May 4, 2020: Look for the helpers
Hello, this is the week of May the third in the year of our Lord 2020. This past week, for some reason I thought of Mr. Rogers, who once said that his mother told him when he was a little boy and he asked her about scary things in the news and about difficult and painful things in the news. And his mother gave him some simple advice of how to handle that. She said to him, "Always look for the helpers." I have a sneaking suspicion that signs of God's continued watchful care, signs of hope, are in the helpers.
This past April 27, was the 100th birthday of one of those helpers.
Captain Tom Moore, retired Royal Air Force, celebrated his 100th birthday. But even of more significance than that, earlier in April, Captain Moore who had just had hip surgery and who was 99 at the time, began trying to raise money for the health system in Britain. And he hoped to raise about a thousand pounds by walking and asking people to give on a website. Well, he raised more than a thousand pounds. In fact, between the beginning of April and his birthday on April the 27th he raised more than $40 million. People from all over the world gave money to support and help the National Health System during this crisis. People from all over the world, from England itself. Mr. Rogers' mother was right. If you want to see the hand of God, even in the midst of the most difficult times, look for the helpers.
There were helpers who raised $40 million and there was a helper named Captain Tom Moore, retired Royal Air Force, who turned 100 last week.
There's a prayer on the website of the Episcopal church under the COVID-19 response that prays for the helpers.
Compassionate God, support and strengthen all those who reach out in love, concern, and prayer for the sick and the distressed. In their acts of compassion, may they know that they are your instruments. In their concerns and fears, may they know your peace. In their prayer, may they know your steadfast love. May they not grow weary or fainthearted for your mercy's sake. Amen. [EOW2, 93]
Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. God bless you and keep the faith. Amen.
April 28, 2020: Meeting Jesus
There's an interesting pattern in some of the stories of the resurrection. In Luke 24, for example, some of the followers of Jesus are traveling from Jerusalem itself to the small village of Emmaus a few miles down the road. A stranger comes up to them, walks with them and carries on a conversation with them and all along, the stranger was Jesus raised from the dead. They didn't recognize him. They didn't see that it was Jesus until, as the Bible says, their eyes were open as if they turned and actually saw him in the breaking of the bread and saw him alive.
A similar thing happened to Mary Magdalene in the 20th chapter of John's Gospel, where she is frantically running around looking for his body, and she comes up to someone she mistakes for the gardener in the cemetery. It's actually Jesus raised from the dead. But again, she doesn't recognize him until he speaks, "Mary," the way he always said it and he says though she stopped, and you know how we say did a double take, turned and saw that it was Jesus and cried out, "Rabboni!" That pattern may well be reminding us who hear those stories generations after it all happened that the risen Christ, that the Lord Jesus, that our God, is actually walking with us even when we cannot see, feel or sense his presence. Sometimes we just have to stop, be still, and turn and behold.
Psalm 46 says, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . Though the mountains be toppled into the midst of the sea, God is our stronghold.”
Be still and know that I am God.
In a prayer in our prayer book, says much the same thing:
Oh God of peace who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength. By the might of thy spirit, lift us we pray thee to thy presence where we may be still and know that thou art God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus said at the end of Matthew's Gospel, at the end of the messages about the resurrection, "I will be with you always, even to the end of the age."
God love you, God bless you and may God hold us all in those almighty hand of love.
April 20, 2020: God Hears Our Prayers
The late professor Walter Wink, in one of his books, says that "History belongs to the intercessors who believe and pray a new future into being." None of us know the mystery of prayer and how it works. I don't know the intricacies of prayer's mysteries. What I do know and believe, is that prayer makes a difference. It's not a magic foot. It's not a way to... It's not a form of wish fulfillment, but it is a way of bringing our deepest needs and concerns and our very life into our consciousness and into the very presence of God.
There's an interesting story in the eighth chapter of the Book of Revelation, just a few of the verses, where you have this swirling of events happening in history and a world in chaos and the text says, "There was silence in heaven for half an hour." Walter Wink and others looking at that say that in its highly symbolic language, the Book of Revelation may be trying to tell us that even in the midst of all the chaos of the world, the prayers of God's people actually make a difference. Because if you look at that small section of the first few chapters of chapter eight in Revelation, during that silence of heaven, it says that the prayers of the saints are mingled with the incense before the throne of God and that those prayers are taken right to God. God hears our prayers. God responds in God's way and we respond.
Prayer matters. It's not magic, but it makes a difference. There's a prayer in the prayer book that I thought you might like. It's a prayer for in times of sickness, for use by the sick person, but maybe it's a prayer that can apply to us all.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever shall be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. If I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words and give me the spirit of Jesus.
What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. God love you. God bless you and may God hold you and this whole world, the entire human family and the whole of creation in those almighty hands of love.
April 13, 2020: All Belong in this Family of God
It looks like the storm has passed over and the sun has come out, at least for a little bit. It is the day after, if you will. Monday in Easter week, Jesus has been raised from the dead. The miracle has happened. Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. When I served as a priest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina back in the 1970s, I learned about a custom that was old and venerable, that was part of the tradition of the Moravian community, of which there was a large settlement there in Winston-Salem. In old Salem, near the Salem church, near God's Acre, the Moravian cemetery there, early on the morning, before the sun rises, the Moravian community and other friends and well-wishers gather on Easter Sunday morning before the sun comes up. And there is the Easter sunrise service.
It begins with these words, “The Lord is risen. All hail, all hail, victorious Lord and Savior, thou hast burst the bonds of death,” and the music begins and the congregation processes from the church to the cemetery, to God's Acre. And when you see the Moravian cemetery, there are no mausoleums. There's no differentiation. They're dignified headstones, like in a military cemetery. Everyone has the same headstone with their name and information on it, but there is no differentiation, for the cemetery itself is a reminder of our equality before all mighty God who created us all.
Not many hours before Jesus sacrificed his life, and just a few days before he was raised from the dead, he said this to his gathered disciples, "Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be driven out, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself". God came among us in the person of Jesus to reconcile us with God and to reconcile us with each other. To help us and to show us the way to become the human family of God and to show us that, that is God's mission. That is God's dream and that is God's intention, and Easter is a reminder that together with our help and support, God's will, will be done.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu some years ago said this about that quote:
"God sent us here to help God realize God's dream of a new world and society, gentle, caring, compassionate, sharing.” ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’, God says. “Please help me to draw all.”
For there are no outsiders or aliens. All are insiders, all belong, black and white. Rich and poor. Young and old, male and female, educated, uneducated, gay, lesbian, straight, all belong in this family of God. This human family, the rainbow people of God, and God has no-one but you, and you, and you and me to help God realize God's dream.”*
Hallelujah. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Amen.
*Quoted in “The prodigal God”, in God at 2000, edited by Marcus Borg and Ross Mackenzie, Morehouse Publishing (2002). Used with permission.
April 6, 2020: His Eye is on the Sparrow
There is a prayer that begins the Good Friday liturgy that may be perfect for this time. It's found on page 276 in the prayer book and it prays, "Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this, your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross. Who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen." That may well be a prayer for us this Holy Week.
"Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this, your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed." Over the years that I've prayed that prayer, almost some 40 years now as a priest, I've often asked myself the question, who's the family? Who's the family we are asking God to behold? Is it the family of faith? Those who have been baptized and accepted and follow Jesus as savior and Lord? I think that's true. But is it bigger than that? And during this Holy Week, in the midst of COVID-19, I believe we must pray it, praying it bigger than praying for ourselves. I have a feeling this prayer is for the entire human family of God.
John 3:16, speaking of Jesus giving his life as an act of love on the cross, says, "God so loved the world." Not just the church, not just his faithful followers, not just any particular nation or any particular race or any particular ideology or religion. No, no, no. "God so loved the world that he gave his only son." The family in the prayer, let it be the human family of God. Let it be all of us. Asking God to behold us now. To behold us in these moments. To behold those who are sick, who suffer, who die. To behold their families and loved ones. Behold all who care for them. Behold us all.
When I hear that word behold, praying God behold this your family, particularly during this Holy Week, which may be one of the toughest times during this pandemic, I remember that old song that says this, "Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home when Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is he? His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me." And then the next verse says, "Let not your hearts be troubled. His tender word I hear. And resting on his goodness, I lose my doubts and fears. Though by the path he leadeth, but one step I may see, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. Oh, I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me."
God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all, the entire human family of God, in those almighty hands of love.
March 30, 2020: Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself
Last week I was reading in Matthew 22 and I noticed something that I hadn't seen before. Matthew 22 is Holy Week, it's smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. The conflict in Jerusalem is escalating. Jesus knows this and it's at that point that he's tested by, clearly someone who probably was trying to entrap him. He knows that. It was the guy who came up and said, "What is the greatest law in the entire legal edifice of Moses?” And Jesus responds, drawing on what Moses taught in the Hebrew scriptures, in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, "You shall love the Lord your God with all yourself, all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." And then he says, "On these two, hang all the law and the prophets."
It hadn't occurred to me that when Jesus said that, he was actually talking about how you live in an uncertain period of time. About how you live in any period of time. But how you navigate in particular in uncertain territory and tough territory. He was in uncertain territory in Holy Week, and it was tough territory. It wasn't a pandemic. It was a passion. And he said, "Love God with everything you got. Love your neighbor in the same way. Love yourself."
And so I decided last week that I was going to make sure every day I did three things very simply, or at least thought about them. How can I love God today? Very simply, nothing complex. How can I love my neighbor, others? How can I love myself? And it occurred to me that just sometimes asking the question, you may or may not have an answer, but you may figure out an answer for that day. That sometimes just asking the question can help in times of uncertainty, in days of pandemic, and in times when the days are just going to keep going on and on and on.
How can I love God today? How can I love my neighbor today? How can I love Michael today? One thing I've started doing in my prayer list, is keeping a list of groups of people to pray for. And I've been praying for first responders, folk who work in hospitals, the folk who keep the grocery stores open, the pharmacies, police officers, firefighters, ambulance folk. People we can't even see. People who keep the Internet going. I mean all sorts of folk. And so, I would offer this prayer for all of them.
All of the people we don't see, but who help to keep life livable, even in time of pandemic.
Keep watch dear Lord with those who work, or watch, or weep. And give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ. Give rest to the weary. Bless the dying. Soothe the suffering. Pity the afflicted. Shield the joyous. And all for your love's sake. Amen.
Love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself, day by day.
God love you, and you keep the faith.
March 23, 2020: Pandemic
Hello. This past week I came across two passages, one from the Bible, one a poem. The one in the Bible, I was just reading through parts of Matthew's gospel and was reading through the Sermon on the Mount and got to chapter seven where Jesus says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
In this time when we are all called to physically distance from each other, physical, not social, but physical isolation for the good of each other. I'm mindful of the words of Jesus when he said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Maybe that's a frame for having to live in a time of physical isolation.
The other thing that I came across was a poem. It was in an email from Thistle Farms, a ministry that many of us know, led by Becca Stevens. It was a poem called Pandemic*. It's by a poet named Lynn Ungar, who's also an ordained minister, and in the poem she says:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has become clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
Have a blessed week. God love you and keep the faith.
*Used with permission of the author.