with us and alongside us, sharing our pains and our sufferings along with our joys, never ever giving up on us despite our repeated failures—and asks us to do nothing more than the same for each other in imitation of Christ. If we ourselves receive abundant amazing grace, we ourselves are called to give abundant, amazing grace to each other, whether friend or stranger.
As Christians, we are called to remember that, as our first verse from Ephesians today reminds us, “We are members of one another,”—and then to love each other accordingly. We are called to be transformed in pursuing the imitation of Christ. Our reading from Ephesians is about how we are called to be transformed once we accept Christ into our lives. It is not enough simply to believe in God and believe in Jesus, or even to have a “relationship” with Christ. Rather, we are called to live according to the example that Christ set for us, as hard as that may be.
That transformation starts with walking in love—in kindness, humility, and compassion for each other and this beautiful earth upon which we all depend. Why be kind? The very next sentence provides the answer: because being kind is integral to who God is, and as God’s children, as Christians, imitating God must be central to who WE are, if we are living the resurrection life called for in this passage and in our gospel. It also means paring away things which are damaging to our relationships with other members of the Body of Christ—lying, holding onto anger or grudges, bitterness, or slander—all things that have become all too common and sometimes even admired in our common lives together.
As noted last week, the call that we live into when we take hold of the promise of eternal life in the here and now is what can be expressed as a Eucharistically-shaped life, that starts with offering, gratitude, and communion with each other, shared for the life of the world. A sacramental life, which literally means a life that makes the ordinary holy. We do not come to this table for solace and pardon only, but for strength and renewal, to paraphrase the words in Eucharistic Prayer C. Jesus gives himself to us as the bread of life, so that we may give ourselves for others in imitation of him, as our reading from Ephesians today urges us.
There is an important caveat, however: in imitating Christ, we are NOT called to be JUST imitations, but REAL members of the Body of Christ.
Jesus’s critics start from the premise that Jesus is just an ordinary guy. And indeed, he was not born into a wealthy or notable family. He probably even had some version of a drawl. He was born in the backwateriest of backwaters, in the dusty, oppressed corner of a mighty empire, and he wasn’t even a citizen of that empire but a member of a subdued, occupied people. Yet within that ordinary flesh comes something extraordinary. And that same thing happens in the Eucharist every time we gather together and ask the Holy Spirit to consecrate the ordinary bread and the ordinary wine.
God declares God’s love for the material world and for us in working through common and ordinary things: bread, wine, water, you and me. God transforms the common elements of the earth, harvested and formed by human hands, into the “Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” and the “Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.” And in eating that bread and drinking from that cup, we ourselves declare ourselves to BE the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven to the world.
That’s not ordinary—it’s extraordinary. Jesus breaks out of all attempts we make to box him in. And in doing so, he calls us to break out of the boxes we put ourselves-- and others-- in. As we gather around this table, we join hands and hearts as members of each other, fed by the bread of life, Jesus, so that we can feed, heal, and love each other. And carry that love right out into the world. Love that cannot be contained. Love that won't fit in a box.
Preached at the 505 on August 11, and at 8:00 and 10:15 am at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
we gather to worship You,
joining our hands and hearts around your altars,
rejoicing to hear your Word.
Bread of Life, your nourish us and nurture us,
offering us abundant grace and hope,
calling us to live and love as Your children.
Help us live a life shaped by communion
and work for true peace and justice in the world,
resolute and compassionate,
united by your Spirit.
Sanctify and hallow our offerings:
our bread and wine,
our hearts, souls, and bodies,
that we may walk as companions in your Way,
healing and reconciling in the Name of Christ.
Almighty One, Holy Trinity,
we place ourselves into your tender care,
and lay before you the concerns of our hearts as we pray.
Image: Jesus, eucharist, and the twelve, Ethiopan.
Saturday, August 11, 2018
O Lord Our Refuge,
Our Help and Our Home,
we rise to sing your praise
and listen for your voice this day.
Teach us to number our days, O Holy One,
counting out each hour like a bead on a string
that we may praise you always in our hearts
as we seek the depths of your wisdom.
May we follow prayerfully in your paths, Blessed Jesus,
walking in amity and love,
sharing our bread with thankfulness,
seeing your face in all we meet.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
give us grace to do your will with joy today, O God:
enfold us in your peace
and press the kiss of your blessing
upon all who call upon You, as we pray.
Friday, August 10, 2018
Arise my soul
and give to the Holy One thanks and praise,
who has carried me in safety throughout the night
and sheltered me within the tenderness of God's embrace.
Beloved Savior, you provide for us abundantly,
teaching us and leading us in compassion and mercy:
may we walk in your ways
with mindfulness and faith.
As you turned the water into wine in Cana, Lord,
so turn our hearts from stone to flesh,
that we may produce abundant love in the world.
May we serve You, Blessed Jesus,
as we care for each other,
seeking out the lost and the hurting,
the oppressed and the fearful,
standing alongside those in need
as one body.
Spirit of the Living God,
fill us to overflowing with your grace and truth,
and pour out your blessing and comfort
on those for whom we pray.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
Most Merciful God,
who gathers us within the embrace of your loving-kindness,
and makes all things in heaven and on earth,
we offer your our hearts and hands:
anoint them to your use today, we pray.
May we hear the call of Christ to discipleship,
and be renewed and refreshed in faithfulness and service,
bearing with each other in gentleness and love,
for the life of the world.
In all we do,
may we be the healing hands and heart of Jesus,
that our lives may be a testimony of joy.
Give your angels charge over all who cry out to You, O God,
and rest your hand of blessing
upon those whom we remember before You.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
The heavens are telling the glory of God:
let us join in the song of creation,
praising God always.
Holy, Holy, Holy God,
shine the light of your countenance upon us,
and guide us in the ways of peace and justice.
Lift the darkness from our hearts
by the light of your Word, O Creator,
and bring us in safety through the day.
Guide our hands and hearts, O Spirit of Hope,
that we may be forces for healing
and testaments of your abundant grace.
Open our hearts to the poor and oppressed,
that we may walk humbly with Christ,
our Savior and model.
look with favor upon all those who call upon You,
comforting them and bringing them peace.
Stretch forth the hand of your blessing
over those whose needs we raise before You,
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Most Holy God,
whose house is founded on justice,
and abiding faithfulness,
we raise our hearts to You this day.
We humbly confess our sins:
our lack of kindness and humility,
and the injuries we have inflicted on others and against You.
Open our hearts to receive your Spirit, Almighty One,
to remake us as joyful disciples of your Law of Love.
Help us dedicate ourselves
to building rather than destroying,
loving rather than fearing.
Let us remember that
we ARE Christ's body in the world,
and work for reconciliation,
and justice for all.
All creation rests within your loving hand,
O Creator and Redeemer:
increase our faith
a mustard seed at a time.
Bless us with loving, hopeful hearts
and compassionate spirits, we pray.
Gather within your mercy
all those whom we now name in our prayers.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Blessed be the Name of the Lord,
who lifts us up and places us upon the solid rock:
let us give thanks to God!
Enter into the inmost center of our being, O Holy One,
and anoint us with your Spirit,
that we may cling to your love.
Let us make our home in the embrace of God,
who abides with us and guards all our ways.
May we be filled with the light of Christ:
may it pour forth from our hearts to illumine our path,
and guide us home.
May we be transformed
and radiate the love of Christ into a world
famished for hope and peace.
Beloved Savior, envelop us within your care,
and place your blessing upon those we now name.
Image: Transfiguration, by Lewis Bowman.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
When I was a kid, there were only four channels on TV, and so the choices were somewhat lacking. The channel with the most variety was actually the local PBS affiliate. It had everything from Monty Python to the Twilight Zone to Mr. Rodgers to the New York Philharmonic and Austin City Limits on it. In the evenings on weekends, they often had classic movies: Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, the Marx Brothers, and even movie versions of Broadway musicals.
One of the musicals that made a deep impression on me was West Side Story. A more modern version of Romeo and Juliet, its beautiful music by the brilliant Leonard Bernstein spoke deeply to me.
My favorite song from that musical was “One Hand, One Heart.” It’s in a scene where the two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, pretend to have a wedding, since they believe a real one is impossible due to their different backgrounds. Despite themselves, despite belonging to groups who hated each other, Tony and Maria are drawn together, and able to see beyond the labels that try to keep them as enemies. They pretend to make their vows, and then together they sing these simple lines, first in harmony, and then in unison:
"Make of our hands one hand,
Make of our hearts one heart,
Make of our vows one last vow:
Only death will part us now.
Make of our lives one life,
Day after day, one life.
Now it begins, now we start
One hand, one heart..."
The repeated use of the word “one” signifies the way that love has joined together this young couple, so different in so many ways, with a timeless unity, that transcends any barrier that may come between them.
In our selection from the letter to the Ephesians today, we see another beautiful testament of faith and unity. The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians starts with a magnificent description of God as the one who “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” The letter then goes on to detail how God’s love for us, especially as revealed through God’s Son Jesus, has brought together a tremendous diversity of people in the Church, people who normally would not cross the very strict sets of hierarchies and boundaries in the Mediterranean world: slaves and free persons. Jews and Greeks. Male and Female.
In today’s reading, we once again hear the word “one” repeated, seven times over:
one God who encompasses all that exists, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies.
All things are one, brought together by God’s love. Our reading today begins by turning to how we respond to such an outstanding gift of love.
It strikes me anew every time I read that part about being chosen by God before time. Because much of the Christian thought that seems to dominate these days, that we see even in commercials on TV, starts from the other direction—it emphasizes that our relationship with God starts with our personal decision.
How would it change us if, instead of thinking that we have chosen God, to start from the conviction that God has chosen us, from even before the time we were born?
It’s hard for us to imagine that God’s love for us is that unshakeable, that eternal. But it is. That love binds us to God, and calls us to worship God gathered in this circle around this altar. That same love draws us together as one, regardless of our differences. That same love saves us.
Yet the salvation we receive from God is not about where you go after you die. It is about how we live, right now, and live life abundantly, not just for ourselves but by living our lives for others—for others who we see as being a part of us. Where can we find the strength and the courage to begin?
It’s hard, in a world that worships individualism and sometimes seeks to denigrate the mutual dependence we have on each other, to maintain the delicate balance between self and other that we are called to embody in our baptismal covenant and in our gathering around this altar each week. The Christian life is not a life lived for ourselves, but a life lived FOR God and FOR others. If we are to abide in God as one, we are made partners with God in the work of bringing God’s creative power and love alive for those who do not yet know it.
But the good news is, that we ultimately are not in this alone. Jesus, as the bread of life, gathers us to himself as a mother hen tends to her chicks. He feeds us with his wisdom, his love, and his very body, so that we can actually become Christ made visible to the world. Through him, God’s love holds us up and draws us close. And in so calling us through love, in feeding us and calling us to walk in his path, Christ bids us, in Spirit as well as truth, to nothing less than embodying our risen, living Savior. Through Jesus’s example, we are called ourselves to make present and visible his truth in a world that too often sputters in darkness, in emptiness, in hunger that never seems satisfied.
But the bread of life we receive from Christ is always not just enough but abundant. It gives us abundant hope, abundant love, abundant life over and against the constant drumbeat of scarcity and thirst for more that echoes throughout our society. Our call is to something different, however. When Jesus says, "I am the bread of life," he is calling us to live a Eucharistically-shaped life: one of offering, gratitude, and communion—all things that are only possible in community.
The bread of life we receive as Jesus, when placed at the center of our hands and the center of our hearts, gives us faith enough to empty ourselves of all that is miserly, fearful, or suspicious-- in order to be filled with something greater: to be a part of a community, and communion, of life throughout creation, bound together by love in action. Through our love—the love that we live, the love that we speak, the love that we advocate for the powerless and the marginalized—we are Christ in the world.
As Christ in the world, we are called to embody the love of God, which rests not on vengeance or fear, but on grace and abundant mercy for all who will open their hearts to the hope that is Christ. The life of the Christian individual and the Christian community is ultimately meant to reflect the life of Christ, because we are one in Christ for the world, called to work for true peace, which can only be founded on true justice, which is an outgrowth of true love for each other through grace which admits no exceptions. Through the true bread of Jesus, we come to know who we really are: bearers of God’s love into the world.
As English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins noted in his poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire:”
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
To act before God as God sees us: As beautiful. As beloved.
To act in the world as what we are: the Body of Christ.
One in Spirit. What grace this is!
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a community in which the individuals and the groups within that community,
“lead a life worthy
of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort
to maintain the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace.
Then open your eyes. Look around you. This is the covenant we make with each other, right here at St. Martin’s and every time we gather around God’s table, every time we come together in love.
Now it begins-- now we start. We start with this understanding of our community, gathered around this table offering ourselves to each other, to God who nourishes us and loves us, and to the world, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and discipleship for the life of the world.
A life abundant in hope. Abundant in faith. Abundant in love. United as one.
Preached at the 505 on August 4, 2018, and at 8:00 and 10:15 on August 5, 2018, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.
2 Samuel 11: 26-12:13a
who is above and in and through all things,
we gather around your altar and offer our hearts to You,
raising up our prayers and praises,
worshiping You in joyful thanksgiving.
By your love, Holy One,
You chose us before time began:
may we lead our lives
as a witness to your love in the world.
May we bear with each other
in gentleness, patience, and humility,
taking on each others' burdens
and walking alongside each other
as companions in the name of Jesus.
Pour out your blessing upon us as your disciples, O Lord,
and strengthen us in the bonds of love and charity,
we humbly pray.
Make your face to shine on all who seek You,
O Spirit of Truth and Peace,
and rest your hand upon those we now name.
Saturday, August 4, 2018
The sun rises in might and power in the East,
and yet the glory of our God is brighter still:
Lord, we open the gates of our hearts to your presence,
and raise to you our songs of praise.
enter into our lives this day,
and make us whole.
Reconcile us to You
and one another,
that we amend our lives and repair our relationships.
Let the radiance of God's glory
shine forth from our countenance
and testify to God's unending mercy.
May we embody the compassionate, healing love of Christ,
living as true disciples and companions in the Way.
Draw near, O God, to the broken-hearted:
give your angels charge over those wait upon You.
Friday, August 3, 2018
Almighty and Ever-loving God,
we lift up our hearts before you,
praising you from the depths of our souls,
seeking your word to guide us.
May our works today
testify to your loving-kindness, Holy One,
and may we be bearers of your grace
into all the corners of the Earth.
May our words today
be gentle and compassionate, O Redeemer,
reflecting your mercy and embodying your truth.
May our path today
be one of integrity and healing, Lord Christ,
that we walk gently upon the earth,
and alongside each other
as companions and kindred spirits.
Bread of Life,
nourish us with your hope and your wisdom,
that we may serve you in joy.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
pour out your peace and comfort
over all for whom we pray.
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Holy One, we come to you in silence
seeking rest and comfort:
let us rest here awhile and take strength.
In the midst of mourning,
may we remember laughter.
In the midst of pain,
may we remember beauty.
In all that tries us,
may we remember your sheltering arms
and cool, sweet mercy.
Give respite to the weary, Lord,
and peace to the troubled,
and light to those who search for a path through this day.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
In peace, we open our hearts to You, O God,
to offer you praise and thanks with our waking breath,
centering our souls, our deepest selves,
within your abundant love.
Eternal Light, spread over us and within us
that we may seek wisdom and truth,
and grow in integrity, kindness, and service, O Most High.
Direct us in your pathways, Blessed Jesus,
for we seek to be true companions
in love and faithfulness,
testifying to your healing love within our lives.
Spirit of the Living God,
renew and refresh our hearts by your power
and make us blessings to those we meet.
Grant your blessing upon us as we seek You, Lord Christ,
and encourage and strengthen those for whom we pray.
Photo: Evening light at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
As the night whispers its tale to the dawn,
and the Earth turns and declares the glory of creation,
let us arise with a song of praise!
Holy One, we gather in your Name,
You who hold our souls tenderly in life,
and abide with us forever.
Lead us, O Shepherd,
in paths of peace, contentment, and mercy,
that we may live abundantly, in gratitude.
May we walk in humility with each other
and in reverence for the whole Earth,
extolling the unity and beauty of your creation, O God.
Let us take each other's hands
and lift each other up,
united, reconciled, and renewed for this day's journey.
At night, when your celestial wonders dazzle our eyes,
may we lie down in peace,
having used this day to embody your love,
forgiving, reconciling, and healing where we can.
Resting in your sure embrace, Blessed Jesus,
grant your peace and blessing to us,
and to all for whom we pray.
Monday, July 30, 2018
whose Spirit yet moves over the waters of creation
and over the waters of our hearts,
we draw near to you and worship you with joy.
Blessed Jesus, thank you for raising up among us
strong women who remain faithful to your call
and who persevere even today in serving you
with abounding love, bravery, and faith.
Help us always to listen for your voice, O God,
to find you not just in pages and verses
but in the face of every stranger
and in the cry of every seeker.
Guide us to witness to your beauty and wisdom,
surpassing all our meager understanding,
O Creator, Sanctifier, and Life-giver.
Bless us as we seek to serve You and each other today, O Holy One,
God of All Compassion,
and grant your blessing over these beloveds.
Image: The ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven:
Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth, Allison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Picard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Wittig,
on July 29, 1974.