Lent – Week Seven

By the Rev. Chuck Treadwell

It was good to see you in church last night. And I sure hope to see you all in church today or tonight as well. No, in fact, I expect to see you there. And not just tonight, but Saturday/Sunday too. The last three days of Holy Week have long been established as vital observations for the Christian Life. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter – or the Paschal Triduum – act out for their participants the Passion Narrative of Jesus. By participating in each of these liturgies, the congregation literally re-members those events in the life of Jesus and the first Christian community.

On Maundy Thursday we gather with Jesus and his friends in a neighbor’s loft and hear Jesus’ final words and prayers. We experience Jesus wrapping a towel around his waist and washing the feet of his closest friends – showing through his own actions the expectations of the kingdom of God – a life of humble service. And we receive from him a bit of bread and a sip of wine and listen to him promise that in this simple act he will be with us throughout time and eternity. Then we strip the altar and the church of the signs of Christ’s presence, preparing for the horrors of Good Friday.

On Friday – called Good only because of what happens later – we experience the agony, betrayal, and injustice – simultaneously betrayed and betrayer – and Jesus being condemned to death. We see him laid in a borrowed tomb and realize, at least for that moment in time, that God is dead.

After staggering numbly through the day on Holy Saturday, we gather in the School Courtyard for the Great Vigil of Easter and rehearse the whole story one more time. We light a new fire – the fire of God saying “Let there be light” – and hear portions of the salvation story from beginning to end. We are laid in the tomb with Jesus. And in that tomb we can almost hear the voice of God say “Let there be light” again – and the light of life reinvigorates Jesus’ body – and our own – and the bodies of those being baptized. A new life begins. Then we can finally shout “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”, and we are raised with him. This resurrection is marked by the joyful celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Here we experience over and over, yet anew each time, this feast with Jesus and the Company of Saints. And we are sent out – having experienced the intimacy of the Upper Room, the horrors of the Crucifixion and Entombment of Jesus, and the Glories of his Resurrection – to live our lives as risen people.

So cancel your other plans. Come join your brothers and sisters in Christ as we walk the Paschal Triduum – the holiest of days – and reaffirm the joy of the life of faith. I’ll see you tonight.

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Lent – Week Six

By Rebecca Hall

This Sunday’s Epistle reading from Philippians reminds me of sewing. I don’t sew. But years ago I made enough attempts to understand how patterns work. You cut the shape of your garment out of tissue-like paper with printed lines for guidance. You may be making a small, medium, or large. The size can differ, but the shape is the same. You pin the pattern to the fabric and cut out the shape. If discipleship is trying to live like Christ, then our lives are like the cut fabric in this metaphor. We are all (thankfully) completely unique, yet we all strive for a Christ-like shape.

In this letter to the Philippians Paul is reminding them about what a life that has a Christ-like shape looks like. The love Paul has for these people is evident, but he still spends three chapters exhorting them to unity and cautioning against division and arguments. Clearly, even these generous people are prone to quarreling and promoting their own agendas.

In our reading for Sunday Paul re-iterates what the shape of Christ is.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave (or servant)
being born in human likeness
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the father.

Paul boils the gospel down into a few poetic lines that map out a pattern for living our lives. Jesus, though he was divine and equal to God, did not use that to his own advantage. Being equal to God means having access to divine power, divine status, and divine authority. Jesus was actually way more powerful than those who killed him. But, he did not exploit access to these for his own personal benefit. He used them for the common good, to spread the Good News. Not his will, but God’s.

Living a Christ-shaped life calls for constant discernment on our parts. We also have authority, power, and status. Maybe not everywhere, or in every relationship, or in every situation. But, that’s the discernment – where do we hold these? Where are we on the top of the pile? Where do we hold more power and influence than the other people? And how do we choose to use these? Living a Christ-shaped life calls for us to give up our power, status, and authority for the good of the whole, to be servants to one another (*note that those with less are not called to give up what little they have for those more powerful).

Holy Week is upon us. And the liturgies and the practices illustrate for us the shape of Christ. The foot washing – Jesus on his knees in front of Peter, the trial, the stations of the cross, and finally the crucifixion. All of these are shaped like Christ. But they’re not the end of the story. Resurrection is God’s promise to us. If we live lives that are shaped like Christ the end of our story will bring something we never could have imagined, but we know it will be new and beautiful and good.

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Lent – Week Five

By the Rev. Katie Wright

Puzzles.

I am a person who likes puzzles.  Often on vacation there is a big 1,000 piece puzzle set out, and I like to sit and fuss with it.  Finding the edges, sorting by color, figuring out how all these little pieces are going to come together to recreate the image on the box.  Some puzzles are easier than others, some pieces within each puzzle are easier than others to figure out, but each piece has a place, and there is great joy as we figure out where each one goes.

Church life is much like that – on all levels. As an individual figuring out these pieces of the Christian life and how they all fit and work together, as a congregation ordering our common life and God’s will for us, as a part of the Diocese of Texas, the Episcopal church, the world-wide Anglican communion and Christianity everywhere. The questions are similar:  Where are the edges? How do the pieces fit together? What spot do I fill right now, and how do I help others find a good spot?

Now, this analogy is not perfect. I don’t believe there is only one right answer for each one of us – we are more adaptable and creative than small pieces of cardboard! God’s got a great image of the world for us to help create, but there are a variety of ways to get to that final creation.

This Sunday’s readings, for this final Sunday in Lent before we get to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, are all about new life in unexpected places. The dry bones that Ezekiel sees and speaks new life to and the raising of Lazarus by Jesus after days in the tomb. The pieces that have been tossed aside as not really fitting in, or the parts of the puzzle that we think are impossible to complete. We have those times, when we believe all hope is lost and the death is complete. And sometimes, for now, it is. But we are a resurrection people.  The tomb, death, is not the end. It is not lost or dead forever. The image will come together, God’s will completed.

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Lent – Week Four

By Doug Harrison

This week’s readings seem almost more like Advent readings than Lenten ones. There is all of this talk about light: How God is our light and how the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. It sorta feels like December, when we are all about the candles, colored strands, and weird reindeer shaped wire lawn figures. Light is a nice word, a friendly word, a word worth cutting out of styrofoam and covering in glitter, like “joy,” “peace,” and “candy.” Light feels good.

Well, except at 6:45 in the morning standing in front of the bathroom mirror when I am trying to pry my eyes open and address the rat’s nest on the top of my head. It is amazing what a mess you can make out of very little hair with a couple pillows and just the right amount of drool. [Very pretty.] And every single morning I scare myself witless with just how unpresentable I can make myself just by laying down and closing my eyes. In these first few moments of my day, light does not always feel like my friend. It really only irritates me for a few seconds before I begin to reassemble my seemingly natural good looks, but boy-o-boy those first few seconds in the morning light are sometimes enough to make me want to stay in bed.

Sure, I know light is good, but if I am honest, I don’t always love what the light does.

There are two things that are always simultaneously true about the light of God’s love: One, it reveals things for what they really are and two, it heals. The real power of God’s love in our lives is lost when we lose sight of either those things.

Sometimes we think about God’s love, or even God, only as a nice word, appropriate for the holidays, like it is something sweet to be cut out and covered in glitter. In thinking of God this we way we often never let God into the parts of our lives where God can do the most good, where we need God most.

Other times it can be easy to lay in the darkness knowing that what the light is going to reveal is going to be ugly, uncomfortable, and maybe even hurt a little. When we only think about God this way, we tend to stay in bed, avoid being honest with ourselves and each other, little by little begin to avoid God altogether.

Sin, someone wise once told me, is an awful lot like athlete’s foot, it gets worse in dark and enclosed spaces. This week in our Lenten journey, we are reminded of both aspects of God’s love which are simultaneously true: It reveals, and it heals. Perhaps this week we might be able to turn to someone who knows a little something about the love of God and tell them a truth that needs to be brought into the light. Maybe this week it is time to make an appointment with one of the priests (who are obligated to offer grace and keep their mouths shut) and say something that needs to be said about ourselves. If any of that is even too much, perhaps you might just find yourself standing in front of God, being as honest with one’s self as one might look in a mirror, knowing that nothing, absolutely nothing, is revealed any sooner than it has also begun to be healed. May God be your light.

 

 

 

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Lent – Week Three

By Lynn Smith-Henry

This year during the Lenten season, I am doing something different for my Lenten Meditations – seeking the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. In this season of meditation and preparation for Holy Week, my thoughts have been consumed with Liturgy and the theology which stands behind it. Christianity is not a Western religion but an Eastern one. In seeking our Eastern Jewish roots, I have come to realize a profound truth about our Christian faith – we are not on the appointed calendar of the Bible but the adopted calendar of the Roman tradition. It occurs to me that this was a profound step away from our Jewish roots and while we have been able to function liturgically in our worship, I began to wonder if we had lost some of the underlying theology of our Jewish connections. The more I searched, the more it appeared that we have indeed lost something truly meaningful.

All meaningful liturgy has theology as its underpinning. Like Jewish liturgy, we construct our liturgy around the concept of the “feast.” The word “feast” in the Hebrew is “moed” and it actually means the appointed time for something to happen. But it also has another meaning – “dress rehearsal.” The Liturgy of both the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem were predicated on this very concept of rehearsal as demonstrated in Leviticus and other passages of Scripture. Aaron the first High Priest received very specific instructions on how to approach the most Holy Place, what vestments to wear and exactly what to do when conducting the Liturgy in the presence of God’s name. Looking at our Liturgy today, we can see the same sequence of events although represented by different elements.

As we experience Lent with anticipation of Holy Week and the gravitas of its events, we should prepare ourselves for its Liturgy in the same manner – as a “dress rehearsal” of the real event which we will share with Christ in the future to come. By doing so, we connect once again with our Jewish roots and fulfill the real purpose of the Liturgy. The Liturgy has not only the power to reconnect us to our past spiritual heritage in Abraham but also to unify us in worship, and heal the deficiencies of our human state by taking us into the presence of God – an awesome and inspiring thought as we meditate during this season of Lent on our relationship with our Lord Yeshua  Meshiach – Jesus the Christ.

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Lent – Week Two

By the Rev. Chad McCall

This Sunday will be the second Sunday of Lent.  We aren’t yet halfway through the Lenten season so it is a great time to check in and reflect on your experience so far.

How is your Lenten discipline progressing? Is it time to re-focus or re-think your preparation?

I think this Sunday’s gospel lesson provides an excellent backdrop for reflection.  The gospel reading includes John 3:16-17, perhaps some of the most well-known gospel verses—”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

How does your own theology and relationship with God hold these concepts? Where do you fall on the spectrum of love, belief (doubt), condemnation, and salvation? I think we all have times in our lives when we feel like our belief may not be up to par, when we feel like we are under judgement, or when we feel surrounded by the negative and hurtful voices of the world. I would ask you to pay particular attention to how you talk to yourself about your Lenten discipline and about how faithful or unfaithful you feel you have been?  Are you speaking words of condemnation and judgment or words of love and acceptance when you speak to yourself?

Even as we proceed through a time of Lenten preparation, discipline, and repentance, I believe that we must also hold on to the reminder that God came out of love to give life.  We must remember that even though the world rejected Jesus, Jesus still came to save and not to condemn. Is your Lenten reflection and experience bringing you into a deeper relationship with the God who came to love and to save the world? What can you do to continue to spread the message of love, salvation, and eternal life in your own life and in the lives of others? What small steps can we take to counter the voices in the world that spread hate, fear, or indifference, and replace them with love?

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Lent – Week One

Amy Moehnke

By Amy Moehnke

Lent is the great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.  In part this is because Ash Wednesday, the “kick off event” of Lent, centers around the simple but profound reminder that “we are dust and to dust we shall return”.  This is a simultaneously terrifying and wonderful truth that perhaps we don’t ponder enough.  I remember imposing ashes on my daughter’s little forehead when she was 4 years old.  It was the strangest thing to hear myself say to my own child, and yet there was a sense that it was the right thing to do- both to say it to her, and to hear myself say it to her. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.  She looked at me with her bright blue eyes while I touched her with that dark ash, and even though she was young, I had the intense feeling that she somehow got it, perhaps at a level that we grownups, with our knowledge, and our rationalizations, and our sheer desire to deny the inevitable truth of death just can’t (or won’t).  She accepted that what her mommy said to her in that moment was true, and she didn’t run from it.  Perhaps it was because the voice that said the words was the voice that sang her to sleep at night; perhaps it was because the hands that touched her head were the ones that wiped her tears when she was sad; perhaps it was because the ash became the very familiar cross when it reached her little face… I suspect it was a combination of those things, plus the movement of the Holy Spirit in that church, that made that moment super holy.  It was the perfect start to our Lenten journey that year. My hope for each of us this Lent is that the good news of our “dustiness” might become real in new ways as we make our way through this blessed season.  Thanks be to God.

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December 24

John 1:3-9, LightChad_McCall-3

By The Rev. Chad McCall

My son turned 11 recently, and the morning of his birthday he became somewhat obsessed with knowing the exact time he was born. He wanted to be able to mark the occasion with celebration and know the precise second that he would grow one year older.  There almost seemed to be a sense of worry that he might  “miss” the opportunity. You could tell that he had been anticipating this moment for weeks/months during the build-up to his birthday, and now that the day had arrived, he wanted to be prepared.

I think that we find so much joy in celebrating a child’s birthday because it is a chance to remind the child how much they are loved, and because it marks how the arrival of a child forever changes how we live and move through the world. The moment that a little life enters our world, we are forever changed. We assume responsibility for loving, caring for, and raising this new life, and it affects all of our relationships and how we view the world. When we celebrate a child’s birthday, we are also marking the day that our own life was changed.

During Advent, we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the light of the world, the light of all people that came to shine in the darkness. This child of light came to the world to change how we live, how we love, and how we see God and each other. The day this light arrived, our lives were forever changed.

We are God’s beloved children, and this season serves as a reminder that we are loved and celebrated; a reminder that this light lives in us and in everyone that we encounter. To be a child of the light means not only that we remember that the light lives in us, we must also be able to see the light in those around us. During Advent, we prepare to mark the moment that our lives were forever changed. We celebrate the arrival of the light of the world, the light that lives in us and that changes how we love and see the world around us. Look for and celebrate the light that surrounds you this season, prepare to celebrate the moment your life was forever changed.

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December 23

Luke 1:46b-55, Light

By Adrian Woods

When I think of the light, I often think of a time when as a child I had to go downstairs at night to turn off a light. A light I had left on. This required that I go downstairs into the darkness, down a hall to the other side of the house. Fear was creeping. I would turn off the light, heart racing, and run as fast as I could back upstairs to safety; back to the light.

We live in a world of perpetual darkness. Suffering, pain, and oppression persists in a variety of forms throughout existence. Amidst the sheer dismay at the state of our country or our world, I often find a desire, a willing, a wishing that things might be different. You might call it a hope or longing that in the end good will overcome, at last.

We can reflect upon Mary’s song with a similar hope for a better world.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful

As we move through this advent season let us reflect on how, as Paul says, “All of creation groans in anticipation.” Like children who run to the safety of the light in a dark house, let us look for the light, the breaking in of beauty and goodness in our world. Let us seek out the light and even bring about the goodness and beauty in our world with patience, kindness, and humility. In this season of Advent, let us a sing songs of hope for a time in which we are brought safely into the light, at last.

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December 22

John 12:35-36, Lightpeter

By Peter Hahn

Recently, I attended the baptism of a friend’s child. The family was presented with a lighted candle and the words, “Receive the light of Christ.”  I wondered how many times “light” is mentioned in scriptures and halted my search at 400, still in the Hebrew Bible. Earlier in John’s Gospel, we are told, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” (KJV) So what IS this light that is so prominent in our readings? Why, in our passage, does there seem to be a warning about timeliness?

To me, in a world full of variables, there is one absolute in Christ who is the “light” and that light is TRUTH with a capital “T.” But our truth prevails as we lead our daily lives and that truth varies from person to person.  In our “darkness” we struggle to earn a living, deal with everyday problems, and lose sight of the truth we are being offered and for many, live in a realm of despair with our shortcomings. Essentially, we are walking in the darkness and do not know where we are going.

The light of Christ is our one non-changing truth and we need only to “believe in the light,” follow that path, and believe that all else will fall in line. Jesus, as John recounts, may be telling us that that an understanding will not always be available to us. However, in Advent, it is being offered once again and we must pay attention, step out of the darkness, and prepare to welcome the newborn Christ, the eternal and only truth, the “light of the world!”

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