Living into Our Priesthood

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, April 28 Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

What a glorious day!  Bishop Paul Lambert was with us and served as preacher and presider.  He is a dynamic figure with a great sense of humor.  We all enjoyed his visit very much. 

Bishop Lambert lovingly confirmed, received, and reaffirmed seven candidates during the service.   Charlotte McClung was confirmed; Floyd Braid, Riley Borgia, and Laura (Sis) Eastland were received; and Alvin Blount, Donna Marie Newton, and Erle Newton, II were reaffirmed.  We are thrilled be a part of this step in these candidates’ Christian journey. 

The focus of Bishop Lambert’s sermon was the responsibility of all baptized Christians to be priests (the priesthood of all believers).  Jesus freed us through his death and resurrection and made us a kingdom.  A priest is ordained to go to God on behalf of man and go to man on behalf of God.  When baptized we are accepted into the priesthood.  At that point we are asked to die to ourselves and live through Christ.  That baptism charges us with a moral responsibility to function as priests.  That priesthood has a three-fold definition.  We are called to say prayers, read scriptures, and share the story of the Resurrection of Christ.

Bishop Lambert warned us that that our prayers must not be an effort to get God to see things our way.  God is not interested in our opinions.  As stated by C.S. Lewis, “I pray because I can't help myself. ... I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.”  We must be transformed and open our minds and hearts to allow God’s power to flow through us. 

We were exhorted by the Bishop to sing, dance and shout hallelujah during the Easter season.  Don’t be depressed at the death but elated at the Resurrection.   The women who went to the tomb stepped into the darkness to find the empty tomb.  They ran with excitement to tell the others.  The men on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus because they were living in fear, but upon realizing that they had eaten with the risen Lord, ran with glee to tell the other disciples. 

As priests we must share the good news.  Don’t keep your Christian experience a secret.  Go out and proclaim it!  Shout it out…The Lord has risen indeed.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!      

A Father’s Love

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, March 31, 2019 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel lesson was one of Mother Mary’s self-proclaimed favorite passages, the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In Jesus’ amazing way, he tells stories of spirit and truth that lead us to seek the deeper meaning and strengthen our spiritual understanding of the Kingdom of God. As our heavenly Father tells us, our thoughts are not his thoughts nor are his ways our ways.  Jesus’ parables offer us insight into God’s ways and thoughts, requiring our study and discernment to fully grasp their meaning.

As Mother Mary told us Sunday, this parable can be called “A Father’s Love” as much as “The Prodigal Son.”  She reminded us of a print that hangs in her office of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”  She added details about Rembrandt’s personal life saying that he lived much of it similar to the son in the parable, in a situation of privilege whereby he flaunted his position and squandered money on vane pursuits for himself.  The fate that met the prodigal son also met Rembrandt, as he lost his fortune and family and lived in financial distress, grief, and disorder during much of his adulthood.  He was eventually forced to sell the rights to his artistic works to pay his debts and have money on which to live.

As we reflect on the circumstances of the prodigal son, we are invited to also view this story through the eyes of his father, who celebrated his younger son’s return with great joy and celebration.  The prodigal’s father is a reflection of our Holy Father in heaven, who tells us in the scripture that he does not want to lose a single one of his children to the temptations of the evil one.  We are told that when a sinner repents and turns to the redemptive love of our Savior Christ, there is much celebration in heaven, very similar to that in the parable.  It is one of the great truths of our spiritual lives – the love of our heavenly Creator receives all who repent and return to Him to be welcomed home in holy love and acceptance.

Another vivid truth for us is the situation with the prodigal’s older brother.  He is resentful that he has been an obedient and dutiful son all the while his brother was wasting his inheritance in sinful living. The loving father reminds the older brother that he has always been with him and that all he has is his.   Still, the older son refuses to celebrate his brother’s rebirth into the family.  His dutiful obedience was no longer the joy and freedom of serving but the resentment of enslavement.  The elder brother was lost as well.  We learn in this parable that all those who come to God for mercy and redemption will be received and celebrated.  Jesus’ story reminds us that our heavenly Father’s love is the overriding, caring power in the universe, and we are to celebrate the return of the lost just as he does.  In the meantime, we continue to live under the awesome umbrella of God’s mercy and grace the entire time the lost are being sought, called, and redeemed.

The parable of The Father’s Love reminds us once again of the two greatest commandments – we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, in the same way He loves us.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, even if they stray from God’s will even when they return broken in body and spirit and needing mercy and grace.  We are to welcome them with open arms and celebration that, in the lyrics of the great hymn Amazing Grace, those who once were lost have been found. Thanks be to God!

Patience and Persistence

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, March 17, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Kelley Dial

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent finds Jesus talking to Pharisees who warn him that Herod wants to kill him.  They urge Jesus to flee. 

Jesus, knowing the way this particular journey (and his life) was to end, essentially asks them to tell Herod he'll get to Jerusalem when he's finished with his work of healing the sick and afflicted.    Jesus is certain of several things:  he knows he will not be killed outside of Jerusalem, he knows he has things to do for the good of "the least of these" before he arrives, and he knows that once he arrives in the city, he will be first received joyfully but will subsequently be put to death. 

None of this is accidental; it is all part of God's plan.  Even with the knowledge of this, Jesus remains faithful despite rejection, persistent despite royal death threats, and loving despite profound disappointment.  We are called to follow his example.  Mother Mary told a story about a child who survived bullying and rejection by being patient and loving as she waited for assistance from her teachers and mother. We too are called to be patient … to persist, and to go forth in love. Even during times of deep sadness or disillusionment; we are called to go into the breach, to serve those less fortunate than us, and to spread the good news.  

Trust the God.  Peace, patience and love will follow.

Who and Whose are YOU?

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, March 10, 2019 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

Mother Mary began by reminding us of the previous events in Jesus’ life.  Jesus, born of Mary, grows in wisdom and at 30 years old, asks John the Baptist to baptize him.  John is surprised and though he feels unworthy, complies with Jesus’ request.  At his baptism God speaks and declares that “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Jesus has no doubt who he is and what he is to do.  His identity was established at his baptism and he knows who and whose he is.

Today’s Gospel reading picks up following this baptism.  Luke recounts Jesus’ time in the wilderness where he was tempted and tested by Satan.   This wilderness experience lasted 40 days and Jesus was tempted to feed himself by turning rocks into bread, to accept the gift of authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and to throw himself from the highest point on the temple and challenge God to send angels to lift him.  At each temptation Jesus responded with scripture that made it clear he knew who and whose he was.

In times of temptation, we are asked to turn away from God and to trade the temporary for the eternal.  Giving in to temptation means turning away from God.  God longs for a relationship with us and we must cling to him when we feel vulnerable.  We must not forget who and whose we are. 

At this point Mother Mary shared two instances of when her identity was threated and she felt vulnerable.   Upon filing her income taxes, she learned that her SSN had been hijacked and used by someone else to file for HER tax refund.  Sometime later she discovered that someone in Texas had charged four new lines and phones to her AT&T bill.  These incidents made her wary and particularly vulnerable to those scam emails that warn of some security breech and entice one to share personal information.  She reacted out of her vulnerability.

Though we may be shaken in our identity, Jesus was not.  He held fast to his calling and did not turn away.  We are weak and often forget who and whose we are so we need daily reminders to keep us aware.  We must be reminded that we “are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever.”  Mother Mary asked us all to make the mark of the cross on our foreheads to remind us that we are indeed his children.

As we take on a Lenten discipline, you are invited to think about what may remind us of our identity and that which will carry on beyond the season of Lent into our daily lives.  This discipline may be something…scripture, prayer, meditation…that will remind us daily of who and whose we are.

Spiritual Hospitality

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, March 3, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Mal Underwood

 On this Last Sunday After Epiphany, Mother Mary’s sermon helped set the framework for the season of Lent.  She began with a brief review of some of the Gospel themes from recent post-Epiphany Sundays including:

·    The baptism of Jesus and the resulting understanding of our identity in the body of Christ;

·    The first public miracle at the wedding at Cana and our commitment to observing the sacraments;

·    The transforming nature of God’s love and our growth and maturity in faith;

·    The parable of Peter’s great catch of fish and God’s abundance for all believers;

·    The eternal covenant love of God for his children.

In this Sunday’s Gospel we heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, attended by Peter, James and John who were joined by Moses and Elijah. During this sacred event, God spoke these words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  The Latin root word for listen is oboedio, which is also the root word for obey.  God’s command not only calls us to hear Jesus but to obey him.

Mo. Mary’s framework for our Lenten season is a focus on the “spiritual hospitality” of listening.  What might our various communities look like if we all listened more and argued less? What might our schools look like if we teach our children to listen with the same intent and purpose as they are taught to speak and write?  What might our church look like if we listen for the voice of God from those who differ from us? Theologian and priest Fr. Henri Nouwen said listening is very hard because it asks from us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speaking, argument, statement, or declaration. True listeners no longer have a need to make their presence known; they are free to receive, welcome and accept. The beauty of listening is that we begin to feel more accepted and consider our own words more seriously while discovering our own true selves. Listening is a form of “spiritual hospitality” through which we invite strangers to become friends and begin to understand more about our true selves.  While there is surely a time for discussion and debate, Mo. Mary invited us to embrace Lent as a season of listening so that we might grow in spiritual truth, acceptance and love.

Mo. Mary concluded her message by relating a story of seeing a glowing flock of geese fly over as she was walking home from the Vestry meeting Monday night.  The brief moment struck her as a beautiful gift and brought to mind the gospel song of acceptance and eternal life “I’ll Fly Away.”  After we joined her in singing the chorus of that song, she urged us to remember that there is abundant and joyous life after the Lenten journey to Jerusalem.  Our Savior Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension give us that great hope of our Christian faith.

Invitation to Tough Love

Sermon Reflection from Sunday, February 24, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Kelley Dial.

From the Old Testament story of Joseph being reunited with his brothers to Jesus' "contrary to our nature" instructions in Luke, we receive an invitation and encouragement to engage in acts that are not easy - not one bit. 

We are reminded by the words of our Savior that it is easy to love those who love us, to be kind to those who return the favor, to lend our treasure to a good credit risk.  We do those things as part of our nature, with no need for divine guidance.  While Jesus certainly does not tell us to forsake those dear to us, he does urge us to go further, to stretch our hearts and souls to care and pray for those we do not like, those we don't know well, and, most importantly, for those who have caused us pain - no matter how deep the wounds they've inflicted on us. 

We do require help from above to accept this invitation.  Turning the other cheek is not natural.  Forgiveness and mercy to those who have caused us actual harm is not our natural instinct, particularly if those individuals do not regret their actions.  Why then should we do it? Jesus tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated, not just by our fellow mortals, but by God.  Consider the ways our own individual actions hurt the heart of God, how our Maker is pained by our callousness, our arrogance, our judgmental nature.  We covet forgiveness, understanding, and abiding love from God, He sends that without regard to the magnitude of our sins, mistakes, and shortcomings.  And, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Luke, ultimately, the "measure you give will be the measure you get back". 

Love and forgiveness are high intensity training for the soul; the results will make you strong and give you ultimate peace. "Life is imperfect.  People are imperfect.  Love is the perfect response" - Kristi Nelson.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”  Jeremiah 17:7

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 17, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

Mother Mary’s sermon this Sunday was based on the teachings of Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet.  Jeremiah tells us that the Lord says that those who do not trust in him will be “like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when relief comes.”  Those who do believe will be “like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.”  Mother Mary followed this with questions addressed to us about whom or what do we trust and how does that trust shape our life in the world and in the church.

At this point, she shared information about several stages of her faith story.  As a child, God was like Santa Claus to her.  Being good meant that he would be good to her.  In her teen years she felt that her faith journey led her to understand that everyone who did not believe as she did would burn in hell, especially Catholics.  She felt that men were closer to God and that to be close to God women had to submit to men.  As she grew older she learned to question her faith.  She grew to question the teaching that all Catholics were going to hell.  To her parents’ objection she dated some Catholic boys and found that they seemed to be as good or better as the Lutheran boys of which her parents approved.  

Upon leaving for college she was resolved to never go to church again, but somehow her faith in God persisted and her resolve lasted about three months.  When Advent rolled around she realized that she was missing out on something more important than Big 10 football.  So she returned to the Lutheran church, met her first husband, and they questioned the church’s teachings together.  They divorced and she later remarried.  Through her new husband Steve she developed a relationship with his mom, Toddy, who was a joyful Episcopalian and she realized that she wanted to be one, too.

Mother Mary is joyful in that she has found a faith home where she can continue to question, seek and grow.  A community of seekers where it is okay to ask hard questions like “if God is so good, why does he allow such bad things to happen and how should faith shape our actions toward the poor, hungry, mournful, and those with whom we disagree.

At some point in our lives we all need to believe in something beyond ourselves.  Faith come to us as a gift from the Spirit.  We can not move closer to God by acts of piety and goodness.  We must pray that God will send his Spirit to change our hearts.  We must invite him to come near to us.  This nearness will shape our actions, not vice versa.  Faith is not so much what we think in our heads, but what we do in love. 

The Abundance of the Deep

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, February 3, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Mal Underwood.

On the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Mother Mary’s sermon was an inspirational message of God’s abundant blessings for all his children.  The Gospel lesson from Luke told the familiar story of Jesus preaching from a boat to a throng of followers and seekers eager to hear his message of love and salvation.  After Jesus was finished teaching, he told Simon, from whose boat he had preached, to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch.  As he so often did, Simon protested by saying what Jesus obviously already knew, that he had fished all night with no success.  But Jesus was making a point – follow me and my commandments and you will have life in abundance.  As Simon obeyed the deep water fishing command, his catch was so large it tore his nets and almost sunk the boat.  And as it happened many times, Simon began to understand the abundance, wisdom, love, healing, and peace of life in Christ, asking Jesus to leave his presence as he was such a sinful man.  Jesus wants us to go deep with him, to know and live in his trustworthiness.

Mother Mary urged us to understand the depth of meaning of the deep-water fishing experience.  When we encounter Jesus in our lives, we begin to learn about his life and mission through reading, study and hearing sermons like this.  As we move further into the deep waters of comprehension, we find increasingly more truth of life in Christ and what it means for us.  Our depth of relationship with our Savior becomes richer and more meaningful.  It possibly brings us to the point of the frustration of Simon, feeling unworthy to be in the presence of God.  But it is in this relationship of discovery that we find the incredible abundance offered to all – that we are loved by our Creator with a love our human minds cannot comprehend.  He wants a close daily walk with each of us and does not want to lose a single one of his precious children.  Our Savior Christ was sent to redeem and reconcile us to God, the greatest gift of all, freely given to those who chose to accept it in faith, love, and obedience.  And all along the way, God provides for our needs as we are taught repeatedly in the scripture.  Life in God is indeed abundant, beyond what we can ever imagine.

Mother Mary related a new routine she developed while on sabbatical whereby she went outside long after sunset and early before sunrise each day to reflect and meditate on spiritual matters of life.  One of her significant takeaways was that we should realize that although life is difficult for all, there is always more grace in our lives than things to worry about.  In the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah told of his experience in temple whereby the seraphim touched his lips with a live coal from the altar and proclaimed that his sin had been blotted out.  When the Lord asked congregation who would go prophesy for the kingdom, his response was “here I am, send me,” undoubtedly a response to the grace and mercy of his redemption.  Our gratitude to God for his mercy and grace in our lives is our declaration of dependence on Him.

The vast sea of humanity, each person created in the image of God, is invited to receive the love and grace of his abundance.All are included without exception.Therefore we continue the work God gives us to do, casting our nets wider and wider making disciples of all nations.We are the eyes, hands and feet of Christ in the world as we respect the dignity of every human being and share God’s love forever.

“Jubilee, Jubilee, Jubilee!”

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, January 28 | Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

We were very grateful to The Rev. Louis Tonsmeire for being our presider and preacher in the absence of Mother Mary.  We know that he felt right at home.

Father Louis shared a story of summertime on Mobile Bay.  The people who live there patrol the beaches in the evenings awaiting the bounty of masses of fishes and crabs that sometimes come up on the beach and are free for the taking.  When one of the patrol witnesses the arrival, they shout, “Jubilee, jubilee, jubilee.”  Alerted, the others gather the bounty and enjoy the feast.

In the Old Testament reading, Leviticus 25 tells us that every fiftieth year shall be proclaimed as a jubilee year.  All real property should automatically revert to its original owner, and those who, compelled by poverty, had sold themselves as slaves to their brothers, should regain their liberty.

As Jesus read from Isaiah 61 in the temple, he was announcing a jubilee year and proclaiming the year of God’s favor.  He informed them that he was ordained to “bring good news to the poor.”  He was sent to proclaim release to the captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.  When he was finished with the reading he announced that the prophesy had been fulfilled. 

In this event Jesus makes his identity known.  Once we admit that we are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed we can live into an acceptable year of the Lord.  He offers us salvation, redemption and release if we but accept his gift.   This is a definite reason to shout, “Jubilee!”

In our prayers at Holy Communion we give thanks for the “word made flesh” and admit that he has “brought us out error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”  Because of his redemption we should not be fearful at the time of justice.  This redemption frees us from the bondage and sting of death and the thought that there is no more.

In the words of the closing prayer we are charged to go into the world in peace and we ask for the strength and  courage to love and serve the Lord.  In our closing hymn we were called to “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.”  We have been given the gifts and now it’s time to shout, “Jubilee, jubilee, jubilee!”

 

Hearts of Love

Sermon Reflection from Sunday, December 23, 2018 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Mother Mary focused on the essence of the one whose arrival we celebrate in this liturgical season.  As we hear and understand throughout our lives as the family of Christ, God is Love.  Love is the central tenet of our faith and ministry as our Lord Christ’s hands, feet, and eyes in the world.  As the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  Another of my personal favorites is from the Gospel of John where Jesus says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Mother Mary used the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas as an example of what can happen to people at times.  As children our primary place of growing our hearts in love is at home, but as with the Grinch, some people experience pain and heartache that cause the opposite.  Our hearts can become guarded and hardened by painful events we endure.  The best way out of this circumstance is analogous to the Grinch’s eventual epiphany – to learn the truth of our love for one another through the immeasurable love God gives to us.  The Grinch learned that Christmas doesn’t come through material things and neither does ours.  We are to know that the love of God is the invisible wellspring that feeds and sustains us through all our lives.  Our Lord Christ needs a spacious heart for love that does something – that is, that love itself is hidden in our hearts and we display it through outward manifestation.  Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s metaphor for God’s love that fills our hearts is a placid lake that is constantly fed by springs, a silent source of renewal and refreshment that keeps the water clean, clear and beautiful.  The silent source of strength and renewal are the springs, and the outward manifestation of that strength and beauty is the lake. The celebration of Advent is our annual reminder of God’s Christmas wish list for all of us – repentance, metanoia, and Godly judgement whereby we are renewed and strengthened and learn the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons as our hearts grow in the knowledge and love of God.

In closing Mother Mary wished everyone a blessed, happy Christmas, where we receive all that God has in store for us.  As it says in the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . . for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”