Some years ago I worked for Grace Presbyterian Church, we had a preschool, Sand Hills Preschool, that was connected to the congregation. One year for science and nature the school adopted Caterpillars. This was a cool science project, rather boring, but cool. We ordered caterpillars from an educational science company, received care instructions and basically, watched, and watched, and watched, and waited.
In the last days of the caterpillar’s growth, which was the most exciting, you can see the rustle inside the cacoon as the caterpillar was growing and forming, trying to make its way out. Now when we see a living being struggle, our instinct is to want to help, want to ease its struggle, want to take away its pain, but here when the caterpillar struggles the most important thing we could do is sit still, wait and witness. If we are to touch the caterpillar too soon and try to bust it out of it cacoon, it wouldn’t be fully developed. Perhaps it would lack its wings, or even die, but if we carefully witness and observe the caterpillars struggle, a miraculous transformation takes place, the caterpillar is born again into a new life as a butterfly.
This process of waiting fills us with mixed emotion, both sorrow for the struggling caterpillar and joy for the celebration of new life in the butterfly. Imagine for a moment the first human to witness the transformation of a caterpillar into a glorious butterfly with its colorful wings. I wonder what their spirit said to their souls… sit, wait, witness.
Our Gospel tells us the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus’ three years of ministry coming to the focal point of our faith. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is the week we’ve prepared for. This is the center of our Salvation history.
I can remember when the box with the caterpillars arrived and all the young eyes looking inside the box with excitement, anticipation, and hope as their teacher gently guided them.
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
The people of Bethpage and the disciples were excited to see the Son of David, who was here to save them. Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest heaven! The very definition of Hosanna is to save or rescue. They march into Jerusalem proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth is here to save us.
Now this left the people of Jerusalem in turmoil, some not knowing who Jesus was, but had heard of the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. What were they to believe?
This begins the struggle.
A caterpillar stays in their cacoon for anywhere between five to twenty-one days. You can imagine the great disappointment in our children when their expectations of the birthing of a glorious butterfly didn’t meet their imaginations.
Christ, humbles himself as a servant slave. He doesn’t very much look like a king who will save his people. He is betrayed by Judas and suffers great pain. He is persecuted and condemned to die. Imagine the disappointment, the sorrow felt by many. Imagine the pain of his mother and the disciples who believed in him, had faith in him, trusted him and walked with him.
We walk into Holy Week much like children, excited for its arrival. As Christians this is what we prepare for, the highlight of our liturgical year. As a priest there is no greater anticipation than to walk alongside a congregation through this unfolding story, to experience and learn through the rustling of our own cocoons as we journey with Jesus on his way to Calvary.
While we experience mixed feelings of joy and sorrow into every Holy Week as we affirm our faith and trust in Christ Jesus, it appears we do so, even more, this day. As our world has changed and the comfort of being in the presence of community has altered our experience of Holy week, it is never more important for us to be present in Holy Week. Waiting, witnessing, and utilizing this journey, during this time of lockdown to deepen our faith and trust in our Saviour Christ. This week, the holiest of holies is calling us to be enlightened by the Passion and Resurrection, calling us to be empowered by the Gospel and march forward carrying the knowledge and understanding of God’s deep abiding love for us with all our faults and frailties. We must be present to the call to journey forward holding with us the gift of compassion and forgiveness, for beloveds, each of our struggle in the birthing of our ressurected life will be different. By taking on the way of Christ, journeying with him aspire to be in His likeness and humbling ourselves to His service becoming vessels of His love and mercy. Jesus poured out His love for us by suffering death on the cross. He died for the good of all people from each end of the earth to the next.
Hosanna, save us, Hosanna, save us now!
No, Jesus didn’t appear as one would imagine a king. He appeared as a healer, a lover, a voice for the people, a sacrificial lamb. He humbled himself, and all this time later, still, we remember, we reflect, and we recall the hope, the light, and the life that transformed the world.
We may each struggle to birth forth from our cocoons, especially as we grieve what communal life once was, but remember beloveds, we are an Easter People, full of hope, eyes set on the light of the world given to all nations. The Risen Lord is before us.
Remember, reflect, be still, abide in your faith, journey along, and trust in the almighty healer of the world, our Saviour Christ Jesus.
May God’s good blessing, be upon you.
In Christ, Mo. Allison+
It is my instinct to get up and go when someone calls. It is my instinct to be by the side of the sick, the suffering, or those in need. When I was in school in NYC, I’d stop and pray with those living on the street, never afraid to hold hands or bless a forehead or even give a hug. It is my instinct to be present, to love, to break bread with a stranger. I naturally presumed that is what I was called to do, but the truth is not in and of itself the action but in the revelation of the glory of God that comes from the action.
Today I’m called to obey, to listen, and wait.
Waiting is hard. I want to fix everything. I want to ease the pain, to be by my loved ones who are secluded, alone or even hospitalized, yet I’m called to be still, to pray, to love from afar, to wait for the Glory of God to be revealed.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is called. He is called by Mary and Martha to be by the side of his ailing friend, but does he drop everything and run? No, for he is also called by God. He continues his ministry from where he is and waits two days, loving from afar. Some may say, but how O’Lord can you do this? Why are you allowing the suffering of the ones you love? Many of us may be asking that question now?
“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice”
The answer is both simple and complex.
If Jesus jumps and goes to Lazarus too soon how then how would the Glory of God be revealed for all to see? Jesus must wait, still, and set his sight on God, having faith and abiding in His steadfast love.
So too must we… Abide, have faith and obey.
On Wednesday Christians all around the world stopped what they were doing at noon and called upon the Lord through prayer. All eyes on our Sovereign God.
On Friday Pope Francis held the special Urbi et Orbi from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. As the rain fell steadily, the Pope offered his prayers, his blessing and sat in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. My heart stopped for a moment as I watched him stand and receive the Monstrance. I could feel both the almighty power of God and the deep sadness of the world. With his feeble body and all his might the Pope turned to the Square and the world; he lifted the monstrance holding the Body of Christ high making the sign of the cross from the east to the west. As he then returned the Blessed Sacrament to the priest, I can feel the gasp of my Breath. “Oh Lord out of the depths, I cry to you.” With the rain falling on a dark and empty St. Peter’s square, I cried.
And I remembered, Jesus wept too!
Jesus, returned to the village where Mary and Martha were with Lazarus, and although he knew the Glory of God was about to be revealed, he recognized their suffering, and he wept. There is no greater two words in our Gospel, “Jesus wept.” He shared in their suffering, he shared in their love, he shared in their grief, and he shares in ours as well.
Jesus shares in our grief, in our suffering and in our world. Stillness does not mean nothing is happening or that God is ignoring our calls but rather that God’s Glory is about to be revealed in ways we never could have imagined. Just as we could never imagine that a man dead for four days could rise and live.
“Lazarus, come out!”
Just when you imagine all hope to be gone, all life to be dead, hope rises and a new life begins, to and for the Glory of God!
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe in me?”
I will never take another hug, another handshake, or kiss for granted. When the oil of my hand touches another, their imprint, their bond, will live on.
Yes, Lord, I believe! I believe the Glory of God is at hand. I believe that Easter is coming and you, O’Lord will rise and conquer the hearts and lives of all your people.
Yes, Lord, I believe, I believe you are the light and life and with you, in you through you, life is eternal.
May the Blessing and love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be revealed in his Glory and abide in you always.
In Christ, Mo. Allison+
A couple of weeks back, John introduced us to Nicodemus. Throughout the entirety of the Gospel, we see Nicodemus in the background slowly undergoing a spiritual transformation as he moves from identifying Jesus as a man to the prophet to God, Christ the Messiah, a slow steady witnessing that requires him to let go of everything he knew and trusted to become a believer.
Our lectionary today brings us to the same awareness.
Samuel grieving over Saul was hurt and rejected yet takes God’s charge, heads to Jesse to seek out a king. He sees Eliab and by his stature, he is reminded of Saul. “Surely this must be the Lord’s anointed,” but the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.
Why do we seek to hold on to things that God has rejected?
Samuel cast judgment based on emotion. Feelings that held him back and tied him to the past, not to God’s direction. How often do we do this in our own lives, hold onto people, places or things that we know are toxic, bad for us, or simply stunts our spiritual growth keeping us stuck?
How often do we allow our fears, our hurts, our sorrows or insecurities to speak over the truth and the direction of God?
You see, seven more brothers pass him by. The Lord chose none of them. No instead he chose David, the smallest of them. David the sinner. David the one out in the field. Surely he appeared nothing like Saul, but God sees what Samuel couldn’t.
Jesus sees a blind man, outside the synagogue, and on the Sabbath, he makes mud, rubs it on his eyes. Jesus then sends him to wash, and as the water cleanses the mud, he sees. Then almost immediately the man must account for Jesus.
In the first paragraph, he says, “The man called Jesus made mud and spread it on my eyes.” Recognizing Jesus as a man. In the second paragraph, he answers the Pharisees, “He is a prophet,” and then in the last paragraph, he says, “Lord, I believe,” recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. The transformation of the man was more than the physical, it was a spiritual transformation.
Now the people wanted to see Jesus as a sinner, after all, he made mud on the Sabbath and that would be a no, no. It’s always easier to lay blame on someone or something when our belief or way of life is challenged or suddenly changed. It can almost feel threatening to our own comfort and security to be thrust into a new way of life or perspective.
Emotion and fear of letting go and allowing God to direct our lives can be overwhelming. After all that’s why they sent the healed man away and why his parent’s feared to answer the people in the synagogue. Spiritual growth and Change can happen over the course of time, slowly like Nicodemus. It can happen systematically like Samuel or it can happen quickly causing a stir like the blind man.
From man, to prophet, to God… I believe.
We have been thrust into a new way of living. The Corona Virus has impeded and changed just about everything. How we engage as people, how we live our daily lives, how we dine, how we worship, perhaps even how we pray. In this new era, we have a choice, to hold on to what and how we lived, mourning like Samuel or embrace a spiritual transformation through the desert, opening our selves to a new life and perspective. No, growth is not always easy, it’s bumpy and sometimes even scary, but letting go and moving one step at a time forward gives us all room for God’s good grace.
So, don’t let how you feel get in the way of what God desires for you in your life and in the life of others and don’t be so quick to count others out, and don’t be so quick to let others count you out, for we look at the outward, but God looks at the inward. We cannot see what God sees, but we can trust, let go, and let God. A new day, a new glory is on its way… If you’ll allow it.
In Christ, Mo. Allison+
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
On Thursday evening I received a call from my son. I barely said hello as in his excitement he exclaimed, “God humbled me Ma’! God wanted to humble me. I swear.” I could tell that something big happened to him, something special, something memorable. “Slow down, breathe. What happened?” I said. “God was active in my life, God was active.” I could hear the tenderness in his voice as he began his story. I could tell he was moved more deeply as if he was spooked but at the same time at peace, a deep peace, that kind of peace you feel when you are brought to tears by an exuberant joy. “I missed the 5:06, and had to catch the next train when it came I jumped on, but it was an Express to New York. I had to get off in Woodbridge so I waited for the next train. I was cold, really cold, and just as the train was supposed to come, I heard the voice on the loudspeaker, the train was canceled. My phone was dead and I didn’t know what to do. Then out of nowhere, this old black man began to talk to me. I asked if he could call me a cab, so he dialed the number and the station no longer exists, so he offered me a ride to Linden.” He was excited, he had to share. As a mom I wanted to say, “Are you mad! What if something happened to you?” but as I priest, I took a deep breath, stayed still and I could hear something did happen to him, something big.
“I got into his car and we talked the whole time. He told me that when he was in college all of his friends had cars. They would pass him by with a beep and a wave. He took the bus to get to school from one end of New York to another. It was far. Well, one day he missed the bus. His friends drove by, beeped and waved like they always did and then there was this guy in a pick-up truck with a big dog. He stopped, waved him on in and gave him a ride to class. Mom, he said, “From that day on son, I promised to never let any one man go stranded. If ever there was someone stranded, I would pick them up and give them a ride.” Ma’ he knew me. He knew that’s what I do for all my friends, that’s what we should do and he did it for me. God was active in my life today. He wanted to humble me Ma’, humble me. I’ll never let anyone go stranded.”
In a world where we are building walls, social distancing and shutting out the other, Jesus engages the other in the story of the woman at the well. It’s not about quenching his physical thirst as a man or asking for a favor. The story is deeper, more lovely and beautiful as Jesus expresses his knowledge of her for all that she is, even as a Samaritan woman, he loved her without shame, without pretense, without expectation.
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Excited about her encounter with Jesus, she rushed to the city to tell everyone she knew. God was active in her life, humbled her and she was known and to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.
In a world that at times, seems to lose its sanity, engulfed in fear, and stockpiling silly amounts of toilet paper, are we still enough to trust and know our encounters with our active God? Are we brave enough, to engage in a relationship with those who are seemingly unlike ourselves? Do we allow ourselves to be nourished, not by tap, well or bottle, but by the spirit of God that lives among us? The spirit that truly knows who we are, faults and all.
I keep wondering, what if I had a mom reaction and instilled my fears in my son, would I become an obstacle to his grace, or would I miss the blessing of his shared grace? He evangelized his mother. He trusted, had the courage and felt the call of God who nourished him and in turn nourished me. That’s evangelism, that’s God.
To be known is to be loved and to be loved ist to be known.
In this time of “social distancing” be intentional, be in a relationship, reach out and let another know how deeply they are loved and proclaim the Grace that God has given to you, to everyone. Engage, lovingly engage.
I am so very grateful to the man and to the God who loved my son.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+
There was a priest I knew who lived in Princeton. One evening he went to visit with a gentleman from his congregation. He had never been invited in until this day. As he approached the home and drove into the long drive, he took special notice to the meticulously taken care of lawn. It was a seven-bedroom estate, large, and beautiful.
In awe of his surroundings, the priest crossed the threshold, and the man led him to the living room. He sat on a chair that was tattered and worn and quickly noticed the silence. The home was nearly empty. This was the only furnished room. The priest was confused, the gentleman never missed a tithed, showed up on Sunday regularly and was always dressed in a suit and smiled at those he greeted.
The walls were bare, the space was silent, and the man began to weep before his priest.
According to Homer in Greek mythology, there are creatures, hideous monsters, half-bird, and half woman, referred to as Sirens. They lived on an island and lured sailors to their death. They would sing and by the power of their sweetness in their song, they stirred an illusion to every sailor who would hear, an illusion of beauty, the sailors couldn’t resist.
Our Gospel tells the story:
Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. This is an image of a new Exodus where Israel spent 40 years before reaching the promised land, with Jesus as the new Israel. He would face a time of testing, temptation, and struggle.
Wherever in the bible we see the number 40, note the struggle and temptation. The number 40 represents the purification from sin. For instance, Noah and the flood, there were 40 days and 40 nights of rain. Moses spent 40 days on the Mount before he could be received in the presence of God and Elijah fleeing from Jezebel spent 40 days and nights in the desert preparing to meet God, a time of preparation and purification.
This is our Lenten season. So how do we prepare ourselves for our Lord?
Well, going back to our Greek myth and the story of the Sirens; Odysseus who was the King of the isle Ithica who wanted to hear what the fuss was all about so he ordered his men to tie him, tightly to the mast and not let him out. The men, knowing better and not wanting to fight temptation, took beeswax and put it in their ears. As they rowed by Odysseus heard the song and frantically tried to undo his ties, yelling at the men to realease him, but the men could not hear, and rowed on by.
The men who rowed with beeswax in their ears simply walked away from temptation, but Odysseus, wanting to hear, basically tasted temptation then couldn’t resist without the help of his mates.
And then there was Orpheus, a beautiful poet, and musician. He was considered a prophet of his time who learned to play the Lyre from the Greek God, Apollo. It is said that his music was so powerful, he could make the trees bend and the animals dance. As the Argonauts passed through the waters where the Sirens could be heard, he remembered his gift, he pulled out his Lyre and played the most beautiful song, drowning out the call of temptation. Filling his boat with all that is good, true and beautiful.
Jesus in the desert is tempted by the Devil. Like our Greek myth, he is tempted with the sin of Pleasure, by the Flesh, to satisfy his hunger.
“if you are the son of God then just change the stones into bread and fill your
belly, eat your fill.” Jesus resists that temptation by saying “man doesn’t live by
bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus quotes scripture.
Then knowing Jesus quoted scripture, the devil levels up, he takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says,
“if you’re really the son of God then throw yourself down because ‘he will give his angels charge of you.”
Here the devil veiled himself with scripture, Psalm 91,
“God will give his angels charge of you and they will bear you up less you strike your foot against a stone.”
He tried to tempt Jesus with the sin of Pride. If you are who you say you are, then do this, prove it.
“the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the
kingdoms of the world and all of their glory; and he says ‘I’ll give this to you if you
just worship me.”
The devil knew Jesus was here for all the souls of humanity, so he tempted him with the sin of possessions and offered them up, in a way that would eliminate Jesus’ suffering and humiliation, via death on a cross, if he just turned his back on God.
Jesus replies, once again with scripture, “you should only worship the Lord
your God and him alone shall you serve.”
We live in a world full of illusions, the temptation of the devil, the call of the sirens dress in glamour, glitz and beautiful sounds to satisfy our instant need of pleasure, to embolden our pride, our ego or to relish and clothe ourselves with material things. Each gives us an appearance of wellness or satisfaction but leaves us thirsting for the spirit of God who is the only power who can give us the fullness of life both here and the hereafter.
I opened with a story of a man who appeared to be wealthy, no one knew the depth of his suffering, his wounds or scars. He was too proud to ask for help before this day or admit to his failures. He had fallen into sin and darkness. He gave in to the flesh, cheated on his spouse, and drank to numb his pain. His son died of drug addiction, and though he owned a multi-million dollar business, he was spiritually bankrupt and had nothing. He lost everything in the hunt for the easier softer way.
The Christian life is not an easy life. It is filled with suffering and pain, obstacles and temptation, but when we are wise and aware of the devil’s tricks and tactics, how he hides in false prophets, quotes scripture, offers instant gratification, or the promise of goods, we have the tools to resist with the help of one another, through prayer, fasting, giving alms, and reconciliation.
Over the next 40 days, arm yourself with wisdom in the reading of our scriptures, arm yourself with prayer calling on God to walk with you and guide you, and give of yourself to another human being and to the church assisting one another on this journey through a Christian life.
Love, Lift, guide and support one another, for the mercy of God is Great and the Power of God is forever.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+
It is good to speak truth to power, even when that power is me.
Being new to my congregation and not yet officially starting until this coming Sunday, we didn’t host Shrove Tuesday, so I attended a nearby church. They were a warm and friendly congregation. As I entered the doorway I saw some familiar faces and felt right at home introducing myself and working my way around the room. They were warm and friendly. The spirit led me to the right place.
The evening turned out to be more than pancakes and sausage, more than just fellowship or meeting new people and introducing myself, more than Mardi Gras, it turned into a moment of reconciliation and healing. A couple, who has been together for forty years mustered up the courage to confront me, share their woundedness and offer their truth. I am grateful they did. If they hadn’t I would not know the hurt they and their community had suffered, and they would not know that I am them.
We chatted for some time and in the end, I believe we all left with a sense of hope, healing and the opportunity to repair a relationship even though we never met until this day. This only happened through Grace of God, their courage to confront and my willingness to receive them. It didn’t matter whether or not I was the one who inflicted the pain of their wounds, as our scripture says,
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
I am responsible to offer empathy, understanding, and bridge to healing. I left feeling their pain, but hopeful for renewal, not only for them but for all they and who they represented.
My friend Moe posted a video and a quote on Social Media today by Moira Rogers, “The two hardest things to say in life are hello for the first time and goodbye for the last time.” Moe went on to say,” In our life, we are blessed by those who are surrounding us. There are those out there placed specifically in our lives to make us the people we end up being today.”
When we are humble and let go of our ego; when we remember our mortality, we begin to correct our course and focus more deeply on the meaning of the cross and the sacrifice Jesus has made for us all. We open ourselves to the workings of God, to the people in our lives and the people we’ve yet to meet. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable and hear what the spirit is saying, especially when we have fallen short, kept silent or chosen the easier softer way.
Here on Ash Wednesday and through the Lenten season, we have the opportunity to correct the course, to turn and repent, learn, pray, and worship together, to be formed in a way that follows the teachings of Jesus.
Speak to me Lord, speak truth to me Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.
When our fast is recognized not of what we are depriving ourselves but what we are giving and shedding for the sake of all life and God’s creation, we truly come to understand that our Ashes are not a mark of who we are but whose we are and everything in our lives is meaningless without Him, Jesus Christ our Lord.
May this Ash Wednesday bring you deep introspection, the beginning of reconciliation, and lead you into a Holy Lenten Season building bridges and healing relationships. The relationships you have with God, with others and with all of God’s creation.
In Christ, Mo. Allison+