Holy Trinity recently sent 700 medication bottles to Matthew 25 Ministries (M25M), in Blue Ash, OH. The bottles will be sent around the world as part of M25M’s charitable medical support to those in need. This is Holy Trinity’s third shipment this year. Thank you to all Holy Trinity members and others from the community who are participating in this worthy outreach effort. Empty, clean prescription bottles may be dropped off on Sunday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 3200 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, in the Narthex of the church. For more information, contact Rogers Howard.
THRIFT SHOP SALE – July 27-Aug 1 – 60% off everything
Proceeds from the HT Thrift Shop benefit the church and a number of nonprofit organizations helping others in the community. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon-Sat. For more info, call 727-723-7631. Donations are always welcome.
Holy Trinity will host the Prayer & Share Potluck Supper, Fri, July 24th, 6:30-8 p.m., in the Parish Hall. Every 4th Friday, we gather together to meet, eat, share and pray. There is always lively discussion, both thought provoking and very spiritual, ending with prayer for ourselves and for others. We welcome all adults and high school youth. For more info, contact Charlie Kunath, firstname.lastname@example.org.
THRIFT SHOP SALE – Christmas in July – 80% OFF!
All holiday items – any holiday – will be 80% off. Proceeds from the Thrift Shop benefit the church 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.
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 28, 2015
This week, a cluster of events in the life of our nation stirred many people’s feelings. We watched as nine families grieved after their loved ones were shot to death by a racist young man during a meeting at “Mother Emanuel” A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. We learned that the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to legalize same-sex marriage. We heard increased concern about Isis terrorism spreading abroad and possibly here in the United States. Events like these stir feelings. I heard people speak about their anger, compassion and fear. And in response to these feelings, I heard more “God talk.” “God talk” is when we try to make sense of the events that take place in our lives and in the world around us in terms of our understanding of God. In our Bible study here in Holy Trinity on Wednesday morning, we asked the question, “Does God cause horrific events?” The conversation was sparked by the death of an 81 year old man killed by a lightning strike when he was taking a walk in his neighborhood last week in Largo. We came to the conclusion that God does not direct lightning to kill anyone, any more than God causes other accidents which take people’s lives. God allows things to happen in the natural world because there is freedom in creation. God also gives us freedom to make decisions.
“God talk” is important for us. It is one of the ways we seek to understand God amid the perplexing circumstances of life. When I am pondering a particularly difficult set of circumstances, I often ask the question, “Where is God in this event?” That question can lead us to think about the incarnation. That is a theological word that signifies God coming among us, being in our midst. God comes among us in our Lord Jesus Christ who experiences the suffering of the world firsthand. God is among us in the midst of those who suffer. God is among us in the midst of those who seek justice. God is among us amidst a world terrorized by hatred. God is among us amidst the swift and varied changes in the world today.
This week I rediscovered a book entitled We Are Theologians by Fredrica Harris Thompsett, who is professor of historical theology at the Episcopal Divinity School. She presents a strong argument that the people of the Episcopal Church are called to be theologians. All of us need to learn and grow through “God talk.” That means we think carefully and thoughtfully when speaking about God. You realize how important this is. No doubt you have heard someone make a theological statement without thinking. Like the person who hears about the death of a child and says, “It was God’s will.” Another person might say that something is “against God’s will.” Such quips are often painful to the listener. They are spoken without deeper reflection or without careful study to understand the mysterious ways of the Almighty God. This is one of the reason we are called to be theologians.
So let’s spend just a few more minutes pondering the theology of the incarnation. God comes among us in the form of a servant named Jesus of Nazareth. God comes to bring love, peace and healing in the midst of a world filled with suffering, division, and illness. God stands in the midst of our world, beckoning to us to serve as God’s hands, heart and feet in the world today. God calls us to listen carefully, and by listening, to understand other’s pain and suffering. When we stand with our Lord among those who suffer, our talk about God begins to sound very different. No longer are we making empty pronouncements about God’s will. Now we are speaking the language of love and peace and healing.
Our Gospel passage today, Mark 5:21-43, describes our Lord as he stands in the midst of pain and listens carefully. He is called by Jairus, the head of the synagogue, to come because the man’s twelve-year-old daughter is gravely ill. Immediately our Lord goes with Jairus. But the crowd presses in on him. So many are seeking his love, peace and healing. A woman in the crowd has suffered from hemorrhage for twelve years. She has sought many physicians but has not found healing. She realizes that Jesus is the incarnate Lord, and she reaches out to touch his cloak. Immediately she is healed. Our Lord stops suddenly. He is scanning the crowd because he knows someone was healed. He wants to converse with her. He wants to understand her pain and suffering. He wants to fully share God’s peace, love and healing.
Scripture often presents contrasts for us to ponder. Notice the contrast between Jairus, the head of the congregation, and this woman. She is an outcast, rejected by the community because of her illness. Our Lord is certainly mindful of this dynamic when he pronounces that she is healed.
Upon completing this interaction, he makes his way to Jairus’ home and finds the young girl seemingly lifeless. We hear the Aramaic text, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl get up!” And the girl wakes and walks.
Notice our Lord’s single-minded sense of mission evident in this passage. In the midst of many demands, he is steady and dedicated. Some who surround him do not understand him. They are dismissive, making quick judgments about him. The disciples are dismissive as Jesus looks for the woman in the crowd. The people from Jarius’ house try to dissuade him from coming. The mourners laugh at Jesus when he says, “The child is not dead, but sleeping.”
Jesus stands in the midst of people who are in pain. Jesus stands in the midst of a world racked by terror and fear. Jesus stands in the midst of those who seek justice. Jesus comes among us as the source of new life and new hope. God among us.
I close this sermon with a story told by Arnold Mindell in his book Sitting in the Fire. The story comes from war-torn Belfast, where a terrorist tells the story of witnessing his father’s murder at the hands of extremists. He was only a boy at the time. He rode in the ambulance with his father, who leans towards him and says, “Forgive the killers.” The child could not. He grew up and joined a terrorist organization, devoting his life to revenge. The book describes how this terrorist meets a priest in a group brought together to seek peace. The priest is initially shocked to hear such vengefulness. But the two spent more time listening to each other, and priest opened up, hearing the pain deep in the heart of the terrorist. Slowly the priest became more compassionate. In the midst of this transformation, the terrorist admitted for the first time in his life that he did not want to kill any more. Instead, he wanted to devote his life to teaching children how to resolve their problems.
I am praying for us and for all Christians today to discover a new level of courage. It takes courage to stand with our Lord in the midst of a broken world. It takes courage for us to stand with those who seek justice or are filled with fear.
Let us follow our Lord into the heart of the world.
Third Sunday after Pentecost (B)
June 14, 2015
It’s that long awaited email from your son or daughter or grandchild at college, short and to-the-point:
Dear Mom and Dad.
I can’t believe my junior year has ended. I turned in my last exam and
pulled an all-nighter to write my last paper. I can’t wait to get home for
the summer. I even have a lead on a summer job. By the way, I’ve become a
Buddhist! I’ll tell you more when I get home.
Your son or daughter.
How do you respond when your adult children or grandchildren choose a different direction in their spiritual life?
Over the years, parishioners have spoken to me about their adult children or grandchildren who were raised in the Episcopal Church. They frequently begin by describing how involved these children were in the past, worshipping on Sunday, going to Sunday School, becoming acolytes or singing in the choir. Then there is a long pause…and they tell me that these same children have wondered off to another denomination, dropped out, or even joined another religious faith.
How do you respond? I would like to explore this question this morning, thinking about the very nature of the young adult period of life. Let’s wonder how we as Christian understand other religions, and let’s relate the questions to our own spiritual journey.
Many of us who have a meaningful connection with the church today remember a period when we wandered away, perhaps searching for an alternate religious experience. I am one of those people. I remember travelling to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City with friends in my teenage years. We arrived at the Cathedral just before closing, and as we sat in the nave, a Buddhist chant group was meeting in one of the side chapels. I remember peering down that long nave to the high altar, seeing the cross, and hearing the sound of eastern chant. My soul was on fire!
It was not too many years later that I discovered Thomas Merton’s writings, especially the book Mystics and Zen Masters. Merton, a Trappist monk, had a passion for helping western Christians rediscover the interior spiritual life, and close to the end of his own life, was inspired by eastern religions.
During this period of young adult life, I walked away from my parent’s ways and explored the world, searching to discover my own understanding of God. Many young adults turn to this quest at the same time when they are separating from their parents.
Let’s add another dimension to the picture. There has been a huge change in our religious culture in this country over the past fifty years. Many other religious groups have been established and are growing, including Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Zorastrian. This leads me to the work of Diana Eck, who has directed the pluralism project at Harvard University since 1991. In her book, Encountering God, she names three ways Christian view other religious faiths in our changing American culture. These three positions are exclusive, inclusive and pluralist.
The exclusive Christian hears about religious diversity and quotes scripture, for example John 14:1-6, where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For this believer, being a follower of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. All other belief systems are considered inferior.
An inclusive Christian will say other religions are not evil or wrong, they just represent partial truth. This person believes God hears the prayers of all people, but Christ represents the ultimate expression of the Godhead.
The third category Diana Eck names is pluralist. The Christian pluralist remembers the hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.” This person no longer speaks about our God because that statement is too limiting. Instead, he or she experiences the transcendence, wonder, and expansiveness of God. Many religions are not a problem for the pluralist; they are simply an expression of the mystery of God, “who is beyond our understanding.”
No matter where you find yourself on the continuum from exclusive to pluralist, I believe God is calling Christians to understand and respect people who follow other religions. You and I witness far too many tragic examples of religious conflict in the world today. We can make a positive difference in our own community by listening and learning from others. Holy Trinity has a history of encouraging dialogue with other religious groups. We will build on that history in the coming years.
So let’s go back to the email I composed at the beginning of this sermon and to the questions I raised about our adult children and grandchildren. How will we respond as they wander away from the church and go in new directions?
I have enjoyed listening to parents and grandparents who say they continue talking about their own faith in a steady quiet way with their adult children and grandchildren. This is called “witnessing.” However, these Christian understand such witnessing is offered in order to encourage conversation, not put pressure on the younger generation. And I ask you to think about this Gospel passage for today, Mark 4:26-34. Let us think about the seeds that have been planted in our young adults. There is a wonderful mystery about seeds growing and developing. The passage says we wake and sleep, and God brings about the growth of the seed. So stay in touch with your adult child or grandchild. Find out what is important to them by listening. The only time I could imagine being more directive or forceful in my relationship with a young adult is if I fear they have become involved in a cult or a closed community that distorts their thinking and puts them or others at risk.
Perhaps you and I will grow in faith through these fascinating discussions with our young adults. Maybe these conversations will encourage faith to grow inside of us.