The Prophets Around Us

Sermon Summary for Sunday, August 13th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home."  Mark 6:4

The above scripture was the basis for The Very Rev. Richard Pocalyko’s homily on this glorious Sunday.  He recounted the story of Jesus in Nazareth and how the people’s lack of faith dissuaded him from performing any miracles.  In fact, they became very agitated with this man whom they had seen grow up and doubted that he had any power to speak of God and to heal the sick.  They knew his family and were aware of his ordinary rearing and were convinced that he had simply “gotten too big for his britches.”  So, convinced of this, they were prepared to drive him off the edge of a cliff and kill him.  He recognized their lack of faith and walked through the crowd leaving the area.  

Like the people of Nazareth, we often believe that prophets must be mysterious and extraordinary.  However, Father Rich described prophets as “pieces of translucent glass that filter the light of God giving it definition and focus.”  This means that prophets can be ordinary people, familiar people, everyday people who enlighten us and open our minds and hearts to new possibilities. 

Father Rich shared a story from his youth about a prophet who shaped his life.  Mr. Lilly was an ordinary man who came to the priesthood through a process referred to as the “Old Man’s Canon.”  This means that the candidates do not go the college or seminary, but are mentored and trained by other priests.  Mr. Lilly touched Father Rich’s life in the mid-60’s when Father Rich was a young man attending an affluent church in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Despite the civil rights movement of the day, the people of All Saints were very fearful of change.  Mr. Lilly spoke from the heart in a Sunday sermon that “God is love and there is no room for fear in love.”  He spoke simply, directly, and without prejudice.  His sermon made such an impression on young Rich that he called Mr. Lilly later in the week and thanked him for his words.  Mr. Lilly said that phone call was the only comment that anyone had made about the sermon.

Morale of the story…We are challenged to recognize the prophets around us.  Ordinary people whose love, words, and acts bring the light into focus for us.  We can all be a prophet to someone.  We are not shattered glass, but translucent lenses that filter, define, and focus the light of God for those around us.  We must open our eyes, hearts and minds to let that light shine into our lives and show us the way.  Thanks be to God for the everyday people who are prophets in our lives!    

Communicating Faith: Part Three

How to Communicate Our Faith to Our Children

Part Three: Living Our Responsibility to Our Children

Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”  And we are told to enter the kingdom as a little child.  Our children are our future.  We must all protect and nurture them.  In the previous two parts, many ideas and suggestions were given for parents to support their children’s growth in faith.  Now it is time to ask the congregation about its responsibility to our children.  How can we, at Ascension, support their growth in faith?

First, we need to recognize that they are children, not adults.  We offer a “Family” service for those who want a shorter, more simplified service that is conducive to young children.  We now provide Biblical color sheets and books for young children during the services.  We have Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible School to provide our children with learning and a sense of community.  Maybe we could provide child seating in the Parish Hall to encourage our children to feel more a part of the Church family.

Second, we need to love our children.  We need to recognize each child’s uniqueness.  When we look at them we should see God’s eyes reflecting back.  They will be the leaders of Ascension in a generation... if they stay… if they decide to learn the faith language and keep it as their own.

Third, we need to encourage our children to grow to their full potential, to express their creativity, to relish in the joy of God.  We need to see God through their eyes.

I hope this article has been helpful in some small way.  Thank you for your children.  They are a true gift to this Parish. 

Kathi White

Passion, Perseverance, & Purpose

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 23rd, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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Our visiting celebrant for Sunday was the Reverend Canon Alicia Schuster-Weltner, Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.  As she told us, her position is equivalent to Chief of Staff to Bishop Wright.  Rev. Alicia was a very special guest priest indeed.  She thanked the parishioners of Ascension, both present and past, for beginning the work of the kingdom long ago in Bartow County, then a remote outpost in the Diocese, and continuing to offer a place of spiritual development, family support, and evangelism for so many decades.

Rev. Alicia’s message was based on the Gospel of the day, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, which is the parable of the weeds of the field.  In it, Jesus tells of the sower who planted good seed in the field but found that an enemy had planted weeds among the wheat when no one was around.  The householder’s workers inquired as to whether they should gather the weeds while the crop was growing but he told them not to do so as to not destroy the good crop. At the harvest, the reapers would gather all and separate the wheat from the weeds.  Jesus later explained to his disciples that the householder is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed are the children of God, the weeds are the children of the evil one sowed by the devil, and the reapers are the angels.

Rev. Alicia told us that it is easy to interpret this parable as good and bad people who will be judged at the end of time.  However, she reminded us that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.  We are commanded not to judge others as to whether they are the good seed or bad, as we all display sides of each of those at times in our lives.  Our command is to bring the gospel to all who will listen and help those in need along the way.  Our devotion, love and compassion are what define us as the children of God, not the judgement of others.

Rev. Alicia also posed this question – why are we here in this place today?  Are we here out of passion to do the right thing and attend church?  Are we here to persevere and complete duties for which we have volunteered?  Are we here to worship God and seek His purpose for us to fulfill? She quoted another non-scriptural parable by a friend and colleague who told of three bricklayers hard at work.  When each was asked what they were doing the first said he was laying bricks, the second said he was building a church, and the third said he was building a house of God.  Each had a talent and passion for their work, each persevered in their work, but each saw the result in different ways.  Rev Alicia told us that God’s desire for us is to seek the larger picture and purpose for the things we do. The fulfillment of God’s plan for us requires us to see “the other” in our actions and live into the larger mission of our work.

When we bring our passion, perseverance, and purpose to our work for the kingdom, we grow into the realization and life of who and whose we are.

Communicating Faith: Part Two

How to Communicate Our Faith to Our Children

Part Two: Engaging Children in Church

In Part One, suggestions were given that could help prepare children for the Church experience. In this second part, ideas to help children participate in the service will be presented.

· Children need an established routine upon entering Church to provide them with a sense of “beginning” of the Church service.  This might be a reminder to enter God’s House quietly, a bow to the altar, a prayer when first seated, or pointing out the flowers or windows…something to help the children to focus on where they are.

· Children like to sing.  Help them find the hymn in the hymnal or songbook.  Point to the words as you sing.

· Children listen better if they are hearing a story. Tell them that when someone reads from the lectern or from the aisle that a story is being read.  Have them listen for God’s name or Jesus and let them tap your hand when they hear it. 

· Children like to have something to do.  Color sheets, children’s bulletins, and books are available from the ushers.  Older children can do a word search in the bulletin, seeing how many times they can find the word Jesus or God. 

· Children like to pray for people.  Take them to light a votive candle for someone they love.  Take them to the back of the Church during Communion to receive healing prayers for someone they love. 

· Children feel more comfortable when they know what to expect. Much of what goes on during Church may be confusing to them.  Our services are long and there is a lot of quiet time, but there are moments in the service that can be of particular interest to the children.  Tell them, “Now we’re going to sing,” or “Now we’re going to pray,” or “Now we’re going to Communion.”  Bring certain moments of the service to their attention, for example when the bread is broken or the cup is lifted.  Verbal reminders help children follow the service.

· When responses are given (Amen, Thanks be to God, and also with you), say them to your children so that they understand and will try to mimic your words. 

· Have your children notice the acolytes and the duties they perform.  Tell them when they are older they can also have that important job.

· Children love to teach.  Let them bring a stuffed animal to Church to teach it how to have appropriate Church behavior (this worked particularly well with my grandchildren).

Most importantly, talk to your children about what they are seeing and hearing in Church.  Give them the language of faith and be their role models.  Remember they are children, but they want to know about this place called Church.

In Part Three, I will talk about our responsibility, as a congregation, to our children.

Kathi White

Communicating Faith: Part One

How to Communicate Our Faith to Our Children

Recently, the women’s Sunday school class discussed the topic of how little the children of the 21st century know of the Bible and of their parents’ faith. The author of the article, David Gushee, interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, asked the question: “How do we communicate the Christian faith in such a way that kids will care enough to first make the effort to learn this new language and then decide that they want it to become the central language in their own life?” As a former teacher, mother of two, and grandmother of six, I began to ponder this question and how it could impact the children of Ascension.

It is a BIG question!! And there are no easy answers, but there are ways that we, as parents and grandparents and lovers of children, can address this situation. To help our children understand our beliefs and faith, Gushee suggested the use of more modern (understandable and readable) Bible translations, and he stressed the need to help children make connections between what is happening in their lives and what is said in the Bible. In the Episcopal Church the need to understand the liturgy is also important. All three of these points support the development of Christian faith. But how do we incorporate these ideals in our children’s lives here at Ascension? I hope to address these issues in this three part series, using what I have learned from my own experiences and what I have observed. These are simply ideas, but they are based on what has been successful for others.

Part 1: Understanding the Language of Faith

What can parents, grandparents, and the people of Ascension do to strengthen the language of Christian faith in our children? Foremost, we need to provide our children with intentional training. By this, I mean that we need to purposefully instruct our children in the Christian faith. One way is through Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. These classes offer much to expand our children’s knowledge. However, we know that education starts at home. Children can begin to understand the language of Christianity, even at an early age. The more language infants hear, the greater their capacity to understand and reproduce that language as they grow. Children also learn by example, through adult modeling. Following are some suggestions that have had a positive impact:

· Children love to hear stories, at any age. Parents can read simple Bible stories and discuss them using “how” and “why” questions. Through the experience of Bible stories children will be able to recognize these narratives and characters when they hear about them in the lessons at Church. For older children, the discussion of these stories can help them relate what they have read to what is happening in their own lives. There are also many “secular” books that have deep faith-related themes for children to make connections. Through this process the children will develop their faith and character and learn to question.

· Children look forward to activities in which they can participate. Mealtime blessings and bedtime prayers can be very special family times, but they are also sacred traditions that teach gratefulness and compassion.

· Children find comfort and security from knowing what to expect. It can be helpful to practice “Church behavior” at home. Children can rehearse whispering, which is not a skill mastered quickly! They can be taught to respond “Amen,” and later, to recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” Words like “reverence,” “respect,” and “God’s house” give children a sense of what a special place Church is, and it prepares them for their role in the Church service.

· Sometimes parents ask, “Is it better for my child to be in Church or go to the nursery?” That is entirely up to each parent and his/her comfort zone. And it varies from child to child. Ask yourself, “How can I best worship and be a positive role model while teaching my child the language of worship?” In preparing young children at home, parents are giving them skills to help them adapt to this new environment and eventually participate. It is a learning experience for both parent and child!

In part Two, I will talk about ways to engage children during the Church service.

Kathi White

The Sower and the Seed

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 16th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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Our celebrant and preacher, The Rev. Joe Herring, led us in worship for his third Sunday and we are truly grateful for his ministry among us.  His homily centered on the Gospel reading from Matthew.  It was the parable of the sower and is probably the most popular parable since it is recounted in three of the four Gospels.  Though Father Joe admitted that the words of this scripture may not have been Jesus’ words because of the influence of the Church who used it to point out the struggle of those who heard the word.  Still, its richness and pertinence make it important to our lives today.

Regardless of who the sower is, God the Father or God the Son, the strength of this passage cannot be ignored.  The seeds are the Words of God and we are represented by one of the four types of soil upon which the seeds are sown—the path, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, the good soil.  How we each accept the Word and live into it determines the type of soil that represents each of us. 

The seeds sown on the path are eaten by birds because the soil is uncultivated and hard.  This represents those of us who hear the Word, but do not understand it and pay it no heed.  When seeds are sown on the rocky soil they flourish at first, but the seedlings soon wither and die because they have no root.  The rocky soil represents those of us who have “mountain top experiences” and act on the emotion of the moment, but when tested, we lose our enthusiasm and turn away from our acceptance of the Word.  When the seeds are sown upon the thorny soil the plants are choked out by the weeds.  We in this group hear and digest the Word, but are lured away by the temptations, obsessions, and addictions that smother us and our Christian endeavors.  Finally, seeds sown on the good soil flourish and yield fruit beyond belief.  In my mind, this speaks of the saints among us who never lose their focus on being Christ’s hands and feet here on earth. 

Father Joe pointed out that there are two ways to think about heaven.  Some say it is a shining home in the sky where at the day of judgement, hopefully, we will all be reunited.  However, Jesus came to earth to establish a kingdom in our hearts.  That is why we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  He came to reign in our hearts and to guide us to do the will of the Father as we treat each other with dignity and attempt to spread the word of salvation to all.  Our job is to be in the world and assist in the building of his kingdom in our midst. 

At this point, we must each ask ourselves, “What kind of soil am I?”  It is reassuring to remember that soil can be tilled, fertilized and conditioned.  We might not start our journey as “good soil,” but study, prayer, and work can help us become fertile and productive.  

Who Will Rescue Me?

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 9th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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We were blessed to have Fr. Joe Herring as our visiting priest on Sunday.  His message was based on the New Testament passage from the letter to the Romans, one of the Apostle Paul’s most deeply profound epistles in the Scripture.  In Chapter 7:15-25a, Paul writes a thought-provoking (and possible puzzling) message about the nature of sin, the written Jewish law, and the ultimate solution to our sinful natures.

Fr. Joe related a story of a close friend of his who was a chief Rabbi in a Synagogue who once told him that he had no problem with Jesus, it was Paul he found difficult.  One of his points was that Paul was conflicted through his simultaneous adherence to certain Jewish tradition and his criticism of Jewish law.  In Sunday’s passage, Paul displays similar characteristics. He bemoans the fact that he is sinful, not doing the things he wants but doing the very things he hates.  He says when this happens, the law is good as it provides the guidelines for life as offered in the Torah.  In contrast, Paul writes that the sin in him, in his flesh, leads him to do the evil he does not want.  He personifies sin as a competing law that dwells in him that is not corrected by Jewish law.  Put another way, through the Torah he cannot escape damnation because he is unable to defeat the sin that dwells in him. 

Paul concludes that the dilemma is a war between the law of God in which he delights and the law of the flesh which he cannot control. Therefore, how can we escape this captivity to sin? Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom we are reconciled to God, offers redemption and renewal of life for those who confess and repent of their sins.  He is our rescue from the clutches of sin and death. Thanks be to God!

Liberty

Sermon Summary for Sunday, July 2nd, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Declaration of Independence

On this Sunday before Independence Day we were blessed to have The Reverend Joe Herring with us as our celebrant.  It was a big day with patriotic music, a sermon focused on liberty and equality, and a festive picnic following the 11:00 Eucharist.

Father Joe opened his sermon by quoting the above from the Declaration of Independence.  This was penned by Thomas Jefferson who was the principal author of this historic document which is sometimes referred to as “American Scripture.”  Father Joe posed the question…what would Thomas Jefferson say if he saw us now?   Though this document promises us equality under the law, people are different.  Inequalities exist due to race, religion, wealth and class. 

John Locke tells us that primitive man was happy until they began to bump into one another.  With the differences in cultures of the numerous tribes, the need for government and representation by that government became clear.  We are a nation of immigrants and differing characteristics are inevitable.  Government is necessary to prevent the descent into chaos.  It functions to prevent the rights of a few trumping the rights of us all.

For one to construct architecture that will stand the test of time, there must be tension.  For example, bracing is important in earthquake resistant buildings because it helps keep a structure standing.  Depending on the forces, one brace may be in tension while the other is slack. It helps make buildings sturdier and more likely to withstand lateral forces.  Liberty and equality stand in tension with each other. 

"Equality” can mean equal mate­rial goods and income, equal social status, and equal general success and “happiness” in life. Or, it can mean equality before the law, which is in a different and higher category, and without which liberty would be precarious. However, there is no necessary connection between equality before the law and equal property, power, and so forth. Equal­ity before the law is the “natural” state in a political society, but equality of goods and social life in general is “unnatural,” and would take a great amount of regulation and coercion to achieve and sustain.  James Brovard

The regulation referred to above threatens liberty, so there must be a balance between the two ideals.

Where is God in all of this?  After all, the Creator is referenced in the Declaration!  All these gifts come from God and we must be careful that our pursuits do not hinder the rights of others.  We must treat others with respect and compassion even if they are different.  Doing this, we can reach the perfect balance between liberty and equality assuring all of us our unalienable rights.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Sermon Summary for Sunday, June 25th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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We were blessed to have Fr. Don Black as our visiting priest on Sunday. The gospel lesson from Matthew formed the basis of his message that all life is precious in the eyes of God.  Jesus speaks to the disciples knowing the persecution they will face as they go forth to spread the gospel into foreign lands and kingdoms.  He wants them to know that our Father in heaven will be with them at all times.  He pays special attention to those who are in need, pain or otherwise suffering.  Jesus tells them that even a sparrow, sold at two for a penny, does not fall to the ground apart from God.  We are to know that the hairs on our head are counted, so we are not to be afraid of those who would kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  We should instead fear Satan, who kills both body and soul.

Fr. Don shared several stories of faithful Christians caring for and supporting others in times of despair and need. We, as the family of Christ, are called to love and support our brothers and sisters in every way we can, just as the Father is with us through all our trials and tribulations.

Fr. Don closed with a quote of lyrics from the song His Eye is on the Sparrow:

“Whenever I am tempted; whenever clouds arise;

When songs give way to sighing; when hope within me dies;

I draw closer to Him; from care He sets me free;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Hospitality

Sermon Summary for Sunday, June 18th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Matthew 10:7

We were blessed to have Father Don Black with us again this Sunday as our celebrant.  The theme for the day was “hospitality.”      

The first example of hospitality was from the Old Testament reading from Genesis.  It was the story of the angels appearing to Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a son to be born.  These angels appeared as ordinary men--strangers, yet Abraham and Sarah welcomed them as honored guests and prepared and ate a wonderful meal with them.

In the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus sends the disciples out as strangers and gives them detailed instructions of what to do as they journey.  They were to stay and perform their miracles only in the places where they were welcomed.  The disciples are charged to go only to those who are worthy.  Worthy equals hospitable which is defined as exhibiting the quality of receiving others as honored guests and providing for their care and comfort just as Abraham and Sarah did.

Father Black referenced other scriptural examples in which we are cautioned to be hospitable.  His favorite was from Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Another was from Leviticus 19:34, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”  If we welcome others, we welcome Jesus, and thereby, welcome God.

There were also present-day examples of hospitality shared by Father Black.  The most powerful was a story from his former church.  This congregation assisted with a community wide effort to provide lunch for the homeless and needy.  They also served a full breakfast for themselves each Sunday.  Somehow the guests from the lunches got word of the breakfasts and showed up early one Sunday and ate most of the food that had been prepared for the congregation.  The group preparing breakfast and the priest decided to follow the Word and be hospitable.  In the future, they prepared more food and invited the homeless and needy in each Sunday to share breakfast with them.

The result of this hospitality is to be in relationships.  We are to live in relationship and strive to bring others into that relationship.  We are to build relationships with others.  Not just the ones who look like us, dress like us, and think like us.  As we have been reminded many times and am sure we will be reminded in the future by Mother Mary when she returns from sabbatical which is focused on baptism, “We are not baptized into a group of like-minded people, but into the family of God.”  This family includes us all!