Friday, February 27, 2009

Wednesday of Ashes

Ash Wednesday has come and gone, and this year, despite good attendance and wonderful fellowship it seemed at times the service would go to ashes…!

It began even as I entered the narthex amidst more chatter than usual in the sanctuary. Then came the news that one of the choir members had fallen ill! The lector for the day would have to take him home and would not be back on time for the reading! How unfortunate, thought I, scrambling to replace the lector seconds before the service !

As the processional hymn started all seemed well until the solemn Kyrie, great at rehearsal, was disrupted by what seemed to be a malfunction with the keyboard; it would not play and then would not stay in key so that the musician had to stop and start the song again…! That was awkward…and no fun for the cantor, but things happen…was my thought! Just then the brass processional cross came tumbling down on the communion rail, as the altar boy and deacon rushed to replace it! The cell phone rings coinciding with the crash gave the whole scene a B comedy movie feel …give me a break!!!!! Poltergeist? Coincidence? A comedy of errors ?

I fought the temptation of throwing in the towel on the service and quietly exiting via the sacristy into my getaway vehicle…but realized the escape route was blocked by a cadre of giggling altar boys! Distracted, and a bit frustrated, I decided to pray, aware that it can be a little awkward to do certain kinds of prayers in a formal Episcopal service. Fortunately, by that time, there probably was little left to lose as far as the aesthetics of the service and besides…the devil was going to be mentioned in the gospel anyway! Our common extemporaneous prayer did get the service back on track somewhat. It flowed well through the imposition of ashes, litany, communion to the final prayers, though not without distraction.

As the day has evolved, all the happenings on the Wednesday of ashes service seem to have a lesson about life and Lent we would be wise to heed. Spirituality can not always be tastefully choreographed into neat disturbance free slots nor a flawless dance of liturgy, readings and song….things happen!

Lent presents us with the challenge of prayer, study, works of mercy , closeness to Christ, all while balancing family, chaotic schedules, bills, work, home situations, crying children, sick loved ones, none of which lends itself to a picture perfect, flowing day of spirituality! Israel’s trek for 40 years to the promised land was certainly not a tasteful affair and Jesus own 40 days in the wilderness were marked by hunger, thirst and a non heavenly spiritual visitation!

Can I still find God, love and serve him without the mood music, bells and smells, solemnity, and the other trappings we associate with things spiritual in our tradition? Is my faith mature enough to see God past inconvenience, distraction and humanity? Is it God or those things I associate with worship which are a comfort to my soul?

These are all good questions for Lent prompted by our Wednesday of Ashes!



Monday, February 23, 2009


“Preach the Gospel always, if necessary, use words”.

This quote widely attributed to St. Francis seems to be very popular among Christians, usually in the context of how we do not have to be preachy or say much about our faith! We preach by example not by words! There is wisdom in these words, as long as we remember never to be silent when it is necessary to speak!

This message was powerfully conveyed at St. Luke’s celebration of the feast of Absalom Jones, the first black American Episcopal priest. A liturgical dance piece set to excerpts from sermons by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. touched on the serious problem of silence. In the end; said he , “we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.

Can I sit silently as those I love are suffering, confused , lost and hopeless? Can I silently watch prejudice and injustice? Can I sit idly without a word as a teenager is led astray ? Can I be silent when a child goes hungry, is abused or neglected? Can I say nothing as the unborn are killed?

Our command from Christ to bring “good news" the Spirit 's anointing for us to proclaim..."liberty to the captives”, our baptismal covenant urging us to “strive for justice", make it a necessity for our voice to be heard in prayer, in counsel, in protest, in objection , in question, in invitation.

Yes by all means...

Preach the gospel always...just don't forget to use words!!



Saturday, February 21, 2009

Old...New Friends

It can be so exciting to meet up with a friend you have not seen in long time, especially one with whom you have shared a lot of laughter and tears. It usually brings out the best of memories and the best of times, yet there is a note of caution when we rekindle an old friendship or perhaps rethink an old romance!

It should be obvious, neither of you is the person each remembers! Catching up just where you left off years ago is fine, for a momentary illusion, but is not the stuff conducive to long lasting relationship. Time, distance, different experiences good and bad times, have shaped the person you have become and are becoming …you are no longer the same, nor is your friend!

Some things are plain to see; those funny bifocals now replaced by tinted contacts, the mop of hair you fondly remember close cropped or styled, the change in perfume or the few extra pounds. There are other changes as well, less obvious, much more important to keep in mind! When we expect or imagine all to be the same, disappointment is seldom far away!

“Well he really turned into a *&%$..”, “she sure has changed"…are often the postludes to high school and college reunions or other occasion of encounter with those we once hung with, valued or loved.

Whatever happened ?...Life did! The boy crazy coed has become a mom to 4 girls, heaven help us! The party boi found religion after one too many heartbreaks, the boozer survived thanks to AA, career, responsibilities, children, bankruptcy, wealth, illness , death of loved ones, divorce, middle age, illusions and disappointments, survival and success… God…”all things are made new”…the stuff of living!

Successful friendships demand we take this truth into account and, even as we reminisce about good old days, make room to get to know the familiar stranger we call friend! Chances are we will discover a new friend in an old one …or prolong the illusion and risk losing them both.



Friday, February 6, 2009

God at Work?

+Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Many years ago I lived in a town where there was a very active church indeed. Outside this church was an enormous noticeboard. It seemed every moment of the week was taken up by activity and I have no doubt it was a very good church ...and loving parish. And yet that notice board used to worry me and it still does. It seems to me it speaks of an idea of the church which supposes that the church is about human beings doing things. When you looked at that church you would have thought, what a lot of things they do there. But I'm still wondering if anyone ever asked, does God do things here? It seemed to be just a slight risk that there was hardly any room in the week for God to find his way in among all these activities.

...When you come through that door … perhaps it should not be with the thought, what must I do. First be the thought what is Jesus doing here, how do I become part of it. Perhaps we should come into this church as we step into the sea or a swimming pool. Here I step into the ocean of Jesus praying, Jesus alive, Jesus mediating with the Father. Perhaps just as I learned to swim I can be carried along by the depth of the prayer with Jesus...

...We go out having listened to the word and celebrated the sacrament and we begin to hear something else in the world, we being to hear the words and the prayer of Jesus, we begin to see the love of Jesus around us. And we ask the same question we ask when we come through that door, how do I join in. How in he world around how do I cast myself into the flood of action that is Jesus' life and work with him in the world.

Who knows whether we will make a success of it or not. And yet that prayer that life goes on. St Paul is very realistic about this. He knows that some of what we build will not be worth saving in God's eyes. Some of it is in gold and silver and some of it is in hay and straw. Yet God's work goes on and God's foundation is never destroyed.

My hope and my prayer for this church and congregation is this: may it be a place about which people say, Jesus is alive there. ..And may the notice board outside never be too crowded. I know some of you want to fill this good activity for the sake of God. But I know too that you will want to leave space for God to work himself and God to be honored !

This is certainly food for thought as we approach Lent. It does seem to go against the grain! Many people would judge a church's sucess by numbers and activities offered forgeting that it is the activity of God's Holy Spirit which produces change and gives life! That is not as easy to quantify, nor post in an activities board.

Help us Lord not to be so busy that we schedule you out of our lives, hearts and your church!