Epiphany

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. 

The Fullness of God

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 26th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Brenda Worley

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Mother Mary spent most of the previous week recovering from a virus, so we were very pleased that she felt well enough to be our preacher and celebrant on this Transfiguration Sunday.

During her recuperation, she spent some time watching the news and realized that the breaking stories such as plans to build up our nuclear weapons stockpiles, strengthening homeland security, protests for the Affordable Care Act, continuation of for-profit prisons, and reports of crimes may cause anxiety and fear among some.  News from the world of politics may thrill some while frightening others.  Regardless of your stand, this division and angst is not helpful to our mission to live a Christian life.

The gospel for the day is the record of the Transfiguration of Jesus which was witnessed by Peter, James, and John.  In this story from Matthew, Jesus goes up a high mountain and is transfigured so that his face shined like the sun.  Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him.  Peter wanted to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so they could stay on the mountain.  When the voice of the Father declares that Jesus is his Son, the disciples are overcome by fear.  Jesus commands them to rise and not to be afraid, but not to tell anyone about what they have seen until after his resurrection.

Let us identify with Peter in this story.  Just days earlier he had a “mountain top” revelation when he realized that Jesus was the Messiah.  However, when Jesus told him of his death and resurrection, Peter rebuked Jesus and was rebuked by Jesus.  Now Peter was again having a “mountain top” experience, but had to be aroused from his fear. 

Like Peter we are called to hear Jesus through all the anxiety and fear we face each day.  We are called to “be raised up” and to come down from the mountain and be all that God made us to be.  Realizing that it is our fear that holds us back more than anything else, let us hear Jesus saying “do not be afraid.”  Meditate on what it would look like to live into the fullness of God.  Know that you can choose calm in the midst of chaos, love as the answer to disagreement, steadfastness in the face of uncertainty, and Jesus as the alternative to fear.  

Love & Forgiveness

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 19th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Jeff Tindall

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In this Sunday's gospel, we heard Jesus commenting on how we should treat our fellow man.  Instead of loving our neighbor and hating our enemy, we should also love our enemy and even pray for them.  We are all God's children.  

So when you are wronged, do not seek revenge.  If we take and eye for an eye, then we all end up blind.  Instead, strive to find forgiveness and shine light on your enemy's darkness.

The Law

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 12th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

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In Sunday’s continuing study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew, Mo. Mary began by reminding us of the first two installments where we are taught about our blessedness and our essence as life to the world.  Today’s lesson focuses on the law – not as law handed down and sternly enforced by a judgmental Creator, but as a guide for living in the kingdom with our brothers and sisters as harmoniously as possible.  As we were reminded, some see God as a finger-pointing, punitive judge while others see him as a loving heavenly Father or Mother primarily concerned with our happiness and well-being.

It is in this context that Mo. Mary shared the insight that while breaking God’s law is harmful to us individually by weakening our spiritual strength and separating us from communion with God, it is also harmful to those around us with whom we live, worship, work, and play. Today’s lesson from Jesus’ sermon mentions several specific sins – anger with your brother or sister, adultery, divorce, and dishonesty are among the highlighted transgressions.  Mo. Mary shared a story of sin and redemption of someone in her life, reminding us that while we all fall short of the glory of God, our Savior and Redeemer restores us to spiritual health through our acknowledgement, repentance and metanoia – that is, a turning around to the pursuit of righteousness.  We are reoriented, reconciled and restored to community and life with God.  We are able to choose life and share the love of Christ with all.

God’s enforcement of the law also provides us protection.  Mo. Mary shared a story of an older brother who was physically threatening his younger sister.  As their mother intervened, he says, “I can do whatever I want – she’s my sister.”  The mother restrains him and says, “no you can’t – she’s my daughter.”  Similarly, the image of God as loving parent is manifest when he intervenes on our behalf with those who would harm us, saying, “no you can’t – she (or he) is mine.”  God’s law and his presence across the universe protect his beloved children from harm.

The law is a gift from God to guide us to healthy spiritual living with Him and each other.  We can choose life and love by living within it. Our adherence to the law is our gift back to God in gratitude for all He has given us.

Rise Up

Sermon Summary for Sunday, February 5th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

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Rise Up.

Last week we looked at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and heard the familiar beatitudes, reminders of our blessedness.  This week we looked at the next part of Jesus' beautiful and beloved sermon, as He explained that we are both the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  

For a full understanding, we must refer to the beatitudes when we look at this week's reading.  Because we are all blessed, we are all, collectively, the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  God calls us, as his blessed people, to rise up and use our blessings and our blessedness to help those in need.  

It is a little daunting that the gospel also tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  We can follow all the rules and not get to the gate of heaven.  We must put our gifts into action, we must be active, not passive, in our faith and our works.  

In our world that values material rewards more than all other, it does take a real leap of faith and courage to transform out faith into works.  Sometimes salt stings and light exposes what was dark and hidden.  Recently the police chief in Lagrange apologized for his Department's part in a lynching that occurred 77 years prior.  While no one currently in the police department had an individual culpability, he felt it necessary to acknowledge the institutions failure to protect Austin Calloway from an angry mob. In respone, one of Mr. Calloways' relatives asked for forgiveness for those who did participate in that awful event so many years ago.  Healing springs quickly even when the "salt" of the moment stings.

We all have different gifts, thank God.  We delight in those differences.  While we are collectively the salt and the light, we must also personally discern how we use our gifts in the world, to heal the world.  

Rise up and do good works.

“Tikkun olam”

Sermon Summary for Sunday, January 22nd, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Mal Underwood

We were blessed to welcome Easton Davis, Missioner for Youth & Young Adults for the Diocese of Atlanta, along with three other Diocesan youth minister guests, to worship with us on the Third Sunday after Epiphany.  Easton delivered a homily that was inspiring, informative and perfectly aligned with Mo. Mary’s announcement that our 2017 budget includes a new staff position for a part-time youth minister at Ascension.  What a great blessing for our parish family indeed!

In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, the story of Jesus’ call to the first four of his “inner circle” of twelve disciples is told.  In it he calls two sets of brothers who are the very definition of commoners in their time – Peter, Andrew, James and John – uneducated by the standards of the societal elite, likely foul-smelling, and superficially the unlikeliest of candidates to help him change the world.  It amazes me that these four people dropped their entire life’s plan for themselves in an instant and followed this complete stranger of an itinerant preacher.  This story also strikes me as another perfect example of how our Savior came to his earthly ministry to gather the fringes of society and bring them the good news of the salvation and glory of the Kingdom of God being available to all.  As it is quoted in the text, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.”  Jesus changes the world through his peasant birth, the announcement to the shepherds, his upbringing as a carpenter, and his calling of common people to go with him to preach the gospel.

Easton’s message was centered on the theme “Tikkun olam”, literally Hebrew for “repair of the world.”  In his words and context, Easton names it “change the world.”  In the NT lesson, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, it is clear that we are called to leave divisions behind and work together for the proclamation of the Gospel and care of those in need around us. We are all part of the “Jesus movement” designed to fix the world.  God created each of us with different gifts so that by coming together in love and mission we can combine to be a force for the Kingdom to improve the world around us.  This message is a consistent theme in Easton’s work with the youth and young adults in the Diocese – they can be a force in the kingdom by sharing the Gospel and working to bring help and relief to their neighbor.  He commended Ascension for including a formal funded position of Youth Minister in our Parish because he has seen firsthand how effective this commitment has been in parishes around the Diocese.  He told several stories of success experiences of our Diocesan youth, especially noting the work of Adam and Noah Harper.

Easton called us to be the village that supports our youth ministry, along with his pledge of support,  so that it can grow stronger and more effective with God’s help.

The Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sermon Summary for Sunday, January 15th, 2017 | Respectfully Submitted by Kelley Dial

Jesus famously invited Simon Peter and others to follow him and become "fishers of men and women"; they accepted and became Jesus' disciples.  The Very Rev. Rich Pocalyko defined a disciple for us as someone who listens to another for the purpose of learning.  The fishermen changed the focus of their labors not to join an institution but to learn and put their knowledge into action.  At that time there was no institutional church, there was a movement, led by Jesus.  Even after his death, it took some time for the institutional church to appear. Prior to that, people were bound together by what they saw or heard Jesus say and do during his lifetime.  Imagine the impact the Sermon on the Mount had on those seeking fulfillment when they heard "blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".  Jesus fed their souls. Liturgy sprang from that.  

Jumping ahead a few centuries, in 1990 the Wall Street Journal proclaimed "The Episcopal Church Goes the Way of the Dodo" in an article looking at the decline in membership of non-Baptist, mainline protestant denominations.  In reaction to the long-term decline in membership beginning in the 1960's, the 1990's were declared the "Decade of Evangelism".  In retrospect, the decade might more appropriately be called the "Decay of Evangelism".  It essentially became a decade focusing on "scouts and wampum" - numbers and money.  Toward the end of this decade, in answer to the question, "Do you see any hope for this old church of ours?", James Andrews (retired leader of the Presbyterian Church) responded, "No..........but then there's Jesus".  That simple answer provides the hope and the promise for our future as an institutional church.

In these increasingly complicated times, we all seek out second chances, we yearn for saving possibilities, we strive for relevance.  As an extension of that, we search for a "saving person".  Paul Simon's familiar lyrics from "You can Call me Al" talk about that search:

A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard
Bonedigger Bonedigger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

Our longing for a bodyguard, for relevance, for a saving possibility and a saving person takes us back to those four words, "And then there's Jesus".  If we, both personally and institutionally, truly become his disciples and listen to him for the purpose of learning, we will find our salvation and our relevance in this world.  Thanks be to God.

You can view Paul Simon's song here.

The Waters of Baptism

Sunday, January 8, 2017: The First Sunday after the Epiphany when we remember “The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ” | Written by Mother Mary

Back in my days of seminary, we were taught that as clergy it was not a good idea to close our eyes during prayer, but that it is better to find something upon which to focus.  So when I pray with y'all, I look at our Baptism Font. There, I see a word on the font facing God's altar. The word is “baptism”.  Constructed in 1875, just one year after this church was built, the rest of the words read: One Lord, One Baptism, One Faith.  As I pray, I am reminded several times each Sunday that we are not baptized into the Episcopal Church, the Baptist Church, the United Methodist Church or any other denomination/church.  We are baptized into Christ.  With Christ, we die in the waters, with the hopeful and glorious promise that in so doing, we will be raised one day with Christ, as well. One Lord, One Baptism, One Faith. 

Not all Christians believe as Episcopalians do.  But it is one of the reasons I am an Episcopalian.  I believe the Body of Christ, the Church, is far bigger, broader, and magnificent as well as mysterious than any one denomination or non-denominational church.  And the scope, magnitude, impact and mystery of our own lives begins in the waters of baptism.  

There is much to consider about the sacrament of baptism.  The sabbatical that I/we have been awarded by the Lilly Foundation for this summer will have the theme of "Exploring baptism by the mighty waters of the Great Lakes."  I intend to dive deeply into its meanings and mysteries.  My application included an invitation to the entire congregation to do some reflection on baptism, as well.  Therefore, I invite each household to take a dive with me.  Please consider taking home a book by Anne E. Kitch called Preparing for Baptism in the Episcopal Church (there should be enough for one/household). Then I would encourage you to talk amongst yourselves around the dinner table about the rite of baptism. Share the story of your baptism as you know it (e.g., I was baptized in early January 1954 on the farm in Northern Michigan where I grew up.  I have no memory, but my parents kept pictures.  My sister, aunt, and uncle were my godparents). Talk about baptism with friends/neighbors of other denominations and even of other faiths.  Come to Bible Study or a Sunday Christian Formation Class and discuss further there.  And always let me know if you have some questions for me. 

Here are some that might be helpful to get the conversation going: How does baptism speak to me each and every day?  Am I comfortable to speak of death in baptism as well as resurrection in eternal life?  What does it mean to be buried in the waters of baptism with Christ in his own death? The church speaks of a Baptismal Covenant, do I understand my part?

I look forward to taking this dive into the waters of baptism with you.  I pray that all of us will discover opportunities for spiritual growth in the life giving walk with Christ from his baptism to his death and his ascension. 

Peace and love to you,

Mother Mary

Note:  If you watched the service on Facebook, you will note that I have added some material.  For the original, please check out Ascension’s Facebook video.