Saturday, December 15, 2018

Gaudete Sunday/Greening of the Church TOMORROW

Join us
Sunday December 16
Gaudete Sunday

11:00 a.m.—Holy Eucharist

We will need volunteers to help us with the Greening of the Church for Christmas following Mass

Thursday, December 13, 2018

John Anderson's sermon from Wednesday night Advent Mass

Sermon for Wednesday December 12, 2018

By John Anderson

The Pharisees in this story cared nothing for this woman. They didn’t care that she be reformed and given a new chance at life.  They cared nothing for the situation in her life that may have led to her instance of committing adultery.  They probably didn’t even know her name. And neither do we. Some old traditions declared that she was Mary Magdalene but there is no biblical evidence to prove that.  Whoever she was, this woman was accused of adultery and these men wanted to use her to their advantage.

Some groups of Pharisees and scribes were threatened by Jesus and the crowds he was stirring up. They often looked for opportunities to back him into a legal or theological corner so they might find a charge against him.  This woman could be the perfect tool.  So they drag her into the temple while Jesus was teaching a crowd. 

These men knew the dilemma for Jesus. If he agreed that the woman should be stoned to death he would betray his reputation as “a friend of sinners.”  If he insisted that the men let her go he would be accused of blatantly breaking God’s Law. These lawyers felt they had Jesus where they wanted him.  They recite the law of Moses which condemns an adulterer to be put to death.  They wanted his opinion. They press him for an answer. Jesus doesn’t respond right away. 

Oddly, he bends down and begins writing with his finger on the ground. Tradition has long taught us that he was perhaps writing a list of the sins of these men accusing the woman. Some even suggested that the man who committed adultery with the woman was among her accusers.  Fascinating!

But there was another custom in the ancient Mediterranean culture I find just as fascinating. For one to drop down and start writing in the dirt while being pressed with questions, was an act of disengagement, an act of refusal to participate in the line of questioning. It was like Jesus was saying, “I am not going to play this game with you.”  They kept pushing.

Finally Jesus rises and utters the classic line that echoes still though history, literature, art, ethics, politics, pop culture, playgrounds, boardrooms…  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  KJV (I like the King James wording).  Then he bends down again and resumes writing in the sand.  It was the first century version of the “mic drop.”  Jesus was done with that conversation.  And the Pharisees walked away one by one.

I love this story for many reasons.  

Jesus is so clever. We like to see Jesus at work in these kind of significant teaching opportunities.

It reminds us that we are all sinners; it invites introspection and humility. It helps us to be merciful in our own judgments of others. At another time he told people to remove the logs from their own eyes before pointing out the speck in others’ eyes (Matthew 7:5).

It teaches empathy and thoughtfulness.  It helps us see people as human beings with histories and contexts with the ability to grow and change, not tools to be used to advance one’s plans, motives, arguments…

This story demonstrates how Jesus did not reject the Law of Moses but reinterpreted it. He injected mercy into the justice and legal system.  He did this at other times when he broke the Sabbath laws about healing (Luke 13; Mark 3…).

This story ends with a wonderful challenge.  When Jesus sends the woman on her way he tells her not to sin again.  He wasn’t being sarcastic.  He wasn’t taunting her.  He meant it. This woman had just experienced a first hand account of the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  Her life had been spared.  When people experience profound grace their lives are changed.  With Jesus’ love and encouragement people can go on to be saints, or at least come close.  Did this woman sin again? Probably. But perhaps not the sin of adultery, which is likely the sin Jesus had in mind.   

And when the Pharisees went on their way I believe Jesus had hopes for them, as well. Perhaps some of those Pharisees who walked away were thinking “I have never considered that point of view. Jesus makes a good point.”  We tend to always see the Pharisees as the bad guys, the hypocrites (the Bible surely presents them that way).  And we assume that Jesus thought that way, too. And we assume that Jesus liked winning arguments against them and putting them in their place.  

But maybe that is not the way it was.  It is more likely that Jesus loved those Pharisees as much as he loved the woman.  And it wasn’t about winning an argument with them that mattered. It was his hope that they might learn something. It was his hope that they, like the woman, would be transformed by his teachings.  

Jesus always said what he needed to say, and a lot of people didn’t like it. But many did listen, and continue to listen today. I want to believe that it was his hope that all who heard him would be transformed, saved, healed.  It was his hope that all who heard his voice would become merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8). 

May we be transformed by the words he spoke.  May we be merciful in our judgments of others as we examine our own lives.  Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The week of December 10

Join us this week at St. Stephen’s

Wednesday December 12
6:00 p.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/ John Anderson, preacher
James Mackay, music
Supper afterward at a local restaurant

Sunday December 16  3 Advent/Gaudete
11:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
Children’s Chapel
Coffee Hour following

12:00 pm - Greening of St. Stephen’s

12:45 – Vestry

Thank you to those who have given their pledge for 2019. If you have not done so yet, please send in your pledge or drop it in the offering plate

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sandy Holbrook's sermon from this morning

Second Sunday of Advent - Year C
December 9, 2018

By Sandy Holbrook

Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Psalmody:  Luke 1:68-79 (Canticle 16 – The Song of Zechariah)

Think – for just a moment - about all the messages you receive in a single day.  Phone calls and voice mail messages, email and text messages, television and radio, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and a lot of junk “snail mail” and, if we’re lucky, an occasional hand written note from a “real” person!  And there are personal interactions – face-to-face messages.  We get messages from family and friends, doctors’/dentists’ offices, co-workers, wrong numbers, strangers of all kinds:  solicitors, vendors, advertisers – many of them robo callers or email spammers – to mention only a few.   Often it seems like we are on message/ messenger overload.

Consider how these messages affect our day, our week – sometimes even our lives?  Certainly we welcome some of these messages but others - not so much.   Deciding which ones are important is a challenge.  Which ones do we welcome and which can we disregard – at least for the moment?  Plenty of the messages or the messengers themselves are annoying - often messages we don’t want, carried by messengers we prefer not to deal with. 

That may be our response to the messages and the messengers in today’s OT and gospel readings.  In the OT lesson we hear that the messenger “is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (a quick Google check tells me that fuller’s soap is a harsh process used to clean wool before it’s made into a garment).  Such a messenger doesn’t sound like one we’d welcome eagerly. 

The messenger and message in today’s gospel are not all that appealing either:  John the Baptist is a unique and intriguing figure, but not one we’d probably welcome into our home or even on the street.  As we know from other gospel passages, John was a solitary figure (“a voice of one crying out in the wilderness”), known for his unusual clothing and diet with a message focused on sin and repentance – not usually popular topics because they challenge us to change – that might require some of the refiner’s fire or that fuller’s soap!  Most of us prefer - especially at this time of year - the popular but often glib messages such as “Merry Christmas” or” Happy Holidays.”

While I was reflecting on today’s scriptures and thinking about messages and messengers, I did so with Fr. Jamie’s sermon last Sunday as a backdrop.  He reminded us then that Advent is a time to be watching and waiting, a time to be alert to the Kingdom of God breaking in upon us.  One way to be alert to that possibility, I realized, would be to pay attention to messengers and their messages with a watchful eye to which ones might be signs that the Kingdom of God is near.   That means some careful and discerning attention because God’s Kingdom breaking in upon us may not come through messages we want to hear or be delivered by messengers we welcome--or even ones we recognize. 

Our challenge in Advent then is to try to discern which ones are God’s Kingdom breaking through the rest of the “message noise” and messenger overload?  As I noted earlier, today’s OT and gospel lessons underscore the truth that we can’t assume annoying, challenging or unpleasant messages are ones we can just ignore or dismiss with confidence as clearly not God’s Kingdom breaking in upon us.

Our lessons today also remind us that the messengers and their messages may be more than unpleasant; they may be harsh (like that fullers’ soap or the refiner’s fire) and so, the messages may be hard to “hear”  especially if we harbor specific expectations – perhaps gentle or peaceful ones - about what God’s Kingdom breaking into our world will look like.  At times when we are most certain that a particular message or messenger could not possibility be a sign of God’s Kingdom coming near, it’s probably wise to pause and reconsider.  Even when they push us into uncomfortable realizations about our human failings and shortcomings, we need to be alert to their possibility. 

So Advent calls us to be alert, to pay attention to the messengers and messages in our lives, to be open to the ways in which the Kingdom of God may be breaking in upon us through the messages and messengers we encounter – especially the unexpected and seemingly irrelevant ones.  And sometimes it may take some reflection to recognize these experiences for what they are. 

Early this past week I decided, a bit to my own surprise, that I wanted to watch the state funeral for #41– President George H.W. Bush.  Part of the draw for me was its location at Washington’s National Cathedral, a place I have visited a time or two and which is – after all – an Episcopal Church but claimed in certain ways by our country as the National Cathedral.  But something else – not so easily defined – drew me to watch as well.   I confess I remember almost nothing about #41’s single term as our country’s president (that time is distant in my rearview mirror) and my political party leanings don’t align with those of #41.  Nevertheless, I felt drawn to watch -- and watch, I did, fixated through the 2 – 2/1/2 hour service.  And I was deeply touched by it all – so much so that I listened and watched parts of it online later and that surprised me, too.  I’m rarely a “rerun” person.

Beyond the initial experience I found myself reflecting on the service often over the next couple of days – and it is still with me at particular moments.   I think I was most touched by hearing the qualities of President Bush that so many have acknowledged especially in the aftermath of his death – honesty, decency, courage, kindness, loyalty, concern for our country and its people, humor, devotion to family and friends.  In some strange but profound way I was refreshed by the reminders about his 1000 points of light and his hope for a kinder, gentler nation.  But only in retrospect did I realize that those couple of hours were, in fact although perhaps only for me, an experience of God’s Kingdom coming close, breaking through the acrimony, ugliness, self-interest and lack of compassion that are so pervasive in our world these days.

That message was a significant reminder for me that meaningful but unlikely messages and messengers often come into our lives unexpectedly.   But it’s easy to miss experiencing them as God’s Kingdom breaking through to us.  I know at least from news commentators that many people found the funeral service touching and impressive, but probably not many would describe it as the Kingdom of God breaking in on us.  But for me it was and being able to describe the experience that way encourages me to be more alert and watchful for other messages and other messengers that may bring God’s Kingdom close.  In the words of poet Mary Oliver:  “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Advent offers us a chance to practice the work of paying attention.  So as we move through this Advent season, be watchful, take note of your messages and messengers, pay attention even when you are tempted to avoid or overlook them.   Be alert to the possibility that they are signs of God’s Kingdom breaking into the common places of our daily lives.   May each of us be reassured that God’s Kingdom is near at hand and may we know its reality breaking in upon us in new and meaningful ways.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December 5 Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Join us Wednesday December 5 for Holy Eucharist Annette Morrow will be preaching on Our Lady of Guadalupe (whom we will be commemorating).

A birthday supper for Annette will follow at India Palace.

Holy Eucharist at 6:00 p.m.

Supper at India Palace at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The week of December 3

Join us this week at St. Stephen’s

Wednesday December 5   
6:00 p.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/Annette Morrow,  preacher
James Mackay, music

7:15 p.m. Annette Morrow birthday supper at India Palace

Friday, December 7   
Fr. Jamie’s day off

Sunday December 9  2 Advent
11:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Children’s Chapel
Coffee Hour following

12:45 – Adult Ed with James Mackay

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Congratulations to Michele and Paul who were married at St. Stephen's today.