Epiphany 4 01/29/23

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The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

 

… 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

Spirit of energy, Spirit of change, in whose power Jesus is anointed to be the hope of the

nations: pour yourself also upon us, without reserve or distinction, that we may have

confidence and strength to plant your justice on the earth, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

Poem: A Brave and Starling Truth”                                           by  Maya Angelou (b. 1928)

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

 

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

 

Meditation

As you read the familiar and beloved words of the Beatitudes, do you find in them comfort… or a call? We can imagine that many who gathered to hear Jesus – including those who were poor, discouraged, or oppressed – found consolation in these sayings. And this is still true today. But the Beatitudes also seem to issue a call or a challenge – to be peacemakers, to be more merciful and meek, pure in heart. Perhaps a beatitude (blessing) does both simultaneously: provides comfort and calls us to something new or deeper.

 

The poem is from a larger extended piece composed for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995. Maya Angelou reflects on the stark contradiction between human cruelty and kindness, stating that we are inherently neither “devils nor divine.” Her lack of closing punctuation throughout the poem underlines the open-ended nature of the choices we have as human beings. But her poem concludes with these beautiful and inspiring words… and at last a closing period:

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

 

Questions for Reflection

What connections do you find between the poem and the Beatitudes?

To hear Maya Angelou reading the entire poem,

visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjEfq7wLm7M&t=14s

Do you find comfort or challenge in the Beatitudes, or some combination of both?

You may wish to create a new Beatitude – one that, in the spirit of Jesus’s blessings, speaks to our modern world.

For inspiration, Pope Francis in 2016 suggested six new beatitudes:

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2016/11/01/pope-francis-offers-six-new-beatitudes-modern-christian

 

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      

Epiphany 2 01/15/23

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The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

 

… 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

Spirit of energy, Spirit of change,

in whose power Jesus is anointed to be the hope of the nations:

pour yourself also upon us, without reserve or distinction,

that we may have confidence and

strength to plant your justice on the earth,

through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Matthew 1:18-25

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

Poem: The Lamb”                                                                         by William Blake (b. 1757)

Little Lamb who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee,

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

 

Meditation

In the first chapter of John, John the Baptist is introduced as the one who is not the light, but the one who points to the light. Later in this chapter, priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked John who he was and why he was baptizing people. John said he was not a prophet but is one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Finally, in the gospel for this week, John calls Jesus the Lamb of God. He says “Behold the Lamb of God,” first to the priests and Levites and then to two disciples. The identification of Jesus as Lamb of God is connected to the call and following of the disciples.

In the poem by Willima Blake, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, a child asks a Lamb “who made thee.” One literary commentator, Oliver Tearle, calls this delightfully simple poem a “riddle, crossed with a nursery rhyme, crossed with a religious catechism.” And the solution to the riddle is: ‘The Lamb made the lamb!” As the poem concludes, Blake has this wonderful identification and connection between Jesus, the lamb and the child:  I a child and thou a lamb, We are called by his name.

 

Questions for Reflection

What images and names for Jesus are most meaningful for you?

In what way do these images and names call you to follow Jesus “more nearly?”

You may wish to watch and listen to a choral setting of this poem by the contemporary composer, John Taverner, sung by the choir of Kings’ College, Cambridge (about 3 minutes):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClMUquOdDT4&t=10s

 

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: Rev’d Frank Nowell     

Christmas Day 12/25/22

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Link to PDF (with Images)

The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

 

… 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

Collect: Son of God, Child of Mary,
born in the stable at Bethlehem,
be born again in us this day
that through us the world may know
the wonder of your love.
Hear this prayer for your name’s sake. Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                             Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Meditation

This Christmas, consider a visual meditation. After each portion of the familiar story, you may want to spend some time in contemplation of the picture or pictures. How might they enhance your understanding of the scene? What are your feelings when you enter the frame of the picture? Is there one in particular you would like to carry with you through the twelve days of Christmas?

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

 

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

 

“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!””

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.”

“When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

 

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

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.

Pictures: The Birth of Jesus, Georges de la Tour, c. 1644

Vincent van Gogh, the Starry Night,

 Mark Rothko, White on Blue

Rembrandt, The Adoration of the Shepherds

El Greco, 1585

 African Madonna, Hennie Niemann Jr.

Reflection offered by: Rev’d Elizabeth Randall    

Advent 4 12/18/22

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The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Fourth Sunday of Advent

 

… 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

God of all hope and joy,
open our hearts in welcome,
that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming
may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

 

Poem: from The Cherry Tree Carol                                             traditional; Child Ballad 54B

Joseph was an old man,

and an old man was he,

And he married Mary,

the Queen of Galilee.

When Joseph was married,

and Mary home had brought,

Mary proved with child,

and Joseph knew it not.

Joseph and Mary walked

through a garden gay,

Where the cherries they grew

upon every tree.

O then bespoke Mary,

with words both meek and mild:

‘O gather me cherries, Joseph,

they run so in my mind.’

And then replied Joseph,

with words so unkind:

‘Let him gather thee cherries

that got thee with child.’

O then bespoke our Saviour,

all in his mother’s womb:

‘Bow down, good cherry-tree,

to my mother’s hand.’

The uppermost sprig

bowed down to Mary’s knee:

‘Thus you may see, Joseph,

these cherries are for me.’

‘O eat your cherries, Mary,

O eat your cherries now;

O eat your cherries, Mary,

that grow upon the bough.’

As Joseph was a walking,

he heard an angel sing:

‘This night shall be born

our heavenly king.’

 

Meditation

Like his namesake in Hebrew Scripture, Joseph son of Jacob, Joseph of the house and lineage of David is a dreamer. The earlier Joseph who went down into Egypt dreamed, and interpreted the dreams of others; his dream of mastery over his brothers caused his downfall, and in Egypt his foretelling of years of plenty and years of famine saved him from prison, delivered an entire nation, and brought reconciliation to his family. The Joseph of the house and lineage of David dreams twice, and both times trusts the fearful message, “do not be afraid.” His trust leads him to shield Mary and her child from shame and isolation, and to take them to safety, back to the land of Egypt that once, paradoxically, sheltered and saved his namesake and all his kindred.

The earliest versions of the ballad now known as the Cherry Tree Carol come from mystery plays of the middle ages, with a grain of narrative from as early as the 7th century CE. The ballad picks up on the – quite reasonable – anxiety of a bridegroom faced with what is called by genealogists a “non-paternity event.” The cherry, of course, is a long-established symbol of virginity, both its value and its fragility. Ultimately, the beauty of the ballad may be the tension between Joseph’s anger and disappointment and Mary’s serenity, resolved into reconciliation, as in the gospel passage, by a message from the divine.

 

Questions for Reflection

When you think about Joseph, what thoughts and feelings do you ascribe to him? What are your own thoughts and feelings when you consider his situation?

Which telling of the story do you prefer? The gospel account, or the ballad? Why?

You might want to listen to these very different versions of the carol, among the many and various to be found on YouTube:

 

Girls’ Choir of Ely Cathedral:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlqSAyp34TU

Pentangle:

https://www.google.com/search?q=cherry+tree+carol+youtube&oq=cherry+tree+carol&aqs=chrome.0.69i59l2j69i57j69i60j69i61l2.5542j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:45282c61,vid:C31BZ0vXAVY

The Cambridge Singers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-i9zcxVgeQ

The Wiggles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlqSAyp34TU

 

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: Rev’d Elizabeth Randall    

Advent 3 12/11/22

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The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Third Sunday of Advent

 

… 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

Come, O come Emmanuel,

you are the way, the truth and the life;

Come, living Savior

come to your world which waits for you.

Hear this prayer for your love’s sake.

Amen.

The Gospel                                                                                                             Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Poem: “Joy of the Redeemed”                                                     Isaiah 35:3-7

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Meditation

The gospel passage shows us a poignant moment in the usually fiery story of John the Baptist. Imprisoned for speaking truth to power, surely knowing that his death is approaching, John sends word to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Why does John doubt, when earlier he had so confidently proclaimed Jesus as God’s Messiah, the Holy One coming into our midst? Perhaps it is because even for John, the last and greatest prophet of the coming Holy One, the actions of Jesus defy expectation. John had announced, “his winnowing fork is in his hand!” But what he hears instead is that the deeds of power of the long expected Messiah are works of healing and justice.

The poetry of the prophet Isaiah is some of the grandest in scripture and beyond. In magnificent, rolling cadences, he lays out a vision of the renewal of all things at the coming of the Holy One into our midst. The prophet’s vision combines the powerful vengeance of the God who delivers the people, and the healing mercy of the God who mends all harms, among people and all nature.

While John may have been expecting a fulfillment of the promise of God’s vengeance in the coming of the Holy One, Jesus lives into the promise of healing and renewal. And so even John, his prophet, wonders, “Are you the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

 

Questions for Reflection

Who are the prophets – ancient or contemporary – who matter to you?

Have you seen signs – small, perhaps – of the healing and renewal promised in the prophets?

If you encountered the Jesus we see in this passage, what would you ask him to heal or make new?

 

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: Rev’d Elizabeth Randall    

Advent 2 12/04/22

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The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Second Sunday of Advent

… 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

Come, O come Emmanuel,

you are the way, the truth and the life;

Come, living Savior

come to your world which waits for you.

Hear this prayer for your love’s sake.

Amen.

 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

Poem: “Possible Answers to Prayer”                                                       By Scott Cairns

Your petitions—though they continue to bear

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.

Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent

entertainment value—nonetheless serve

to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes

recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly

righteous indignation toward the many

whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

 

Meditation

John the Baptist, the forerunner and herald of the Holy One who is coming into our midst, breaks into the opening scenes of each gospel narrative. Some of the details are similar in every account, and still, the emphasis is different. In the account from Matthew’s gospel that we read this year, a focus is on the religious professionals who come seeking the form of baptism without understanding their own need for repentance. The John the Baptist who confronts this “brood of vipers” envisions a winnowing of grain and a purifying fire that will begin the renewal of all things and the ushering in of a good and fruitful time.

The poem is addressed to just the sort of sanctimonious “brood of vipers” who believe their heritage and adherence to traditional practices are all they need in order to be right with God – or their idea of God. The real, the true God – as the poet envisions that being – is tolerant and perhaps even indulgent of human attempts to “repent” and practice an acceptable piety. But God’s passion is to break through the layers of sanctimony in order to shower radical love on the despised, and even on the self-satisfied.

 

Questions for Reflection

What does “repentance” mean to you? Have you ever had a meaningful experience of repentance?

Have you ever known someone who reminded you of John the Baptist?  What were your encounters with that person like? Were you changed by an encounter with this person?

Is there any moment in the poem by which you feel convicted or called to account?

How do you experience the love and acceptance, the fervor and adoration, of the God you hear speaking in the poem?

 

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: Rev’d Elizabeth Randall    

Proper 29 11/20/22

Link to PDF

The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King  

Proper Twenty-nine

… 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

Praise to you, God, for all your work among us. Yours is the vigor in creation, yours is the impulse in our new discoveries. Make us adventurous, yet reverent and hopeful in all we do. Amen. 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

 

Poem: “The Task”                          by Ruth Pitter (1897-1992)

Reverse the flight of Lucifer,

Hurl back to heaven the fallen star;

Recall Eve’s fate, establish her

Again where the first glories are:

Again where Eden’s rivers are.

Thrust back contention, merge in one

Warring dualities, make free

Night of the moon, day of the sun;

End the old war of land and sea,

Saying, There shall be no more sea.

With love of love now make an end;

Let male and female strive no more;

Let good and bad their quarrel mend

And with an equal voice adore;

The lion with the lamb adore.

Bow lofty saint, rise humble sin,

Fall from your throne, creep from your den:

The king, the kingdom is within,

That is for evermore, amen:

Was dead and is alive. Amen.

Meditation

Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church celebrates Christ the King. (The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year in 1970.)  Today’s gospel reading shows us two contrasting views of Jesus the King.  First we get the mocking, sarcastic inscription “King of the Jews” with its accompanying challenge to Jesus to prove his divinity by saving himself, followed by the thief’s sincere plea to Jesus to remember him in his kingdom.  This plea stands out for its eternal, hopeful perspective in the middle of an utterly depressing, scornful scene.  And today’s poem portrays what kind of kingdom the thief might be envisioning: one where the humble sinner rises and warring dualities (male/female, lion/lamb, good/bad) become obsolete.  Of course, we share kingship and queenship with Jesus, and the kingdom the thief imagines is within us here and now.

Questions for Reflection

What attributes do you imagine a divine king having?

In our bitterly divided world today, how do you imagine “warring dualities” merging into one?

How can the thief’s perspective and hope carry you through the darkness of our world?

As you think about the approaching Advent season and the humble birth of a king, what reasons for hope, faint though they be, can you intentionally keep alive?

 

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  

All Saints’ Observed 11/06/22

Link to PDF

The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost:

Feast of All Saints’ Observed

… 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

Praise to you, God, for all your work among us. Yours is the vigor in creation, yours is the impulse in our new discoveries. Make us adventurous, yet reverent and hopeful in all we do. Amen. 

 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

Poem: “The Painted Saint in the Wood”                                    by M. Lyster

There is a saint in love with God,

That I often sit and watch

In the wood; and I cannot believe him,

For I love what I see and touch.

 

Yesterday at this time

Some heavy carts passed by;

One peasant sang, as he passed,

A wandering melody.

 

I was sitting and watching the saint

Painted in white and red —

I shall not understand him

 

Meditation

Today’s poem presents to us something that is probably a familiar feeling: admiring from afar someone else’s devotion, thinking to ourselves, “That could never be me!”  At the same time, the poet’s perspective is probably intentionally naïve – “what I see and touch,” after all, is so often the way we are nudged (or even catapulted) into an experience with the divine.  This is the gift that the saints offer us: real lives in the world of touching and seeing that allow us to see and feel God’s presence.  We may recognize ourselves in this poet’s viewpoint – watching someone else’s faith life unfold – unaware that someone else is also watching, admiringly, our own attempts at a life of faith.

Questions for Reflection

Whose are the lives of faith that you admire today? Who embodies being ‘in love with God’ to you?

What physical images and feelings have meaning for you in your spiritual life?  How does the materiality of those senses connect you to the divine?

What are the ‘wandering melodies’ that accompany your most holy moments?

Have you ever felt ‘in love with God’? When?

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  

Proper 26 10/30/22

Link to PDF

The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost:

Proper Twenty-Six

 

… 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

Praise to you, God, for all your work among us. Yours is the vigor in creation, yours is the impulse in our new discoveries. Make us adventurous, yet reverent and hopeful in all we do. Amen. 

The Gospel                                                                                                             Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

 

Poem: “I Look at the World”                                                        by Naomi Shahib Nye(b. 1952)

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

 

Meditation

In the gospel readings this month Jesus keeps turning things upside down! He does that again when he urges Zacchaeus, a notorious tax collector, to come down from the tree he has climbed and meet him in person. Zacchaeus was publicly known (or at least rumored) to have become rich through corruption, but Jesus calls him by his name and said he would be a guest at his house that day. Those who heard this were scandalized that Jesus would be the guest of a sinner. Zacchaeus simply wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, perhaps out of curiosity. But Jesus goes further and invites him into a relationship, even inviting himself to his home!

The poem by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shahib Nye begins with a traditional Arab saying about hospitality to a stranger. The poet evokes in vivid terms what this depth of old-fashioned hospitality might be like, and states emphatically, “Let’s go back to that.” In this kind of hospitality, the host’s care and attention comes before ever knowing the details about who the guest is. Those details might get in the way of a new friendship!

Jesus’s reverse hospitality allows Zacchaeus the unexpected honor to be Jesus’s host. The people are shocked, but Jesus replied the Son of Man has come to seek the lost. That invitation from Jesus is always there for those of us who feel like we have lost our way. As his followers, we are called to practice the same hospitality to others.

Whether we are seeking a home for refuge or renewal, or have a home to offer, there is a place for us in this story.

Resources for Reflection

The Road Home

You may wish to listen to the short choral piece, The Road Home, by Stephen Paulus.

This is one of a number of lovely performance videos available:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjTTLLZKmws

The Way of Love
On the Episcopal Church website, The Way of Love offers a rich set of practices for Jesus-centered life: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love/

“If we listen closely, there is a spirit calling us to come back to ourselves, back to our purpose, back to something more meaningful.”

 

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

Proper 24 10/16/22

Link to PDF

 

The Still Point

A Time of Meditation and Reflection

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost:

Proper Twenty-Four 

… 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

Praise to you, God, for all your work among us. Yours is the vigor in creation, yours is the impulse in our new discoveries. Make us adventurous, yet reverent and hopeful in all we do. Amen. 

 

The Gospel                                                                                                                         Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

 

Poem: “I Look at the World”                                                        by Langston Hughes (b. 1901)  

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.

 

Meditation

When you hear the word justice, what do you think of ? Do you think of “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair,” from one dictionary definition? Or do you think of social justice — “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth” (United Nations) or “a communal effort dedicated to creating and sustaining a fair and equal society in which each person and all groups are valued and affirmed” (The John Lewis Center for Social Justice)?

One focuses more on justice as a quality in an individual, the other on justice in the social and communal sphere. They seem interrelated and connected, so does the distinction help, or is it misleading? For those who follow Christ, there are a multitude of scriptural references about justice that might fit one category or another, or both. (And thank goodness for all of those people who, like the widow in the parable, persistently bother us about injustices of all kinds!)

The poem by Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes is short and simple, yet powerful. As the poet sees the world through awakening eyes in a black face (perhaps asking the reader to do the same) and sees the “silly walls” built by oppression, he turns to himself and the work that needs to be done to break down these walls. The poem closes with an urgent call to his comrades to hurry and find the road with him!

In the times we live in, we may feel that basic injustices are increasing every day… or perhaps we simply have a clearer, fuller understanding of them. Either way, it’s easy to become discouraged. The parable tells us of the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” The epistle reading for the week may reinforce this with the words, “I solemnly urge you, proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. In your experience, how do faith and justice relate to each other?
  2. What might it mean to pray persistently for justice, as individuals and as a community?
  3. Where might those prayers lead… in relation to action, community, and formation?

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