Trinity Sunday: God the Trinity

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, June 16, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

Father’s Day in the secular world, this Sunday was Trinity Sunday for the Church.  On this first Sunday after Pentecost we remember the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier. The One in three and three in One!

The concept of the Trinity is a complicated one.  Many have tried to explain it using such analogies as water that has three forms…ice, liquid, and steam.  This analogy falls short in that the three forms are not present at the same time.  The Trinity is not to be understood except through faith.  God must be encountered and held in relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This does not happen through the mind, but through the heart.

The Trinity is most often referred to using the masculine forms of father and son. For some people, people who have been damaged and abused by a fatherly (sometimes motherly—and in today’s reading from Proverbs wisdom of God is referred to in the feminine. ) figure, this is difficult and becomes a stumbling block for their spiritual growth.   As much as one might accept and respect these pastoral concerns, however, we don’t want to miss how we might be drawn into the mystery of God as noted by the prophets and sages of old or even a 14th century German Mystic. Meister Eckhart describes the Trinity as follows:

“Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?  I will tell you.  In the heart of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.  The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.  The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”

God delights in us and we are called to delight in him.  God desires joy, new life and a full life for us.  We are born for and of relationship and are drawn into the “three-in-one” dance. 

In honor of Father’s Day, Mother Mary shared two stories reported by a young woman as examples of godly love that inform us of how we are called to love.  First, the custom of the woman’s  father sitting with her on the porch and sharing a Popsicle during thunderstorms.  He taught her not to fear the storms.  The second was the story of how her father would react when she hurt herself and was crying.  For example, she might stub her toe on the bedpost and her father would come to comfort her.  He would speak to the bedpost, “How dare you hurt my little girl!” and then begin kicking it and collapse in the floor in mock pain.  She would giggle and completely forget her own pain. 

Such is the godly love that is life changing and can bring comfort and joy to everyone who encounters it.  God the Trinity sustains us even in fear and suffering. God is always with us.  We are called to share our own stories of faith with others.  Stories of fathers (or mothers) who have shared the love of God with us and brought us to a relationship with the three.  Or is it the One!

Unity in Holiness

Sermon Reflection from Sunday, June 2, 2019 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, the celebration day of the Feast of the Ascension, Mo. Mary had much to unpack in her message.  The appointed readings were from the formal Ascension Feast Day, Thursday, May 30, as approved by Bishop Wright. Our Parish family’s kickoff gala of the 175th anniversary of the founding of our church was held on Thursday night with many of the parish family and some local dignitaries in attendance. 

The event included a proclamation by Mayor Santini, who acknowledged the invaluable contribution of Ascension as a “crown jewel”. During the service Mo. Mary also celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of Joe and Kathi White with the rite of a Renewal of Vows.  With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Mo. Mary joyfully commended the five decades of pure bliss of Joe and Kathi’s holy union, comparing it to that of Steve and hers.  After the appreciative laughter subsided, she acknowledged the ups and downs of a holy marriage and the inevitable growth and change that two individuals experience in many years of holy union under the blessings and guidance of our Heavenly Father.

While Mo. Mary opted for the Ascension Day scripture readings for the Sunday service, she also summarized some of the text from the Gospel reading from John 17 assigned to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  Jesus said,

As you Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” 

These beautiful words of love and unity remind us of who we are and to whom we belong. Through the sacrament of holy matrimony, God transforms two individuals to a new life to love, cherish, nourish and grow with one another in holy union. 

Mo. Mary reminded us that other sacraments of the church such as Holy Eucharist, Baptism, and Confirmation also mark this transition, empowering us to enter a new life of being and of loving as we are called to do.  For 175 years, the Church of the Ascension has participated in these holy sacraments as the body of Christ in the world, changing and empowering countless lives in the ministries of the Kingdom.

Jesus walked the earth in a particular place and time to teach us about the kingdom of heaven and reconcile us to God.  His ascension to the Father allows him to reign over all from on high and abide with his beloved children.  He is in us and we are in him, the holy union of our existence.  Thanks be to God!

Those Who Love Me

Sermon Summary for Sunday, May 26, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”  John 14: 23-24

The above was the answer Jesus gave when asked why he was not going to reveal himself to the world.  Jesus makes it clear that rejecting him is rejecting the Father.  His ministry is not a scheme devised by him, but a ministry to bring us to the Father.  The thought of Jesus and the Father making a home in our hearts should bring us peace and give us courage to testify to others.    

When visited by a friend in the hospital, W.C. Fields was found thumbing through the Bible.  When questioned why he replied that he was looking for loopholes.   Instead of accepting the peace and courage offered by the Father and Son, he was looking for a way to dismiss it all and declare that this whole Jesus thing a fraud.

We have all met people who do the same.  We are all guilty of it at some point or another.  Looking for loopholes causes us to miss out on a life of peace that knows no understanding.  When the hard times come, as they always do, there is nothing to ground us and give us courage to persevere.  Looking for loopholes is like “not seeing the forest for the trees.”  We look so hard for understanding that we miss the mystery of it all.

Our relationship with the Trinity calls us to live out the Five Marks of Mission as expressed by the Anglican Church.  They are as follows:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
To respond to human need by loving service.
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

In explanation, former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori noted that mission is about receiving love and then responding by going out and sharing. “It is a matter of calling the near and the far off together into the fold. It is about healing and reconciling. It is about making that love incarnate in the lives of people around us and in the lives of people on the other end of the earth.”

However, living into these Five Marks of Mission can cause us trouble.  Two examples follow.

·         Marilyn Webb, now an acclaimed journalist, author, and professor, was denied her Ph.D. in 1966 because she would not do “favors” for two of the professors on her committee for approving her doctorate.  In the light of the #metoo movement, she recently voiced this event.  The courage to do this and the strength to preserve led to her finally receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago at the age of 76.

·         Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor during the 1940’s, was put in a concentration camp because he criticized and worked against the Nazi regime.  All through his imprisonment to the point of his execution he never lost faith in his God.  Just before he was hanged in April of 1945 he wrote a letter and poem to his mother and witnessed that God had never left him.  The poem can be found at following link.

The grief that can befall us when we fail to live out these marks of mission is evidenced in the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  In order to save money, the water source for the city was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River.  Failure to treat the water from this new source with corrosion inhibitors caused the aged water pipes of the city to leach lead into the water.  The water source has been changed back but the long reaching effects of the lead polluted water are still a great concern.

We will miss God’s love if we look for loopholes.  He never asks us to do things and then abandons us.  He is with us through it all.  The homily ended with a prayer in which our Father was asked to help us “face each day with confidence to produce light for your people.”

Known by our Love

Sermon Reflection for Sunday, May 19, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Mal Underwood.

 On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we were blessed to have Fr. Louis Tonsmiere celebrate the Eucharist and give us a powerful sermon on Christian identity and responsibility found in the Gospel lesson for the day.  The reading was from John 13 and tells of Jesus’ last supper with his closest friends and confidantes on his final night on earth as God incarnate.  Fr. Louis’ message was one characterized by the power of love and how Jesus exhorts us to live into the true meaning of the two greatest commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as ourselves.  It is how we will be known in the world as followers of our Savior Christ.

 Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this – that a person lay down his life for his friends.”  As Fr. Louis told us, these teachings of Jesus are sometimes known as his “hard sayings”, and described them as “heavy” demands, that is, those responsibilities as Christians that are weighty, rigorous, and difficult for us to accomplish. He went on to say that Jesus reminds us there is a cost to love – to be willing to give of yourself and your resources without conditions or limits, even to the point of sacrificing your life as He did for us. I am reminded of quotes from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  He said “ultimately the source of love is God himself, the source of all our lives.  As it is written in an old medieval poem, ‘where true love is found, God himself is there’. There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There is power in love to show us the way to live.”

 Fr. Louis continued by naming several examples of Christ’s “hard sayings” on the true meaning of living into the love of God:

·         Telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who gave of his time and money to help a Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed on a roadway and left to die after a number of his own people passed by and ignored him. The Samaritans were generally ostracized by the religious elite of the time but the Good Samaritan showed the love of God without hesitation.

·         “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be the children of your Father in heaven.”

·         “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

·         After washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper Jesus told them, “for I have given you an example, that you should do, as I have done for you.”

 Fr. Louis’ message reminds us of the path we are to follow in life – that in receiving, acknowledging, and sharing the love of God in spite of the self-serving pressures and attacks of the secular world, and in spite of the sacrifice and rigor of loving others as we love ourselves, we are called to love like Jesus.  In this way, the world will know that we are truly His children.

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.