Reflection for Monday, March 30, 2020

Reflection on Mark 1:14-20

Bishop Jim Jelinek and I, clergy at Trinity Church Newport Rhode Island, decided last week that we would write daily meditations during this time of pandemic and isolation. We want to offer you a connection as we share what is on our minds and hearts.

If something we say creates a question or a thought in your mind, please know that we are readily available to talk with you by telephone or skype or whatever platform you use.

What we want to do is create social nearness in the Spirit while respecting the urgent call for physical distancing.

My reflection today continues in Mark’s Gospel; chapter 1, verses 14-20

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Our reading begins with the phrase “now after…”. There are many “now afters” in the Bible… now after the flood, now after Moses died, now after Joseph is taken into Egypt, now after… the Crucifixion. It seems to be a dynamic embedded into the words of Holy Scripture but I think it is also a dynamic embedded into the spiritual life. Challenging, terrible events occur but there is, in the economy of God, always a “now after”. It has been said that God (and therefore goodness, righteousness, justice and life itself) will always have the last word. So “now after John was arrested… Jesus came to Galilee”. This psychic dynamic will surely reveal itself as the weeks and months unroll, but we also need it to shape our hours and our days. We need to nurture the belief that no matter how tough a day there is a “now after” tomorrow.

And Jesus went about “proclaiming the good news”. Here the Greek koine word kerugma is used for proclamation. I’ve just finished reading an extraordinarily well written book by Erik Larson on Churchill and the London Blitz and I’ll restrain from Churchill impersonations. Imagine the exuberant joy when the end of war was proclaimed… this is kerugma. The proclamation of good news. Friends, there will come a time when the awful present exigencies of our current days will end and then what a glorious experience there will be of “proclamation of cessation of war and conflict and inauguration of peace and health.”

Years ago I had the privilege of working with a retired priest who used various mantras. One was “Jesus always comes to where we are…”. In my early days of parish ministry, I was instructed to visit parishioners and non-parishioners throughout the week and then present a record (with notes) of my visits. The point was to visit where people are, not wait until they came to you. Hence the phrase (I refuse to call it antiquated) that a “home-going parson makes for a church-going people”. Jesus comes to where Simon and Andrew, James and John are working; and he comes to them as they are (fisherman) and uses their inherent skills for the Gospel.

Whatever state of mind or soul in which we find ourselves, Jesus has and is and will come to us “just where we are” (Emmanuel – God is with us). We need present no false façade… Jesus loves me, Jesus loves, this I know… for the Bible tells me so.

A Prayer
Lord Jesus,
Be present and remain in our weakness and doubt, in our questions and concerns.
And, Lord, may your presence open us (carefully and gradually) to believe that a good future is always next in the Kingdom of God.
May those who feel alone and without value be transformed by looking, listening and talking to you.
AMEN

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Trinity Service Recordings, March 29, 2020

The First Lesson – Ezekiel 37:1-14 (audio by Karen Nash)

 

 

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

 

The Gospel – John 11:1-45  (audio by The Rev. Alan Neale)

 

 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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 this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

The Sermon – by The Rt. Rev. James Jelinek (with audio)

 

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.  

The story of the Valley of Dry Bones in the book of the Prophet Ezekiel is a wonderful piece of drama, as you heard when Karen read it today.  Some of you may remember that it is the base for an old gospel spiritual made popular by a Black male quartet in the 40s or 50s. I can still hear the recording: “O the neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone, and the shoulder bone’s connected to the arm bone, now hear the word of the Lord.”  They caught the fervor, the energy of this lesson and shared it with the world. A new life for a very old story.  

In the reading you just heard, every dimension of it leads us down a path of urgency.  God has taken the prophet in hand and is leading him and steering him to the middle of a valley.  He tells us it was full of bones “and they were very dry.”

GOD: “Mortal, can these bones live?”  “God, you know. Why ask me?” Let’s remember this is a vision or a dream with all kinds of sensory clues, the rattling of bones, the rush of the wind, and when Ezekiel begins to prophesy as he is told, as the bones come together, are covered with sinews and then with skin, Ezekiel watches in amazement, getting increasingly excited.  

But there was no breath in them.  They were lifeless. God instructs him further—“Prophesy to the breath, and when he did they began to move and they stood like a vast army.  And God said, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  

That’s the point and now Ezekiel gets it.  This prophecy is about release from captivity.  It is for a people living in exile, a message to give them hope, but the prophet has to see it first, so he can proclaim it, because this hope is so vast.  He is so sure of the promise because this vision has imprinted it on his soul.  

On Friday I quoted the writer Anne Lamott who used a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who knew captivity, incarceration and subjugation intimately, from the inside out, saying “finite disappointment versus infinite hope.”  Dr. King, like Ezekiel, “had a dream,” too. His dream was also about liberation and empowerment, a vision of his people finding a rightful place in a just society.  

Finite disappointment.  Disappointment is always grounded in time, because of an event, a happening.  We can get stuck there, living with one foot in the grave because we cannot shake off the past.  As a young priest, a woman who had been divorced for ten years came to see me, and she was still harboring that anger as if it had happened in the preceding week.  That was one of my first profound encounters of a person who held on to her disappointment and anger so long. There have been more.  

Let’s go straight to the tomb in the Lazarus story.  The early parts are rich and vivid and so very human.  “Jesus wept,” John tells us. All the emotion around Jesus, the weeping, the wailing grief, moves him so deeply that he shares it with all of them.  But Jesus does not continue to weep. He is decisive and says, “Roll away the stone.” They resist: “There will be a stink.” He persists: “Roll away the stone, “ and they do. 

First Jesus prays, a strange prayer: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  

Now Jesus shares the same excitement and amazement Ezekiel felt as the bones stood up with new breath in them, for when he calls out “Lazarus, come out!  well, “the dead man then comes out” looking like a mummy. John repeats the description of Lazarus, “the dead man,” because he wants to make sure his readers many years later understand this as an event that really happened.  Then Jesus says something both normal and practical, “Unbind him, and let him go,” and we trust they did just that.

Finite disappointment versus infinite hope.  We see it again here. “Disappointment” can be about many things, like failing at something, like being cheated by someone, Like losing in a game, losing in a relationship, like losing someone we love deeply to death.  When we enter that disappointment, it feels like it will last forever. We grieve, we start talking in terms of never. Never again. I’ll never again have as wonderful a dog as my Nico, which is how I felt after he was killed in a tragic accident.  Yet as the realization came to me that he was the third great dog I had had in my adult lifetime, while I still grieved his loss and missing him, I was healed from that fear. EZ is my fourth great dog. Disappointment is finite. It has an end, unless we stroke it and pet it and hang onto it and freeze it in our mind.  

This is where that wonderful line comes in: “Unbind him, and let him go!”  When disappointments are huge, they don’t merely sting or ache, they tie us up in knots and imprison us deep within ourselves.  If it is caused by sin, we have a means to deal with that in the Church; it is called confession and absolution. “Go in peace, the Lord has taken away all your sins.”  If our disappointment comes from an emotional crisis or a trauma, we have therapy and pastoral care. So much of the work of the Church day by day is the work that Jesus did, unbinding people, even groups of people.  

Finite disappointment versus infinite hope.  Hope is infinite.  If it is about something concrete =, that’s not hope, that’s expectation.  That, too, has a finite dimension. But hope springs eternal. It keeps on and keeps on, and it really does spring up, seemingly out of nowhere, just as we are seeing the shoots of spring flowers pop up all over right now.  True hope is always something even beyond what we can ask or imagine, as we often pray.  

We are in a strange and difficult time, a time of more isolation than humanity has experienced for many, many years.  There is no end in sight. We imagine this disease will come to an end, but it is not even on the horizon, as we hear the health reports, so we are locked down, maybe not in solitary confinement.  This is happening all over the world, with all of us trying to protect ourselves from something we cannot see and sometimes cannot even feel when it begins. And so we have to protect others from us in case we might be the one who is dangerous to others.  That is terrifying and depressing. I was feeling the weight of some of that earlier this week, but I was greatly helped by the caring concern of the people with whom I shared that. All of us are susceptible to depression or great anxiousness and anxiety at a time like this.  When we share it, when we name it, we identify what binds us and we have friends to unbind us and help us to let that go. That’s the most important part of our IT and telephone companionship right now, especially for those among us who live alone, and those of us who have health conditions that make us extremely vulnerable and susceptible to this virus.  

Our faith also guides us and can free us from some of the deepest fears.  Many stories in scripture are about liberation from captivity. There are individual stories, And there are two that are huge, the first being the escape from the Egyptians when the people of Israel followed Moses across the Red Sea and into the land of promise.  The second is the time of the great prophets, like Ezekiel, who preached a powerful song of hope and deliverance from captivity in Babylon. They were restored, as a people, to their land and their blessed city Jerusalem.  

Then came Jesus, who preached liberation even from death, and he called people out of the grave and made them well and made them whole.  

That is the core of our salvation history, its very essence.  During much of this history there were those false prophets who claimed that plagues, famines, droughts and floods was God’s punishment for our bad behavior.  I do not believe that. God is not that sloppy, nor that cruel as to cause what those in wartime call collateral damage—women, children, the weak and the poor.  

I do wonder what this pandemic and our forced isolation and separation is going to call us to look at in ourselves as individuals and as a people, not just nationally but globally.  Clearly, the me-first syndrome that characterizes much of western society has to be looked at. When we are obsessed by that, we are living only in the present, which will leave no legacy of being a caring society for our own offspring, and we will leave a world with even more division and disease and the worst consequences of classism.  Will this isolation just help us to be conscious to wash our hands more, which is good, but will it also help us to cleanse our souls, as individuals and as nations and peoples?  

Crisis always provides us with the opportunity to grow.  May we all join in an infinite hope to grow more loving, more just, more willing to seek and live in peace.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Interim Rector, Trinity Church, Newport

Reflection on Mark 1:9-13 – Friday, March 27, 2020

 

Continuing Reflections on Mark’s Gospel – Friday March 27th 2020

My name is Alan Neale, I am Assisting Priest at Trinity Church Newport, Rhode Island. In this time of unimaginable crisis and enforced separation… Bishop Jelinek and I are writing daily reflections so share with you a little what is on our hearts and minds.

If something we say creates a question or a thought in your mind, please know that we are readily available to talk with you by telephone or skype or whatever platform you use.

What we want to do is create social nearness while respecting the urgent call for physical distancing.

Today we come to Mark 1:9-13

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The writer of Mark’s Gospel is the most economical in his use of language and so phrases like “in those days” and words like “immediately” appear often. What we have in Mark is a sort of “bare bones” approach to the Gospel message and to Jesus so that we might approach them with ready and easy accessibility. You may remember how Jesus warns in the Sermon of the Mount not to think that long and loquacious prayers somehow earn special merit with God; short, earnest prayers are sometimes all we can offer in times of such current stress… prayers such as “Lord, help me” and “Lord, have mercy”.

So John is engaged in his business of baptizing (just “doing his thing”) and then Jesus appears. I’m reminded of Moses engaged in his business of keeping sheep (just “doing his thing”) and then the Lord appears in the burning bush. I am encouraged by this… no matter how this wretched pandemic has radically affected our routines, our schedule… at any moment Jesus can seem close to me.

All heaven breaks loose with the baptism of Jesus, and with His baptism we see again the total, life-demanding commitment he has to identify completely with you… and me. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “We have a great high priest who is able to identify with our weaknesses.” Right now we confront weaknesses in abundance but we are not alone.

The first sermon I preached at Trinity Church, Newport was in January 1991. The text was an account of Jesus’s baptism and I preached then on the need to be affirmed and to seek that in the right place – God himself, no one else can satisfy that deep need to be affirmed. So listen, “You are my beloved child, on you my favor rests and with you I am well pleased”.
I believe our spiritual journey is to establish (and re-establish) that experiential truth in our minds and psyches.

The final verse, verse 12, speaks of the most radical physical distancing ever and in that experience of “wilderness/separation” Jesus was tested, tried, tempted. But note… the Spirit was His energy and angels waited on him.

A Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for your intense identification with us in our fears and anxieties, in our hopes and joys, in our tears and laughter.
Give us strength to labor day by day as best we can and keep us alert to your voice.
In our need send us “ministering angels” and in our strength may we be “ministering angels” to others. AMEN

Meditation for Thursday, March 26, 2020

 

REFLECTION/MEDITATION FOR MARCH 26

Hello!, and welcome to a brief pause in your day for relaxation, reflection and refreshment.

In Morning Prayer today, we had one of my favorite passages from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. (12:12-26). Let me read a portion of it to you:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members own the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again, the head to the feet? ”I have no need of you.” ….. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it, and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

For Paul, the image is the body, the human body, which he extends to mean the whole body of humanity. He comes at this “membership” in the body in two ways. First he says there is no use comparing yourself to another part of the body. There is no way by your insecurity or your arrogance that you can take yourself out of the body. You belong. Secondly, there is no point in considering anyone else disposable or dispensable, we cannot cast anyone out. They belong, too.

In this time of pandemic, even as we are the most isolated we can be, where we feel separation so keenly, perhaps this is when we recognize how inseparably linked we are. We are all in this together. We have to let go of some of our defenses—our attitudes and prejudices and angers against others—and hear clearly the opening of one of my favorite collects for mission. “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth….”

I have been fortunate enough to travel a great deal, and I have had the further privilege of living and serving among people from many ethnic backgrounds different from mine. I know that this has opened my mind to understand things in ways I never even considered before. I also know that the more I reflected on this in my life, the more it has opened my heart.

Take some time today to reflect on the people and experiences you have had that have most grown your soul and opened your heart. Yes, think of parents, teachers and mentors you have had, and dwell there for a while if that warms your heart. Go further, search your memory for experiences with people who were foreign to you in any way—ethnicity, class, language, culture, etc.—and recall people whose differences from you were initially annoying or even more, but where something happened in the relationship from which you both learned to know and care about each other deeply. Those are times when you were drinking from one Spirit. Those experiences grow us up. Praise God!

Stay safe, seek wellness and wholeness, and enjoy your day. Gaze on all the daffodils.

Daily Reflection Mark 1:4-8, Wednesday, March 25, 2020

 

As you may know already Bishop Jim and I decided to offer meditations through the week, we want to share with you what is on our hearts in this unprecedented time of crisis.

If something we say creates a question or a thought in your mind, please know that we are readily available to talk with you by telephone or skype or whatever platform you use.

What we want to do is create social nearness while respecting the urgent call for physical distancing.

I have set my task to read through the Gospel of Mark and share some reflections with you. Today Mark 1: 4-8
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The suddenness of John’s appearing is surely well matched by the outré nature of his appearance (camel’s hair, leather belt and a diet of locusts and wild honey). I wonder how such an entrance would be received in most Episcopal Churches.

We are encouraged to believe that the good Lord causes people, plans, and projects to “appear” as and when they are needed. In these times we can celebrate the ingenuity of those trying to alleviate suffering, angst and loneliness. Just when I needed him… a patient, erudite and skilled teacher appeared to assist me with videotaping these reflections. Thank you, Steve.

It’s sad, but not uncommon, that these appearances occur in wilderness times and in wilderness place for these are the arenas in which we rely most on God’s care and sustenance.

John’s ministry by word and action was one that focused squarely on the need to repent – to stop, reflect, turn around 180 degrees and begin again. The ability to forgive and to be forgiven is at the heart of all successful, growing, vital relationships… between us and between us and God. It has been said that “forgiveness” was introduced into the religious/spiritual vocabulary by Jesus who, like John, spoke and lived and died to secure forgiveness.

Now is surely not the time to blame, to resent, to cast aspersions… we begin where we are… afresh with the Lord.

John’s sense of profound self-confidence, of fearless ministry came about because he knew his place with Jesus… he was humble though not humiliated for he knew that his ministry depended not upon his own strengths but on the Lord he served and on the Holy Spirit that empowered him.

A Prayer
Lord God, keep us alert even in the wilderness to look for divine “appearing” of grace and love and power.
Help us to use these times of solitude to “get right” with you and with others.
And, please, help us to sense the closeness of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.
AMEN

Monday Reflection on Mark 1:1-1, March 23, 2020

 

Reflection on Mark 1:1-3

Bishop Jim and I have decided that we will offer short meditations through the week, we will take alternate days – Monday, Wednesday and Friday for me and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for Bishop Jim.

If something we say creates a question or a thought in your mind, please know that we are readily available to talk with you by telephone or skype or whatever platform you use.

What we want to do is create social nearness while respecting the urgent call for physical distancing.

And so to the reflection, as an act of self-discipline (which is no bad thing in Lent) I have made the bold decision to base my reflections on Mark… verse by verse by verse. I wonder how far we get in these sixteen chapters?

Today, Mark 1:1-3
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

The opening of Mark’s Gospel brings to mind the opening of two other Bible Books – Genesis and John. Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created…” and John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word.” I find it, forgive me, rather lovely that the straight-speaking, economic writing of Mark is allied with these two great books in the Bible.

So we begin, as we should, be celebrating, acknowledging the beginning of creation… of the cosmic world, of the rational Word and of the glorious Gospel. Our God revels in creative activity and even creative activity that can bring something beautiful, ordered and varied out of… nothing.

Day by day, if not hour by hour, right now we are looking to God to enable us to see new beginnings rather than tired endings, engaging opportunities rather than endless ennui. I feel sometimes a little overwhelmed by all the suggestions sent to me personally and generally… but even one idea adopted and tried for a little while can enlist me in the divine ranks of angels and archangels… all working to create new beginnings.

Mark then speaks of the good news (Greek word euangelion) that characterizes the message about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is said too often, but sadly never really redundant, that we dare not allow ourselves to be drowned in a swamp of bad news. There is a light in this darkness; a friend reminded me today (John 1:5) “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

And this is good news: Jesus means Saviour, Rescuer, Liberator; Christ means Messiah, Lord of the Heavens, and Son of God identifies you and me with the divine so closely that no light can shine between us. “Jesus became what we are, so that we might become like Him.” Today do your best, with the Spirit’s aid, to walk and talk and think like daughters and sons of God.

Verses 2-3 give us a backward look and thus remember the profound commitment that God gives to preparation, planning, provision for the future. God is never taken by surprise, even though events are not planned by him as some master chess player; God can never be preempted by tragedy, disaster.

Right now I cannot affirm that God has a purpose for this global pandemic but I do believe that something enduring, beautiful, enabling can be created out of this chaos… there is no beginning without God… and now already He is called us to be part of that new creation.

A Prayer
Lord Jesus,
I pray that we will see a new beginning of grace and love and power in ourselves and in others today.
Help us to prepare without greed, or panic or disbelief.
In our experience of wilderness, may we hear the prophetic voice turning us to the Lord.
Amen

Alan Neale

www.Alan-Neale.com

Sermon Preached Online! Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

 

Sermon Preached Online!
Sunday March 22nd 2020
The Reverend Alan Neale
Psalm 23

Between the profound pathos of Psalm 22 and the exuberant exaltation of Psalm 24 comes the beloved, cherished, precious Psalm 23 with its endearing references to a tremendous shepherd, nurtured sheep and vistas of rolling greens and full-loaded banquet tables.

I sometimes think that Psalm 23 is embedded in the souls of humanity for, no matter how near death someone is, the recitation of the Psalm invariably causes a reaction as eyes move and fingers tighten.

It is recited at funerals and it is recited at weddings – crucial words for such significant life events.

No wonder this Psalm was quoted by President George W. Bush from the Oval Office when he addressed the nation on the eve of September 11 2001; and here we are again facing a national catastrophe beyond our imaginings and stretching our resources and our nerve.

In the first three verses the Psalmist speaks of God in the third person:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

It is, to quote our Prayer Book, “meet and right” to meditate upon, talk about, sing aloud the unchanging attributes of our God. Sometimes we sense our prayer is weak, to strengthen it we do well to mediate upon the greatness of God; when we have God in right perspective then we struggle not with prayer but rather yearn to develop our conversation.
Fearful of scarcity, the promise… He will take care of our wants
Wearied by anxiety and dull vistas, the promise… He will help us to rest amid verdant pastures.
Overwhelmed by frantic measures, the promise… He will lead beside still waters.
Feeling drained, the promise… He will restore us.
And, unsure of the future, the promise… He will lead us.
GOD’S CARE IS NOT SEASONAL BUT CONSTANT AND ABUNDANT.

With verses 4-5 we now speak of God in the second person:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

There must come a time, in fact an infinite number of times, when the Christian soul moves from statements about God to a relationship with God. We wish it could be other but, alas, such times of personal, real-time connection often accompany times of great suffering, angst, dilemma.
The shepherd’s rod has a fourfold use: to fight off enemies, to gently seize the errant sheep, to examine the sheep for wounds and to count the sheep – each one beloved by the Shepherd.

The profuse, copious, lavish grace of God, my God and your God, my Shepherd and your Shepherd – this grace promises an abundance in the “very face of our enemies”. Do not cower.

And the final verse:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.

Brother and sister in Christ, know for sure, be confident that you and those whom you love can never strat too far from God’s goodness, mercy and this tremendous invitation… “to stay with Him in the house of the Lord forever.”

A Prayer
Jesus, good shepherd, you know each of us by name; you know us deeply and accept without blame our fears and anxieties, our doubts and our questions. Please deepen in us the awareness of your presence and the opportunity to serve you in ways yet unimaginable.
AMEN

Saturday Meditation – March 21, 2020

 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Fr. Neale, Senior Warden Tatiana Schweibenz, Brian OMalley, Nick Voermans, Cassandra Dias and I met both in the Hawes Room and on Zoom. It was our last face to face meeting in each others physical presence for an unknown and unknowable period of time. We were seeking to plan a way through this crisis and the dilemma it presents to all of us. We have no road maps, and the only real guidance we have is to STAY SAFE, which is generally translated as stay home alone.I have a wonderful beast I can touch and tease and play with and he does the same with me. For those of you with a partner or companion of a few or many years this is a time to recall how you fell in love or became friends or companions. It is a time to remember what loving and being loved did for you in the early years. Is it still a spark or sparkle, or only a glowing ember? Perhaps now is the opportunity to add more fuelthe extra time we have for relationship buildingand then we can let the Holy Spirit blow on those embers to kindle a brighter light and a warming fire. Having so much time gives opportunity for renewal and renewal is always about rebirth, being born again, with new hope and a new perspective on life. And, of course, rebirth is always about resurrection.

This week my granddaughters called, not because they needed to share a burden as they sometimes do, and not because they needed money (as they sometimes do), but simply to know that I am all right. I did not think of calling these 30-ish adults to disturb them with any dimensions of my life, like fear or loneliness or any other darker thoughts, so I was surprised and deeply moved that they want to know how I am doing. I take that as an invitation to talk more, to hear their lovely voices and their ringing laughter, to listen to their fears and to celebrate how they are taking care of themselves.

Many of you live in families, even three-generational ones, and this kind of quarantine in place can be very stressful in several ways. I notice it in EZ, my big standard poodle, who is not taking this well. He sings the blues to me every mid-morning, beyond the time we would have gone to the office. I hear this as: I have become a working dog at Trinity, I am on the staff there, too, and people need me to greet them.The bottom line is I am bored.

Have you felt the boredom? Have you felt it in your family? I cannot imagine anyone between six and eighteen who is not bored alreadybored to the point of annoying those of us who are pretending we are not bored.

This is a time to get real. Can you admit your own boredom? And instead of sending those beloved monsters(or whatever you call them on a good day) off to their laptops for yet another game, or the TV for yet another escapist program (all good in their time), what about pulling out a deck of cards or some boxed game on your shelf and saying, Lets play this together.Or invite them into a craft or art form you love and they may have the talent for? I promise you, the conversations during those times will surprise you, and bring you closer together. Since intimacy is being forced upon us, let us rejoice and be creative with it! Wouldnt it be wonderful not only to survive this virus, but to come out of it feeling more alive, more loving and more loved!

I want to say that Alan+ and I are most concerned about those of you who live alone, with no people and no pets in your daily lives, with no one who pushes you to react, or shows you in some particular and endearing way that you are loved. Most of us will share your experience of being alone at some time in our lives, so I really want to invite you to call on us and Pam Alexander and Trinity Loving Community, to respond to you, especially if you are lonely or afraid. And just because we cannot get together does not mean we cannot be together.

 

I would like to close with Canticle 9 from the Book of Common Prayer (p.86; Isaiah 12:2-6)

 

Surely, it is God who saves me; * I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, * and he will be my Savior.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing * from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, * Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; * see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, * and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, * for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

+Jim

Sunday, March 1, 2020 – Lent 1

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

This morning I want to set Jesus’ temptations within the context of another story from a novel by the great 19th century Russian Feodor Dostoevsky.  The novel is his last, and it is named The Brothers Karamazov.  I am doing this because I believe it is one of the finest, most powerful interpretations of Jesus’ temptations I have ever read.  While I have done the editing here, the credit belongs to the author, and if you are moved to read the whole piece of about 15 pages I am putting a link to the text I used along with this sermon on our web site.

 

“The Grand Inquisitor” scene is built around a “poem” written by the oldest brother Ivan who is sharing his writing with his youngest brother Alyosha.  Ivan is a self-proclaimed atheist and he is especially critical of the Church of Rome and the Jesuit Order, who have a lot of power in that church and were likely the dominant order in Spain where they began.  They vow a special oath of allegiance to the pope.  Ivan is brilliant and cynical.  Alyosha is very insightful and a person of faith.

 

Ivan’s story begins one evening in a plaza in Seville in the 16th century, the height of the Inquisition and the burning of heretics in huge auto-da-fes, the burning of heretics at the stake, often many of them at a time.

 

That night Jesus is seen walking around the plaza.  He has not come with the majesty of the prophesied second coming.  Jesus is simply dressed and walks through the crowds, looking at everyone with a benign smile, and occasionally raising his arm as a sign of blessing.  No one speaks to him, yet many recognize him because of the wonder of his presence.  Many reach out to touch him and are healed when they do.

 

On the edge of the crowd, with his guards nearby, stands the tall, gaunt, almost ninety year old Cardinal Grand Inquisitor.  He has put aside his gorgeous cardinal’s robes and is wearing an old, rough, monkish cassock, but everyone who sees him recognizes him.  When he sees Jesus, he makes a subtle gesture and his guards move in to arrest Jesus and throw him into a cell in the city jail.  The crowd, in fear of the powerful Cardinal, without any protest, bows down en masse to him.  He blesses them and they disperse.

 

The Inquisitor enters Jesus’ cell and begins by saying: “You may not utter a word, for if You do it will change everything that has been written about You.”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

The Inquisitor refers immediately to Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, saying that they are so brilliant, that if we were to gather up all the world’s greatest intellects, they could never come up with anything better.  He sees them as central to Jesus’ relationship with God and the legacy he left to the Church.

 

He also reminds Jesus that in transferring authority to bless and forgive to Peter and the disciples, he gave everything over to the pope, and now everything rests with him alone, and the Inquisitor tells him: “You have no business to return and hinder us in our work.”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

When the Grand Inquisitor talks about the temptation for Jesus of turning stones into bread, noting that Jesus fasted for many days and must have been starving, he reminds Jesus that He quoted scripture: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  The Inquisitor affirms this insight, but adds: “An irresistible power was offered to You to show a man bread and he will follow You; who can resist bread?  Man not only has the desire to live, but faces the problem of what to live for.”

 

“You enlarged that freedom.  Have You forgotten that to man even death is preferable to a free choice between the knowledge of good and evil?”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

The Grand Inquisitor goes on with his lecture to Jesus:  “There are three unique Forces on earth—Miracle, Mystery and Authority and You have rejected all three.”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

“When the tempter took You up to the pinnacle of the Temple, urging You to jump to show that God would save You lest You dash Your foot against a stone, You knew that would have tempted the Lord and if You jumped You would have lost all faith in Him.  Could any other have resisted this?  Is human nature calculated to reject miracle in the most terrible moments of life?  You hoped man would follow Your example and remain true to his God without needing miracle to keep faith alive.  Your refusal to come down from the cross was due to the same determination—not to enslave man.  Look at what You have done, You have left man weaker and lower than You ever imagined.”  Jesus sat in silence.

 

“We corrected and improved Your teaching and based it in Miracle, Mystery and Authority, and men rejoiced once more in being led like a herd of cattle.”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

“Why do You look at me so penetratingly with Your meek eyes, in such a silence——I do not need Your love, I reject it and do not love You.  We are not with You but with him, and that is our secret.  We took from him the gift that You rejected when he offered it to You on the mountain, saying, ‘All these nations will I give You, if You will fall down and worship me.’”

 

“Did You never dream of the possibility that a time would come when man would exclaim that truth and life cannot be in You, for no one could have left them in a greater perplexity and mental suffering than You.  You are to be blamed for the destruction of your own kingdom.”  Jesus sits in silence.

 

“Who can rule mankind better than those who have possessed themselves of man’s conscience and held in their hand man’s daily bread?”

 

“We will make them work like slaves, but during recreation hours an innocent child-like life full of play and merry laughter.  We’ll even let them sin, and they’ll love us more, and we’ll take their sins upon ourselves, for we so love the world that we are willing to sacrifice our souls for its satisfaction.”  Jesus sits in silence.

*   *   *   *   *

Alyosha cannot stand any more and he breaks in: “But all that is absurd!  Your poem is a glorification of Christ, not an accusation as you meant it to be.  It is Rome—not all, but the worst of the Roman Catholics, the Inquisitors and the Jesuits you expose.”

 

“Your Inquisitor is impossible.  Who are these keepers of mystery who took upon themselves a curse for the good of mankind?  The Jesuits are merely a Romish army making ready for a temporal kingdom.”

*   *   *   *   *

In the last scene, the Inquisitor waits for his prisoner to speak.  Silence weighs on him.  He saw Him listening, eyes fixed penetratingly and softly on the face of his jailer, not going to reply.  The old man longs to hear his voice, better words of bitterness and scorn than His silence.

 

Suddenly, He rises, slowly and silently approaching the Inquisitor.  He bends towards him and softly kisses the bloodless, four score and ten year old lips.  That is all the answer.  The Grand Inquisitor shudders, a convulsive twitch at the corner of his mouth.

He goes to the door, opens it, and addressing Him, says, “Go, go, and return no more…do not come again…never, never!” and lets Him out into the dark night.  The prisoner vanishes.

 

*   *   *   *   *

Alyosha asks, “And the old man?”

 

Ivan replies, “The kiss burns his heart, but the old man remains firm in his own ideas and unbelief.”

 

(Alyosha grieves because he knows his brother remains firm in his own ideas, as well.)

 

  • * *     *     *    *    *     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

 

To me Dostoevsky captures both the essence and the universality of Jesus’ temptations.  On one hand, temptation is always personal, some longing or desire within us that we are trying to resist if it would lead us astray, however we define that in a particular way for ourselves, such as when we set aside a favorite treat or pleasure for a while.  It is also personal on the other hand in our trying to avoid a particular responsibility or, shall we say, healthy choice.  The universality comes in when we might be trying to lead others away from doing what is best for them, or going the opposite direction; whether that be with our children, the people we work with, or the people for whom we are seen as an example.  Take something simple, like protecting the environment.  It is personal to have to do the work of separating garbage from recycling, but the examples we set are universal.  Of course, a further problem is that we do some things so mindlessly that we do not even think of any consequences.

 

 

The depth of Dostoevsky’s basic premise for this story reminds me how mindful we need to be in this time of Lent, when we do an examen of conscience and more intentional and spiritually healthy living.

 

One last thing:  did you notice the line when the Grand Inquisitor says, “for we so love the world that we are willing to sacrifice our souls for its satisfaction.”  Listen to the contrast in what is said about Jesus, (which he did not even claim for himself), that “Jesus so loved the world that he was willing to sacrifice his life for its salvation.”  To sacrifice one’s soul is to sell it.  To sacrifice one’s life is to give it away.  What can be cheaper than to sell one’s soul for anyone’s satisfaction?  What could be dearer than to give one’s life away for another’s salvation?  Alan preached that wonderful sermon based on the lesson that asks us whether we are going to choose death or choose life.  Here is that question again.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Interim Rector, Trinity Church, Newport

 

Weblink to text referred to and quoted is Project Gutenberg, EBook of The Grand Inquisitor, #6 in the Dostoevsky series; translated by H.P. Blavatsky.