This is Our Story
Today, Lent’s fourth Sunday, is called Laetare. Like Advent’s third Sunday(Gaudete), it
is a break in a penitential season. These Sundays’ vestments are rose in color, a
symbol of joy in the middle of a somber season. The name, Laetare, is translated
“Rejoice”, and it is the introit’s opening word assigned to this Sunday, i.e. “Rejoice, O
Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her...”. It is also known in England as
Mothering Sunday and is celebrated similar to our Mothers’ Day. Spring bulbs are given
to mothers, and simnel cakes (from the Latin simila, a high grade flour) are baked on
this Sunday. A visit to one’s cathedral, or “mother” church, is another reason for the
name. The Sunday is also called Refreshment Sunday, since it provides a refreshing
break halfway through Lent’s penitential themes. In France, it is call Mid-Lent Sunday
(mi-carême). Finally, it can be called Rose Sunday, both because of its liturgical color
and also because of the golden roses sent by popes to Catholic sovereigns on this
Sunday. Dissimilar to other Lenten Sundays, Anglican churches place flowers on the
high altar, and the organ is played as a solo instrument.
This is Our Story
Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive God’s
presence within us - closer than breathing, thinking, and even consciousness itself.
Some theologians find Centering Prayer controversial and nearly the opposite in
method to Lectio Divina. Centering Prayer can be traced to books by three Trappist
monks in the 1970‘s. To summarize, Centering Prayer is prayer that is “centered
entirely on the presence of God.” Unlike many meditative techniques, Centering Prayer
does not empty the mind or attempt to reach an altered state of consciousness. In this
sense, Centering Prayer is not a mantra producing a desired cause-and-effect.
Centering Prayer is merely consenting one’s will to God’s presence by reaffirming our
intention to be in God’s presence and to surrender to His divine action. Throughout a
Centering Prayer, our intention predominates to move our will to consent to God’s
intention in a quite personal way. Thus, Centering Prayer, is a personal relationship
with God, not a technique. Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of
prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer. Centering Prayer is a movement
beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him.
If you have a liturgical question or an inquiry about anything that transpires during or
around our worship service, please forward the question you would like researched to:
“Water is Life”
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Exodus 17:1-7 & John 4:5-42
In a few moments we will pray the words of the Collect for this Third Sunday in Lent.
You know we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault the soul.
My friends what we have been experiencing these past few weeks and what is happening right now in our city, our state, our country… yes, our world is unprecedented, it has shaken us to the core. There is a sense of helplessness and powerlessness. There has been nothing like it in recent modern-day history. We are indeed venturing into unchartered waters and for so many, frankly it’s scary. It is at turbulent times such as these that the song made popular by Take 6 “If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now.”
We need the one who can speak “Peace be still” to the stirring storms of our lives and of this wind-tossed world we live in.
We long for the one who can transform our fear in faith.
We yearn for the one who promised give water that would be a spring gushing up to eternal life.
Yes, we like the woman at the well mentioned in our gospel reading cry out for that water, that common yet all so essential supply of daily life.
Water is a key theme in both of our scripture passages assigned for this Lord’s Day. In the Exodus passage we hear of water gushing forth from the rock Moses struck when the Hebrew people were wandering in the Wilderness. Then from our gospel reading.
Did you notice that the gospel text says it was at the apex of the day---at noon when Jesus had this encounter with the Samaritan woman from Sychar. It was after Jesus who was weak, worn, and weary from his journey did the unexpected. Jesus asks for drink of water. But before we get to what type of water it was, there are problems here. First of all, he didn’t bring a bucket. Or a cup. Or in today’s jargon, a water bottle. And as the woman say: the well is deep!
How deep was it?
Well, when I took a trip to the Holy Land with Bishop Ed our tour group had an opportunity to stop by the church that historians say is built over Jacob’s Well. The place where this story is taking place. And while we were there, one of the monks gave us the opportunity to drink some of the water from that well. But before we drank, he took a metal ladle that he had drawn from the well and poured in inside the and we counted how many seconds it took before we heard a splash. It took three seconds before we heard the splash 135 feet below. Then he gave us, well,…..rather he gave the women in the group the privilege of cranking the long rope that held a bucket to the surface. But after what seemed to be an eternity, we all tasted of fruit of their labor, the water was clear, crisp and frankly delicious.
That’s saying a lot from me. Because I’m not one who loves just plain water. You have to add a little something to it to get me to drink.
But that’s only the beginning!
There’s a scandal. Jesus has crossed a social boundary. He’s gotten too close. A Jew talking to a Samaritan. Jews hate Samaritans. They flirt with other gods after all. Their religion is defective. And then a man asking for water from a woman he does not know. Her culture taught her to believe she was worthless. She was from the other side of the tracks. Not to mention her complicated marital situation causes her to be shunned. You wonder what kind of self-esteem issues she is living with.
Any why Jesus approaches her. What he sees in her. What he hopes for in her.
One writer says that Jesus is the fullness of life roaming the world, trying to find people with whom to give this life. This living water.
You know, water is everywhere. Then why so much thirst? How can there be shortage of H2O?
This past week is one which I’m quite sure most of us will never forget. The stocks have risen and just as quickly fallen. The coronavirus seems to be on rampage. The price of oil has been plummeting, schools, businesses and even churches right and left have been closing early out of an obligation to protect those who work for them and those served by them.
You could go to the local Walmart and see lines of people just wanting to get common supplies such as: eggs, bread, toilet paper and yes, good ole H2O. There was none to be found. This week has been the great equalizer for all of us. Rich or poor. Male or female. Black, brown, yellow, red or white. Gay or straight. Saint or sinner. Politician or people. It mattered not. It has awakened us to a new reality, not to take anything or anyone for granted. People are at a point where they are just about willing to do anything to acquire something as simple as, water.
Why? The bottom line is: Water is Life!
The USDA recommends that the average person needs to drink about 8-12 cups of fluid per day to stay properly hydrated. That comes out to about the same number of bottles we have placed around this ambo today. That’s 56 of these bottles each week.
Which is why, I think, water is such a powerful and common symbol within the scriptures.
Water is life. Dare I say it’s more than a symbol of our physical life, but represents our spiritual life as well.
The truth is, so many may be getting their daily allowance of fluids. After all there are over 700 brands of water produced all over the world. You can get it bottled or canned. Spring, mineral or sparkling…with gas. And sorts of flavors! Kiwi, cranberry mint, mandarin orange, peach, watermelon. Water from Wales, San Pellegrino, from Italy, Perrier from France.
But the fact remains so much water and yet so many are spiritual dehydrated. They are walking around thirsty, parched, empty and they don’t even know it. They are thirsting for living water but don’t know that’s what they need any more than the woman at the well.
Spiritually dehydrated people will do all sorts of things to try and quench the thirst of their souls. Trying to find meaning and purpose and value in all kinds of transient things: trying to fill their lives with material things and busy-ness. They try to quench their thirst with substances like drugs and alcohol and obsession of all kinds.
Yes, we are always aware of our thirst, our desire, our longing for more. Obey your thirst, so says the Sprite website.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that, for all of us…. for both the seriously dehydrated and the merely thirsty…. Jesus offers living water.
While we are still weak. While we are still ungodly. While we are still sinners,
Christ pours out his love for us, Pours out his life for us on the cross.
And then demonstrates the power of his living water by bursting open the grave on the Third Day.
It is from that well-spring of life and love that we can drink every day.
During Lent there are rocks in our baptismal font. And no water… more thirst. Wilderness and emptiness. And so, we long for spring, Easter. We thirst for water, baptism, for renewal.
God is our thirsting. Or let’s say it this way: God thirst for us. God longs to fill our open hearts and deep need within is, no matter how vulnerable it may be.
Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a weary land, a weary land. A shelter in the time of storm. Amen.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay
“Lent: The Season of Salvation”
A Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Genesis 12:1-4a & John 3:1-17
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s so popular that it’s sometimes called the baseball passage. Because it is seen on billboards and hand written signs held up by fans at all sorts of sports games.
“It” is John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
That verse, from today’s Gospel reading, is a beautiful summary, from the lips of the Savior, of the heart of salvation. Luther said it’s the “Gospel in miniature.” It forms the foundation of our Christian faith. Because, being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, a philosophical premise or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. And that is an apt description of the season of Lent: a transforming encounter with a person, the Son of God, who gives us life, direction, purpose.
Nicodemus, a learned man who spent a lot of time pondering the scriptures and discussing the law with his colleagues, a powerful Pharisee, a person of influence and affluence. It’s this Nicodemus who sought out an encounter with Jesus. He came at night, creeping quietly, stealth fully under the cover of dark; fearful of being seen. Yes, he wants to see, but doesn’t want to be seen. Sounds like an Episcopalian to me.
Did you notice, it’s during the nighttime that this encounter takes place. The nighttime, in John’s Gospel, always symbolizes the spiritual darkness in which humanity lives apart from God, a theme introduced in the opening verses of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:4-5).
It’s at night when things go bump. It’s at night when confusion runs rampant. It’s at night, when we grasp for meaning, hope and security. This ruler of the Jews realized his need for spiritual light, readily confessing his belief that Jesus was “a teacher who has come from God.” Surely, he must have been challenged by Jesus’ declaration that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
The good news is that God has entered the world and comes to us in the one who said, “I am the Light of the world.”
A decisive direction was presented to Nicodemus.
Yet the Apostle John does not describe what reaction Nicodemus had to the words of Jesus; the secretive visitor seems to have silently disappeared back into the night. Perhaps St. John did not immediately reveal Nicodemus’s choice because Nicodemus, in a certain way, is each of us. We have met Jesus, we have to sit at his feet, and we have heard his words.
Nicodemus, “has been shaken to the core by Jesus’ mysterious power; his wonderful teaching has struck home.”
Because eventually Nicodemus- - “Nick at Night”, cautiously, step forward a bit, coming to Jesus’ defense before his fellow Pharisees (Jn 7:50-52). But his appeal for fairness was met with suspicious anger. Perhaps he pondered again these words: “whoever lives the truth comes to the light…”
We meet Nicodemus again, after the Crucifixion. Pilate had given Joseph of Arimathea permission to remove and bury Christ’s body, and Nicodemus, “the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds” (Jn 19:39). He was finally in the light completely, revealing himself as a disciple of the Son of Man who had been lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
My friends, today is the Second Sunday in Lent and we are experiencing the first hours of daylight savings time. That means the days are lengthening and Spring is on the way…. that time of new birth and resurrection.
It’s time to come out the darkness of winter’s slumber and bask in the light radiant and warm light of God’s Son light.
It’s time to come into the light and embrace the gift of eternal life and salvation. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA - Fr. Joseph Alsay
In Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus teaching using an antithetical form—that is, positioning words or ideas against each other, for example, light vs. dark, freedom over slavery, right vs. wrong. The antitheses Jesus proposes are around four themes: Murder, adultery, divorce and false accusation (or slander.) The contrast of ideas follows a form in which Jesus arranges his arguments by beginning with the words, “you have heard it said,” which is actually code for “God said,” and then states a commandment, so, “God said, ‘You shall not murder,’” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not swear falsely.” Then this is followed by Jesus’ own “radicalizing” of that commandment by “amping up” the meaning of the Commandment, so to speak. He does this by moving back and away from the act that the commandment condemns, and in essence, says, “Not only shall you do no murder, but you should not even get angry… with brother or sister. Come to think of it, not only should you not become angry with brother or sister, but you should not even insult them. And now moving into a third tier of distance from the act of murder, Jesus states that you should not even say the words, “You fool!” or you will be liable to the fires of hell—the same punishment as if you murdered them. Radical stuff, huh!?!
Next, Jesus teaches about resolving conflict, but does not teach using an illustration where I have something against someone and I should go make amends, but it is a situation in which the other person has something against me that I should go and seek amends. If someone has something against me—or, say, another person has something against you, it is you who should seek a quick resolution for fear of being handed over to a judge who will, as we are told, hand you over to a guard who will imprison you. This puts our common understanding about our responsibility for making amends on its head, doesn’t it? Again, a radical view: I’m not seeking resolution to our conflict because I created it, I’m seeking resolution because you have something against me. I’m seeking resolution to our conflict because there is discord in our relationship.
So, a few things can be said about these antheses, these paired ideas. One thing is that scholars tell us that most likely these are actually the words of Jesus based on research that says that Jesus referenced God in this way. Also, Jesus restates what God tells us, saying, “I say to you.” So, “God says this, and I say to you,” thereby asserting his immediate authority. And lastly, Jesus is using hyperbole, a teaching tool often used by Jesus and teachers of his day. Hyperbole—overstating things for teaching purposes to radicalize the commandments, such as saying, in essence, it’s not enough to do no murder, you should not even get angry with your brother or sister. Now, including “or sister” is also an indication that these are Jesus’ words, since unlike other rabbis of Jesus’ day, Jesus was concerned with recognizing women as persons rather than merely focusing on the males and then treating women as objects of male gratification.
This radicalizing of the commandments is seen in the second anthesis about not committing adultery when Jesus says it’s not enough to not commit adultery, you should not even take a lustful glance at a woman—because (hyperbolically) when you do, you have already committed adultery in your heart. An aside, but relevant to this scripture passage, some of us likely recall when a humble presidential candidate Jimmy Carter admitted in a November 1976 Playboy article, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” This sinful admission caused quite a stir, and my… how far we’ve come. Again, using hyperbole, Jesus says “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” I have heard it said that if we all took this scripture literally, we’d be a bunch of blind, handless disciples following Jesus into God’s Kingdom. Of course, Jesus loves us and our human frailties, and Jesus is saying that if we know of a weakness—something that gets between me and God—remove that from our lives.
The struggle of hearing Jesus’ words and the discomfort of interpreting them in any way other than literally surfaced in last Wednesday evening’s Lectio Divina group around the issue of the next anthesis, “It was said, “Whoever divorces, let him get a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Serious Christians want to do God’s will. We want to obey the Commandments. We want to do Jesus’ bidding, what Jesus directs us to do. Because we take divorce seriously these words stick with us, especially when we are trying to force fit Jesus’ words into a literal interpretation that cannot square with the hurt some of us have experienced in marriage relationships that we deeply wanted to succeed, relationships that we seriously attended to, but relationships that still did not work out. So, up to now in this lesson, Jesus has been teaching using hyperbole. So, why would he suddenly stop? And we ask ourselves, “Jesus wouldn’t mess with us, would he? How can I take Jesus’ words in any way other than literally?” Well, it is true that Jesus (and this Gospel’s writer, St. Matthew) had a basic concern of protecting the institution of marriage. AND, no I don’t think that Jesus would mess with us. But Jesus is a master teacher, and as such, uses the astute techniques of his day—hyperbole, being one.
So, let’s look at that. By using hyperbole, Jesus overstates things from time-to-time to get our attention and make us think. This is not a trick; this does not cheapen his words or make them less credible. Hyperbole works like a speed bump, causing us to slow down and engage with the meaning of these words in our lives. His living word is still doing that—and did that last Wednesday evening, right here at St. Augustine’s! The teaching techniques Jesus uses causes us to slow down, to think deeply about what Jesus is saying; causes us to dig into his words to get their full meaning; causes us to bring that meaning into our lives so that we may live in more Christlike ways. If Jesus made simple bland statements, probably none of us would listen. (Am I alone in here?) Probably none of us would take the time to bring them in, to savor and feast on these words, to digest them, so that we may be fed by them and let their meaning transform us. Jesus’ use of hyperbole in no way diminishes the sin of murder, adultery, slander—or divorce when it is entered into lightly as an easy solution to an irritation.
These radicalized, over-stated versions of the Commandments not only identified the offending outward behavior (such as murder, adultery, or falsely accusing others), but they also named the inner disposition—how we think and feel that leads to our offending response. By combining the outward behavior and the inner disposition, Jesus is telling us something significant. Jesus is telling us that he wants the obedience of the whole person—not just our outward behavior, but he wants to claim the whole person. By doing so, we are not just being law abiding in our behavior, but by claiming the whole person, Jesus is molding us into himself. We are not just acting Christlike—we are becoming as Christ. And my friend, that’s not hyperbole. Through these examples, I believe Jesus is not condemning us for missing the mark but is telling us there is a better life available to us—His life! There is a life in which we are not distanced from one another by anger and insult. This is a life in which we are one with one another, just as the Father and the Son are one. There is a far greater life than merely one in which we betray one another such as happens with adultery—or cut off from one another such as happens in divorce. There is a life available to us in which we honor one another and live in unity. This life calls us to Truth lived in our being which naturally flows from our mouths—let our answer be “yes, yes” or “no, no”, without any falsity of being or action—which is of the evil one. Is the result of this lesson, the result of keeping the Commandments, a hyperbolic euphoria? I don’t think so. I think the result is what God, what Jesus, calls us to, a life of unity with God through Christ.
Easy? No. But then, Jesus’ life was not easy; it was a life of discipline. However, easy was not Jesus’ focus and should not be ours, either. Attainable? Absolutely! …Even in our chaotic culture? Yes—and, maybe in some ways because our culture can drive us to the sanity of a life in Christ.
- Fr. Tony Moon
Genesis 2:15-17; 3: 1-7, Matthew 4:1-11
A Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
“THE LIE DETECTOR”
Lies, lies, lies. Think of all of the lies you’ve heard, the lies you’ve told, the lies and
deception that are part of your story. “Don’t lie. Tell the truth,” we were told as children.
“Liar, liar, liar, pants on fire,” we chanted on the playground. Maybe you have a good
internal lie detector and you can see a lie on someone’s face.
I wish I had a “Pinocchio meter” a detector these days that could help me sort through
the fake news which comes with a political spin, which is most of it. We don’t trust one
another. And everyone blames everyone else. In our postmodern lives, truth is whatever
I believe or feel. We are our own experts on everything and everyone. A lie detector
seems to be in the eyes of the beholder.
So, let’s go to the Garden of Eden, okay? Adam, Eve and the talking snake. “God’s not
telling the truth,” says the crafty serpent. “You will not die if you eat the forbidden fruit.
Come on, really. You can have it all. The possibilities are endless. Just do whatever you
want. It’ll be OK trust me-not the god-voice in your head.”
“You’ll be like God” says the devil. What’s the problem? Created in the image of God,
yes, but we are not God.
In essence, the serpent has invited the couple to distrust God.
It’s then that we tend to side with the great 20 th century theologian Flip Wilson who said,
“The devil made me do it.”
Is it an excuse?
Whether you believe in the devil or not, there are lies we tell ourselves--for our safety, or
for our security.
Look at our gospel text from Matthew. It tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and
forty nights. And at the end of that time, when he was famished, exhausted in body and
soul, he confronted three things, three desires, that tried to draw him away from God,
away from his truest self.
The first was the urge to be self-reliant, to provide for himself rather than trusting in
God’s abundance and generosity to nourish him.
The second was his pride, and the desire to put God to the test, to prove the self-
important notion that God would not allow him to come to harm.
And finally, the desire for power and the glory associated with political leadership.
It’s a lie to believe that security is found in power and might.
It’s a lie to believe that our identity is bound to influence and affluence.
It’s a lie to believe that we can do whatever we want and not suffer the consequences.
There is always that deceiver, the Liar, the inner critic, the seducer, the serpent of old
who whispers in our ear that we are not rich enough, smart enough, good enough,
young enough, attractive enough.
Lent comes along as a lie detector. Exposing the truth about ourselves. Exposing a
different truth about the human condition.
The talking snake wants us to live in denial.
But, the invitation extended to all of us this Lenten season: to set aside the next days
and weeks as a time of reflection, a time to journey into the wilderness with Jesus and
take a long look at ourselves and our lives; to honestly consider what is it in our lives
that separates us from God.
What are the practices, the habits, the people who stand between where we are now
and where God is leading each of us? What are the changes, large or small, that we
can make that will allow us to more perfectly be who God created us to be?
During this season of repentance, we acknowledge our sins and ask for God’s
forgiveness not because God needs us to ask. God has already forgiven us completely
No, we repent because in doing so we are able to more fully experience God’s grace,
love and forgiveness and we are able to ask for God’s help in making changes in our
In Nomine Jesu - Fr. Joseph Alsay
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.