Pondering for Saturday, May 30, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Saturday after the 7th Sunday of Easter: Year 2

Psalm 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13) Ezek. 36:22-27; Eph. 6:10-24; Matt. 9:18-26

“ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”  (Ephesians 6: 18)

Paul says to “pray in the Spirit.”  How do I do that?  Do I sit quietly and meditate on what I want God to do or know?  Do I ask the Spirit to pray through me?  That has been said by Paul, that it is not we who pray but the Spirit who prays through us.  I think both of these concepts are correct.

We have become accustomed of asking someone to pray at meals or for opening or closing a meeting and we have framed prayer as religious words heard at key points of events.  I think the scripture writers – our early Christian parents, prayed quietly. In fact, we may not have been able to tell when they were praying and when they were not.

Just as St. Francis said “go out and preach the Gospel and when necessary use words,” I say, pray always, and when necessary use words, words that others may actually hear.

Today, we also remember Joan of Arc; Mystic and Soldier, 1431

Jeanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc, was born the daughter of peasant stock in France in 1412.  Called the “Maid of Orleans,” she was a religious child, and at a young age she began to experience spiritual visions, which she described as voices emerging from a powerful flash of light. She believed that Saint Michael and Saint Catherine, among other saints, called her to save France from the civil war between the Houses of Orleans and Burgundy. At first, her visions were looked upon skeptically, but she eventually convinced King Charles VII, the not yet consecrated King of France, of the genuineness of her visions. (Great Cloud of Witnesses for May 30)

 In her military campaigns she was captured, and was treated horribly, and sold to the English. “She was later sent back to France, appeared before the Bishop of Beauvais, and was tried at Rouen on charges of witchcraft and heresy. Her visions were declared “false and diabolical” and she was forced to recant. Later that year, however, she was tried and condemned as a relapsed heretic and burnt to death at Rouen. In 1456, following an appeal of her trial, Pope Callistus III declared her to have been falsely accused. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Although her efforts were unsuccessful in ending civil war in France, she inspired later generations with her faith, her heroism, and her commitment to God and to her King. She is today one of the patron saints of France.”  (Great Cloud of Witnesses for May 30)

I thank you Joan, as both a military man and as a priest. Your courage and faith are to be emulated.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Friday, May 29, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday after the 7th Sunday of Easter: Year 2

 “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31: 34)

At St. Paul’s in the Pines I have kept our chapel Bible open to Jeremiah 31: 31 to 34 for years now, open for all who come into the chapel to see this importat reading. I believe it is one of many pointings to the coming of our Lord Jesus found in the Hebrew Testament.

In this passage Jeremiah speaks for God and says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  (Jeremiah 34:33)  I interpret this to mean that with the coming of Jesus all of us will realize our connection with God.  The love-law of God is written on our hearts and minds.  We may not use it, but it is there.

I tell my listeners that I am not their connection to God.  My job has always been to let them know that they have a “First-hand” connection to God themselves. My job is, and has always been, to let them know about this Jeremiah revealed connection. Also, I inform them that God desires an audience with them.  As a result of this preaching, one of my beloved parishioners brought a plaque to church that read, “We need to talk, God.”  I immediately posted it where it could be seen by all.

This Jeremiah reading and my time in Spiritual Guidance have taught me that every human being has the capacity to connect with God.  We only have to access it. In one of her writings the great mystic Evelyn Underhill said “mysticism [revelation of God] is not only reserved for a saintly few, but is available to all who seek to explore it” (more or less). As Jeremiah says, “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.”

So now I tell you. God wishes to talk with you.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Thursday, May 28, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Thursday after the 7th Sundaay of Easter: Year 2

Psalm 105:1-22; Psalm 105:23-45; Zech. 4:1-14; Eph. 4:17-32; Matt. 9:1-8

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)

The word Paul uses for “they” refers to the people he calls the Gentiles, or the Nations. These are people outside the believing community. Today we could use the language of “alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart,” to describe our fellow Americans who, in most cases, say they are Christian.  But they show ignorance and hardness of heart about political divisiveness and polarizing personalities. We suffer from a “whose team are you?” mentality.  It is not the way we Christians are suppose to live.  It is not speaking truth to our neighbors but speaking handed down rhetoric. It is not who we are supposed to be, it is falsehood.

St. Paul says, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4: 25 – 26)  We can be angry without acting on such anger. I, at one time, worked with Clinical Social Workers while in the Marines as we dealt with domestic violence issues.  It took a lot of time to show the young men (I only dealt with men) that there was a specific point in which they decided to move from being angry to striking out. Separating the two can be done.  In the military we couldn’t talk about Jesus. That may be why I’ doing this work now, it is Jesus based.

Paul goes on and says, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4: 31 – 32) Folks if we give in to the darkened understanding of a polarized culture we are turning our backs on who God wants us to be and the real love God has planted in us through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been equipped to forgive one another but too often we choose not to. Too often we would rather be hard-hearted than tender-hearted.  We are not the Gentiles or the Nations. We are Christians.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday after the 7th Sunday of Easter

Psalm 101, 109:1-4 (5-19) 20-30; Psalm 119:121-144; Isa. 4:2-6Eph. 4:1-16; Matt. 8:28-34

“Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.”  (Matthew 8:34)

There are a few observations to take note of in this story.  Matthew has two demoniacs approach Jesus.   Mark 4 and Luke 8 have only one demon possessed man approach Jesus in their similar episodes.  In all the versions the demons leave the man and enter pigs.  I don’t know whether it is a blessing or a curse but I ask different questions than the commentators I have read.  Jesus does not move the evil spirits to the pigs, but rather he allows them to move themselves.  All versions have the pigs and demons drown to death.  My question however, cannot the evil spirits simple move into the fish; the fish that are then caught by those who fish in waters of Galilee? This evil cycle of possession would just continue.  Am I reading too much into it?  I do ponder.

What I want to glean from this story is the fact that this was Gentile territory and raising pigs was their livelihood.  Jesus destroyed an income source or at least allowed it to happen.  The people begged him to leave either because he had a scary amount of power, or that he caused poverty for a family, or for both.  My sources did say that there is a cost for following Jesus.  And I would add, it can often be scary too.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Daily Office Readings or Tuesday after the 7th Sunday of Easter: Year 2

Psalm 97, 99, [100]; Psalm 94, [95] 1 Sam. 16:1-13a; Eph. 3:14-21; Matt. 8:18-27

I’m going to stray from our Daily Office Readings for today to reflect on a pivotal point in our Episcopal Church History.

Everything for today is taken from the “Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW) for May 25, 26 and 27 and is about Venerable Bede, Augustine of Canterbury and Ethelbert and Bertha.

Bede wrote about himself  about his time the monastery in Jarrow near Durham, England, “spending all the remaining time of my life . . . I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.”  “His most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History of England, written in Latin, remains the primary source for the period 597 to 731, when Anglo-Saxon culture developed and Christianity triumphed. In this work, Bede was clearly ahead of his time. He consulted many documents, carefully evaluated their reliability, and cited his sources. His interpretations were balanced and judicious. He also wrote The Lives of the Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and a notable biography of Cuthbert, both in prose and verse.” (GCW May 25)

“Although Christianity had existed in Britain before the invasions of Angles and Saxons in the fifth century, Pope Gregory the Great decided in 596 to send a mission to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. He selected, from his own monastery on the Coelian hill in Rome, a group of monks, led by their prior, Augustine. They arrived in Kent in 597, carrying a silver cross and an image of Jesus Christ painted on a board, which thus became, so far as we know, “Canterbury’s first icon.” King Ethelbert tolerated their presence and allowed them the use of an old church built on the east side of Canterbury, dating from the Roman occupation of Britain. Here, says the Venerable Bede, they assembled “to sing the psalms, to pray, to say Mass, to preach, and to baptize.” This church of St. Martin is the earliest place of Christian worship in England still in use.  Probably in 601, Ethelbert was converted, thus becoming the first Christian king in England. About the same time, Augustine was ordained bishop somewhere in France and named “Archbishop of the English Nation.” Thus, the see of Canterbury and its Cathedral Church of Christ owe their establishment to Augustine’s mission, as does the nearby Abbey of SS. Peter and Paul, later re-named for Augustine.” (GCW May 26)

“Ethelbert succeeded his father as Saxon king of Kent in 560. He was, according to the Venerable Bede, a fair ruler and the first English king to promulgate a code of law. Brisk cross-channel trade with France exposed Ethelbert to Roman customs and luxuries. His admiration for the Frankish ways led him to marry a French Christian princess, Bertha. Although not a Christian himself, Ethelbert promised Bertha’s father that she could practice her faith.  Good to his word, he welcomed her chaplain and granted him an old Christian mausoleum to convert into the Church of St. Martin, which still stands today. In 597, the Roman mission to England under Augustine arrived. When he first heard the gospel, Ethelbert was cautious and unconvinced. However, his fair-mindedness and hospitality were evident in his welcome to Augustine: “The words and promises you bring are fair enough, but because they are new to us and doubtful, I cannot accept them and forsake those beliefs which I and the whole English race have held so long. But as you have come on a long pilgrimage and are anxious, I perceive, to share with us things which you believe are true and good, we do not wish to do you harm; on the contrary, we receive you hospitably and provide what is necessary for your support; nor do we forbid you to win all you can to your faith and religion by your preaching.”  The following Pentecost, Ethelbert was baptized, becoming the first Christian king in England. Though he helped the missionaries and founded cathedrals and churches throughout southeastern England, including Canterbury Cathedral, he never coerced his people, or even his children, into conversion. Bertha’s kind and charitable nature and Ethelbert’s respect for law and the dignity of individual conscience represent, to this day, some of the best of the English Christian spirit. (GCW May 27)

All of the above was taken from the Great Cloud of Witnesses for May 25, 26 and 27.

I can see the hand of God in the events that took place with Bede, Augustine of Canterbury and Ethelbert and Bertha. About a thousand years later the Church of England separates itself from the Roman Church and expands to the Colonies and after a bitter Revolution the Episcopal Church was formed from these beginnings.  Yes, I see God at work in all these acts.  But guess what?  God is not done yet!

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Monday, May 25, 2020

Daily Office Readings for the Monday after the 7th Sunday of Easter: Year 2

Psalm 89:1-18: Psalm 89:19-52; Joshua 1:1-9; Eph. 3:1-13; Matt. 8:5-17

“When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”  (Matthew 8: 5 – 8)

A believing Roman commander (centurion) approaches our Lord Jesus for help.  In as much as he is asking Jesus for healing for his servant (whom he must truly love) this is intercessory prayer. I know people who took their sick child to Europe for healing, healing that was not offered in the U. S. My point here is that we tend to drop boundaries when it comes to the lives of those we love. This centurion is a believer.  He has already accepted God in place of the many gods of Rome and has now heard about the healing power of the man called Jesus. He is desperate.  He has nothing to lose.  Jesus senses the anxiety of the centurion and says ‘yes’ to the request

The commander shows a deeper faith in the power of Jesus.  When Jesus offers come to his house the centurion shows that he has an understanding of the kind of power that Jesus has. He didn’t have to see it being done to witness it.  He just needed Jesus to say ‘yes.’

There are more healing stories in this assigned reading for today; Peter’s mother in law was healed; and Jesus cast out demons and performed more healings in and around Capernaum.

The take-away for me (and maybe you also) is that our Lord Jesus seems to be as moved by the anxiety of those asking, as he is for the person in trouble in our intercessory prayers, maybe even more.  Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, Believe also in me.” (John 14:1)  I say often that God’s ears hears tears.  I am now seeing also that a troubled heart attracts our Lord Jesus. Maybe we can take a page from the centurion’s playbook and take our concerns to Jesus and know that we don’t have to physically see Jesus follow us.  We will see healing in Jesus saying ‘yes.’

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Sunday, May 24, 2020

Eucharistic Readings for the Seventh Sunday after Easter: Year A

Acts 1:6-14  Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11  John 17:1-11

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”  (1 Peter 4:12)

Well St Peter, something strange is happening to us.  I am, this morning preaching with a mask over my face, outside, to whoever will show up.  And we, the parish of St. Paul’s in the Pines Fayetteville, NC, are asking everyone who comes to bring their own seating, to wear masks and oh, by the way, at Holy Communion they will only receive the bread. Yes St. Peter this is a fiery ordeal that is taking place among us.

This is Memorial Day Weekend!  This weekend has been set aside to remember all those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  Today, this day in 2020, we are also remembering first responders and others who have been putting their lives on the line for the safety of the victims of COVID 19.

St Peter also says in our reading for today, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert.”  (1st Peter 5: 6 – 8)  None of us saw this coming, including priests, deacons and bishops.  I’m here before my people wearing a mask. I don’t like it.  However, the mask is not just for my protection.  Some of us are asymptomatic carriers of COVID 19 and could pass the virus on to those who have weak immunity. Some of the problems we have had with this virus is that we don’t find out we have it until we have passed it on.  So this mask that I wear is an expression of how much I love you.   

Real love is expressed not in how tough I am about you. Real love for you is expressed in how tough love is.  When we really think about it, love will humble us to our knees. It’s not about being tough at all.  It’s about love, love that humbles us.  So then let us not be surprised about the strange things taking place in our time.  Love is eternal.  We will get through this with grace, humility and love. The Spirit of God speaks to us.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John