IT'S ALL ABOUT TO CHANGE - A SERMON ON I PETER 3:18-22 AND MARK 1:9-15 - FR. JOSEPH C. ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
~Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered
the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2021
I Peter 3:18-22 & Mark 1:9-15 “It’s All About to Change”
It’s a rough entry into ministry for Jesus.
Wet from the water of baptism, the heady words from the Creator, whom Jesus calls Father, still warming his heart, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”, now Jesus is pushed out by the third Person of the Trinity. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” Mark says.
Whatever happened in the temptation, the hunger and heat in the wilderness, Jesus comes out of it saying, “I’ve got good news for you to believe.”
Except there’s a little word that comes before believing: Repent.
That’s Jesus’ signature line, what the Gospels say he began with, and said throughout Galilee.
Metanoia. Turn your mind around. Turn your heart around. Turn your life around. That’s what he means. You can’t keep walking on the path you’re walking if you want to find the good news, Jesus says. Finding good news, believing good news, starts with repentance.
We don’t talk much about repentance with each other. Maybe it sounds too negative. Maybe it’s church-talk that we don’t really know what it means for our life anymore. But it was a cornerstone for Jesus’ preaching, the beginning to everything.
That’s what today is about. It’s a day where we confess our sin and begin a six-week journey with God, a journey of turning our lives around and seeking to live in God’s ways.
In short, we embark on a journey with Jesus through the wilderness, with the understanding that we are going to have be honest about ourselves and our lives.
We sojourn toward a recognition that SIN is the word that best describes what we already know is wrong with our lives, what we know God sees as broken in us.
Today, we remind ourselves of our mortality, we face this truth: that because of sin, none of us is living through this. Sooner or later the words: “Earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust” will be said over each of us.
Today we tell the truth: you’re going to die. I’m going to die. We can’t change that.
So, today is about honesty: honesty about our sinfulness. Honesty about our mortality.
As we begin our Lenten journey, we begin with the truth.
And that’s because, as Jesus said, the truth will free us. Free us to live a life worth living in the time we have left.
People who know they are about to die often find freedom to live.
So, if we know we’re going to die, what do we have to lose? How do we want to live? By clinging to possessions, to habits, to sinful ways of being that hurt us and others? By lugging around fears and worries?
Maybe today’s honesty is a gift: now we know we’re on a countdown, we can focus.
That’s what our Lenten discipline helps us learn.
The discipline of Lent is the discipline of a freed life. In which, as disciples we are being shaped into something new and different. It’s believing change happens! Hope happens! Grace happens!
It’s trusting that God can make something new and beautiful from the dust of our lives.
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
“Alleluia” (a translation of the Hebrew word, “hallelujah”) is an expression of praise meaning “Praise Yahweh”. Our Book of Common Prayer states several times that “Alleluia may be added except in Lent”. Since the fifth century, Alleluias have not been heard from the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday until the Easter Vigil. The practice creates a verbal “fast” or “rest” which nourishes a sense of anticipation and even greater joy when the familiar word of praise returns to our service. To symbolize this fast, we bury our Alleluias on Shrove Tuesday in a service that was formerly called the depositio. Bishop Duranti wrote in 1296, “We part from Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss before we leave him.” During this era, choir boys processed with crosses, tapers, and holy water carrying a coffin containing the Alleluia banner with “moaning and mourning”. The coffin was then buried in the cloister or garden, sprinkled with Holy Water, and then incensed. In Paris, an Alleluia of gold letters was burned in the churchyard. At the Great Vigil of Easter, the Alleluias are “resurrected”, and congregational singing of multiple alleluias proclaims the Lord’s resurrection unleashing pure Easter Joy!
Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY REFLECTIONS ON 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6 AND MARK 9:2-9 - FR. TONY MOON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
February 14, 2021
Fr. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I was a “day-dreaming child.” During school days, my mind was on adventures miles away. I could construct things in my thoughts and then be completely surprised when I returned to “reality” only to discover that that thing didn’t exist at all! After school, my brother could find me changing my clothes—only I was statue-like, in the pose of one-little-boy-leg out of his slacks and one-little-leg-still-in-them, all while staring out the window for some considerable time, absorbed in my inner life.
Probably as most adults, I spend less time daydreaming now than when I was a youngster. I admit, when I have the time to dream things up, it’s good—only more intentional now! I’ve noticed dreaming up things happens easily on airplanes. …not recently, of course—and unfortunately—but my time on planes is usually fairly productive, speaking for my imagination. If I have a course to design or want to consider the construction of a piece of woodwork, a blank sheet of paper, a soft lead pencil, some time on my hands, and soaring above the clouds is a good combination to get things done. Visioning on a plane seems to make sense, because in a very real way I’m detached from my earthly moorings; I’m naturally in a 30,000-foot, big-view level—closer to the heavens than to the plains of Oklahoma; my mind lets loose a little and seems a little freer. Dreams can be released to find me.
I wonder if there might have been some similar feelings when Peter, James and John set up that high mountain. But way beyond simple feelings of being freed of earthly bonds to relax and conjure up the unimagined, the transfiguration was no doubt a sight never before seen or imagined, and shot sheer terror through these men. Seeing your friend turned to light—phenomenal, wonderous…puzzling to say the least! Amazing beyond any kind of amazing they’d yet seen from their magnificent miracle-worker! And, beyond the luminous figure of Jesus, to see the figures of now long-dead Elijah and Moses…must have sent them reeling! The capstone of the event could only be the voice of God—proclaiming that Jesus was his Son, his beloved. The voice of God, demanding, “Listen to him!” And, no doubt, they did.
Frightening, confusing, surreal…and yet, holy. Transformational. Ecstatic. A thin place where the divine was made manifest. Wanting to capture the moment, to hold onto this wildly holy ride, we know that the Apostle Peter suggests to Jesus that they build dwelling places there on that mountain. And just as suddenly, the light is gone; Moses and Elijah, vanished; Jesus standing alone. The law and the prophets (Moses who brought the ten commandments down another mountain, and Elijah, a major prophet of old) were gone now, leaving only Jesus.
A holy, transformational thin place. You may have heard of that term, thin place, which comes to us from Celtic Spirituality. These are places where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin, where you can walk in the two worlds—where these worlds are fused together, maybe knitted together loosely where the differences can be discerned, or knitted together tightly where the two worlds become one, where heaven and earth come closer. The transfiguration of Jesus occurs in one such thin place, a place that disorients us from our old habits of perceptions, old ways of seeing and managing ourselves in the world, and jolts us into new ways of seeing and understanding.
Disorienting and re-orienting with a jolt! Old ways of seeing and behaving evaporate and we are quickly transported to new ways of seeing and understanding. It’s no wonder that Peter wanted to stay on a little longer, actually live in this mountain top experience. Who could blame him? But if you’ve ever had a peak experience, you know they are fleeting. They happen, we are elated and then they are gone and we return to the realities of this world, maybe changed, maybe re-aligned or transformed in some way… but, this world is where we “live and move and have our being.”
Maybe by now, you’re wondering if you’ve ever had an experience of a thin place. Or, maybe you can identify one that caused a shift in your own self. And maybe you’re thinking, “an ecstatic mountain top experience? These thin place experiences sound great, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one.” Well, while they are gifts from God, they seem to be more of an unexpected result of our efforts at relationship-making with God than of our own construction. Certainly, such was the case with Peter, James and John. And, most certainly this was the case with Jesus.
I’ve always thought of thin places as those places and situations just like where these apostles found themselves: A mountain top spiritual high; majestic and wonderful. And now I’m questioning that. I wonder if the thin place isn’t any place where we are jolted out of our old habits into new ways of being, and also experiencing God afresh. Certainly, this is no mountain top experience, but maybe even this pandemic could be a thin place. I know this has been true for me. My old habits of meeting with family and friends have been disrupted; my old habits of greeting others with handshakes and hugs have not happened in a year; my old habits of often eating in restaurants has given way to me becoming friends with our kitchen. Our Christmas ritual of gathering with our beloved family was re-oriented to opening presents and having those endearing conversations with kids and grandkids on Zoom—even though they live nearby. I know that we’ve all had a good deal of our daily and even seasonal habits change in dramatic ways. But what about seeing God afresh?
If we’re looking for God, I think the pandemic may have caused us to see God with new eyes, too. If anything, I think most of us have been pressed into relying on God more as we learn new limitations. One of the first events that caused this for me was a pastoral call for someone who’d been hospitalized. Immediately I dropped into my old mode of thinking and doing, pre-COVID. I was knocking around home when I received the call, and immediately thought, “I’ll change to black clothes and a collar, and hop on over to the hospital.” “Not so fast,” was my second thought as I remembered that I could not even gain entrance into the hospital to see the patient. The result was lots of conversation on the phone and via text, and lots of prayers. I could not be of service in the same old way, and I felt really hamstrung. What was I to do? And then came the recognition that I was not in charge here. God could attend to someone in healing ways that I cannot even imagine, while I could not even gain entry to sit next to them. God was in control. God is in control. God always has been in control, even when I imagined that I was offering comfort, it really was God’s comfort that I was offering. As a result of this thin place, I have more fully recognized God’s great power. I’ve more fully discerned my relationship with God, who God is in my life. Now, that’s reorienting! And it definitely did not happen on a mountain top, but it happened in my daily life. It actually happened in a valley. But it happened because I was looking for where God could show up in this sad situation.
So, I think thin places where we meet God and walk in a world different from our habituated one can happen to us all. These thin place experiences can happen on mountain tops, for sure. And they can happen in our everyday experiences… even at times that seem like the lowest. My friends, keep looking for God, and walking with God! Let God be that illuminating presence in your life, that transformational transfiguration of your own life. Allow the light of Jesus to overcome you!
~ Rev. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
" MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS" TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY SERMON - II CORINTHIANS 4:3-6 AND MARK 9:2-9 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered
the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 14, 2021
II Corinthians 4:3-6 & Mark 9:2-9 “Mountain Climbers”
This morning, I would like for you to think about the last time you were courageous enough to climb to the top a rocky crag? Just muse about that moment when you scaled the mountain and after much hardship and many tenuous steps made it to the summit.
But, you may be saying to yourself, “But Father, you don’t understand I’ve never so much as donned a backpack, shod mountain climber boots, or even come within ear shout of an actual mountain. How can I think about the last time I climbed to the top of a mountain?”
A mountaintop experience is one which is special, unique, one in which time virtually stands still. It is one before which all other experiences pale.
Your mountaintop experience was a university graduation, not necessarily for the graduate, but for the parents who have struggled to help ensure that the day would come to pass.
For some, a marriage is a mountaintop experience, a day on which the bride and groom are convinced that there is no love in the world greater than the love they have for each other.
So, it is in the scriptures events of great proportion are seen on the mountain; that place of divine revelation. Theologians call them Theophanies. On Mount Horeb Moses encounters the burning bush. On Mount Sinai this same Moses goes up receives the Ten Commandments and his countenance was changed. What about Elijah? He hears the still small whispering voice of God on the mountain. And yes, it is here on the Mount Tabor that Jesus takes his “executive committee,” Peter, James and John with him.
They go up the mountain and see something most extraordinary happening. Jesus’ face is altered, and he seems to be enveloped in light so that his clothes are dazzling white.
But that’s not all. He is not alone but, seen flanked on his left and right two other famous “Mountain Climbers,” Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah, who represented the Law and the Prophets, are there in glory, and they are all engaged in a conversation about what was to happen to Jesus --- namely his passion, death, and resurrection.
In this brief moment, there is a cameo, a picture of the whole story of salvation, as Jesus comes face to face with Law he came to fulfill and the Prophets who foretold him coming.
We appreciate mountaintop experiences because they are special, and because they give us strength and inspiration to return to everyday existence, empowered to take them on.
The mountaintop experience of graduation day doesn’t last. The graduate will have to enter the real and rough tumble work force and earn a living.
The mountaintop experience of the wedding day certainly doesn’t last. There will be sickness as well as health, poorer as well as richer, and a good deal of worst instead of better.
But, it was at that moment the “terrific trio” heard a voice from heaven thunder the words. ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Familiar words, the same words heard at the baptism of Jesus with the addition of “listen to him.” Up to this point they had not truly listened to him and in fact will not listen and understand until the bloody events that happen on that mountain of pain and death called Golgotha have past.
Yes, only then will they know that Jesus who was Son of God, powerful agent of healing and subject of dazzling glory is also the Son of Man, who will soon be crucified and flanked again on the right and left not by Moses and Elijah, but two criminals. This One who was transfigured in their midst, ultimately transfigures and then transforms their lives through his death and resurrection.
The disciples had to come down from of the mountain, follow Jesus, and return to the normalcy of life. And that is the challenge that we face. We must come down from the mammoth and momentous mountaintop experiences of our existence and go back to valleys of despair, veiled with tears. We too, must come from the highest summits of our captivating crags and return to the humble hamlets of human suffering and loss.
Because it is to such places and to such people that the Sovereign God sends us; his Beloved with a message of hope and healing to those who have broken hearts and destroyed dreams.
Yes, you will have to come off of the mountain and return to the broken communities of injustice with its painful pictures of poverty.
But return to them and transform them because you have experienced the moment of transfiguration and are thus transformed to ultimately transport the love and light of God into the world knowing that we are God’s Beloved and that his glory will be with us.
~Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
My five year old is at the age where he’s constantly asking questions as he attempts to make sense of the world around him. After a particularly enthralling episode of something with superheroes, he asked me if some people were really “bad guys.” I had to pause. I told him that all of us make good choices sometimes, and we all make bad choices sometimes too…. The truth is, we’re all infinitely capable of being both “good guys” and “bad guys” every single day with every act and thought. Being human means we can take one step towards everything we would aspire to be- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness- and in the next breath we can embody the worst version of ourselves- jealousy, pride, selfish ambition, vain conceit… We are all in need of God’s grace, every single moment of every single day. The tax collector recognizes our plight in himself, and utters in simple sincerity the truth that resounds within all of us. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
May we allow all of the righteousness we throw up as proof that we’re on the right side, that we’re one of the “good guys,” fall away and reveal that we are indeed in need of the same mercy as anyone else. And in that recognition, may we allow God’s grace to work through us as we love those around us.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Remind me that your love and grace are new every morning, and that they are enough to cover the failures of my past, my present, and my future. Guide my actions, that I might love those around me with humility and grace as well. Amen.
~ Jennifer Matias, Member, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
THE HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF SHROVE TUESDAY - DR. GIL HAAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Last Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is called Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is a form of the word “shrive”, which means to be absolved. The name comes from the custom of confessing one’s sins and being “shriven” before the start of Lent. In some churches, the “shriving” or “pancake” bells are rung to invite the penitent to confession and to remind households to begin making pancakes. In the British Commonwealth, the day is known as “Pancake Day” - a day to rid one’s pantry of the fatty foods, such as eggs, milk, flour, and sugar that are to be given up during Lent. Pancakes have been found in cookbooks as far back as 1439, and the tossing of them is equally ancient. For example, Pasquil’s book from 1619 suggests “And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne." Although pancake races are scheduled throughout the United Kingdom on Shrove Tuesday, the most famous one is in Olney, Buckinghamshire. During the race, a pancake must be tossed three times. The first housewife to arrive at the church, complete the course, serve the pancake to the bellringer, and kiss him is the winner.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The romanticism of Valentine’s Day may have begun by the efforts of early Christians to dodge the draft. Married Roman soldiers were considered inferior because it was thought that their fervor might be diminished if they remembered their family during battle. Emperor Claudias therefore forbade the marriage of young people. This edict prompted a Christian priest, Valentine of Terni, to perform secret marriages. Valentine was arrested, beaten, stoned, and beheaded but not before he restored the sight of his jailor’s daughter. Little else is known of him except that he was martyred on February 14th and buried near Rome. His bones were gifted to King Carlos IV in 1700, and they were deposited in Madrid’s St. Anton’s Church. Catholics venerated St. Valentine on February 14th until his feast was removed from their calendar in 1969 because of his obscurity. Anglicans and Lutherans still celebrate this feast, but Valentine has never been on the Episcopal calendar. Instead, February 14th is our feast of St. Cyril and Methodius, ministers to the Slavs. Modern traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day” may have first sprung from Geoffrey Chaucer’s fictional stories about the day that he claimed were ancient traditions involving romantic love.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
During Lent, we are reminded by Ash Wednesday’s gospel that we are in a time
of prayer, fasting, and self-denial. Surprising to some, page 17 of our Book of Common
Prayer designates Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as “Fasts”, while the weekdays of
Lent and Holy Week, (except the Annunciation on March 25) are considered “Days of
Special Devotion” requiring “special acts of discipline and self-denial”. No specific rules
are provided. The original fast preceding Easter lasted two days. Later in the Western
church, the thirty-six days of Lent were punctuated by Sunday feasting - continuing the
resurrection celebration even during Lent. Forty days of Lenten fasting was begun in
the 7th century when the four days from Ash Wednesday to the first Sunday in Lent
were added. Initially, fasting was strict with only one meal a day towards evening.
Meat, eggs, and fish were forbidden. Beginning in the 4th century, the hour for breaking
the fast was moved to 3 PM and later back to noon. The exact manner of a person’s
fast is an individual one. The important point is to set aside this Lenten time in a special
and personal way.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
“HOW WILL THEY KNOW?” - A SERMON ON ISAIAH 40:21-31 & MARK 1:29-39 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTIANITY AND THE CHURCH - FR. LANCE SCHMITZ, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
"Christianity is not beliefs about God plus behavior. We are Christians not because of what we believe, but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. To become a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding, but rather to become part of a different community with a different set of practices."
The church does not exist as a place but rather a way, a school of community wherein we learn together to be a people who are set apart. As disciples of Jesus we have been set apart to live and model a different way of life that is shaped by the nonviolent ethic of the Kingdom of God as most perfectly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Churches ought to be schools of radical Christianity where we submit to God and each other in order to be made different in order to more perfectly love ourselves, others, and God. Our world needs not just right intellectual thinking, but right practice in order to build a new world inside the crumbling shell of the old. We in our churches can bring about a revolutionary revival of heart and transform our communities by engaging them with hearts of love, deeds of justice, and places of belonging for the outcast. Christianity is not some Pablum salve for a guilty conscience but it is rather a radical way of life that ought run against the grain of a world drunk on avarice, violence, and self serving machinations.
There is a great temptation towards power for any organization but especially for the church. Any allegiances the church forms outside of their allegiance to the way of Jesus Christ is a threat and sullies deeply the witness of the church. The way of Jesus Christ is marked by service, nonviolence, and a commitment to faithfulness to God and God's ways even if it means your own death.
Rev. Lance A Schmitz, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.