Proper Five 06/06/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 5

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

 

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

 

                        Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

Opening Prayer 

Almighty God,
by your grace alone
we are accepted and called to your service;
strengthen us by your Holy Spirit and empower our calling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Scripture Reading                                                                                               Mark 3:20-35

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Poem: “Pax”                                                                                    by D.H. Lawrence

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
in his own and greater being, as of the master sitting at the board
in the house of life.

Meditation:

Half-hidden within this difficult gospel passage is a great wisdom: our true home is with God. Among the better known moments in this discourse within a story is “a house divided,” a phrase which has played such an important role in our nation’s history, and has become all too pertinent again in our own time.  And the mysterious “binding the strong man,” has become the basis for an influential socio-political commentary on Mark’s gospel. The seeming rejection of family ties, so threatening to many, actually clears the way for the liberating discovery that wherever, however, and to whomever we were born, we are first and always God’s children, and that when we put allegiance to God above all else, we are set free.

The poem, which may at first seem cozy, like a cat before the fire, reveals itself as a powerful and liberating expression of that same wisdom: in the house of God, there is a place at the table for everyone. The great stillness of the poem is a sign, not of passivity, but of strength and confidence. In the house of life, those who sit at the table are at peace within themselves, and at home in the greater being of God.

Questions for Reflection:

What are your feelings, now in this time of bitter national strife, when you hear the phrase, “a house divided?”

In the gospel passage, Jesus and his friends are so busy they have no time even to eat. His family fears he has gone out of his mind. When have you felt that way? What helped you get out of that cycle, and back to a place more like the hearth and table in the house of life?

Can you envision your true home? What does the house of life look like for you?

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

 Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

Trinity Sunday 05/30/21

Link to Leaflet from in-person service

 Homily

Trinity Sunday
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver
Matthew Bentley
Don’t start googling ‘metaphors for the trinity’ online. I was immediately
drawn to this poem as what seemed to me an apt description of the divine
(as well as similar imagery from 16th-century mystic St. John of the
Cross). St. John describes God the Creator as the spring or source, the
Redeemer as the flowing river, and though he doesn’t specify much about
the Spirit, it could either be the water seeping back into the soil,
replenishing the source itself, or the water we partake of (from the spring
and the river)
Or, as Raymond Carver’s poem puts it:
Can anything be more wonderful than a spring?
But the big streams have my heart too.
And the places streams flow into rivers.
The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea.
The places where water comes together
with other water. Those places stand out
in my mind like holy places.
Anyway, it seems that many are quick to dispel any metaphor for the
trinity, not because of its mystery, but because they seem to be so certain
about what the trinity is to disqualify a particular image because of some
specific characteristic. There is a frustrating irony in so many people using

so many words to explain away this most mysterious attribute of the
Christian God, this one thing that seems to transcend language and logic.
So, true confession – I don’t pretend to understand what God is, let alone
how the trinity works. And maybe I’m in good company. Maybe you are,
too. Maybe, like Nicodemus from today’s Gospel, you also find it puzzling
to know what it means to be so in touch with the divine that one can be
‘born of water’ or ‘reborn’.
Perhaps that’s why I love this poem – water, too, is a mystery. It’s
everywhere (60% of our bodies, 71% of our planet), and yet that same
planet is at risk for both too much water, with oceans rising and polar ice
caps melting, and too little water, with drought and fire as the new normal
in California and Australia.
Beyond the practical, though, water is simply wondrous. Its sounds – even
in digitally simulated versions – provide a soothing white noise to fall
asleep to. Its smell wafting in from the open windows this morning in this
very space was reviving. Its seemingly infinite expanse from the point of
view of a beach has us contemplating other infinities of time and space.
Carver’s poem taps into the utter wonder that we often feel when
contemplating water. This is a grown man with a child’s eye for the
mystical world of nature, almost as if seeing a river for the first time, with
the eyes of someone much younger.
The poem does speak for itself, but knowing a bit more about Raymond
Carver may help us further appreciate his wide-eyed curiosity.

Carver is known principally for his short stories, and the fact that he’s one
of those archetypal mid-century White Man writers made me hesitant to
choose his poem for today’s service. I worried that he had some kind of
mid-twentieth century baggage – like so many of his compatriots – that
would perhaps prevent his words from reaching us as purely as they seem
to have been composed. It turns out that Carver’s brokenness actually
adds a compelling layer to his poem – his baggage, his burden was
alcoholism, so much so that, during a teaching appointment after his first
forays into publishing, by his own account he did more drinking than
writing or teaching. After being hospitalized several times, and after
seeking various treatments, he finally stopped drinking on June 2, 1977
with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He called this new period of his
life “his second life.” Or, in other words, a rebirth.
So, within that context, and with Nicodemus’s puzzlement about being
born by water, let’s take another look at Carver’s poem. Is it any wonder
that he finds such joy at the purifying, mystifying, life-giving powers of
water? Is it any wonder that this renewing source of life makes his blood
run and his skin tingle?
Whatever we call God – love, beauty, the way things are, nature – Carver’s
story reminds us to reopen our eyes to that divine presence, and perhaps
to deliberately ask ourselves what else we’ve been submerging ourselves
in instead. For Carver, it was alcohol. For others, it might be addiction to
technology, or negative thoughts, or unfair judgment, or crippling distrust
or fear. Maybe we’ve grown so used to social distancing that re-engaging
with the world is unexpectedly challenging. Maybe the isolation of
pandemic times has drawn out long latent vices. Or maybe it has just
been a really long time since you’ve tapped into child-like wonder.

Carver died in 1988, just ten years after his “second life” began. Carver’s
tombstone is inscribed with his poem “Gravy”. (Yes, another liquid!) It
starts,
“No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman.”
and ends:
“Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”
During our time of meditation, you may simply choose to re-read Carver’s
poem. Other questions you might consider:
When have you felt immersed in the divine?
When has that sense been hard for you to access? Why?
When has water caused you to wonder?
When have you experienced a sense of “rebirth”?

PDF of Homily linked here

Whitsunday 05/23/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Day of Pentecost

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

            Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer:

O Lord, when your Son ascended into heaven, he sent down upon the Apostles the Holy Spirit, as he had promised, that they might comprehend the mysteries of the kingdom: Distribute among us also, we pray, the gifts of the selfsame Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                     John 15:26-27;16:4b-15

Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Poem: Caedom                                                                               by Denise Levertov  

All others talked as if

talk were a dance.

Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet

would break the gliding ring.

Early I learned to

hunch myself

close by the door:

then when the talk began

I’d wipe my

mouth and wend

unnoticed back to the barn

to be with the warm beasts,

dumb among body sounds

of the simple ones.

I’d see by a twist

of lit rush the motes

of gold moving

from shadow to shadow

slow in the wake

of deep untroubled sighs.

The cows

munched or stirred or were still.  I

was at home and lonely,

both in good measure.  Until

the sudden angel affrighted me — light effacing

my feeble beam,

a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:

but the cows as before

were calm, and nothing was burning,

nothing but I, as that hand of fire

touched my lips and scorched my tongue

and pulled my voice

into the ring of the dance.

Meditation:

Denise Levertov’s poem works within two traditions: the season of Pentecost, which we mark today, and the tradition of Caedmon, known as the earliest identified English poet.  According to the Venerable Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate lay brother who cared for the animals at Whitby Abbey.  Caedmon’s Pentecostal moment comes when, at an already advanced age, he departs in shame from a singing event just when the harp was about to be passed to his hands (or, “when the talk began”).

Aware of his inferiority (and his lack of singing experience), Caedmon instead seeks refuge and comfort in the barn.  That night, a divine being visits him in a dream, asking Caedmon to sing.  At first reluctant, he finally produces what is now known as “Caedmon’s Hymn”.  Levertov beautifully tells this story with vivid imagery evoking the Pentecostal flames and the liberation of the tongue as a vessel for the Holy Spirit.

Questions for Reflection:

  • All of us feel woefully inadequate because of our humanity.  And yet, we all are also endowed with gifts of the spirit.  What are your gifts?  When have they surprised you?
  • Levertov’s poem starts and ends with the image of “the dance” – a reminder that merry-making and celebration can be divinely blessed acts.  When was the last time you felt like dancing?  Did you dance? If not, what kept you from dancing?
  • What hope does the story of the Pentecostal act give you?

Prayers:

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

 

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

   Poem and Reflection offered by: Matt Bentley  

Sunday after Ascension Day 05/16/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

 

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

 

                         Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

The heavens are open wide
since Jesus our brother, our Redeemer,
has entered through the veil.
We thank you for his new and living way,
by which we join the unnumbered millions
who are with you forever.
Praise to you our God; you answer prayer. Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                             John 17:6-19

Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Poem: “The Best Thing in the World”                                 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What’s the best thing in the world?

June-rose, by May-dew impearled;

Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
Till its pride is over-plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, that gives no pain;
Love, when, so, you’re loved again.
What’s the best thing in the world ?
— Something out of it, I think.

Meditation:

Jesus’s prayer from John can come across at times as a clash of so many pronouns – my/mine/me/your/yours/their/theirs – that it can sometimes be hard to understand what, exactly, Jesus is saying/praying.  Perhaps the power in his prayer is simply that we belong to God, and therefore to something transcending “the world”.  And yet, isn’t it through our everyday, mundane lives that we are repeatedly surprised by God and taken out of those same everyday, mundane lives? Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s simple, powerful poem reminds us of this fundamental paradox.  Like the incarnate God as Jesus, everyday experiences of worldly beauty, truth, and pleasure are also our way of glimpsing the otherworldly presence of God.

Questions for Reflection:

For you, today, what is the best thing in the world?

Think of transcendent moments of beauty or truth that have caught you by surprise.  What ‘worldly’ experience sparked that ‘otherworldly’ experience?

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

 

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

 

Poem Selection and Meditation by Matt Bentley

Easter 6 05/09/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

 

                        Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Glorious Lord of Life,
we praise you,
that by the mighty resurrection of your Son,
you have delivered us from sin and death
and made your whole creation new;
grant that we who celebrate with joy
Christ’s rising from the dead,
may be raised from the death of sin
to the life of righteousness;
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever.
Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                             John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Poem: “Only if Love Should Pierce You”                                      by Salvatore Quasimodo                                                                                                                                                               trans. from Italian by Jack Bevan

Do not forget that you live in the midst of the animals,

horses, cats, sewer rats

brown as Solomon’s woman, terrible

camp with colors flying,

do not forget the dog with harmonies of the unreal

in tongue and tail, nor the green lizard, the blackbird,

the nightingale, viper, drone. Or you are pleased to think

that you live among pure men and virtuous

women who do not touch

the howl of the frog in love, green

as the greenest branch of the blood.

Birds watch you from trees, and the leaves

are aware that the Mind is dead

forever, its remnant savors of burnt

cartilage, rotten plastic; do not forget

to be animal, fit and sinuous,

torrid in violence, wanting everything here

on hearth, before the final cry

when the body is cadence of shrivelled memories

and the spirit hastens to the eternal end;

remember that you can be the being of being

only if love should pierce you deep inside.

Meditation:

Today’s reading from John is so well-known that its shock has probably worn off.  To obey, Jesus says, is not to submit to a tyrant, or to follow nitpicky rules, or to passively, robotically check off a list of duties.  To obey is to love, and to obey is to seek joy.  Or, the way Jesus would probably frame it: to love is to obey; to seek joy is to obey.  We can imagine the sense of relief and of a burden being lightened when hearing these words for the first time.  Not that love is easy, of course.  But imagine the ragtag group of Jesus’s followers hearing that the one item on the ‘to do’ list (in a world filled with them) is simply to love.

Salvatore Quasimodo, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959, surprises us further by reminding his human readers that they are also animals, and therefore just as capable of violence, just as prone to primal desires, and just as doomed to die as a frog, a horse, or a sewer rat.  But despite our bestial natures, he tells us, if we let the commandment of love pierce us “deep inside,” we can transcend our animal nature and be the “being of being.”

Reflection:

How does our world of obligation and duty limit our capacity to love?

Think of your ‘to do’ list today.  What happens to your mood if you replace that entire list with “love”?

When have you felt “pierced” by love in the past year?  What other verbs would you use to describe that feeling?

Prayers:

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

 Poem Selection and Meditation by Matt Bentley

Easter 5 05/02/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

 

                        Peace on each one who comes in need;

                                 Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                             Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                               Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                                 John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

“O Taste and See”                                                                                    by Denise Levertov

The world is not with us enough.

O taste and see

The subway Bible poster said,

meaning The Lord, meaning

if anything all that lives

to the imagination’s tongue,

Grief, mercy, language,

tangerine, weather, to

breathe them, bite,

savor, chew, swallow, transform

Into our flesh our

deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,

living in the orchard and being hungry, and plucking the fruit.

Meditation:

In today’s reading from the gospel of John, Jesus invites us to follow him with the intimate metaphor of a plant with potential to bear fruit.  This age-old imagery is just one of many that connects us to Jesus through the natural world, and one of many that binds us organically to Jesus, as if we were of the same flesh.  We renew this relationship every time we partake of the Eucharist, and every time we fulfill our own unique role in the larger body of Christ.  The hope, of course, is that together, we (with Jesus) bear fruit.  Denise Levertov’s poem casts us not as bearers of fruit in a life with Christ, but partakers of that fruit.  Her imagery here is down to earth and real, taking inspiration from a subway poster, and reminding us that within our broken lives of grief and weather and language, we can still find and taste the sweetness of the orchard’s fruit.

Questions for Reflection:

When you hear or read Jesus talking about fruit, what do you picture?  Why do you picture that particular fruit?

What does it mean to you to be “living in the orchard” and “plucking the fruit”?

Levertov is inspired by a subway poster – where have you found inspiration in unlikely places lately?

Prayers:

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

 Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

Poem and Meditation offered by: Matt Bentley

Easter 4 04/25/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

 

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

                 Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                 Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                     Peace on each one who offers song.

                Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                      Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                     John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” 

Poem: Whistling Swans                                                                            by Mary Oliver

Do you bow your head when you pray or do you look
up into that blue space?
Take your choice, prayers fly from all directions.
And don’t worry about what language you use,
God no doubt understands them all.
Even when the swans are flying north and making
such a ruckus of noise, God is surely listening
and understanding.
Rumi said,  There is no proof of the soul.
But isn’t the return of spring and how it
springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?
Yes, I know, God’s silence never breaks, but is
that really a problem?
There are thousands of voices, after all.
And furthermore, don’t you imagine (I just suggest it)
that the swans know about as much as we do about
the whole business?
So listen to them and watch them, singing as they fly.
Take from it what you can.

Meditation

The gospel for the fourth Sunday of Easter depicts Jesus as the good shepherd, which is also perhaps the earliest image of Christ in art. It is found in murals in Roman catacombs, and was evidently a powerful and important image for the early followers of Jesus. It seems remarkable in some ways that the good shepherd is such an enduring and meaningful image, even in a world where shepherds and sheep are not exactly part of our everyday experience. But it continues (along with the 23rd psalm) to provide direction and hope in times of anxiety, confusion, and loss.

A key aspect of this relationship is the ability of the sheep to hear the shepherd’s voice. But how do we hear that voice, especially when, in the words of the poem, “God’s silence never breaks?”  The poem invites us to listen for thousands of voices, such as those of the whistling swans: “…listen to them and watch them, singing as they fly. Take from it what you can.”

Questions for Reflection

What role has the image of Jesus as the good shepherd, as well as the 23rd psalm, played at different points in your life’s story? What insights do those provide in your current reflections?

Does the poem speak to you about the language and life of prayer – of both talking with God and listening for God’s voice?

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

 

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

 Poem and Reflection offered by: Frank Nowell

Easter 3 04/18/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Third Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

 

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 

 

                 Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

               Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                    Peace on each one who offers song.

                Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                       Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Glorious Lord of Life, we praise you, that by the mighty resurrection of your Son, you have delivered us from sin and death and made your whole creation new; grant that we who celebrate with joy Christ’s rising from the dead, may be raised from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever. Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                 Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

 

Poem: “Rain”                                                                      by Sandor Weores

(translated from the Hungarian by J. Kessler)

The rain is pounding away
at the rusty eves
Twirling, sliding bubbling foam
well that’s rain.

You too, and I should walk now
as free as that
on cloud, on air, the meadow
and the vapor roads.

Move around up there and here below
like this liquid thing
flowing into human life on rooftops
and on shoes.

 

Meditation

The gospel story again portrays the risen Jesus standing among the disciples, eating in their presence, and reassuring them while “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

The poem depicts a vigorous rain in which the poet urges that we too should “walk now as free” as the rain. An introduction to this poem in A Book of Luminous Things suggests that the poet builds upon various symbolic meanings of water, pointing to abundance and growth. For the poet, “the desire to become rain is his longing for the descent of grace into human life. For rain is also often the symbol of grace falling from above, a magnanimous gift.”

Questions for Reflection

Do joy, disbelief, and wonder ever blend together for you as they apparently did for the disciples?

Do the poem’s images of rain tap into the gospel’s messages of resurrection, repentance, and forgiveness? Do other, different images come to mind for you?

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

 

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

 

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

 

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

 

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

 

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

 

We name before God those who have died.

 

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

Easter 2 04/11/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Second Sunday of Easter

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

                        Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Glorious Lord of Life,
we praise you,
that by the mighty resurrection of your Son,
you have delivered us from sin and death
and made your whole creation new;
grant that we who celebrate with joy
Christ’s rising from the dead,
may be raised from the death of sin
to the life of righteousness;
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever.
Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                 John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Poem: “Horses At Midnight Without A Moon”                                                 by Jack Gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

Meditation

Like last week’s story of the road to Emmaus, this week’s story of “doubting Thomas” is a highly dramatic yet very personal encounter with the risen Jesus. And it is one that has captured the imaginations of many artists through the centuries.

Although the poem (from 2005) does not directly relate to the gospel, it contains some intriguing intersection points, including the words “Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.”  The poem speaks of the promise of spring, of knowing things that cannot presently be seen, and of the strength of the human spirit to hope and persevere through struggles and suffering.

Questions for Reflection

In your own story, what role has doubt played, if any, in the development of your faith? Do you think of it as a counteracting force or a complementary one?

Consider which images from the poem speak to you in this moment – a convergence of Easter, the coming of spring, and of entering a new phase in the global pandemic.                                                                

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

We name before God those who have died.

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.

Easter Day 04/04/21

Link to PDF

The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Evening of Easter Day

… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

                    T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton 

                       Peace on each one who comes in need;

                        Peace on each one who comes in joy.

                        Peace on each one who offers prayers;

                        Peace on each one who offers song.

                        Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,

                        Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Glorious Lord of Life,
we praise you,
that by the mighty resurrection of your Son,
you have delivered us from sin and death
and made your whole creation new;
grant that we who celebrate with joy
Christ’s rising from the dead,
may be raised from the death of sin
to the life of righteousness;
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever.
Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                     Luke 24:13-49

Now on that same day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Poem: “Emmaus”                                                                                       by Rowan Williams

First the sun, then the shadow,
so that I screw my eyes to see
my friend’s face, and its lines seem
different, and the voice shakes in the hot air.
Out of the rising white dust, feet
tread a shape, and, out of step,
another flat sound, stamped between voice
and ears, dancing in the gaps, and dodging
where words and feet do not fall.

When our eyes meet, I see bewilderment
(like mine); we cannot learn
this rhythm we are asked to walk,
and what we hear is not each other.
Between us is filled up, the silence
is filled up, lines of our hands
and faces pushed into shape
by the solid stranger, and the static
breaks up our waves like dropped stones.

So it is necessary to carry him with us,
cupped between hands and profiles,
so that the table is filled up, and as
the food is set and the first wine splashes,
a solid thumb and finger tear the thunderous
grey bread. Now it is cold, even indoors;
and the light falls sharply on our bones;
the rain breathes out hard, dust blackens,
and our released voices shine with water.

 

Meditation:

The Gospel appointed for evening service on Easter is the story of two disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognize him until they invite him in and break bread with him.

The mystery of resurrection can sometimes seem slippery and even incomprehensible, even if the stories are familiar. We might look to poetry, music, and other arts to help us take it all in. The poem by Rowan Williams re-tells the Emmaus story with immediacy and rich imagery. It captures the strong emotions of the two disciples on their journey in palpable, physical terms. At the same time it connects the story with something beyond the physical.

The identity of the unnamed disciple in the story is a mystery to us, but some scholars speculate that it was a woman (perhaps the wife of Cleopas?). One artist who depicts the unknown disciple as a woman is Maximo Carezo Barredo, a Spanish-born artist, priest, and liberation theologian. The painting shown here is just one of many that depict the Emmaus story. “What I want to convey through painting is God’s way of being that is embodied in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. He’s not a distant, absent God, but a God who became human in Jesus.”

Both the poem and the painting seem to expand our sense of time and place, and powerfully connect the Emmaus story to our experience of the Eucharist.

 Questions for Reflection:

 You may wish to spend some time with either the poem or the painting, paying attention to the images and what they evoke for you.

If you then re-read the Gospel story, do you find something new and unexpected? What images would you like to carry with you through the 50 days of Eastertide?

As we return to celebrating Eucharist as a community after a long absence, does Emmaus take on any different meanings?

To see more of Barredo’s Emmaus paintings, visit the blog Art and Theology at: https://artandtheology.org/2017/04/28/the-unnamed-emmaus-disciple-mary-wife-of-cleopas/

Prayers

We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today

 

We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer

 

We bring to God a troubled situation in our world

 

We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust

 

We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection

 

We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives

 

We name before God those who have died.

 

Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.

                  Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.

May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.