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.

We Belong, Therefore We Are

Sermon Summary for Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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We were privileged to have Reverend Spenser Simrill as our guest Celebrant on the Second Sunday after Pentecost.  For those who heard Fr. Spenser’s message it was an inspirational blessing indeed.  He called Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the recent royal wedding the Bishop’s “I Have a Dream” speech and remarked how beautifully written and delivered it was.  It seemed we heard Fr. Simrill’s “I Have a Dream” speech on Sunday.

French philosopher Rene Descartes, acknowledged by many as the father of Western philosophy, was known for the famous quote, “I think, therefore I am.” In a simple explanation, he offered it to counter a premise that human perception of reality was only an illusion of demonic origin and possibly human life itself was only an illusion. Descartes said this was false and impossible because human thought and reason was a divine gift that could not be faked. It is pure and real. If we are blessed with thought, then we are real.

Fr. Spenser offered his version as, “we belong, therefore we are.” His primary argument came from Psalm 139, a beautiful song of belief and truth from the Psalmist to our Lord God. In part it reads, “Lord, you have searched me out and known me . . you discern my thoughts . . you trace my journeys and are acquainted with all my ways . . you knit me together in my mother’s womb . . I will thank you because I am marvelously made.”  Fr. Spenser stressed the spiritual necessity of us knowing and remembering we are unique, special, and loved by our Holy Father in a way our human minds cannot comprehend. But He calls us to be still and know that He is God and we are his children. We belong to Him and he abides in us forever in the great family of the Creator of the universe. We belong, therefore we are.

Fr. Spenser exhorted us to see the world as God would have us see it. In Him there are no blue states, red states, political parties, creeds, genders or races. There is only the earth and the human race he created, the children of God loved by him for the purpose of worship and reverence and doing all we can to help those who suffer or are in need of our personal touch of grace and mercy. Jesus showed us his pattern for life during his ministry on earth. Our Savior displayed anger, frustration, and indignation just as we do, but his displays were aimed at corruption and the mistreatment of persons who were victims of abuse of power and wealth. But mostly our Lord displayed his limitless love for those he found were innocent, suffering or cast aside, because there were so few who were willing to help. Fr. Spenser reminded us that we are the eyes, hands and feet of Lord Jesus in the world. As Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples; that you have love for one another.” Amen.

The Trinity and a Turkey

Sermon Summary for Sunday, May 27th, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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“Holy Trinity is not the most popular festival among preachers who, for all the other seasons and special days of the church year, normally get to dig into interesting gospel narratives.  Most other festivals of the church celebrate an event.  We commemorate happenings in the life of Christ: Mary’s visit from Gabriel announcing the miraculous child she was to bear into the world, God’s own word made flesh. We celebrate also the light bearing nature of the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the messy Baptism of our Lord, the confusing Transfiguration, and Jesus riding triumphant into Jerusalem amidst palms and cheers. We celebrate the empty tomb of Easter, the glorious Ascension, the chaotic coming of God’s spirit to the church at Pentecost all leading up to Holy Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate … a church doctrine. Preachers dread this day because we see it as kind of a dry dusty theological topic after such exciting and earthy parts of the liturgical year that came before it.  It’s like there’s this raucous party of Easter and Pentecost that comes to a screeching halt while an old crotchety man shuffles up to the pulpit, blows the dust off an enormous leather-bound book, clears his throat saying ‘And now a celebration of church doctrine’ causing the music to fade and the last of the Pentecost streamers to float to the ground.  Church doctrine Sunday.

So, let’s get right down to it, shall we?  Here we go:  God is three persons and one being.  God is one and yet three. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son.  But the Father, Son, and Spirit all are God and God is one. …so to review. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.  That’s simple enough.”

By Nadia Bolz Weber, located here.

In Mother Mary’s absence, we were blessed to have Father Chris Hannum as the celebrant for Trinity Sunday, 2018.  Father Chris agreed with much of what is cited above.  And as a mathematics teacher, I have a little trouble with the 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.

Father Chris talked “turkey” on Trinity Sunday while displaying a turkey feather.  He shared a story of wildlife near his home  which is in a wooded area that is slowly shrinking as construction encroaches.  At this point there is still lots of wildlife that visit.  His neighbor created a “quiet space” where she watched the animals and fed them as welcomed guests.  Frequent visitors to this space were a flock of wild turkeys.  Since the neighbor’s passing, Father Chris and his wife have assumed the duties of feeding and caring for the turkeys when they visit.  He said that as the turkeys “gobble” it makes him think about how we Christians “squabble.”  But that is another sermon!

On one of these visits by the turkeys, a tom turkey was feeling his oats as he picked a fight with his reflection in the shiny bumper of a vehicle parked nearby.  The struggle was real, but to no avail, since they were equally matched!  Father Chris decided this was an allegory for the Trinity.  Struggle as we might, we can not comprehend the concept of three in one.  He said that we should not try and he can not begin to explain. 

We all need to decide how the Trinity impacts our lives.  For me, I see the Father as my creator, the Son as my role model, the Spirit as my motivation, or to quote Mother Mary, that “nudge” to live a life of serving, and the Trinity as my Lord.  The dictionary defines Lord as someone or something having power, authority, or influence.  My Lord has all three.  What about yours?    

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.