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+
Have you ever had a dream in which you didn’t want to wake? Perhaps you wanted to sleep long enough to see the ending, to see what happens next. Perhaps you didn’t want to let go of the feeling or of the place. Perhaps there were people in your dream that you haven’t seen for years or who have passed on. People who made you feel loved, or safe, or empowered. People who by their very touch, or presence you knew were special, or magical, or connected to a higher power in some way, connected to God.
I had such a dream last night. My teacher, my PEER Leader, and mentor from High School appeared. She was as stunning as ever. She was the type of woman who never seemed to age. Well dressed, make up perfect, her hair lit golden in the sunlight as she smiled at me. She hugged me, brought me food, nourished me and then she talked about how she was going to design this new place of hers in the finest of materials. She was peaceful and endearing as she had always been. Wise, we exchanged conversation. Then I noticed my Joe, he was my protector, my friend, my contemplative guide who passed many years ago. He looked at me with a nod, and when I looked back toward my teacher she was gone. I didn’t want to wake. I wanted to hold on to her, to that moment, to that place. I wanted to see what happens next. I wanted to see the finished room adorned with everything she imagined. I wanted to feel her presence with me.
Tried as I might, I kept my eyes tightly shut, “No No, don’t wake! I want to stay here for a while.” But the sun shone through my window and my eyes defied my appeal and into the world here, I awoke, to fulfill God’s call, at the very least for another day. Somehow though, through the mystery of our Lord, her presence remains. I can see her eyes, smell her perfume and feel her touch.
Matthew 17:1-9 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
I understand why Peter didn’t want to leave the Mountain. How he wanted to hold that very special moment and those very special people. He himself must have felt special, being invited up with Jesus, being in the presence of God.
My first day at Seminary, as I was moving boxes in, I wore a T-shirt. It said, “God loves you, but I’m his favorite.” I can’t say I didn’t prepare them for who they were about to form. I wonder who on the mountain top would have worn such a shirt. Would it have been, Peter, James, or John, or would Jesus after being transfigured turn around like a superhero and glaring on his chest, ” My Father loves you, but I’m his favorite.” Thoughts like that make me chuckle.
Every day of our lives we climb mountains, sacred mountains, some are as small as hills, others as big as Mt. Tabor, the place in Israel historians point to where our Gospel story takes place, or bigger, the size of Everest. Sacred mountains of what appears as scarcity, or illness, or sacred mountains of achievement and success. Every day we journey forward with Christ by our side, interceding where he sees fit. Sometimes in ways that are fiercely notable, like when the disciples saw Moses and Elijah, or when they heard the voice of God or witnessed the very transfiguration before them. We know when we come across that special person, that gift, that spirit whose connection changes us in some way, significantly. At other times, we recognize the workings of the incarnate Christ, maybe after the fact or in subtle ways, like when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am” and only Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The others knew he was special, they knew he was connected, they just didn’t or couldn’t recognize him for who Jesus really was, but after this moment, they can see, recognize and know who was standing before them.
Thinking back, I can see those times, where I can say, “Oh, that was you, God. It was you who come to me on the side of the road, you who lifted from despair, you who guided my success and comforted me in my failure. You who fed me when I was hungry, nourished me when I was thirsty and comforted me when I fell.”
Can you see those times in your life? Can you see, hear and recognize the voice of God in those moments past and present? Will you allow yourself to be touched and unafraid as you move forward, off your mountain and into the Loving Grace of God?
I can see, now, the living Christ in my teacher who cared for every child she met like we were her own, the living Christ in my Joe who protected and guided me and the living Christ among us all who has the power to open us to the experience of God, the power of God and God’s good, good grace.
Yes, God loves you, and Yes, YOU, we are God’s Favorite. Allow God to awaken in us the Spirit of His Grace and the Power of His Love to walk down from the mountain and share our witness with those among us, Transforming the World, one disciple at a time.
At the Transfiguration, God, You showed Jesus in glory, a glimpse of what His disciples would see in His risen life. Bless us in our humanity, with an awareness of Your presence, leading us to share in Your divine life even in our daily struggle. Help us to deepen our knowledge of the Law and the Prophets, channels of Your grace throughout history, and signposts for our journey. Amen. Blessings, Mo. Allison+
I have to admit, Matthew 5:21-37, is not the scripture I would like to choose to introduce myself to a new congregation. None-the-less, God’s sense of humor is vast and the Holy Spirit is tugging at my core to acknowledge the tension in the entirety of the lectionary. Truly I would like to preach on Deuteronomy 30:15-20. We can talk about choices, We can talk about life, and death and blessings and curses, or perhaps just refresh in the words of Paul’s letter to the 1Corinthians 3:1-9 and talk about how we are all connected through the Body of Christ, but Matthew tugs and cannot be silently pushed aside.
I think as my colleagues and I pondered over this passage, one thing was clear, this passage elicited personal reaction and reflection. It is difficult, not only because of what Jesus is requiring of us but because it is a passage that has been misused through-out generations to suppress or oppress another. For instance, should a woman stay in a marriage that is toxic and abusive? The answer is no. “But Mother,” you say, “Jesus, said, 31 “anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
I say to you, it is important to look at the societal context in which Jesus was preaching as he fulfilled the law. Marriage was used as a way for a woman to hold status and be cared for and hold a place in society. Jesus emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount that marriage and all the laws go beyond the legality or the external expression of the law, and that love and care for another and their well-being continues regardless of status, a marriage or divorce certificate; we are to care for one another as persons, as a community.
Allow me to go deeper. Who among us has not been angry? Who among us has not been hurt or wounded in such a way that we react or lash out? Of course, we have. We are human and feeling is part of the unavoidable human experience.
Jesus is setting the bar high here, why?
In my life, I have held a great privilege. In the church I was raised from, I held a key to the sanctuary. It was a beautiful sanctuary. In the morning, the sun softly lit the altar, midday it penetrated through the small stained glass windows above the chancel and at night in the dark, the moon presided over quiet contemplation. Yes, I visited often, daily for some time. Some days, I walked the aisle, felt every pew, as the presence of the Holy Spirit swept me to and from the altar. I sat, I prayed, somedays I just laid behind the altar with God as I gazed up at the dust dancing in the sunlight. Time stood still.
This place, especially at that time, was a place to wrestle with God. You see, I was a victim of a horrendous injustice, and as Jesus requires and inspires the only place I knew where to go was the altar. I was angry, I was hurt, betrayed, traumatized and sought what no person could give, a sense of peace, of wholeness, of reconciliation. My world was shattered and it would never be the same, of course, I was angry. “Forgive me, forgive them, forgive us O’God.”
As sinners, we, you and I are constantly breaking the law, in thought, word, or deed. That’s why we seek reconciliation before we feast at the table. That’s why we give the sign of Peace. We are all sinners.
So what do we do with all that?
We seek God! We seek the spirit of the living God.
We go to God. We know that we cannot go it alone. We build and deepen our relationship with God, so our relationship with each other can grow and manifest into the Glory of the Kingdom that Jesus has prepared for us. We love one another, we care for one another, we embrace one another as one body in Christ as Paul teaches, and we choose life. We choose God, we choose one another and build community and we choose to walk in love to manifest God’s good grace in each other fostering an understanding of our human flaws. this is what compassion looks like.
So, let your yes, be yes and your no be no. Mean what you say and say what you mean. When you resist evil, say NO, Satan! When you embrace forgiveness and reconciliation, say YES to God, say Yes to life, say Yes to the spirit of the living God, to each other and let go, trust, have faith and allow God and the Holy Spirit the room to dwell among us, reviving the heartbeat of the living Christ within each one of us.
Be kind and be gentle, to yourself and one another.
May our Lord, teach and guide us to always seek God first in everything we do, and may our love be filled with genuine affection, honoring the dignity of one another through the Spirit of the Living God.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+
I have struggled to sit and write this week, not for any lack of what to say, but of a lack of courage to be vulnerable. I attempted to silence the spirit that is moving within me, perhaps out of fear. Even as priest, I am still very human and the anticipation of entering the unknown is unsettling, even as the excitement is building for the journey ahead.
The rain didn’t help my anxiety this week. Each day I rose with the hope of the sun breaking through the clouds, but it was cold and windy, and like an episode from The Magic Garden, the harder the wind blew the more I wanted to tuck my head under a blanket and hide away, but the Holy Spirit has a persistent grace. Every time I picked up the prayer book or sat quietly in contemplation she whispered the words of my son. Like particles clinging to a magnet, I could not separate myself from his words, and our scripture, and my living experience in this moment.
Here’s what happened…
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
After a long day, in the dark of the night, I jumped in my car for my journey home. My son called and we had a beautifully deep conversation about politics, humanity, and God. My Daniel is just two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday, in regard to my new call he said to me, “Mom, remember when you walk through the doors there is just you and the table, there is just you and God, preach the way you have always preached, love them and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.” His words moved every corner of my heart and soul. I was overcome by his love and faith. As we eneded our conversation in the silence to follow the words of God spoke, “You are the Salt and the light.”
I am a disciple entering the mission field as Christ commands.
As a disciple of Christ, I am ever so mindful of the many uses and values of salt. Salt heals wounds, salt calms inflammation, salt preserves and draws out the flavor, salt even helps us stay afloat and balances our composition, but if salt ceases to be salt it is nothing. It is useless. To be the Salt of the earth we are tasked by Christ as living disciples to build and draw upon the goodness of God’s creation. We are to restore the health in mind, body, and spirit of humanity and every living being honoring the dignity of all. We are to love and allow ourselves to be loved for who we are authentically in Christ.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
I like you have been given many gifts from God. Those gifts and our awareness of the grace of those gifts are a great reflection of our witness to Christ’s love for us and the spirit of his life in us. Some are given the gift of voice with a beautiful song, others the gift of abundance to share, some the gift of writing or the gift of numbers. Some have the gift of compassion, of art, of science, of charism or leadership. We all have many, many gifts, discovered and some yet to be uncovered as we live more fully among one another. We are tasked to gather our gifts, go out into the world and share them with many allowing others to see us as disciples of Christ giving thanks to the glory of God who blesses us along our journey. And in the words of my dear mentor, “You be you.” Live and Love authentically in Christ.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
While we often pay very close attention to the first part of our scripture, the salt, and light, the second part about the Law and the Prophets is sometimes lost. We must not let it fall away from the scripture, in fact, we must pay close attention to it’s call to responsibility as we move forward in our discipleship as the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Here Jesus reminds us to be of whole conscious in leading others to him. He reminds us that any misrepresentation of law to intentionally mislead and/or deceive others to break the law alongside us will not be rewarded. He also reminds us that we are to live as we preach, not to be hypocrites.
In the words of my Daniel, I heard God’s command, not only as Salt and the Light being a disciple, but also to live authentically and fully into the laws that have bound me to my freedom in Christ. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Love one another. Truly, love one another, and allow the spirit of God the room to grow the bonds between us as we grow in Christ’s love for us.
May the power of God that gives light to the stars, that gives breath to every living being, enkindle in us the fire of the Holy Spirit and empower us with strength and courage that we, as bearers of love and justice, become a living blessing for all the world.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+
I haven’t written in some weeks. It’s been a rollercoaster of a January. We have had much to celebrate and just as much to mourn. On the bright side, I have accepted a call as Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor, New Jersey and my brother-in-law was gifted with a new heart. On the down side I lost a dear friend to breast cancer and like many am mourning the current state of our nation. It has been a difficult month to keep focus as I wrap up all that is ending and embrace all that is beginning.
As I steadily sort through my things, letting go of what’s no longer needed, prayerfully boxing what I’m keeping, I find myself adrift. Recalling memories as I sort through pictures and revisiting my life’s journey, I am reminded of both those times of light and dark. I gather it is apropos as we celebrate groundhog day tomorrow here in the States, along with the Feast of the Presentation/Candlemas on our church calendar.
With it’s foundation in ancient pagan religion, Groundhog day is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, a middleway as days lengthen. Legend has it that if an animal sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter. I’m happy when it doesn’t.
Ancient Celtic Religion marked this day as Imbolc, it’s actually two days, Feb. 1st and 2nd. It is the ushering in of Spring and the beginnings of new life. Imbolc comes from the gaelic word, Imbolg, meaning in the belly. It is the expectant mother nature full of hope and potential. It is life stirring from within waiting to be reborn, a time of both letting go and making space for all that is to come. Yes, I’m right where the planets have aligned on this very day.
Imbolc gained its ties to the Christian church through the connection of the pagan goddess Brigid and St. Brigid of Kildare. Bridgid was a goddess of healing, craft and poetry. She was a goddess of fire and fertility. In the year 450 Brigid of Kildare was born in Ireland. Sharing the name of the ancient goddess and devouting her life to Christ and the church, the two would be linked forever. Brigid was baptised by St. Patrick, she performed many works. She fed and healed the poor from a very young age and took her final vows from St. Patrick himself. Legend has it that when Saint Patrick heard her final vows, he accidentally used the form for ordaining priests. When the error was brought to his attention, he simply replied, “So be it, my son, she is destined for great things.” And great things she accomplish.
After taking her vows St. Brigid founded a monastary, the Church of the Oak, that was built upon the pagan shrine for the celtic goddess. She organized a religious order and founded two monastic institutions, one for men, the other for women. She later found a school for art.
On the grounds of the Church of the Oak is an eternal flame that was left behind from the pre-christian pagan shrine. St. Bridgid and her religious order relit the flame. The new fire represented the new light of Christianity in Ireland. Today, the Brigid Light is still guarded and tended in Solas Bhride as it was in Kildare many centuries ago by the Sisters of St Brigid. The flame burns as a beacon of hope, justice and peace for Ireland and our world.
Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation is celebrated this day, February 2nd, a time where we bless the candles of the church resembling the outward and visible sign of Christ who illumines our world. We bless the candles to be carried in the procession, the candles that will be used throughout the liturgical year, and candles that are given to the congregation to take home.
Light, we are reminded of light.
The Feast of the Presentation is a celebration of the Purification of the Holy Family. Under Jewish Law, on the eighth day, after Jesus’ birth, he was circumcised. Mary continued to stay at home for 33 days for her blood to be purified. After the 40th day, Mary and Joseph came to the temple with Jesus for the rite of purification. This rite generally included the offering of a sacrifice — a lamb for a holocaust (burnt offering) and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering, or for a poor couple who could not afford a lamb, two pigeons or two turtledoves. Joseph and Mary made the offering of the poor (Lk 2:24), two pigeons and did not bring a lamb, as Jesus was the lamb of God.
Before entering the temple the Holy Family encounters Simieon,
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
A light… Here is that symbol again, light. A Light to enlighten the nations, there is hope…
When I paint, I generally start backward. I wonder if my prayers are set that way. A little backward, starting from the dark and working my way to the light. You see, I set up my canvas, and like most canvas’ it sits on the easel blank and starchy white. I never know what to make of that, no matter the plan or thought or even the sketch, so the very first thing I do is paint it black. From their, I gather my prayers, play my music, light my incense and wait for the Holy Spirit to fill my palate and move my brush. Little by little from out of the dark a creation is born. Sometimes the birthing process is short-lived, other times it is fostered out of months of looking for the light to come from the shadows of the dark.
The world in its divisions can seem dark at times. It can easily distract from the promise of new life and seem rather hopeless and unjust, however; when I think of our celebrations this Sunday, and I think of the new life about to be born of me, the new life that’s about to take hold of my congregation, the new life that has gifted my brother-in-law and all whom he has touched, and the new life my son is about to engage in on his own, I see the light coming from out of the darkness. I see the hope and gladness of a new day. I see that we like St. Brigid are connected by this eternal flame that gives us breath, Jesus the light to enlighten the nations.
I am reminded of the Rabbi who asked his students, how do you know light? And the first student said, “When you can see the difference between a sheep and a dog in the field.” The Rabbi said, “No. How do you know light?” And the second boy said, “When you can see the difference between a fig tree and a peach tree.” “No,” said the Rabbi. Frustrated the boy said, “Then how do you know light, Rabbi?” and the Rabbi responded, “You know light when you look at another and see that each is your sister and brother. Then and only then will you know light.”
I am reminded that even in the midst of our divided world that Christ lives in each of us and every day is a chance to renew our lives in Christ. Like the flicker of a flame we will bend, and brighten, but we shall live eternally in Christ our King. Like St. Brigid, we must tend the flame that lights the world, feed the poor, clothe the homeless, and love one another. There is hope, even in the dark. There is life waiting to be born and born again.
Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna,
who did not die until they welcomed the Messiah.
May we, who have received these your gifts beyond words prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us eternal life; for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+
Remember back in the day when the trending question was “WJD, What would Jesus do?” I could be wrong, but it seemed we communally cared about the values and life of a living Gospel and living into that Gospel. Christian or not our attention was drawn to a God whose authority we sought with moral intention. Not to say there wasn’t evil or war in the world, or the harshness of injustice in community, driven by our institutions riddled with racism, bigotry, sexism, classism and more, but we sought to be better. We cared enough to want better not only for our own generation, but for generations to follow.
Without question my heart aches deeply for our nation and our world who struggle to find God in the midst of earthly chaos, and instead settle for instant comfort in power and greed, neglecting the tender care of all of God’s creation. My ache is shared with Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews around the world. Even those who choose not to believe in God at all, weep with me over our lost way. I lament, once we strove to be better.
When I was in marketing and sales for the health and wellness industry, before GPS systems and Google Maps, I carried paper maps in my car. I even had maps that were in books and broken down by county. I was sure to find my way, no matter how far I wandered, toward my destination. Sure on some sunny days, I went off road abit for my long needed conversations with God, but always came back and recalculated as I headed toward my final destination. No longer in sales, I still like long drives, especially those where I wander some. The difference today is that my Google Maps and I argue. She says turn left, and I’m like, nah – not gonna do it, and this goes on for awhile until I return to my route and quiet resumes.
The Magi didn’t have maps or gps or google, they had a star. They had a star in which to follow to lead them to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ and then they had a decision, a decision between two kings. Go back and worship Herod or worship Jesus the new born king, the son of God? They chose Jesus.
As we are navigating our lives, we too have a similar decision. Are we followers of God the incarnate, the God who became man to live and dwell among us or are we followers of man who author themselves a king?
Jesus, the Messiah, the hope, the light, the Christ has given us the gifts of grace, mercy and love. Do we pay it forward? Do we look upon our neighbor and give the same?
When we worship, are we worshipping peace, love and justice or do we worship money, power and things? When we break bread do we pass it along to everyone, or just a chosen few? Do we act and make decisions from a place of love or do we react from a place of fear? Do we share in our abundance or hold back in scarcity?
As a priest and member of the Episcopal Church, I am grateful for my Baptismal Covenant, which provides a guide, a map, like a shining star in the sky that leads my every decision back to Christ. No, I’m surely not perfect. I still wander from time to time, but certainly I strive every day to be better, to do better.
Next week we will renew our covenant at the Baptism of our Lord, but I refer to it every day, and encourage you to do the sme, especially in times of decision and discernment so we may not wander too far from Christ Jesus.
Perhaps, like a GPS the world needs a little recalculating to set it once again on the right course, to want to strive to be and do better, and perhaps we can offer that to our friends and neighbors and loved ones as we remind ourselves and recalculate our lives setting our face on God.
The Baptismal Covenant
|Celebrant:||Do you believe in God the Father?|
|People:||I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.|
|Celebrant:||Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?|
|People:||I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.|
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
|Celebrant:||Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?|
|People:||I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.|
|Celebrant:||Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
|Celebrant:||Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
|Celebrant:||Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
|Celebrant:||Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
|Celebrant:||Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
With Peace and In Christ, Mo. Allison+
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I had the opportunity to preach and serve at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church in Monmouth Junction over the Advent season and for Christmas services. I am grateful for their presence and witness. My heart is full! It was simply wonderful.
A Blessed Christmas to one and all and a very Happy New Year!