Saturday, September 19, 2020

By Our Wounds


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


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




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


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

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.