Monday, August 20, 2018
O God, You have given us our breath:
it is right that we use it to sing
and glorify your ever-present Love.
May our thankfulness to You resound
with each beat of our hearts.
You are the center of our being:
may we make our hearts a fit dwelling place for your Spirit.
You have called us to truly love one another:
may we shrug off the coils of envy and resentment that choke us.
May we unlearn all that anger has taught us,
that hope and generosity may take root in our souls.
May your peace calm all our fears,
as rain is soaked up by a dry and thirsty land.
May we turn our eyes from the mountains and valleys in our path
to the glorious light of your mercy and truth.
O Shepherd, protect us from the wolves that prowl among us:
may we hear, know, and trust your promises.
Now, O Eternal One,
accept the prayers of your people,
for each need which has been offered in love.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
I grew up in the so-called “Bible Belt,” in churches that did not observe formal liturgy, in places that never spoke of the word “sacrament” or pondered what that word might mean. Yet, the first time I took part in an Episcopal liturgy when I was 12 years old, I felt an astonishing thing come over me.
At one level, I had no idea what was happening. Instead of sitting still, listening to a 40 minute sermon followed by a twenty minute altar call, there was all this movement—what the late great comedian and Episcopalian Robin Williams called “pew aerobics.” Up, down. Stand, sit, kneel. Genuflecting. Bowing. Crossing yourself. Juggling a service leaflet and a prayer book and a hymnal—and, this being Oklahoma— a Bible.
But it was at the start of the Holy Communion part of the service that I was absolutely broken open, heart, body, and soul. It was there that I truly felt to be a part of the great body of the Church, and felt received and accepted as I was, with all my faults. I saw how the practice of communion empowered the church, with each and every one of us as a full minister of it, to offer ourselves and all the world’s prayers before God. It left me reeling and rejoicing, all at the same time.
Jesus’s words today can leave us reeling, too. Jesus reminds us that he is the living bread sent by the living Father, and that by taking Jesus into our physical bodies we are made one with him. That promise resounds for us two thousand years later and asks us to take it seriously. And that’s hard for us. The gospel is so radical and life-changing that we often can’t help but try to tame it a little—or a lot. We try to domesticate it, water it down, and therefore place it under our control. But that’s exactly what Jesus is pushing back against in our gospel today. His words call us to renew our understanding of how earth-shaking this act of communion and thanksgiving really is.
For weeks now, Jesus has declared that he is the bread of life, and the crowd asked him for this bread, always. And we DO have it always, in the Eucharist. In our faith that lives and breathes through us, when we let it. We have it always, when we open our hearts to the presence of Christ within us, both as individuals and as a parish and in the world at large.
Count how many times the word “life” or some form of it appears in this reading. We are talking about matters of life and death here—literally. Perhaps a question we can ask ourselves is this: are we really living, or are we just existing? Are we opening ourselves to the blessings and wonders of God’s gifts to us, and then seeking to reflect that joy and hope and light into the world?
There are often times that we get so overwhelmed that we just drift along, reacting rather than being mindful. And who can blame us? There seems to be a constant tattoo of bad news—illnesses, crises, struggles to put food on the table, struggles to find time to spend with those we love, political turmoil, natural disasters—the list goes on and on. Yet it is at moments such as these that we sometimes have to be shaken out of our cycle of anxiety, take a deep breath, and remember that we are not in this alone.
Look again at this passage. Jesus PROMISES us full, rich, abundant life in him—true and real communion with him and in him. That communion with Jesus also draws us into a precious communion with each other. Such devotion Jesus offers us can be overwhelming.
Jesus is asking us to have faith enough to let ourselves be wide open to his grace, light and truth.
To have faith in the Way of Jesus, a way that is governed by a wisdom that goes against the cynicism and miserly fears that attempt to dominate us.
To be wide open to being fed with the very substance of love.
Jesus is asking to be welcomed into our inmost beings, and to recognize our oneness with the divine love that is at the beating heart of the spiritual life-- of life itself.
If we take that seriously, of course it shocks us.
Jesus’s words this week are meant to shock his listeners. When he talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, it probably makes most of us uncomfortable, and rightfully so. But even in our discomfort, we also need to see that Jesus is stating as forcefully as he can that he will feed us with his very self, seeking to be alongside us and within us always. And that’s why, for many of us, Eucharist is such a central part of our worship together each week. Yet hopefully it never becomes for us something commonplace, something expected, something routine. I personally hope to never take this for granted.
I remember the first time I listened to the Eucharistic prayer in an Episcopal church, and was invited to kneel alongside people who were largely strangers to me and raise my hands to receive this miraculous sacrament. Something electric went through me, and I have never been the same since. Even though it is years later, I can still see the faces of those around me as together we received the Body and Blood of Jesus. Each time we gather around this altar, we are joined together, and not just within this service or within this building, but across time and distance.
My father was not a church-going man, and hardly ever took communion that I can recall, yet in his last days, a priest from one of the churches I attended in Tulsa came to minister to my dad, assuring him of God’s love and offering him and all of us in the room communion. It gave him a sense of peace which I had seldom seen within him. I am convinced that every time we share in communion, he is there alongside me, and all those we love and see no more are gathered with us too. This altar stretches through time and space as we reaffirm that we all share in the heavenly banquet.
Sharing in the Eucharist together reminds us that eternity is not something trapped in the future but is now. If “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again”… if Jesus “was, and is, and shall be, world without end, amen”… then we participate in Christ’s life right now when we gather together in worship and singing and praise (as was discussed in our reading from Ephesians), and certainly when we eat of Christ’s body and drink of his blood. We are then “in Christ, and he in us.”
And isn’t that what the Christian life is all about? To be transformed and transform ourselves and others; to be healed and to heal ourselves and others; to be fed and to feed ourselves and others. If we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we aren’t just waiting around for God to fix us or fix our society or fix our world. We are part of the life of God. Can we have faith enough to turn that around, and let God be a part of our lives, in the ways that really matter?
This is sacrament: a making holy of ourselves regardless of place, rank or time. In our gospel passage Jesus promises us this gift as part of his living ministry. We are given this gift for our benefit, and for the benefit and service of the entire world—no exceptions.
And while sacraments are all around us, and we live in what Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple called “a sacramental universe,” this sacrament of communion, along with the sacrament of baptism, melts away our walls and defenses, uniting us as one Body even outside the walls of this parish church. It reminds us that we are not just individuals, but we are members of the Body of Christ, and charges us to be Jesus’s hands, eyes, and heart in the world.
It’s an incredible thing. “This is my Body, given for you” has a multiplicity of meaning and seems foolish when we hear it. Yet through this statement, we reach up with hopeful hands and we accept that gift of Christ’s very body for us. We are also made part of that Body, and are thus called to sacrifice and service, ourselves. This sacrifice is not just done for us, but is done by us, and with us, and in us, and throughout the world. We all are empowered as ministers through this sharing and being willing to share.
It also means that, as Christ lives within us, sustaining us both body and soul, so we must be about the very real work of sustaining others. Living as Christ’s Body in the world calls us to hold nothing back, but to offer of ourselves in response to very real hunger we encounter in the world.
Here, around this altar, we meet a God who loves us enough to be one OF us. Jesus holds nothing back from us, but becomes one WITH us in spirit but also in our very bodies, absorbed into our very cells and sinews and bones. In defiance of our failures and shortcomings, because Jesus is always there with us, we become love in our bones; we are anchored within the eternal life and love of God, no matter where we are at that moment—in happiness or sorrow, in comfort or in pain, in joy or mourning, in peace or in turmoil.
In all times and in all places, may we trust in your promises, Beloved Savior, and remember that we are one with you, and you with us.
Preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, August 18 at the 505, and on August 19 at 8:00 and 10:15 am.
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
1) Joey Velasco (1967-2010), Filipino, Hapag ng Pag-asa (Table of Hope)
2) from wiirocku.tumblr.com
3) detail from an early depiction of the Heavenly Banquet
we gather to sing your praises
with the chorus of angels and saints
as we join hands and hearts around your altar.
In awe and wonder, Almighty One,
we seek your Wisdom to guide and direct us
as we serve You and each other.
Nourished by Christ's Body and Blood,
may we embody his healing love and grace
that we may be in Christ and Christ in us always.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
bless us and purify our wills to serve only You,
O God, the Source of Life and Truth,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Most Merciful God,
we lift our grateful hearts to You,
and meditate upon your protecting hand
that has shielded us through the night
and guides us through the day.
Help us to walk in the Way of Jesus,
deepening our search for wisdom and truth,
reaching out with hands of love
in the work of reconciliation and healing.
Give us courage, Lord,
to embrace the unfamiliar paths we encounter,
knowing that you are ever with us, come what may.
Through your grace, O Savior,
may we make our hearts a worthy dwelling for you,
that we may blaze forth with your healing love
in all we do this day.
Shepherd of Our Souls,
gather within your embrace
all who are disquieted in body, mind, or spirit:
comfort those in pain, grief, or anxiety, we pray.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
bless and keep us this day,
and give your angels charge over those for whom we pray.
Friday, August 17, 2018
you remind us that there is a time for everything:
let today be a time to love and a time for peace.
Let today be a time
to heal hurts of the body and hurts of the heart,
to mend what has been broken.
Let today be a time
to embrace our fellowship with You and with each other,
to build up Your Beloved Community.
Let today be a time
to speak out for justice,
to scatter the stones of ill-will
and plant compassion in their place.
Let today be a time
to keep watch with those who work or wait or mourn,
with those whose times are in Your hand.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Source of All Wisdom,
guard and protect us as we begin a new year.
Give us a thirst for knowledge,
and the will to use it for good,
and for the good of our communities.
We give you thanks, O Lord, for schools:
for the teachers and staff who guide and care for students,
who feed them and tend to their minds and their spirits,
who encourage them to curiosity and deeper understanding,
and inspire them to the fulfillment of their dreams.
May we honor and support them
in our prayers and in our actions at all times.
We give you thanks for students, O God:
may we see each one as beloved and precious;
may we care for them as our own;
may we help them believe in themselves.
May we inspire within them self-discipline,
compassion, integrity, service,
initiative, creativity, and responsibility.
May we help them have the willingness to begin
the courage to evaluate and learn from error,
and the strength to persevere in adversity.
God of Mercy and Truth,
envelop us in your grace,
strengthen us in hope and faith,
and pour out your blessing and peace
upon all for whom we pray.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
We raise our hearts to our Creator,
our Fortress and our Shield:
our spirits rest in You, O God.
With each breath let our song be praise,
with each heartbeat let our life be yours.
who sees deep into the hearts of your children,
and knows and loves us from our birth,
watch over us and preserve us this day.
As You chose and honored St. Mary,
and favored her with your faithfulness and love,
may we also be your willing servants,
trusting in our God in all things,
choosing to be filled as vessels of God's grace.
Grant us the courage
to be instruments of your redemption and justice,
O Merciful, Reconciling One,
and boldly assent when you call us by name.
Spirit of the Living God,
fill us with the fire of love
and the faith to fight for righteousness and truth.
May holy angels attend to those who watch and weep:
lift up and comfort all who turn to You, Lord Christ.
Image: detail from an icon by Mikhail Vrubel, from St. Cyril's Monastery, Kiev.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
You tenderly hold our souls in your hand:
hear our prayer.
Teach us, O God,
to act so that we are a blessing to others.
Bring forth in us perfect love,
in which we see all life as connected and mutually dependent.
Make us more prone to wonder than to wander,
grounding us in your Wisdom,
uplifted by grace.
to offer our lives to one another,
and ground ourselves in your Beloved Community.
Cradle us to You in our pain, despair, or fear,
and brush away the tears of those who mourn,
O Loving One.
Open our eyes to the blessings we have
even in the midst of trouble.
Help us hold fast to your hand as little children,
trusting always that You are with us.
Hear the sighs of your beloveds,
and send your Spirit to comfort and bear up
those we now name.
570, adapted in 1662
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.