Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Feast for Minor Disciples

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

OCTOBER 28, 2020

 

OCCASION:             The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude

 

 

Today in the church year is set aside as a major feast day – the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

 

They were two of the lesser-known disciples of Jesus. They are among the lists of disciples in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in the Book of Acts.  The Gospel according to John does not have an exhaustive list of the disciples.

 

If you are wondering about Jude – he is sometimes referred to as Thaddeus. He is also said to be the author of one of the epistles of the New Testament, the Letter of Jude – a one-chapter epistle that includes some memorable phrases.  I will finish with one in a moment.

 

As I mentioned, we know very little about Simon – called the Zealot – and Jude.  They were disciples of Jesus, largely in the background of his ministry.

 

Tradition ties Simon and Jude together by indicating they had a joint mission to Persia, modern-day Iran, in the early days of the church.  The various disciples had their ministries in different parts of the world – John, of course, ended up on Patmos; James was in Jerusalem; and Peter ultimately ended up in Rome.

 

Tradition holds that Simon and Jude met their ends when crucified in Beirut, Lebanon.  There is, of course, no accurate record.

 

Perhaps the most frequent reference to either of them is the fact that Jude is a patron saint of hopeless causes.  His ministry and the memory of both Simon and Jude is cause for remembrance.

 

The final two verses of Jude’s letter in the New Testament are these:

 

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever.”

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Promises Made

 HOMILY, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 25, YEAR A

OCTOBER 25, 2020 

 

TEXT:                        Deuteronomy 34:1-12

 

 

In the first lesson, we have Moses’ death.  It is the end of the Moses saga.  He first appears in Exodus, and his presence permeates Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  The first five books of the Bible are known as Torah, the Law.  They are also known as the Five Books of Moses.  The Sadducees of Jesus’ day accepted no other scripture as being divinely-inspired.  Not the prophets.  Not the wisdom literature.  Not the faith history books about Israel, Judah, and their kings.

 

Moses is standing in what is modern-day Jordan.  He is on Mt. Nebo, looking over at the Promised Land.  The view is spectacular.  The vast expanse of the Jordan River Valley and the Judean Hills stretch out before him.  Jericho, the city of springs and palms, is a tiny dot in the distance.  On a clear day, he could see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

 

But Mt. Nebo is as close as Moses will get.  He will not cross the Jordan into the land he had been shown. He dies and is buried there – short of his dream. He will forever be remembered as the Prince of Egypt, a Hebrew, who led his people out of bondage in Egypt.  But he will not taste the flavors of the Land of Milk and Honey.  For him, the promise was theoretical.  Just as it had been for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 

Or was it?  

 

Is a promise deferred, a promise denied?  Does the fact that Moses did not walk the last few dusty miles into the Promised Land negate God’s abiding promise – made to him and multiple generations of patriarchs and matriarchs?

 

The thing we lose sight of in our highly individualistic culture is the notion of the corporate nature of God’s promises.  They are made to a people – first, the descendants of Abraham, then the Hebrew people, then the followers of the crucified rabbi, then the young, fledgling church, and over the centuries, the promise has been conveyed to the successors.  The ever-widening circle has included many races and nations.

 

Those promises – down through the millennia – have been to people… ever-broader groups of people.  We know those promises and blessings most fully as a community of faith.  And we come to know their timelessness, too.

 

That is because the blessings transcend our lives.  We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yet the promise endures.  We may be like Moses, and never reach our dreams.  But as people of hope, we can always rest assured that the promise continues.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Venturing from Safe Waters

ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

OCTOBER 21, 2020

 

LESSON:       The Prayer of Sir Francis Drake

 

 

As we begin to emerge from the chaos that has surrounded us in the next several months, our tendency might be to play things safely.

 

When political chaos, economic clouds, pandemic threats, and storms on the horizon have subsided, we may want to find safe harbors in which to live.  An old saying in psychological theory says that stress brings on regression.  That may be very tempting to us, in light of all that we have endured.  Seafarers, such as Paul in his journey to Rome, found rest in a quiet harbor.

 

But there is another way to view life – and that is to dare greatly.  A new world will be awaiting creation.  We cannot craft and mold it from our warm, safe places.

 

That sense of risk and adventure was close to the heart of the 16th Century English Sea Captain, Sir Francis Drake. His bold embrace of life led him to circumnavigate the globe, when that was a very dangerous thing to do at that time, and serve as the second in command in the British defeat of the Spanish Armada.

 

He wrote a poem that I first heard quoted by the Reverend Frank Wade, rector of St. Alban’s Church, Washington, when he was chaplain to the House of Deputies at General Convention.  It is both stirring and encouraging. Listen to his words.

 

Prayer of Sir Francis Drake 

 

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves, 

When our dreams have come true 

Because we have dreamed too little, 

When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore. 

 

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess 

We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity 

And in our efforts to build a new earth, 

We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim. 

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, 

To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery; 

Where losing sight of land, 

We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love. 

 

AMEN 

 

Those are good words – and a strong sentiment – to keep in mind as we come out from under this cloud of chaos.

  

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Source of Blessings

 HOMILY, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 24, YEAR A

OCTOBER 18, 2020 

 

TEXT:                        Matthew 22:15-22

 

 

My brother, Jerry, is an accomplished retired attorney.  His wife is a determined woman who once was the first female head of the Highway Patrol in Mississippi.  There is little that she has not delved into.

 

My brother once described their division of responsibilities in this way: Louisa is an expert on everything and I handle the rest.

 

That is kind of a perverse illustration of what Jesus says to us in the gospel lesson from Matthew today.

 

In the gospel lesson, the Pharisees and the Herodians – people tied closely to the Roman puppet king – are trying to lure Jesus into a trap. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”

 

The gospel tells us that Jesus is aware of their malice and trickery.  He asks them to show him a coin, and they do so – a common coin of the day a denarius. “Whose image is on it?” “Caesar,” they respond.

 

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Simple enough, right?  His response confounds the challengers.  They have nothing on which to charge him with a spiritual or civil offense.

 

I used to see a clear dichotomy between spiritual blessings and secular possessions. I work hard. I earn what I make. I have accumulated these possessions rightfully. Life is what I make of it. Sure, I made my pledge to the church each year and felt quite righteous in doing just that.

 

But, over the years my perspective changed.  My spiritual journey has taken me to great depths, for which I am thankful. My heart is filled with gratitude. I recognized – as we say when we approach the Eucharistic table – All things come of thee, O Lord.  My life, my health, my family, my breath, my vocation, whatever gifts I have – they all come from God.  EverythingI wonder: Do we mean what we say?

 

So, if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that none of us is a self-made person.  We recognize – again, if our journey has taken us deeply enough – that all of our blessings come from God.

 

That is a meaningful concept to have in mind as we approach this season of giving.  

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Quite a Fish Tale

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

OCTOBER 14, 2020

 

LESSON:       The Book of Jonah

 

 

Nearly every person that has attended Sunday School as a young person knows one thing about Jonah:  He was swallowed by a whale.

 

But not exactly.  He was, scripture tells us, swallowed by a great fish. And, of course, a whale is not a fish!

 

The back story about Jonah, though, is an interesting one – and one that most people don’t know.

 

The Jonah whose story is told in the eponymous book is the story of a reluctant Galilean prophet.  He was called by God to go a preach repentance to the massive city known as Nineveh – located in modern-day Iraq.

 

But, Jonah didn’t want to do that.  So, he boarded a ship to flee to Tarshish – a city 3,000 miles away in Spain.  During the journey, a storm arose. Lots were cast, and he was selected as the one to be thrown overboard.  It was then that he was swallowed by the fish.

 

After three days, the fish vomited him up on dry land.  The reluctant Jonah proceeded to walk across Nineveh, proclaiming its coming destruction.

 

Jonah must have been satisfied with himself, and he sat down to watch the city’s destruction. Unexpectedly, the people repented – and all put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, and refused to consume food or water… animals and humans.

 

The fact that the city repented and that destruction did not come displeased Jonah.  He expressed his anger to God, essentially saying, “I knew you would do this!”

 

But, the book concludes with God expressing compassion for the penitent city: “Do you not care for this great city and all its inhabitants? People who do not know their left hand from their right?” And humorously, the last verse of Jonah says that Nineveh also has “many animals.”

 

+ + + 

 

The upshot of this story: It is important for us to remember that we worship a merciful God.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Virtue of Patience

HOMILY, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 23, YEAR A

OCTOBER 11, 2020 

 

TEXT:                        Exodus 32:1-14

 

 

In the first lesson today, Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai.  Unknown to the mass of Hebrews he had liberated from slavery in Egypt and was leading through the wilderness, he had received the a covenant from God while he was up the mountain.  They assumed he was lost; they did not know where he was and if he would even return. The biblical expression of 40 days and 40 nights was mean to convey an indefinitely long time.

 

These are the same people who had been fed by manna and quail in the wilderness, had been delivered through the waters of the Red Sea, had been given water from a rock, and had been led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They had much to look back on – and much to be thankful for.

 

Yet, in Moses absence they had grown impatient.  They felt lost and abandoned.  They were like sheep without a shepherd – and even without a border collie to guide them.  They were at wit’s end.

 

So, they turned to their own devices. Their sense of being alone led them to abandon the hope for a Promised Land that Moses had instilled in them.  They asked Aaron to forge an idol for them.  And he did.

 

+ + + 

 

How quickly people become impatient.  How soon they lose their sense of perspective and hope.

 

These days – our time now – can lead to such impatience and grasping at straws.  Just in the past week I have encountered three major automobile accidents that were, in all likelihood, caused by someone who had become so impatient that the driver took dangerous actions.

 

I know we all feel impatient.  I, myself, have commented that I am so tired of all the chaos – with Covid, political divisions, economic struggles, the threat of destructive weather, and its aftermath.  I suspect we all know that feeling. And we wonder if it will ever end.

 

Let me share a theological point here:  Moses came down from the Mountain. More importantly, Jesus came down from the cross and out of the tomb.

 

We are a people of patience and a people of hope.  On matters eternal, we see the grave is a gateway to greater life. On matters of less importance, our waiting patiently will allow us to enter a new world and a deeper relationship.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Known by the Fruits

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

SEPTEMBER 30, 2020

 

LESSON:       Luke 7:18-35

 

We are to assume that John the Baptist and Jesus went separate ways once Jesus had been baptized.  Jesus, of course, had gone into the wilderness afterwards.  John, it is believed, continued his ministry of preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River.

 

John the Baptist had offended Herod Antipas – the son of Herod the Great, and king of the region of Israel where John preached.  John had criticized Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife. So, Antipas had him imprisoned and would ultimately have him beheaded.

 

But at the point of this lesson, John is in prison. Prison, I suppose, does strange things to a person’s mind.  That was certainly true of John.  He is wondering whether Jesus is “the one who is to come” – a point he had emphatically proclaimed at the baptism. Imprisonment and knowledge of impending death have caused him to doubt.

 

So, John sends two of his disciples to see Jesus.  “Are you the one who is to come?  Or should we wait for another?”

 

Jesus response is telling: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”

 

Jesus is basically saying, I am known by the fruits I produce. These are my fruits…

 

We know and recognize plants by their fruits.  An apple comes from an apple tree. Pecans come from a pecan tree.  Lemons come from a lemon tree.  And so forth.

 

Analogously, we produce the fruits of our true beliefs.  Jesus’ works are more dramatic.  But scripture describes the other fruits that the followers of Jesus are to produce and live the characteristics of the children of God:  Blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the meek, among others.  We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we welcome the stranger, we comfort the grieving.

 

The popular hymn has the refrain, They will know we are Christians by our love. Our faith produces attitudes and fruits that serve to identify us.  Those attitudes and fruits will bear witness to others who wonder.

 

Being True to the Gift

 HOMILY, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 22, YEAR A

OCTOBER 4, 2020 (First Sunday of morning services)

 

TEXT:                        Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

The Gospel lesson today – the Parable of the Vineyard – is a well known but a widely misunderstood teaching.

 

Popular understanding has been that this parable is an allegory – meaning that Jesus’ teaching anticipated his death and the son who was killed by the wicked tenants of the vineyard.  That interpretation has led to a vilification of the Jewish people.

 

A more accurate and faithful interpretation is broader and more general.  And, like many of Jesus’ teachings, its truth is particular to its time, but also transcends the many centuries to potentially judge us today.

 

You know the story.  The landowner leases the vineyard to some tenants.  They refuse to pay the lease with a portion of their produce. The landowner sends slaves to collect the produce. The tenants beat and throw them out.  So, the owner sends his son – assuming that the tenants would respect him.  They do not. Instead, they kill him.

 

Jesus goes on to quote the 22nd verse of Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  I would contend that it is not the Messiah the religious leaders rejected, but the timeless holy call – spoken by God through his word and the prophets – that Jesus was saying they ignored.

 

Yes, it stung the ears of the chief priests and Pharisees.  They knew he was talking about them.  They knew that he was alleging that they were emphasizing minor points at the expense of major points.  They were trying to remove a speck from others’ eyes while ignoring the beam in their own eyes.

 

It is important that we be mindful of this teaching.  The key words in Jesus’ confrontation of the religious leaders were these: “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” That warning could be just as cogent for us as it was for the religious leaders to whom Jesus addressed it.

 

We need to always be mindful that what we do – as individuals and as a parish – emphasizes the essence of the way of salvation.  And, as Jesus noted, it is not always the way we think that is true to the Gospel.

 

 

Entertaining Angels

ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

SEPTEMBER 30, 2020

 

Tuesday, yesterday, we observed one of the major feast days in the church year – St. Michael’s and All Angels, also known as Michaelmas.

 

It serves as our salute to the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  They are remembered for their role in salvation history, and most specifically, in scripture.  Keep in mind that it was Michael the Archangel whose armies defeated the dragon in the Book of Revelation’s battle of heaven.

 

The angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Daniel, to explain his mysterious visions.  Likewise, Gabriel makes appearances in the Gospel according to Luke – appearing to Zechariah, foretelling the coming of John the Baptist, and to Mary, telling her of the coming of Jesus.  The cave which tradition holds was the site of that visitation – the Annunciation – is revered today in Nazareth.

 

The feast day we observe can be traced to the fifth century, when a St. Michael’s Church was dedicated in Rome.  The most significant early Anglican observance was on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  Celtic festivals are still observed there.

 

The feast day, of course, comes close to the Autumnal equinox and is viewed by many as the beginning of fall.  Schools and colleges have marked it as the day of student matriculation.  In fact, that was the day on which we “signed the book” to officially enter seminary.

 

We may think that as a modern culture we are beyond such things as angels.  We should not be so arrogant.  There is much that we do not know; volumes that we do not understand.

 

Keep in mind that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote these words:

 

13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 

 

For sure, angels are a mystery.  But we never know when we are present with one.

 

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

The Humility of the Cross

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 21, YEAR A – 17th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 27, 2020

 

TEXT:               MATTHEW 21:23-32

 

In my frequent drives between my home in Fairhope and St. Paul’s in Foley, I pay quite a bit of attention do the various sights along the way.  Some are more natural i; others are less so.

 

There is one billboard I see on my trips.  I have noticed it for a long time, and it has prompted my internal questions the entire time.  It is a billboard for a radio station – a Christian radio station.  It has a nickname that includes the word POWER, and the visual is of the cross radiating lightning.  The idea is that the Christian message is about power.

 

I really understand what they are trying to say.  I understand what culture wants to hear. I understand what they are trying to SELL.  But the church has gotten in trouble any time it becomes more focused on exercising power than on carrying out the more essential Christian message.

 

In the gospel lesson today, Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who apparently believe their power is being challenged by this young itinerant rabbi who has come to town.  They are incredulous at what he is saying and doing.  It does not jive with contemporary orthodoxy.  “By what authority are you doing this?” they ask him.

 

St. Paul, writing his letter to the Philippians, summarized the essence of the Christian message to the young church:

 

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

 

The next time you are tempted to exercise the power of being a Christian, think of Jesus’ example: humility, servanthood, and giving of oneself.

 

The Wealth of the Wilderness

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

 

The Gospel lesson for today is from the beginning of the fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel.  It is the story of Jesus being driven into the wilderness for 40 days and nights after his baptism.  A similar account is given in Matthew’s gospel.

 

The wilderness near to the Jordan River – the place of Jesus’ baptism – is just as you would think.  I have been there many times.  It is a wide, expansive area where the landscape becomes more and more arid as the Jordan Valley descends from the Sea of Galilee.  I describe it as spectacular desolation.

 

It is a dry, remote, mountainous, dusty, rocky land.  Life there is very sparse – typically rock badgers, hawks, and the national animal for Israel, the Ibex, a deer-like creature.

 

Jesus established a precedent for going into the wilderness.  For centuries, desert monks and hermits have secluded themselves for weeks or months at a time in the myriad caves which dot the canyon walls.  Each person who does that is trying to encounter what Jesus found there – both temptation and the ever-abiding strength and presence of God.

 

Jesus, of course, was tempted during his weeks in the wilderness.  Yet, we do not have to travel to Israel to find the wilderness, nor do we need to go there to find temptation.

 

Events of the last few months and even last few days qualify as wilderness.  The pandemic, the precipitous economy, and most recently, Hurricane Sally have placed us squarely in the middle of our own figurative wilderness.  The temptations may seem mundane – relief from the absence of power, a warm meal, a hot shower, our lawns and streets cleaned, a sense of safety like we once knew.

 

I know that I have told Nora that when the pandemic abates and I get my vaccination, I want to travel.  The freedom to roam has a certain allure now. But, that wish misses the point.

 

As much as this time and these circumstances seem to be abhorrent and cause our minds to wander toward a more placid period, these days offer us something else.  Like Jesus’ experience of the wilderness, we have a chance to face our individual demons and to go deep in our spiritual journey.

 

I encourage you to live in the now… to see the presence of God in the rocks and rills of life… and to find the spring of eternal water which can nourish you for all times.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

By Our Wounds

ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

SEPTEMBER 20, 2020

 

Collect for Proper 20 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who was a prolific writer during his lifetime.  His books, such as The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved, are remembered very fondly.  

 

He died 24 years ago on Monday. His last years were spent in the L’Arche Community – a group that served handicapped individuals.  It was an outgrowth of his deep spirituality that focused especially on pastoral matters, spirituality, psychology, and theology. He had a profound impact on lay and ordained people during his life.

 

I am reminded today of one of his works: The Wounded Healer. Like all of his books, it is fairly brief but very deep.  His primary point in the book is that, as Christians, we minister to others most meaningfully not out of our strength, but out of our woundedness. Our wounds, our hurts, our losses, help us to be more caring, more insightful, and more empathetic in ministering to those who suffer similar wounds.

 

It is a topic that the contemplative priest, Richard Rohr, has focused on this week in his daily meditations.  The image is that it is through his wounds that Jesus Christ is available to all of us.  Literally, his open arms on the cross embrace the entire world. Without the cross, we would not be.

 

By events of the last week, all of us have sustained wounds of some sort.  Some of our losses are major, others are less so.  But, it is by those wounds that we are enabled –indeed called – to reach out and care for one another, and the community around us.

 

That is a silver lining in this whole traumatic chapter of life.  We are called to find God’s redemptive power in all this destruction which surrounds us.  If so, we have learned the lesson – and fully incorporated it – into our lives and our relationship with others.

 

Nothing is total loss in God’s economy.

Henri Nouwen’s insights and life lessons live on. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Right for the Goose, Right for the Gander

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 19, YEAR A

SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

 

TEXT:               MATTHEW 18:21-35

 

Today we observe the 15th Sunday after Pentecost.  Let’s open with the collect for today, from Proper 19.

 

Collect for Proper 19

 

You know, there are times when scripture, and I guess Jesus, go from “preachin’ to meddlin’.”  Today is one of those examples with the gospel lesson from Matthew 18.

 

Peter asks Jesus: “How often should I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  As many as seven times?”  Peter probably thought he was being pious and generous with his suggestion.

 

But Jesus surprises him – and us. “No, I tell you seventy-seven times.”  Some translations render Jesus’ response as “seventy times seven” – in other words, 490 times!

 

It doesn’t matter.  It’s not an issue of math or counting.  It’s an issue of generosity and grace.  We are to forgive without limits.  Without counting.  Without restrictions.

 

It might be tempting to think, “Jesus hasn’t walked in my shoes.  He doesn’t know what the particulars.  He doesn’t know how I’ve been wronged.  He’s out-of-touch with reality.”

 

I guess we could say he doesn’t know the specifics – and that generosity is not practical in today’s world. Who would people think we are? Suckers?

 

And then I remember.  Those few words in the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer that is at the heart of every church service, and is on many lips every day: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

I guess we could say several old sayings apply: “What’s right for the goose is right for the gander,” or “The measure you give is the measure you get.”

 

Think of how grace has touched your life.  Think of all you have been forgiven.  Yes, those things known only to you.  Your slate is wiped clean.  So, why should you not do the same? That is precisely what Jesus asks us to do.

 

No one ever said the gospel was realistic in this world.  But, by our baptism, we are citizens of another world – the Kingdom of God.  It is there that our sins are forgiven generously – and we are asked to release others from their offenses against us.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

To Love Others

 ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020

 

COMMEMORATION:        Constance and Her Companions

 

Our temptation is to think of martyrs as having given their lives in some primitive, far-away country many, many years ago.  We tend to think especially of the early church martyrs, who suffered at the hands of Rome.

 

But that is not always the case.

 

In 1878, a terrible epidemic of Yellow Fever hit the river city of Memphis.  Yellow fever is a hemorrhagic disease much like Dengue Fever and Ebola and, in those days, led to a long, painful death.

 

Memphis was hit hard.  More than 5,000 people died.  The city was so depopulated that it lost its city charter – something it did not regain until 14 years later.

 

The people who survived literally fled to the hills – where it was higher and dryer.  They mistakenly thought the disease came from the adjacent Mississippi River, flowing down its wester border.  People did not know until 30 years later it was a mosquito-borne illness.

 

Someone needed to stay behind and help the continuing city residents – many of whom suffered the devastating effects of the illness. A group of Episcopal nuns from the recently formed Order of St. Mary, remained behind with some priests and some Catholic nuns.  They tended the ill, though they faced significant danger that they, too, would be afflicted with the disease.  They set up a hospital in St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis. 

 

They were incredibly courageous and self-giving.  They likely knew the price they would pay. We commemorate them today.  Sister Constance, the Superior of the group, was the first to succumb.  Later, four nuns would also suffer death, as would two priests.

 

In the midst of this current pandemic, we hear it is the Christian responsibility to love God and to others as we love ourselves.  The Presiding Bishop has reminded us of that responsibility again and again.  That is the reason we wear masks in public places.  That is the reason we socially-distance.

 

But, it is helpful to remember that many have gone well beyond that expectation.

 

Collect for Constance and Her Companions

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Out of Bondage

ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY – PROPER 18, YEAR A
SEPTEMBER 6, 2020

TEXT:                        Exodus 12:1-14

Collect for the Day – Proper 18

It is easy to lose sight of the historic roots of some of our traditions.  We might need to be reminded of them occasionally.

Baptism has its roots in various parts of our faith history: baptism of conversion; baptism for the repentance and forgiveness of sins; baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus; and baptism to receive the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, ordination.  I was reminded 33 years ago of just how deep those roots are.  The act of ordination – setting aside for God’s service – can be traced at least to the selection and dedication of the seven deacons in the Book of Acts.

Unction – or prayers for healing – may be traced to Jesus’ own healing acts, found in each of the gospels.

But the Eucharist is unique.  In the lesson from Exodus today, we have described to us the 3,200 year roots of that central sacrament of the church.  It began in the bondage of Egypt, with the great sacrament of deliverance – the original Passover meal.  God was preparing the people to be delivered from the hands of Pharaoh and his oppressive overseers.  It involved a sacred meal, shared with family and friends – with a sacrificed lamb at the center of the ritual.

Twelve hundred years later, in three of the four gospels, Jesus altered the symbolism.  It was still the Passover.  It was still a meal of deliverance out of bondage.  There was still a sacrificial lamb – but this time, the lamb was Jesus.  His body and blood became the central elements of the meal.

We celebrate that sacred meal – that deliverance from sin and death – each time we reenact that first Passover meal in the Holy Eucharist.  Like the first observers of that ancient tradition, we still need deliverance – not from the whip of Pharaoh, but from sin, burdens, and the limitations of human existence.

The next time you approach the Holy Table, eat the body, drink the blood, and celebrate your victory of deliverance.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A Rich History of Mission

ONLINE REFLECTION, ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY
September 2, 2020

OBSERVANCE:                  The Martyrs of New Guinea, 1942


Despite what our current perception is of the Episcopal Church and our mother church, the Anglican Communion, the truth is that our history is rich with mission work.  Our missionaries have worked in some of the most remote and primitive places in the world.

The 19th century was an especially active period.  Missionaries – largely from England – spanned the globe in sharing the Good News of God in Christ.  They ventured into Africa, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific.  Anglicans and Episcopalians, of course, were not alone in this endeavor. Other denominations did much the same.  The 1980s movie, The Mission, gave us one such story about Roman Catholic missionaries.

But the 19th Century is important.  There was a real missionary zeal at that time. In the 1860s, a missionary outpost was established in New Guinea – the second largest island in the world.  The terrain was rugged and the population was not familiar with Christianity.  More than 500 dialects were spoken by the people.  The going was tough for the missionaries.

But in 1891, a missionary diocese was established, and a bishop was chosen. The growth of the church continued.  Progress was made.

New Guinea, of course, is located the South Pacific, just to the north and east of Australia.  It came under the shadow of what would be known as World War II. The Japanese military began to occupy the islands of the South Pacific in the late 1930s.  It was not an easy time to be an English-speaking Christian missionary.

It became obvious that the missionaries’ lives and work were threatened.  But, they continued their work.  They would not back off.  Their work among the people was too important.

So, it was on this date 78 years ago that the Imperial Forces of Japan martyred 10 missionaries ministering in New Guinea – eight Europeans and two natives of the island who were also engaged in mission work.  Today, we remember and give thanks for their ministry – and for their self-giving of their lives.

The 16th Chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew tells us this: 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

The Martyrs of New Guinea did just that.  The Gospel sometimes asks much of us.
What are you being asked to do today?

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we remember before you this day the blessed martyrs of New Guinea, who, following the example of their Savior, laid down their lives for their friends; and we pray that we who honor their memory may imitate their loyalty and faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.