From July 6-11 all furniture and all items located in the annex building are 50% off. The thrift shop also offers deeply discounted prices on clothing, household items, jewelry, toys, and much more. Proceeds from the Thrift Shop benefit Holy Trinity and a number of nonprofit organizations helping others in the community. Open 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday – Saturday. For more information, call 727-723-7631. Donations are always welcome.
Proper 7 (Tract 2) June 21, 2015
Let us pray. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the Earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
A four- year old boy was eating an apple in the back seat of the car, when he asked, “Daddy, why is my apple turning brown?
“Because,” his dad explained, “after you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came into contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, thus changing the molecular structure and turning it into a different color.”
There was a long silence. Then the son asked softly, “Daddy are you talking to me?”
On this Father’s Day, this story reminds me that as a father, I often tried to explain things to my children but they just did not get it no matter how hard I tried. As I look back, this was probably due to the fact that I just wasn’t explaining things on their level but rather on my level. Or maybe they just didn’t want to listen to me!
In Mark’s Gospel, today’s reading comes immediately after last week’s reading. You will recall that last week’s story was the parable of the mustard seed. After that parable, Mark says “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
Why do you suppose that Jesus spoke to them in parables? Because he was trying to talk to them on their level and he used parables to illustrate truths, stimulate thinking, and awaken spiritual perception. The people in general were not ready for the full truth of the gospel. When alone with his disciples Jesus taught more specifically, but even they usually needed to have things explained. Well, guess what? It may have helped but basically they still didn’t get it. Which leads us to today’s story.
On this particular day when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” He was referring to going across to the other side of the lake where he could be away from the crowds and get some rest. But he is so worn out and tired that he falls asleep in the boat. While he is asleep, a great storm comes up and the waves are beating into the boat and the boat is being swamped. Obviously the disciples are terrified. I am not a boating person, but I can just imagine how terrified they must be. In fact, when I think about this story, I have visions from the movie the Perfect Storm or the TV reality show The Deadliest Catch. I can definitely relate to how they must have felt.
As a result of their fear, they wake Jesus up and let him know that they are perishing. And they say to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceases and there is dead calm. He says to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
What do we learn from this story? One thing for sure is that it is enormously difficult to understand the divinity of Jesus Christ. Here we have the disciples who are seeing things on a first hand basis and still don’t understand what is going on. In addition they are getting private tutoring lessons directly from Jesus and they still can’t get it! Given their difficulty, how in the world are we going to understand Jesus and his divinity? To begin to peel the onion back on this, I believe there are three things that we need to do.
First, it is imperative that we read the Bible on a daily basis. And to further our understanding and try to get our arms around it, we should be involved in a Bible study on a regular basis, preferably weekly. How is it possible to understand something if you don’t study it? We do for everything else in life: our jobs, our classes if we are involved in taking a course, parenting, etc. So why wouldn’t we do it for the most important thing in the world – our salvation?
The second thing we must do is engage in daily prayer. I believe this is one of the most overlooked disciplines of our Christian life. Notice I said discipline. And that is what it must be – something that becomes part of us and our daily lives. If we don’t talk to God and listen for him to talk to us, how are we ever going to understand him and the divinity of Jesus Christ? My suggestion is to find a time of day that is convenient for you that you can live into every day. I personally find that first thing in the morning is the best before I get involved in the day’s activities. If you go to page 136 of the Book of Common Prayer, you will find a section entitled Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. This gives you the format for your individual devotion for any time of day.
Finally, we need to be regular in our worship. By regular I mean participating in at least one Eucharist per week. Worship cannot be something we do on Sunday morning when there is nothing better to do like play golf, go out on the boat, etc. It is impossible to be a stand alone Christian. It is imperative that we be in community and communion with our fellow Christians. Jesus does promise that when two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be in the midst of them.
I know this is basic stuff, but just like professional athletes we can get away from the basics and the result is never good.
If we stick to the basics of study, prayer, and worship, we will begin to “get it.” And then we won’t have to be like the four year old or the disciples and ask the question “are you talking to me?” because we will know that Jesus is talking to us.
The Second Sunday after Pentecost (B)
June 7, 2015
On a Sunday morning many years ago, several teenagers in the congregation I was serving presented a skit, very much like we do here at Holy Trinity on Youth Sunday. They were portraying various characters in simple costumes which included wearing decorated paper bags over their heads. The congregation seemed to enjoy this unusual presentation. In a sense we were breaking new ground involving the youth in these leadership roles.
The service ended, and in the next few hours I made my way into the neighborhoods taking Holy Communion to elderly parishioners in their homes. As I rang the doorbell at one particular residence, I was greeted by a long-time member who was very distressed. “Come in,” she said, “I have just heard the news.” I sat down on her couch and asked, “What news?” She took a deep breath, and with her voice shaking she recounted the story of five or six hoodlums who had burst into the church that morning. No one knew them because they were disguised, wearing bags over their heads. Everyone was shocked. Even the rector was powerless to do anything until they finally left the building.
Now I took a deep breath and slowly, calmly told her the story of teenagers who presented a skit this morning at church based on the Gospel passage for the day. They wore colorful bags over their heads as part of their costume because they were portraying characters in the skit. All this had been carried out with the rector’s blessing, and he participated in the skit.
So we talked for a while. I asked her how she had heard about the service. She said, “Oh, there were several phone calls!” We reviewed the people who had phoned her, and we could track where the fantastic version of the story had originated. When I left, we both had a plan to phone those parishioners and let them know what really happened at church that morning.
It was Edwin Friedman, a rabbi and consultant to many synagogues and churches who first taught me that anxiety travels like electricity through a circuit. Anxiety reaches someone, for example in a series of phone calls, and that next person can act as a transformer. They either increase the current or bring it down. The person who reduces the anxiety in a system is known as “a non-anxious presence.”
Think about your own family of origin. That is where most of us learned about emotions and anxiety. That is where you and I first were taught how to handle or manage anxiety. Rabbi Friedman’s teacher was Murray Bowen, who went to the National Institute of Mental Heath in the 1950’s. At the time people who needed help in the mental health system were isolated and treated apart from others. Bowen had a different vision. He observed people in their family system. He found that the way all of us function in our family system provides powerful insight into the way we can grow and develop. Out of his research, family systems theory was developed.
And the cornerstone concept in family systems theory is called differentiation of self. This is our capacity to develop solid self and to respond to others out of deeply held principles and values. Togetherness is important to all of us. As you and I seek togetherness, we also know our own mind especially when our position is different from others.
Let us use some of these family systems concepts as we look at the Gospel passage today found in Mark 3:20-35. Let us wonder whether anxiety is present in the people in this scene. First, look at the number of groups in the scene. The first is the crowd, and we see that this crowd is dominating the setting, making it difficult for people to function. That is often a characteristic of a crowd, pressing people together and making it difficult to navigate. Within that crowd and affected by the crowd, we find Jesus and his disciples. Then we find another group. It is Jesus’ family. They want to restrain Jesus. Why? Because “people” are saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” Whenever I hear the phrase “people are saying,” I pay close attention. I wonder who the people are and how they are forming their opinions.
Next we find the scribes or religious authorities who have come from Jerusalem. They are there to condemn Jesus, and they do so by claiming that his deeds of mercy, especially acts of healing, are being accomplished through the power of Satan. They are raising serious questions about our Lord’s integrity by these accusations.
With these multiple potential sources of anxiety, notice how Jesus handles himself. First, he addresses the scribes, speaking to them using stories and logic. He refutes their accusation soundly and solidly, using very few words. Jesus is simply being clear about himself. He is a teacher.
Next he addresses the question of family. Word has reached him again that his own family is seeking him. He clarifies his focus at this moment. He is engaged in teaching. Perhaps we can identify by remembering a time in our own life when someone in our family was insistent that we drop what we are doing and respond to their needs. How do we respond at moments like this? Jesus is not rejecting his family. He remains focused on his mission and focused on doing God’s work.
The Gospel reveals the way our Lord defines himself in the midst of a world that is pulling him in many different ways. He stays in touch with those around him, carrying out his work with calm, steady determination. Christians benefit from family systems thinking because it asks us to look at the whole system, not just individuals. It teaches us to observe emotional process between groups. The family unit is the basic unit for all of us. Murray Bowen, Edwin Friedman, and the various teachers of family systems theory encourage us to keep learning within our families. Family systems theory also teaches us that the person in the system we can change is ourselves.
I remember a time before a particularly difficult Diocesan Convention when the clergy were very concerned about conflict in the diocesan community. Many of us were afraid the diocese might split. A group of about twenty clergy were meeting with a family systems facilitator just before the convention weekend, and we sought his counsel. We told him about our concerns and asked him what we might do. He smiled and said quietly, “I would advise each of you to go home before the convention and call your mother. And if she is not living or not available to you, call someone in your family who has mothered you.”
I remember going home and chatting with my mother. She is the person in our extended family who calls us together and cares for us. Thanks be to God that our diocesan community made it through that difficult convention. Amen.
At the very heart of scripture is the image of the journey. Our Judeo-Christian heritage teaches us the story of the Exodus, how God called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and making the long, wilderness journey to the Promised Land. The New Testament introduces us to Saul, a devoted, zealous Jew, who experienced our Lord on the road to Damascus and was transformed. His new name: Paul, and he became the greatest Christian missionary of history. Paul made many, many journeys across the Roman Empire founding churches and writing letters to encourage the congregations under his care. And our Lord Jesus Christ left his home in Nazareth to go on an extraordinary journey, walking to the river to be baptized by John. Jesus went forth into the world to heal and preach and proclaim the Kingdom of God. His eyes were focused on Jerusalem, even though his disciples tried to persuade him not to go. There he was crucified and buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead.
Faith is a journey. The Risen Lord says to you and to me this very day, “Follow me.” He takes our hand and leads us forth on a journey of discovery, learning and experience. Christians throughout the centuries have referred to this process as “the way.” We walk on a road of faith with our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you and I explore the journeys described in scripture, we find that they are not a short, easy walk. The way – the road – is fraught with challenges. Moses leads the people through the wilderness as they complain about him. They cry, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” They rebel against him. While Moses seeks God’s vision on Sinai, the people are busy making false idols in the valley down below. Paul suffers great adversities in travel. In his second letter to the Church at Corinth, he writes, “Three times the Romans beat me with a big stick and once my enemies stoned me. I have been shipwrecked three times, and I have even had to spend a night and a day in the sea.” Think of our Lord. While he prays in solitude, his enemies plot against him. His disciples are often in conflict with one another and confused by his teaching.
So let us step back from the biblical picture of the journey and wonder, “How did they do it?” How did Moses, Paul and our Lord keep going? How did they stay steady to their mission? First and foremost, I believe they tell us through scripture that it was the abiding presence of God that sustained them along the way. The presence and strength of God was with them in the journey. Think of Moses in conversation with God along the way. Recall the image of the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire leading the journey. Think of Paul writing to the Christians at Rome, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Jesus repeatedly tells us that he and the Father are one.
The second component sustaining them and us in the journey is the strength of community. Jesus formed the community among the twelve disciples. Paul built community in his congregations. Moses turns to the elders on the long journey through the wilderness.
Today’s sermon is about a third element I believe sustained and strengthened Moses, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is vision. God’s vision was revealed to them along the way in the journey. God’s vision of the Promised Land kept Moses on track. God’s vision for spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles inspired Paul. And God’s vision of the unfolding Kingdom of God was ever-present with our Lord in his earthly journey.
In the first sermons I preached at Holy Trinity in 2013, I said God was calling us on a great adventure, and I used the image of climbing a mountain. Those who are highly skilled in mountain climbing tell us that on a clear day when you can see the summit there is always more progress in the journey. I think that analogy applies to our walk with our Lord. There is always more progress when we claim a vision for the future.
God provides the vision and calls us to bring it into reality. Listen again to the framework provided by today’s Old Testament lesson and Gospel. In the eighth century B.C.E., Isaiah has a vision in the temple in Jerusalem. He is cleansed – prepared for the journey – and knows that God needs someone to go on a journey. Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me.” These words need to echo in our souls. God is always calling us to go on a new journey. We are ready to say, “Here am I, send me.”
Now, listen with me to the Gospel from John as Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the darkness. Nicodemus is contemplating a journey. He comes under cover of darkness because he is afraid. He is cautious, questioning, and unsure. He wants to believe, but the idea of starting over again unnerves him. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.” It is difficult for Nicodemus to let go of all his attachments. As you and I hear God’s call to venture forth into the unknown, we too will wonder if we can let go of all that holds us back.
I believe God gives us vision in glimpses. As you and I are in conversation about the future of Holy Trinity, God will give us vision. Vision has the power to stir our hearts, souls and minds. Vision is the picture of the Kingdom unfolding in and through us. I am seeking the vision of God with all of you. I believe God will show us this vision over time. We must want to move beyond the present day, the present circumstances, and venture forth into the unknown. We must be ready to go on a journey, taking our Lord’s hand and walking with him.
The Day of Pentecost
May 24, 2015
This morning we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the coming of God’s Holy Spirit into the world. There are two stories in the New Testament describing the coming of the Spirit. The first is found in John 20:19-23. Here we enter a quiet room where the disciples have gathered behind locked doors in fear. The risen Christ comes to them, and he says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and side, and they rejoice in the risen Lord. Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus teaches them that the Spirit of God will bring forgiveness through them. The Spirit draws the community together in peace and in unity.
The second story of the coming of the Spirit is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-21. Here the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem where Jesus has instructed them to wait to “receive power from on high.” Suddenly there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues like fire rested on each of them. They spoke in many tongues – many languages – about God’s deeds of power. A crowd of people from many different countries and cultures gathered in the streets, heard the disciples, and understood them.
Today, let us wonder about this Holy Spirit of God, for she is the power of God – the strength of God – unleashed in the world. The Spirit is our guide, leading us forward into the unknown, as the Spirit led the disciples in their own day. The Spirit is the “counselor” of God, giving us insight and knowledge and leading us into all truth. The Spirit draws us together in unity. The Spirit helps each one of us grow “into the full stature of Christ.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 302)
Our Collect today emphasizes that the Spirit came to lead the disciples out into the world. They left the room where they gathered in fear behind locked doors. They left familiar places and patterns. The Collect for today says, “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit. Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The Pentecost story is not only about speaking many languages, it is a story about understanding many languages. This is the way of the church. We speak in many ways to share the Gospel. We sing in many voices to share the Gospel. Today I invite you to join me as we sing a portion of three Pentecost hymns. Please turn with me in the Hymnal 1982 to number 513. The author of this hymn is Carl Daw, an Episcopal priest who teaches at Boston University. When I first met him, he was a chaplain in Storrs, Connecticut. He has contributed numerous hymn texts to our hymnal. I selected this hymn because of its beautiful imagery and sensitive coupling of text and tune. You will see in the notes below the score that the tune was written by Peter Cutts. It happened that as the Standing Commission on Church Music was compiling our current hymnal, they wanted this tune in the collection. Carl Daw appreciated its beauty and wrote this beautiful text while he was a student at the School of Theology. Sewanee, Tennessee. Note the image of a dove:
Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigor of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might;
come, Holy Spirit, come.
You may remember the image of the dove from the story of Jesus’ baptism. Carl Daw also incorporated the image of the dove because of its murmuring voice. Specifically, he remembered the passage from Romans (8:22-27) that says the Spirit intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words.”
Next, let us turn to Hymn 507. This text is written by Michael Hewlett, and coupled with a tune by David Hurd, who is on the faculty at the General Theological Seminary. Hewlett was an Anglican priest who created more than 100 hymn texts. He wrote this one because he needed a Processional Hymn for Pentecost. As we sing stanza one, note the reference to the Spirit moving over the waters at creation. Let’s also sing stanza four:
Praise the Spirit in creation,
breath of God, life’s origin;
Spirit moving on the waters,
quickening worlds to life within,
source of breath to all things breathing,
life in whom all lives begin.
Tell of how the ascended Jesus
armed a people for his own;
how a hundred men and women
turned the known world upside
to its dark and furthest corners
by the wind of heaven blown.
Notice Hewlett’s image that one hundred men and women turned the known world upside down. That is a very important image for us today. At this 10:00 a.m. service this morning we number close to one hundred men and women. We come from various backgrounds, drawn together by the Holy Spirit. We, too, are empowered by the Spirit to proclaim God’s deeds of power in our own day. We, too, have the power to turn the known world upside down.
Peter’s speech in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about our work today. Peter explains to the crowd that the signs they are seeing and hearing are not due to intoxication. In this very hour, God is pouring out God’s spirit on everyone, from the youngest to the oldest. And this Spirit will lead them to dream dreams and see visions. The Spirit brings power, insight, strength, and purpose to everyone! We need everyone here to carry the word of God out into the community. We need everyone to share the Good News of Christ with others.
My sermon will close with one more text. Please turn to Hymn 521. The author of this hymn and composer of the tune is Howard Chandler Robbins, who served as the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and also served on the faculty at General Theological Seminary. His text speaks about the Spirit’s might, leading us to increase God’s Church, “in breadth and length, in depth and height…” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do the work of evangelism during this Pentecost season.
Put forth, O God, thy Spirit’s might
and bid thy Church increase,
in breadth and length,
in depth and height,
her unity and peace.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)
May 17, 2015
Ben Fountain was a successful lawyer. He had a position in a fine law firm, and was highly regarded by his colleagues. The author Malcolm Gladwell introduces us to Ben because Ben had a dream to become a writer. Gladwell’s article is entitled “Late Bloomers,” and he explores the fact that many people discover their “purpose” or find greater meaning later in life. Gladwell traces the development of Ben’s dream through the stages when he discusses the plan with his wife, they make shifts in their family and then finally when he launches. Ben says, “I was tremendously apprehensive…I felt like I’d stepped off a cliff and I didn’t know if the parachute was going to open.” We follow Ben as he faces initial successes – articles published, a novel written – and yet so many rejections. His day of success – climbing the mountain – comes 18 years later.
I begin this sermon today noting Ben’s journey because of his tenacity, and his discipline. He takes a dream (that exists inside of him), shapes and plans it with others in his life until it becomes a reality. This sermon is about dreams and discipline and tenacity. But it is also about transition. Transition is letting go of the way things used to be in order to embrace what they will become. Transition is a crucial and dynamic part of life’s experience. There are the transitions that are planned, for example in our education, our training, our work. Retirement is a transition we plan for. And there is transition that happens because life brings changes: in our job, a move to another area, a death or illness, the ending of a relationship. Life is filled with transition. It is what we make of it…what we do with it, that really matters.
For nearly thirty years now I have followed the work of William Bridges. He researches transition and lives it. His books have opened doors for me, and I usually keep enough copies of his first work on my shelf that I can hand it to those who might benefit from his wisdom. Bridges talks about transition in three stages: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning. He says that endings are going to happen. We need to claim them, and understand their meaning for us. Often we want to skip endings or try to soften them by holding on. When an ending is clear, have an opportunity for it to teach us. William Bridges uses the image of the row boat…and ending being the beginning of our rowing away from shore, we are still looking back at all that has come to a close. But eventually, he says, we row out into the middle of the body of water…sufficiently far enough away from shore that we can no longer see it. However, we are also too far from the other shore to see clearly where we are going. He calls this the neutral zone. It is a place of confusion, even chaos. A place where the normal markers of life are absent and it can be hard to navigate. I think of our Lord in the middle of the 40 days in the wilderness when I think of the neutral zone. It is a time of temptation. But we keep moving ahead, purposefully toward a new beginning. A new enterprise. A new promised land.
Already you can hear how scripture teaches us about transition. So many examples come to mind. Today I want to share with you two important examples that appear right now, here, at the end of the Easter season. The first is the title of this day. It is the 7th Sunday of Easter, and the Sunday after the Ascension. We celebrated Ascension during the week, remembering the day our Lord walked with his disciples out beyond the city and ascended into heaven in their sight. Before he left, he reminded them of their mission. He reminded them of the reason they were called. They were his witnesses in the world. He reminded them that the Holy Spirit would come to lead them into all truth, and to strengthen them in their ministry. And as he ascended beyond their sight, a heavenly messenger stood nearby and said to them, “Why do you stand there looking up into the heavens?” The very tone suggests it is time for the disciples to move on, to do the work he has given them to do.
The second transition is evident in the reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. Judas is dead. He leaves a gap in the leadership circle. The disciples gather intentionally to pray and to discern God’s guidance. Peter speaks and says one who walked with our Lord must become a witness to the Resurrection. In this midst of this transition we see, again, such deliberate purpose and strategy. We see prayer and discernment. We see tremendous trust in God to guide the transition, and to guide the twelve in the days to come. They cast lots – roll the dice – and Matthias is chosen.
Today I am so excited that we will recognize all the children and youth of our Sunday School, as well as the team of caring parishioners who give of their time and talent. I am particularly mindful of the transition coming in the lives of two of our faithful youth: Marisa Soriano and Olivia Garthwaite. They are graduating from High School and this fall, they will begin college. What an exciting transition. You teach us as you make this transition. While you will leave Holy Trinity, we celebrate that you will move on in your life. We look forward to hearing from you along the way.
The great Easter stories we have heard in this season of 50 days often speak of transition. The Passover and Exodus from Egypt. The story of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. The appearances of the risen Lord. God shapes and forms us in transition. It is not a time to fear, but a time to embrace. Let us be intentional in transitions, looking ahead with hope to a new beginning in life. Let us engage transition with purpose.