Love, Life, and Light

Sermon Reflection respectfully submitted by Mal Underwood | Sunday, November 4, 2018

As we celebrated the Feast Day of All Saints on Sunday, Mo. Mary reminded us that in one respect it has been a difficult year for our family of Ascension with six of our family members being called home to our heavenly Father. The celebration of All Saints brings all things together in our lives as members of the church universal through our baptism to a new life in Christ, our nourishment and growth as disciples through the Word and sacraments, and ultimately our death in the faith and resurrection to eternal life in glory. But as we all experience, not all in the world are saints of God’s love, light, and life. In the background of our life on earth darkness and unexplainable death lurk, as the Tree of Life Synagogue tragedy demonstrated, causing grief and suffering we cannot comprehend.

The Gospel story of Lazarus speaks very well of the ways of death, darkness, and division. In this familiar episode, Jesus comes to mourn four days after Lazarus dies. Mary complains to him that if he had come earlier he could have saved her brother. Martha does as well but confirms her belief in Jesus as Messiah. In the background, some of the religious elite plot Jesus’ demise. All of these elements clearly show our lives in Christ as good, holy, and yet vulnerable to darkness and death. How are the children of love, light, and life to survive and prosper in the face of these circumstances? Is there a character in this story to guide us to the light? Is it Mary, whose grief mirrors ours in a time of loss? Is it Martha, whose faith in Jesus as the Son of God serves as an example of resilience and encouragement for us? Is it Lazarus, whose resurrection from the dead reminds us of Jesus’ power over death? The most likely is Jesus, who demonstrates his power over death and reminds us that he is the embodiment of love, life, and light. He is the resurrection and the life. And He invites us to participate in God’s life-giving, loving world where our eternal life begins on earth as we also participate in the sharing of love, life, and light to those in need around us.

Mo. Mary shared three stories to demonstrate:

·         Mr. Rogers of television fame was a Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh whose mother told him as a youngster that in times of difficulty and strife, there were always caring helpers in the world and to look for them when needed. He would repeat that often to the young audience of his show.

·         A Muslim organization in Pittsburgh raised over $200,000 for relief and assistance to the families of the slain in the Tree of Life synagogue. They put their religious and political differences aside in the belief that the core of all of us is a shared humanity.

·         In a recent story a man and woman, one Republican and one Democrat, campaign in their community for a state office. In a debate setting they respectfully state their positions on the issues and at the end ask the moderator for some additional time. They take out a guitar and cello and play a song together for the audience. Some stated afterward that it didn’t matter to them who won because regardless, the constituents had already won due to the dignity and respect of the candidates.

Mo. Mary closed with a quote from an Episcopalian Nashville musician who said, “I can play all the right notes but what does it matter if I’m not engaged in the music of living?”  What do we choose? Do we choose to set loose the power of death and darkness, or do we set loose the power of love, life, and light?

Gifts from God

Sermon Reflection Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley| Sunday, October 28, 2018

This Sunday was a glorious day…the beautiful fall weather, the great music, the wonderful sermon, the gratefulness expressed in the presentation of our commitment to this holy place, the good “soul” food and the warm fellowship.  Thank you to everyone who made it happen.

Mother Mary opened her sermon by asking the congregation to read in unison a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  The prayer is quoted below and is all about GIVING!

Lord, make us instruments of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union;

Where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  AMEN

It is astounding that we have the power through Christ to give love, to give pardon, to give union, to give faith, to give hope, to give light, to give joy!  Obviously, having Christ on our side is our superpower!  The line that says it all is “For it is in giving that we receive.”  Realizing that every gift we have comes from God and participating in the cycle of gratitude leads us to the wholeness of life.

Last Sunday we learned about the cycle of giving from Father Spencer when he shared the stories of his grandmother, Lily.  During the past few Sundays we have heard testimonies of gratitude shared by our speakers and writers sponsored by the Stewardship Ministry.  Dan Bennett started it all with a wonderful message about how grateful he is and how this gratitude can only be expressed in giving back part of the gifts he has received.  In her article Maribeth Zane shared her story of healing and how Jesus showed up every time she needed him.  This made her very grateful and led her to choose Ascension as her home where she can give back.  Lindy Agan, in her writing and speaking, shared her gratefulness for the life of her daughter, Caroline, and for this parish who showed up through the Pastoral Care Ministry to provide for her needs.  This presence reminded her that Jesus is love and that he is with her and her family all the time.  John Youd felt safe here with us to share how his life has been shaped by the choices he has made and how the gift of his faith helped make the changes that have sustained his life.  These wonderful speakers and writers laid themselves open and gave us the inspiration of their gratitude.

The gospel of the day was the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who was healed of his blindness because of his faithfulness. Upon receiving this gift of healing, Bartimaeus followed Jesus.  In following he was willing to give back the love that had been given to him.   

Mother Mary shared the gist of an unsolicited testimony she received in the form of a letter from a choir member.  This person shared that on a recent Sunday as Lindy Agan spoke to the congregation and Caroline, her daughter, cooed her baby sounds, he was struck by the realization of the gift of prayer.  He shared that this life altering gift, the view of God as love, began during his confirmation class and has ended a lifelong view through a lens of guilt and shame.  He announced that the gifts he gives of voice and money “are like a grain of sand compared to the beach of sand I’ve been given.”  He felt that his ability to give was itself the gift. 

How do you view your gifts from God?  Are you willing to share those gifts with others to begin the work of doing His will on Earth as in Heaven?  Are you willing to empty yourself for the sake of others?

Grandmother Lily’s Wisdom

Sermon Reflection Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood | Sunday, October 21, 2018

We were blessed on Sunday to have Fr. Spenser Simrill as our guest preacher. He was invited to offer a stewardship message as part of our Growing Hearts for Giving commitment campaign for 2018. When Fr. Spenser first visited Ascension on June 3, 2018 as our supply priest, he delivered a inspirational message about all of God’s children belonging to the family of Christ regardless of race, creed, or color and as Christians we are to love each other as God loves us.

In Sunday’s message, Fr. Spenser opened by noting the main theme of the Gospel lesson – that service to others, and not our own importance, is most valued in the kingdom of God. He then began the application of that theme to the stewardship of our lives through the lessons he learned from his beloved Grandmother Lily. Among Lily’s life lessons were:

● Gratitude – Fr. Spenser’s great grandfather, Lily’s father for whom Fr. Spenser was named, was a professor at Washington & Lee. One of the enduring lessons he shared was that there was always someone behind us whose job was to “carry your parachute”. He urged Lily, his grandmother, to always remember the importance of that person and to thank them for carrying that parachute. Without them the mission could not be fulfilled. Great grandfather Spenser told Lily to always remember those who “carry your parachute”, that is, we are never alone in fulfilling the work we have been given to do. Always be grateful to those who support you and help you succeed.

● Hospitality – Lily was a giver who could turn a simple meal into a banquet. Their Sunday dinners routinely included six to eight guests with whom they shared the meal and grew their hearts through fellowship and discourse.

● Generosity – Lily understood life was a gift from the greatest giver of all. She was committed to living on 90% of what God gave the family and tithed her financial resources to the kingdom. Just as in the Episcopal wedding liturgy, she routinely practiced that “with all that I am, and with all that I have, I honor you”. It is that devotion to honoring God that Fr. Spenser remembers and practices himself. In

Finally, as Grandmother Lily was fond of saying, let’s review the bidding:

1.    Acknowledge and thank those who love and support you

2.    Model the love of God in the world

3.    When we’re called home we can’t take our money with us – we only take the love we experience like that we share in our Ascension family.

Fr. Spenser closed by asking all to read together the General Thanksgiving found on page 836 of the Book of Common Prayer. I invite you to read it as well. It gives us an inspirational foundation for gratitude in our lives.

Come and See... Come and Give Back

Sermon Reflection Respectfully Submitted by Kelley A. Dial | Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday proved to be a day filled with powerful visual images.  For visual learners, such times often provide "aha" moments.   The reading from Mark's Gospel pertains to Jesus' opinion of wealth.  He says "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God ".  The visual image of such an impossible task paints a dim future for the affluent.  However, reading further shows the all is not lost for those who are successful in this life.  Jesus says that with God all things are possible, even a large humped animal making its way through a hole in a sewing instrument. When God is included in the equation and our material goods are used for the good or our Maker, the eye of that needle opens up and the camel saunters through easily.

Sunday's sermon contained an equally powerful image to bring stewardship into focus.  We all traded wallets, jewelry, or some other possession with a neighbor in the congregation then were asked to see how easy it would be to give someone else's belonging to God in the offering plate.  Perceiving ourselves as the middlemen between another's money and God makes the cheerful giving stress free.  But......wait........our possessions do not really belong to us.  They belong to God and have been gifted to us to make use of this side of heaven.  We are not giving away, we are giving back.  The object lesson of the sermon helps loosen the ties that bind us to our "stuff" and, hopefully, cause us to be more intentional about what we give back to God and how we use the resources that remain in our care.  

May these lessons help inform your thoughtful consideration of how to best use your time, treasure, and talents.

Thanks be to God.  — Respectfully Submitted by Kelley A. Dial

The Conqueror’s Vulnerability

The Conqueror’s Vulnerability

Mark writes that they [the disciples] were afraid to ask their conquering hero what he meant, obviously feeling extremely vulnerable at being left behind to deal with the misery of Roman rule if he were to die. After all, Jesus was seen as their earthly King of Kings who would free them from slavery and rule with power and equity. Instead, unknown to his closest earthly friends, Jesus himself was experiencing the human pain of a most extreme form of betrayal; being turned over to hostile authorities by a member of his inner circle to be put to death. In spite of his clear message, the disciples did not understand the gravity of the situation and the truth of his Kingship of the universe. They were trapped by their own vulnerable circumstances and found relief from believing the earthly version of their conqueror of the world. Little did they know that their king was suffering vulnerability himself as he journeyed to the cross. Instead, they argued among themselves as to who was the greatest.

 

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Mark 8: 29

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  Mark 8: 29

The Gospel reading from Mark chronicled an effort by Jesus to help his disciples understand what being the Messiah meant.  He describes the suffering, persecution, and death to come.  Most importantly, he lets his disciples know that he will rise in glory (Thanks be to God!).  He is rebuked by Peter and Jesus sets him straight by saying “Get the behind me, Satan!” 

Trust......transporting us from the concrete to the eternal.

Sermon Summary for Sunday, August 12th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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The Gospel readings for the past few weeks have been focused on nourishment. Jesus fed the multitude, literally.  From five loaves and two fish came more than enough to satisfy five thousand.  The crowd was astounded by Jesus' actions that they could see and taste.  It was similar to Moses providing the Jews with manna from heaven.  The crowd could wrap their mind around God sending something down to them through a prophetic messenger.  

The masses, however, had a more difficult time processing Jesus' message when he talked about food on a spiritual level. Jesus explained that he was not serving them bread from heaven; he was the bread from heaven.  The people had difficulty processing this revelation about someone who grew up among them. It required an extra step beyond just witnessing miraculous events. It required trust; trust in something they could not see.

Jesus explained further the unbreakable bond he has to God.  God draws people to Jesus much as a fisherman draws in a fish-filled net.  We are free to resist and turn away but, if we trust and allow ourselves to be drawn in, we will find forgiveness, peace, and eternal life.  God's job is not an easy one, by trusting in Jesus and allowing him to draw us to the Father, we make that job a little easier and we receive eternal nourishment. 

Thanks be to God. 

Rescue from the Love Desert

Sermon Summary for Sunday, August 5th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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On the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Mother Mary began her message by singing this chant:

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 

Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit."

Psalm 51:10-12

She spoke of the joy of singing this Psalm in the church of her youth, with its life-sustaining message of salvation and love. That agape love - universal, never-ending, and available to all - is the central theme of our Christian faith as taught by our Savior Christ. We are to reflect and show God’s love as His eyes, hands, and feet in the world. Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of John saying, “by this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our eternal life begins here on earth as we share God’s love with those around us in worship and outreach.

One of the outstanding ministries of our Parish family is our food pantry. Through God’s grace and blessing, and with our faithful diligent leadership of the Outreach ministry both past and present, our work in feeding the hungry is amazing to behold. Mother Mary told us that the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food deserts” as areas where low income residents are a minimum of one mile from a source of fresh, wholesome food. In many cases residents cannot access these food sources and ultimately rely on expensive, less healthy alternatives. The resulting nutritional health issues create additional stress and misery on those in the food deserts. Ascension’s mobile food pantry is helping to address these issues by bringing healthy food choices to the inhabitants of the food deserts in our area. Our Outreach ministry shares God’s love in the community through the holy work of our food pantry.

In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that there is an even more important hunger that must be addressed. Mother Mary described this circumstance as a “love desert” as opposed to a food desert. After the miracle of feeding the five thousand with the loaves and fishes, Jesus escapes from the crowd who want to make him their earthly king. When the disciples find him, they begin to question why he disappeared. He tells them (and us) “do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” And he adds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Just as our food pantry does the kingdom work of relieving need in our local food desert, God gives us rescue from the love desert through the greatest gift of all – our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ to live among us and die for our sins. When we feed on the bread of life, we will never be forsaken. Glory be to God!

Honor the Prophet

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 8th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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On the seventh Sunday after Pentecost we heard Mo. Mary read a rather surprising story from the Gospel of Mark. It tells of Jesus’ visit back to his hometown after he has left his “trade” of carpentry, chosen his disciples, and began his full time ministry of proclaiming the gospel, calling for repentance and giving his loving care and healing to those in need. St. Mark writes that when Jesus entered his hometown and performed his deeds of power the people were amazed. However, their amazement did not turn into praise and glorification; rather they took offense at him. Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, saying “prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own houses.” Therefore he left there to teach and heal among other villages.

It happens occasionally that someone with whom we have a long relationship leaves and comes back later with new talents, skills and knowledge. It is not uncommon when we encounter that person again to see and treat them as we knew them before, without appreciating their growth and benefitting from their new talents. It is amazing how biblical truths carry forward through the centuries. It happened to Jesus and it still happens today. Mo. Mary reminded us that if we have an experience of this nature we should be careful not to dismiss the opportunity to appreciate the gifts someone of this circumstance can bring us.

In the second part of the Gospel lesson Jesus sends his disciples out two-by-two to teach, heal, and cast out demons.  He tells them to take nothing with them but their staff and clothing and to stay at the homes of those who welcome and care for them. He also tells them, just as his experience in his hometown, that if those they encounter do not welcome them or hear their message, they are to leave that place and shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. The lesson for us is that our ministry work is of great value to God and is not to be wasted on those whose hearts and minds are hardened. God wants us to bear the fruit of his gospel and outreach to those in need who are willing to accept it so our work can advance the kingdom and glorify our Father in heaven.

As Mo. Mary reminded us, with the love of Christ in our hearts, we are to be the vessels of his mercy and grace in the world so that his great works of power can be done through our eyes, hands and feet to a world sorely in need of all we can do in his name.

The Cost of Healing

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 1st, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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The Gospel reading from Mark (Mark 5:21-43) introduces us to three characters -  all vulnerable, all in need of intervention, and all open to Jesus' power to heal.  The trio fears mortality, either their own or that of a loved one.  They do not hide their vulnerability, they lean into it and become open to healing.

Personal healing starts with acknowledging your vulnerabilities, giving voice to them.  Revealing our vulnerabilities in public requires bravery, far more bravery than pretending we have no uncertainties.

When we name our vulnerabilities and ask God for healing, we will receive it. Not, perhaps, in our time, but in God's time.  Jesus shows that repeatedly in the Gospels; he heals again, and again, and again, and again.  He forces us to repeatedly hear a message centered around love and making each person whole.    Often we are slow learners.

We are called to not just ask for our own personal healing, but to participate in the healing of the world.  Caring for people in places, cultures, and situations foreign to us is a daunting task but one we are compelled to do - "love your neighbor as yourself"

We often confuse healing with a cure.  A cure may take away a physical or mental condition but it leaves our soul in the same state.  Doctors work on cures.  Jesus works on healing, on making our souls whole.  Cures come and go.  Healing through Christ is always available.  

However, healing does come with a cost.  Jesus felt the power leave him as the unnamed woman was healed by touching his garment.   When we participate in healing it takes a toll on us, it requires energy and intention.  We gather together as a community for renewal and strength before we go back into the world and bear witness to and participate in God's call to love and heal.

May we all have the courage to lean into our vulnerabilities and ask God for the will and means to heal both ourselves and a wounded world, knowing that, ultimately we will be made whole.

Thanks be to God.