The Holy Spirit Zone

Sermon Summary for Sunday, May 20th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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In Sunday’s gospel Jesus tells us, “When the Advocate comes, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father will testify on my behalf. When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Mo. Mary reminded us the Holy Spirit moved in creation to help bring order to chaos and is still moving in the world today.

How do we know the path God wants us to follow? We make time to be still, pray, and listen for the small voice of God through the Holy Spirit to guide us. Mo. Mary described three hypothetical zones in which we might find ourselves at any particular moment in time. The lowest zone is rather sedentary where we may find ourselves on the sofa watching television or streaming music, snacking and taking it easy. This is a safe and comfortable place, but not much is happening. The highest zone is a state of disorganized hyperactivity where it is difficult to create order and maintain progress due to its swirling chaos. It is a scary place to be and one where we do not want to remain.

The middle zone is where the Holy Spirit works. It is one of challenge and uncertainty where we are nudged by God to move in a direction we may find surprising and foreign to our ideas, philosophy, and plans. We are challenged to move out of our comfort zone of the familiar and move down a path God wants us to follow. This Holy Spirit zone is one where we take a leap of faith to engage in the work of the kingdom we may not have ever otherwise attempted. But if we say yes, God will provide the setting, resources, and inspiration and move forward with us to assure our success. Jesus promises in the Gospel that the Spirit will guide you in all truth and declare the things that are to come.

Does this mean every attempt will work?  No, every attempt never works to perfection. We stumble and fall and get back up to move forward again. We must discern whether an attempt is of God. When it is, we find the process of maturity in our kingdom work to be one of trial and error where we learn from our mistakes and become more and more equipped for the future. God grooms us to succeed according to His plan. We are not left alone when we move into unfamiliar work of the kingdom. As we mature and grow in ministry, we become more capable, confident and comfortable. Opportunities grow along with us, and we find ourselves at peace knowing we are living in God’s will for us.

Each of us is uniquely created and qualified to successfully accomplish the plan God has for us. Through God’s grace we are blessed with the Holy Spirit to equip and guide us where He wants us to go.

The Ties That Bind

Sermon Summary for Sunday, May 6th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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On Youth Sunday, Sam Braid delivered an exquisitely eloquent sermon that touched our hearts and fed our souls.  His thoughts were particularly relevant as we considered Jesus' words from the Gospel of John:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you".  

Sam shared his journey of and into faith with us.  He talked movingly his family becoming a part of Ascension when Sam was eleven years old.  He shared his feeling of fear and insecurity as he became a part of Ascension's EYC group with a little gentle "coercion" from his parents.  He described his desire to hang out with the older kids and how, through their offers of friendship and acceptance, he became increasingly comfortable in that setting.  This level of comfort and feeling of acceptance allowed him to, again with a little parental "coercion", become involved in youth activities at the Diocesan level.   These activities allowed him to draw his circle wider and interact with "a larger community of like-minded people".  

Sam referred to the parishioners of Ascension and the youth of the Diocese of Atlanta as his second family.  He reminded us that we each practice evangelism every day, even if it is often unintentional, as we love, accept, and encourage each other.   As Jesus said - loving one another as He loved us is enough.  It collects all the previous commandments and distills them into one coherent thought and one distinct instruction.

Sam helped remind us of our ability to be receptacles of God's love as we are, simultaneously, conduits to spread that love to those around us.  Sam summed it up well when he said "Ascension has given me a space to feel safe and loved and wanted; a place where a difference of opinion won't be frowned upon but instead communicated and respected", and when he described Ascension as a "safe and welcoming environment to not only deepen my faith but also to question and doubt".  May we continue to be such a place extend our grasp ever wider in this community. 

Thanks be to God for Sam, for all our youth, and for the love that both holds us together and gives us the courage to spread our wings and broaden our horizons.

Reciprocity

Sermon Summary for Sunday, April 29th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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Abide in me.........as I abide in you.  The Gospel reading from John that compares Jesus to a vine and God to the vinegrower is familiar.  Some use the words of this passage as a threat: abide in me or you will be pruned away from the vine (the family of God).  Perhaps it is time to look at this familiar gospel reading with new eyes.  

Abide comes from the Greek word meno.  An additional definition of meno is to remain or stay.  Jesus asks us to stay with Him as He stays with us.  He has already cleansed us in baptism just as the vinegrower prunes away useless parts of the vine. The vinegrower does this so the vine will bear more fruit.  Jesus does this so we may focus more clearly on being his body on this earth; so we may focus more on Godly things.  

Jesus stays with us always.  He simply asks us to linger in his presence and accept the love and guidance that is always there for the asking.  

Thanks be to God.

The Constancy of the Good Shepherd

Sermon Summary for Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  .  . I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

Mo. Mary tells us that the steadfast love of God for his children is a constancy of life we are to embrace and trust as we share that same love and constancy for those around us. She shared several stories of the constancy of love:

·         Pastor James of Crosspoint Church recently delivered a message of the constancy of our mutual efforts and presence to feed those in the community who are hungry. That effort has begun to produce relationships and trust whereby the needy can find comfort and relief.

·         A panicked woman about to give birth who was threatening self-harm was attended by a nurse midwife who vowed to be with her through the delivery and was her constant rock in the storm of her misgivings.

·         Sister Helen Prejean was a nun whose mission was to minister to inmates on death row as they awaited execution. She was their companion, consolation and constant face of love to the very end.

This constancy of love is of God, similar to the scriptural term “steadfast” as in God’s steadfast love for us. As we worship and serve God, constancy is an important factor in the success of our work in the kingdom.

A passage in Psalm 23 says that “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the Lord’s house forever.” These are some of the most beautiful and comforting words we find in the scripture. Some biblical scholars say the original Hebrew word for “follow” can be translated to pursue or chase down, and the word for “surely” can translate to only. So this beautiful passage might be read as “only goodness and mercy shall chase me down all the days of my life.” This version may not be as poetic in its reading, but it does have a more dramatic tone. Either way, we should rejoice that our loving Good Shepherd will pursue us with his grace and mercy all the days of our lives.

The seven weeks of Easter is the longest season of our calendar year. This serves us to study and learn how God abides with us, pursues us, and grants us grace and mercy through his steadfast love. In return, we are to reflect that grace and mercy in the world as his servants to those whom he gives us the opportunity to bless in his name.

Cross v. World

Sermon Summary for Sunday, March 4th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Meghann K. Humphreys

           The foolishness of the cross versus the wisdom of the world remains a struggle for us. It wasn’t easy in Paul’s time and it is not any easier now. We still struggle.

            Everyone has a role in trying to bring understanding of how the cross is wiser than the world. Jesus started the trend with his #turnoverthetables game-changing move. He made it clear that God is there – or here – in the temple of Christ’s body.

            We still seek thin places to worship, but since Jesus came, was crucified, raised, and ascended, God is everywhere. God is with us to help us walk behind Jesus in the way of the foolish cross.

Precious Scars

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 25th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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On the Second Sunday in Lent, we heard the famiiar story of Peter and Jesus rebuking each other.  Initially, Peter scolds Jesus for revealing to the crowd all that will happen to Jesus - rejection, suffering, death, and, ultimately, resurrection.  Peter does not want to hear this and he certainly does not want the Messiah described to the masses as anything but a strong and invulnerable leader.

Jesus, in turn, will not tolerate Peter's desire to mold the Messiah into Peter's preconceived notion of the Savior.  Jesus forcefully tells Peter and those assembled around them, to shift their focus from the human and move it to the divine.  He asks them to take their personal crosses and follow Him, to let go of their definitions of success, courage, and power and to listen for God's direction.  

That is the fruit of repentance, of metanoia, to be open to the fullness of God, to listen for God's call, and then to follow it, no matter where it leads. The observance of Lent reminds us that the foot of the cross is both the place of struggle and the source of new life.  In that new life we find the courage, the boldness, the perseverance that we seek. 

The Japanese art of kintsugi uses gold and other precious metals to bring together pieces of broken pottery and finds beauty and strength in that brokenness.  It also represents the essence of repentance - to deal with the damage we have endured, to help others deal with their brokenness and, ultimately, to find the unique strength and beauty residing in each of us. May you find new life from your golden and beautiful scars.

Thanks be to God.

Change/Metanoia

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Meghann K. Humphreys

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Are we willing to repent and be changed?

Repentance is all about our lives being changed. During this season of Lent, we are called to repent. We are not called to be sad about our sins. Instead, we are called to change through the transforming power of the life and death of Jesus.

Repentance is a gift from God made possible by God’s intervention in our lives to transform the world. So, are you willing to repent and be transformed? Are you willing to be the hands and feet of God in the world?

A Call to Service

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 4th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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Mo. Mary opened the sermon with a story of her daughter’s mother-in-law who, as a devout and loving Christian, spent her life in worship and service. At the end she courageously battled the illness over many years that ultimately ended her time on earth. She was a true servant of God and went to her heavenly home at peace. Mo. Mary wanted to share this to help set the stage for her message of God’s healing love and service to his beloved children, and to remind us that He calls us to discipleship and service as Jesus’ eyes, hands, and feet through which He blesses and serves the world.

Mo. Mary also shared a story of her own bout with a brief illness in public where a young man helped her through the episode and thus her overall healing process. She reminded us that God’s healing love is available to all his children all the time – just not necessarily in our timing. God will heal us from whatever we suffer. We just need to have faith and live in the knowledge of His love for us.

In the Gospel reading from Mark, we are told of an episode in Jesus’ ministry where he enters the house of Simon and Andrew to find Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. Jesus takes her hand, heals her, and lifts her up to health. It says the fever left her and she immediately began to serve them. Now while this may sound a bit patriarchal, it serves to teach us of God’s healing love and His call to service. Male or female of all ethnicities - we are called to serve the Lord and his kingdom in whatever capacity He chooses for us. Part of the genius of God’s creation is our incredible variety of talents and gifts through which we join together to do His work. As Mo. Mary said, “he takes our hand and invites us into the dance of life.” That dance of life takes us to many wonderful places of love, work, and ministry. We are never separated from God’s love and healing, and our ultimate well-being is dependent upon it. Our acceptance of Christ as our Savior keeps us under his umbrella of mercy and grace.

Mo. Mary ended her message with a prayer from Cardinal John Henry Newman:

Oh Lord, may you support us all the day long

Til the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,

And the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over,

And our work is done.

Then in His mercy may he give us safe lodging

And a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Jonah, Combs, and Mercy

Sermon Summary for Sunday, January 21st, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Meghann K. Humphreys

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A Moroccan market. A comb maker. An apprentice with his eyes fixated on the maestro comb maker. A left over piece is given to the boy and he chisels away, uncertain in his movements. The maestro adjusts the boy’s grip and gives an approving nod to continue. The boy is there to learn the craft. The maestro teaches the craft. Skill sets are passed down through generations.  

            It is our calling to show and practice God’s mercy to others. Jonah reluctantly did this and was shocked when the people of Ninevah believed him. They repented.

            Thousands of years later, we continue to struggle with the concept of a God who is merciful. Even our enemies from [insert your most hated place or group of people here] can repent and be recipients of God’s mercy.

            We want to be angry, vengeful, and vindictive. As we approach Lent, Mother Mary asks us to think about what it means to repent. There aren’t enough maestros and gurus who show and practice God’s mercy. As disciples of our time, will we mentor others patiently and kindly and in affirming ways? Bring God’s mercy, sharing our stories in affirming ways?

            It’s not easy. But the world and God need us to do it. 

Are You Ready?

Sermon Summary for Sunday, December 17th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.  In today’s Gospel we hear the story of John the Baptist proclaiming his status as messenger of the world-changing news that the Light of the World was coming, the long-awaited Messiah.  John confessed he was not the Messiah or the second coming of Elijah or Moses, but only the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  He stressed his humility as a servant messenger and nothing more.  John’s humility is a lesson for all of us as it reminds us of our place in the kingdom. We are called to be messengers of the Gospel and deflect any praise or acclamation for ourselves as we go about our kingdom work of worship, evangelism and outreach to those in need.

In the Advent season, it’s important to hear the Baptist’s message and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Messiah.  It’s a message of ultimate liberty and freedom through our redemption and reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ and our ultimate reward in heaven.  But it is not just about the hereafter as our eternal life begins in our time on earth.  We prepare our hearts for living out our lives in Christ now with the exciting hope and joy of salvation to come.  While we’re here we proclaim the good news of the God’s kingdom among us. 

The power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts creates a new beginning.  It brings compassion and love to the world that our Savior modeled for us with his coming.  There can be no Kingdom of God in the world without the kingdom of God in our hearts.