Call to prayer

The sermon yesterday included a call to prayer.  If you missed it (or want to share it or listen again...) you can hear it here or on iTunes.  This is not a comprehensive guide, but a hopeful nudge to remove barriers.  As I suggested yesterday, the Psalms may also give voice to our prayer even as we struggle to find the words.

We cannot wait for legislation, even as we advocate for it.  We cannot wait for others, we must seek God's way, that we might help facilitate meaningful change.  I wanted to provide a little more direction on the "how" to pray, particularly as we seek to change the world.  First, we pray for God's guidance.  

"Lord God, we seek to do your will.  Guide our hearts, our thoughts, our will.  Reveal to us how we can be effective followers of your way and share your truth.  Give us words that encourage sharing, give us words to respond to hatred as you would, rather than as our egos would respond.  Help us relinquish control and our own preconceptions, that your will may be done.  Amen."

Then, we must pay attention (listen).  God will guide us.  It often amazes me how these prayers are answered.  Don't be discouraged if you need to repeat a prayer like this a lot.  In fact, as we truly listen to one another we may need to offer it more frequently.

Next, I believe we are all tempted to pray that the "others" heart may be changed.  This is not unlike prayers for a sports team to win?  Even when we cannot see how the other's thoughts can be reconciled with God, they need to be heard (and God loves them... truly loves the 'other').  

"Lord God, as I seek to do your will I seek change in the world.  This will require change of me and of others.  Lead me to actions that are pleasing to you, guide my listening and my words.  Help me to listen.  Help me to see the good in others, even when we disagree.  I want to be faithful to your plan, even as it requires change of me.  Amen."

May we each remember to rely on God.  May we each remember to pray faithfully.  May we allow God to guide us, in our interactions with others and in our living.  May we be guided by the example of Christ, seeing true power coming from love and grace, rather than sword or throne.

Notes on Liturgy

"Liturgy is the means that the church uses to keep baptized Christians in living touch with the entire living holy community as it participates formationally in Holy Scripture." - Eugene Peterson

The 'liturgy' or order of our worship is consistent, passed through the ages.  It centers on God's word, as we find it in the scriptures and the sacraments of the church.  Even as some elements change to acknowledge the passing seasons, the shape of the liturgy is relatively unchanged.  I want to offer a few notes that may help enrich your participation in our liturgy.

First, do not underestimate the power of arriving early.  Our culture leaves us rushing from one thing to the next.  If you can find a way to arrive a few minutes early to get situated it will magnify your experience of everything that follows.  Perhaps this will be a Lenten discipline for some?

The Celebrant guides the worship.  Watching the celebrant helps one to know when to sit, stand or kneel.  They also guide the pace of worship.  Listening to the celebrant, along with those close to you helps us pray together, rather than simply in the same space.

Music enriches our worship in many ways.  Here at Ascension we are blessed with a dedicated choir, talented direction and musicality as well as with an instrument that further enhances what is offered.  Music can add to the synchronicity of worship, uniting our voices and connecting our hearts rhythm.  The power of music is sometimes palpable, particularly after an anthem or solo.  We may be accustom to applauding for a performance, however these works are offered as worship.  Awed, reverent silence is more appropriate in worship.  Expressing your appreciation for a piece to the choir or soloist following worship is also meaningful.

There is more to note about our liturgy than can fit in one post, next week I will offer a few more notes, particularly on receiving the sacraments. 

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

 

Lenten Disciplines

This post is the follow up to our 'Ascension Ed' sessions on Lenten disciplines, it can of course be used by all who find it here.  Look for updates to this post in the next week, as we all prepare for Lent

Prayer

  • The Book of Common Prayer 1979 - https://dailyoffice.wordpress.com/
    • Following the book can be complex, but worthwhile, the website or “eCP” app simplify following this liturgy
  • Common Prayer - http://commonprayer.net/
    • This prayer book includes a liturgy for each day of the year, the “Pocket Edition” is abbreviated and requires a little more of the user. 
  • There are many versions of the Book of Common Prayer, both based on location and by date.  For example, here in the United States our current prayer book is the 1979 BCP, the prior book from 1928 remains a great resource for prayer.  Similarly, the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer has become popular as it offers an easy to follow Daily Office as well.

Meditations

Scripture

The body is a gift from God, how we care for it is important.  Lent can be a time when we take on disciplines that may be good for our body or Creation in general.

Eating Practices

  • Observing a Kosher Diet: this would likely require some adjustments to accomplish in its purest form, but could also help one immerse themselves in scripture
  • Daniel Diet: another Biblical example of eating, both of these not only require a participant to engage with scriptures, but experience the purpose of dietary laws, both in their need for obedience and how they set God’s people apart from non-observers 
  • Being Vegetarian: a simpler approach.  While not “Biblical” it would likely require you to make some changes.  These changes are likely to be better for you and for the demands on creation 

Physical Practice

  • Walking or Running
    • In addition to the benefits of the activity itself, running and walking can help you engage with God and community.  It can be used as prayer time, or a time to meet your neighbors or fellow pedestrians.
  • Yoga: it is good for the body, mind and soul.  Finding the right class for you can be a challenge, maybe Lent is a time to commit to trying a few and finding a place that allows you to practice well and improve your mindfulness.
  • Quiet stillness: this can be a more difficult challenge than the others!  Carving out a set time to just sit.  You can be intentional in your listening, or simply enjoy being.
The earth is a gift from God, how we care for it is important.  

Ecological Practices

  • Line drying laundry: it will reduce your electric bill...but more importantly it can reduce your contribution to Climate Change.  Perhaps you can use the time you hang the laundry as a prayerful moment too.
  • Eliminate plastic bags: it is easy to forget that these bags add to our petroleum dependence AND have created a substantial pollution on land and at sea.  Use Lent as a time to commit yourself to not using any plastic bags.
  • Do an energy audit: examine your electric use at home or work and see where it might be reduced.  This could include reducing the amount of driving you do, either by carpooling, public transport or bicycle.

Heading toward a New Year

"It is always during a passing state of mind that we make lasting resolutions." - Marcel Proust

I have always enjoyed the act of making resolutions more than the keeping of them.  The last few years I have had some success in keeping resolutions, although I imagine some of that comes through the making of more modest (reasonable) resolutions?  I also believe that in the life of the church we have several opportunities for this: the church new year, the calendar New Year, and shortly thereafter, Lent!

I digress, lest we get to Lent too quickly...  I will offer a few possibilities for you as you contemplate possible New Year's resolutions.  Daily Prayer and reading of scripture are terrific goals.  These may seem lofty, indeed they may be, but very worthwhile.  Indeed, these (or any) may be easier than ever to keep with helpful apps that help remind you to read each day.  I've long favored the "Daily Audio Bible" podcast as a means to immerse oneself in scripture.

There are a few areas at church that could benefit from additional volunteers too.  We need both Ushers and Greeters to serve on Sunday.  Both of these opportunities work as teams, so you're not required every Sunday, as well as on-the-job training with others.  These ministries are incredibly important to our current members and any guests.  We are also looking for more volunteers to help with Food Pantry pick up days.  These are generally on Saturday, a group of volunteers meet to pick up groceries (usually at Wal-Mart) and deliver them to the pantry at Ascension and to Tasby Middle School.  If you are interested in either of these opportunities, or finding other ministries that suit your talents let me know, I'll help connect you with the right leaders here.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Scripture, Tradition, Reason

"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars." - Martin Luther

Scripture, tradition and reason each hold a special place in the authority of our church (and our faith).  Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600) is an early Anglican theologian who noted these are like a three-legged stool.  Scripture, tradition and reason each rely upon one another; when one is neglected the whole thing can fall over.  We have continued to honor the balance in these aspects throughout our heritage as a church.

The place of scripture varies widely among Christian denominations.  In the Episcopal Church we honor it in reading expansively as we gather each week.  This discipline is further supported in the Daily Office and other devotional material.  Some have suggested we are less knowledgeable, as we are less able to quote chapter and verse than others, yet the stories are a part of who we are.  Our holding 'scripture' in conjunction with 'reason' also sets us apart from those who hold to a literal interpretation of scripture.  We are more likely to sit with the contradictions than try to explain them away.

The traditions of the church are important.  They help us to learn from those who have gone before us.  Here, we can both learn from the successes and learn from "mistakes".  Honoring traditions can slow change too.  While change is important, we do well to temper it with an understanding of the traditions we inherit.  The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus pushes against traditions, particularly where there seemed to be tradition for traditions sake.

Reason may be listed, but there is no least in this list.  Our use of reason as central to the authority of the life and doctrine of the church has served us well.  It may be particularly meaningful in our current era.  Technological and scientific advancements have revolutionized our understanding of the world around us.  Some perceive this as a threat to their faith, whereas many Episcopalians embrace this.  Our church can reconcile our understanding of scripture and tradition with these advancements more readily.  Perhaps it will help us to connect with those who are struggling in other denominations.  May these aspects continue to guide our faith and our church in the years ahead.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

God Incarnate

Prayer is a moment of incarnation - God with us.
God involved in the details of my life.

                                                        ― Paul E. Miller

The story of Christmas is an audacious tale. Early Christianity did not even delve into these mysteries, focusing almost entirely on the Resurrection, with a dose of how to follow "the way" that Jesus offered us. Several generations passed before the act of "incarnation" was truly contemplated. God came to be human, God came as an infant in great humility.

Jesus is so much more than an atonement story. Each year as we celebrate the incarnation, something new surfaces, but a few things seem ever-present as well. First, Jesus was always part of the plan. Sending Jesus was not some afterthought solution to a disconnect between God and the world, Jesus was always part of the plan. Also, the world often misleads our understanding of power. The notion that power comes through force, might and conquest is corrected in Jesus Christ.

As we gather to celebrate the incarnate God, perhaps the story may be unveiled in new ways to you as well. May we be awestruck by the blessing we receive in God made manifest; may we be transformed by the life of Christ as it is revealed to us in scripture and in the life of the Church; may we reflect the joy of God throughout this season, that the radiance of God be known throughout the world.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Hearing the prophets

 

"Prophecy is a way of thinking as well as a way of living." - Abraham Heschel

This Advent we've committed to an examination of the prophets.  Isaiah in particular stands out, both in our lectionary, but also in his portrayal of the Savior yet to come.  As I reflect on the prophets of our scripture, I've been struck by how different their role was than the call of God to be prophetic today.  This was further accentuated as I listen to Dr. Hunt's presentation this past Sunday (now available via YouTube on our website).

The religious culture in the time of the prophets was far different than what exists today, or even in early Christianity.  Judaism remains the last example of 'primal' religion; having no expectation of converting others.  Primal faith expanded only through birth and kingdoms conquering other kingdoms.  The prophets spoke boldly of God's claim, without fear of someone simply going to another church, or having their spiritual needs met through other means.  Don't mistake me, the role of the prophet was still inordinately difficult.  Today, we face a different challenge as we aim to be prophetic.

How then, do we speak prophetically without scaring people away?  We continue to proclaim the truth and wisdom that the scriptures captured from the prophets and Jesus.  God calls us to share the grace and love we experience as we encounter God.  This call is magnified with those who are oppressed.  As we move toward the celebration of the Incarnate God, may the blessedness of the human form be known.  God's love triumphs over sorrow and oppression.  May God give us ears to hear the call of the prophets, may God grant our hearts capacity to respond to the needs of those around us, may God draw our awareness to the completeness we experience in Christ.

Advent immersion

"Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise." - Karl Rahner

Advent is upon us.  We have begun well and may continue our focus throughout this sacred season.  Our worship will mark the progress of the season.  This Sunday we will continue our sequence of extraordinary preludes as we begin our worship.  During the procession you may see 'Saint Nicholas' who will help share this part of our history with the children during chapel.

Several people have commented how much they have enjoyed the Advent devotionals, which remain available on the Welcome Desk and kiosk.  The #adventword has also been a great way to stay focused on the season daily.  Even if you aren't on social media, you can see some of the posts through our website (see the 'Social' tab under 'Media', or click here).

I also want to note the Blue Christmas service that will take place next Wednesday at 5:30.  While this season is noted for hope and expectation, it is also very difficult for many.  Perhaps most especially for those who are mourning or experienced a loss recently.  The hope with this service is creating time and space to acknowledge our loss, to unite in prayer and move toward the Incarnation in peace.  I look forward to seeing you in church as this season continues.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Advent is upon us

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. - Isaiah 40:3

This Sunday, December 3, marks the beginning of Advent and with it a new church year. Advent is a season of preparation and expectation as we anticipate the arrival of our Messiah. Our worship reflects these priorities and we hope to infuse the whole season with these qualities. We hope that our worshipformation and outreach will all work hand-in-hand to enrich this season.

This Sunday we begin with "AdventFest" at 9am. This intergenerational formation time will help us dedicate ourselves to this season of preparation. There are also several options for all ages, including some fantastic coloring sheets. Come early and allow yourself some time to move from station to station. There are also devotionals available for your use throughout the season.

I want to encourage you to be deliberate to arrive a little early throughout Advent not only to participate in formation, but also to be seated in the Nave by 10am to prepare for worship. While the procession won't begin until 10:15, those seated early will observe an extra prayer as we light the Advent wreath each week at 10:05. We hope to observe sacred silence as we listen to the vocal arrangement with each prelude leading us into worship.

The Live Nativity (December 17) is coming up quickly, too. Our set up will be a little different than in years past and we hope it will make it easier to be a part of it, and easier to share with others. Sign up here or on the sign up sheet in the Narthex to participate. There are roles and jobs for everyone!

Throughout Advent we will be collecting diapers to support our ministry partner Pamper Lake Highlands. Please bring diapers to the display in the narthex as you're able.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

In Gratitude

Day to day it is hard to maintain the perspective of how truly blessed we are. Our time and place in history is unique in so far as how well we are able to address general human need. Certainly, there is still great need in this world, yet as a whole, our needs are being met in unprecedented ways. This is particularly true in our country. 

As we gather for Thanksgiving, we do well to acknowledge this blessing as best we are able. Perhaps this can frame our thinking and expectation as we enter a season of great spending during the holidays. Black Friday gives way to spending that exceeds most needs. 

Acknowledgments of gratitude and love often take the shape of gift-giving in this season. In some cases, these gifts could be reconsidered for the sake of supporting a cause or organization of meaning. Other times, gifts themselves can support the needs of others. This Sunday we will welcome Honduras Threads during our "Ascension Ed" hour (9am in the Parish Hall). We will gather to hear more about their mission and ministry.  I hope you will join us.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul