Holy Trinity Anglican Church

Reflection

Contagion – Reflection for 15 March 2020

The recent Coronavirus outbreak has introduced a number of very interesting questions regarding the way we do church. 

One way that we can look at the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling the Law and the Prophet’ is from the perspective of contagion. The purity laws of the Torah describe a contagion of death and impurity. For example, one becomes unclean or impure by touching a dead body. In contrast, Jesus brings a ministry in which life and purity are contagious. When Jesus touches a dead body, instead of becoming unclean from the presence of death, Jesus transmits life and the dead are raised. This is part of what we proclaim when we declare that in the Resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death.

As we look back to the current situation with Covid-19, we hear that on average the virus spreads from one infected person to 2 or 3 others. This results in exponential spread and our current social distancing efforts seek to reduce or slow this rate of transmission. 

I wonder what would happen if we started to look as well at the contagion of Hope with which we are entrusted in the same way. What if we sought out to transmit a contagious hope to two or three people, a hope that they would transmit to two or three additional people. Perhaps we would have to look at the ways that we have socially distanced the hope of the Gospel from our own daily lives, the ways the we have been infected by idolatry, fear, sin, and the culture of death that surrounds us. We might have to even look at the way we have distanced ourselves from those who most need to be infected by hope.

Who will you infect with Hope this week?

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Hearing God – Reflection for 8 Mar 2020

   “Now the LORD said to Abram…” While I marvel at the faith of Abram at picking up and moving according to the call of God, I am even more impressed by the clarity with which Abram hears God. I would like to think that if I really knew what God was saying, following Him would be much easier. Indeed, I have great faith in God, I just doubt that I hear Him well. How do we hear God and know that what we are hearing is God?

   This is the practice of discernment, discerning the voice of God from the myriad voices that bombard us, distract us, and tempt us. Discernment begins with knowing the character of God through the Word of God. God has chosen to reveal Himself in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus. Many of us have allowed our primary understanding of Scripture to come second hand from teachers, preachers, authors, or even Google. All of these can be good or useful, but they are not a substitute for reading the entirety of the Bible. Within the Biblical narrative, we are challenged to know and explore the full personality of the Living God instead of the thin caricature that we often settle for in an attempt to simplify and control God. There are a number of reading plans that take us through the full Bible, and the Daily Office lectionary will take us through the majority of the Bible in a year. The first step in learning to discern the voice of God in our own lives is to know the Word of God that is given to us.

   A next step in hearing the voice of God is the practice of listening for the voice of God in prayer. Too often, our prayer life can turn into a one sided conversation in which we speak to God and never take the time to listen. 

   Another step in discerning the voice of God is learning how God has spoken to people in the times since the Bible was given to us. This is where the traditions and practices of the Church can guide us. We can also see in the Church the way that those before us have misheard, misunderstood, or ignored the voice of God in their time. Just as we listen to the voices and experiences of the past, we should also listen to the voices of our community. We are bound together as the Body of Christ, and in most cases, we should discern no longer as individuals but as a community.

   Once we have listened for God in Scripture, in prayer, in the community of the Church, we can pass what we think we are hearing through a final lens. What is the end? Will what I think God is calling me to do glorify God? Will it bear the fruits of the Spirit or reflect the works of the flesh? Will I measure success according to the Kingdom of Heaven or the ways of man?

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Preparing for Lent – Cultivating Piety – Reflection for 23 FEB 2020

   Piety, or personal holiness, has been defined, praised, condemned, or enforced in a variety of ways through out the history of the Church and even in the Jewish culture that preceded the Church. However, for the purposes of cultivating piety in the coming Lenten season, I would like to broadly define the practice of piety as deliberately choosing those ways or habits that deny our selfish desires and encourage us to love God and neighbor. In other words, piety is simply choosing to live as who are, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and beloved children of God, rather than according to the lies and deceptions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

   However, the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and alms giving can at times seem inward focused rather than upward and outward focused. Perhaps in this liturgical year walking through Matthew’s Gospel we can turn to Scripture for insight. Since the Lenten season begins following the Feast of the Transfiguration and extends to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, this may be a good portion of Scripture to consider as we prepare to observe Lent.  

   In these three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 17-20), we see the ministry and teaching of Jesus demonstrating what it means to live as the people of God, citizens of the Kingdom. It is the practical application of the discipleship requirement that Jesus gives in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

   We find a call to be a Kingdom people.

– Trusting in God and not idols

– Having a faith moves mountains

– Establishing a community of equality as children of God

– Pursuing reconciliation and not retribution

– Seeking unity and not division

– Striving for humility not position, wealth, and status

– Living in selflessness and not selfishness

– Seeing true greatness in service

   I invite you to prayerfully consider how your Lenten devotions can teach us to walk as we truly are, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, setting aside selfish desire and cultivating love.

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Preparing for Lent – Cultivating Humility – Reflection for 16 FEB 2020

   God places us in community and gives gifts to the community through each one of us. One of my favorite definitions of humility is, “Taking up the right space in community.” A lack of humility may result either in taking up too much space and crowding others, or it may result in not taking up enough space and withholding your unique gifts from the community. In either case, the health of the community is impaired.

   As we prepare for Lent, I invite you to notice the groups in which you take part. Consider the community within your home, within your neighborhood, within your work, and within the parish. Consider also the community you keep with God through prayer, reading Scripture, and worship. 

   In what ways might you be taking up too much space? Is yours the only opinion that is heard? Are yours the only needs or desires that are considered? Do you insist on having your way?

   In what ways might you be taking up too little space? Does fear or distrust prevent you from offering your opinion or presenting you needs to the group? 

   As a Lenten devotion, I invite you to prayerfully consider one way in which you might move towards taking up the right space.

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Preparing for Lent – Reflection for 9 FEB 2020

  This Sunday marks the beginning of the preparation for Lent. In some liturgical traditions, the liturgical color changes to purple and a preparatory version of Lenten disciplines might begin on this Septuagesima Sunday. While we will retain our green paraments until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, it may be helpful to begin considering the ways we might prepare for Lent.

   For those of us who did not grow up in a tradition that celebrated Lent, this preparation may simply begin with considering the season of Lent. The Prayer Book describes Lent as, “a time of penitence, fasting, and prayer, in preparation for the great feast of the resurrection.” These Lenten disciplines prepare us to more fully experience the Joy of the Easter season, just as the reminder of our mortality in the ashes at the beginning of Lent prepare us to rejoice in the new and eternal life we celebrate in the Resurrection. Over the next three weeks, we will consider these disciplines of penitence, fasting, and prayer in the Sunday reflections, but I will broaden the terminology and opportunities by describing simplicity, humility, and piety.

   Those of us who have encountered the extended “voluntary” deprivation of training exercises or deployment have a keen understanding of the impact of the discipline of simplicity. Nothing makes you appreciate the simple pleasure of a hot shower, a home cooked meal, or a soft bed than several weeks or months without one. In much the same way, the discipline of simplicity tunes our senses to appreciate the blessing that is ever present in the small things of our everyday life. We might practice simplicity by traditional fasting on specific days or from certain foods during the Lenten season, or we might consider taking on the simplicity of a daily family meal without the interruption of phones or the distraction of television. We might consider embracing the simplicity of buying less or donating some of what we have to Christian Assistance Ministry or another charity. Or, perhaps there is another way in which you might intentionally and prayerfully exchange busyness for simplicity. 

   I invite you to prayerfully consider a practice of simplicity to begin this Lenten season.

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Counting Blessings – Reflection for 2 FEB 2020

As Jesus begins his teaching to the disciples, he lists a series of blessings. The blessing of the kingdom of heaven on those who are poor in spirit, the blessing of comfort for those who mourn, the blessing of a rich inheritance for the meek, the blessing of righteousness for those who earnestly desire it, the blessing of mercy for those who are merciful, the blessing of the presence and intimacy with God for those who cultivate the purity of their own heart and peace among the people around them, and the blessing of eternal reward for those who are persecuted.

   These blessings are undeniably desirable, but the circumstances that surround them are probably not high on our wish list. In fact, we often avoid them, deny them, or complain when we find ourselves in these circumstances. Sometimes we may even blame others or ourselves for the very circumstances in which we might encounter true blessing. I wonder how often we miss the blessing that God intends for us because we would rather avoid the circumstances that prepare us to receive the fullness of the gift. For example, when we refuse to mourn and cry out in lament, we also avoid the comfort of God in the depths of our sorrow. 

   What if instead we cultivated the habit of noticing blessing? This habit is much easier to develop when our circumstances are less uncomfortable. There are a number of practices that can open our eyes to blessings that we might miss in our normal, everyday circumstances. The practice of acknowledging and receiving the blessing of food with each meal is an easy place to start. The practice of a gratitude journal or other form of looking prayerfully at the day and seeing where we recognized the goodness of God. 

   Once we have become comfortable with these practices, we can add a level of difficulty and search for blessings in less desirable circumstances. We might see the blessing of a new day when the alarm goes off. We might see the blessing of family and community as we go about our chores. We might look back on the undesirable parts of our day and prayerfully ask God, “Where was your gift in this?”

   As we cultivate the habit of noticing our blessings in the good and bad of each day, when we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances, poor in spirit, disappointed and discouraged, meek, hungry, mourning, mired in conflict and ugliness, we can begin to look for the gift that God has for us even in these times.

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Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand – Reflection for 26 JAN 2020

   Jesus begins his ministry with this message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” What does Jesus mean by commanding us to repent. The Greek word metanoeo means to change our perception or our understanding, that is to have a different mind. This is not a simple “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.” This is an eye-opening, mind blowing experience that the reality of the world around me is different from what I previously understood. Repentance is to understand and perceive through the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven instead of the ways of the world.

   Repentance in this way is not a one and done point in time or a single decision, it is a daily discipline of seeing our current circumstances through Kingdom eyes rather than our earthly senses, it is to reference everything to God rather than to ourselves. The journey of the disciple is the journey of repentance.

   One of the ways that we walk this journey is to simply take the time to notice where we place our attention, where do we turn our senses for understanding. I like Albert Haase’s analogy to teaching a child to cross the street. We teach our children as they come to a street to stop, look, listen, and go. We can apply the same process to our spiritual walk. At intentional times during the day and at times when we begin to feel anxious, uncertain, or angry, we can stop, look, listen, and go. 

   First, we stop. We take a deep, prayerful breath, still our bodies, and quiet our minds. Then, we look for the presence of God. Instead of seeking to perceive and understand from the vantage point of self, we seek to see where the ever-present Spirit is moving, where the Kingdom of Heaven is being made manifest in our midst. Next, we listen for the voice of God revealing to us the will of God. Finally, we go and do what God has invited us to do as we participate in the work of the Kingdom.

   In this way repentance becomes not a mournful or sorrowful burden but a beautiful invitation filled with anticipation. Repentance becomes a joy filled turning from darkness to light and from death to life. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed in our midst may we all turn our perception and understanding to this present glory.  

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Called – Reflection for 19 JAN 2020

   It may surprise some of you to know that I overthink things at times. I want to know the end before beginning and all the possibilities in between. If I am not careful, I can overcomplicate even the simplest task and over analyze the tiniest observation. I can become absolutely paralyzed when I consider what God has called me to do. Fortunately, our readings today call me back to simplicity.

   Isaiah reminds me that even as I look around and think that all of my labor is in vain, it is God at work and not me. It is God who formed me. It is God who empowered and directed me. It is God who is working through me. It is not my faithfulness but His that accomplishes the purpose of the Kingdom of God. It is not my light but His that illumines the world. I am relieved that I do not have to solve great problems or do mighty works to be used by God. I simply follow as a servant walking in the Light.

   Paul reminds me that we are called not only as individuals but as a church. It is in community that we are enriched and empowered. It is through the community of the church that we are not lacking in any gift. It is in this community that we encounter Grace and embody the Truth of Christ. 

   Our collect invites us to consider the magnitude and the simplicity of our call. We pray that having come together and encountered Christ as the Word made Flesh, as the Body and the Blood, and as the Body of Christ gathered, we may fulfill our call to show the light of Christ in our lives so that those around us may encounter His love in us.

   I invite you to prayerfully consider how God is calling you. How are you being filled with Light? Who among those you know is dwelling in darkness? How might you carry the Light of Christ to them? 

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A Year in my Library – Reflection on a Reading Year

As we prepared to close one year and begin a new one, I took some time to look back through my calendar and recall the events of the year. Some things seem like yesterday and some like ancient history. I also took the time to look through my library and recall the books that I read this year. Some were drudgery, some were academic, and some were true gems. I would like to share the gems with you.

Perhaps my favorite book of the year was Becoming an Ordinary Mystic by Albert Haase. Fr. Haase does an excellent job of integrating the time honored spiritual traditions with the contemporary conversation on mindfullness and the self. His approach is thoroughly Christ centered without being tied to a specific school of Christian theology. All of this in an approachable and engaging writing style.

I also found Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer by David deSilva to be an excellent devotional. In forty-five reflections, deSilva walks through the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist and the liturgies for marriage and burial. The 5-8 page reflections take some space, both temporal and spiritual, to absorb. I appreciated not being tied to a calendar like many daily or weekly devotional books so that I could pick this book up when I made the space to savor it. 

We were able to go to the Anglican Church in North America annual conference in June and discovered two more favorites there. James Bryan Smith was a keynote speaker and his book The Good and Beautiful God provides a fantastic introduction to spiritual self-care. The abbreviated prayer book Pray Daily from Christ Church Plano (https://www.christchurchplano.org/pray) has become a staple of our family rhythm of prayer.

Moving a bit more to the academic side but still very accessible to non-theologians looking for a fresh look on Scripture, I found Amy Jill Levine’s books on Passion Week (Entering the Passion of Jesus), Advent (Light of the World), and the parables (Short Stories by Jesus) well researched, well written, and refreshing. Dr. Levine is a New Testament Scholar and devoutly Jewish. She provides a perspective of Jesus and those who heard him within their context as first century Jews.

Other good books from my reading year include The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook, and The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie.

Blessings in the coming year and happy reading!

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Loving Yourself in Order to Love Others – Reflection for theFourth Sunday in Advent 2019

   We have looked at God’s love for us as an example of how to love God. Big order, but do able, and life giving and life changing. Now the toughest of all, loving yourself so you can love your neighbor in the same manner, so much so that it runs the danger of becoming trite. 

   Let’s look at what it means to love yourself. What if it does not mean to embrace self indulgent behavior? After all, that has little value in loving your neighbor. Ok, then what? Love is a verb. It is always action oriented. Looking at love through the liturgy of worship in the Word and the Sacrament, we see multiple times when we confess our sin acknowledging that we are unlovable, but God in His mercy and loving kindness has forgiven us, proclaiming that we are forgiven because God’s love is great than our sin. The action of this love is forgiveness and reconciliation in the presence of God. As we come to understand the role of our confession and the loving forgiveness of God. To love yourself requires accepting this forgiveness and the life changing transformation that accompanies it.

   Moreover, because we are loved be God, we are declared lovable, hard to believe, but true. It means we have value and worth. Grasping this concept is a moment of pure joy. Life has purpose, in spite of ourselves. At this point our life becomes not simply renewed but reborn as a new creation in Christ. There is no longer reason to listen to the lies of Satan that attempt to convince us that we must in some way make ourselves loveable, valuable, or worthy. To love ourselves therefore means to see ourselves as God sees us, as beloved. 

   It is only when we comprehend the love of God for us and learn to walk as the beloved that we can begin to love others in the same way. We can recognize that we are not called to make judgments of who has value or worth. Christ has already declared that on the Cross. We do not get to decide who can or can not be forgiven, just forgive. 

   In forgiving, we are not just living out God’s love for another, we are living in God’s love for us. Forgiveness of others is not for them, it is for you to be able to relive the burden of unlove on your soul, so that life can be restored to you. While we carry the burden of unforgiveness joy eludes us and the fullness of joy is always less. Thereby, robbing us of the Peace that only God Can grant to us. A peace that passes all understanding. You are precious to God and therefore forgiven. Christ died and was raised from the dead. He lives now so that all might be saved (healed, forgiven, made whole, loved). To love oneself is to love as God loves, therefore, we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

   Two simple commands are the foundation of God’s people, Love God and Love People. Listen to the angels praising God and we join our voices, perfect in love, with theirs praising God for the love for us.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. 

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