In Christian jargon, a baptismal “font” is not a fancy script that you chose to write your Facebook entry. Instead, it is the receptacle in which holy water is held for baptism in denominations who do not use immersion but instead use aspersion (sprinkling) or affusion (pouring). Although the shape is highly variable, many are eight-sided as a reminder that Christ rose on the eighth day. Fonts are often placed near the church’s entrance to remind believers of their baptism as they enter. Traditionally, the person entering the church will dip their first two fingers into the font’s water and make the sign of the cross with their fingers as a remembrance of their baptism and also to bless themselves in preparation for worship. In Medieval churches, a separate building, called a baptistery, housed the font. The earliest baptisteries contained a font designed for full immersion that was cross-shaped with three steps (for the Trinity) leading into them. After Vatican II, the Catholic Church has encouraged fonts that are suitable for full immersion of an infant and for at least the pouring of water over the whole body of an adult.
~Dr. Gil Haas
Our diocesan shield depicts many historical events depicted in formal heraldic terminology. The legend, “Seal of the Diocese of Oklahoma•1837•1937” is described as versica-wise (a glass-beveling term describing an oval with two pointed ends). 1837 recalls when Oklahoma became a missionary district of the Episcopal Church. 1937 commemorates when the General Convention recognized the Diocese of Oklahoma. The coat-of-arms (heraldic: “shield”) of the diocese is argent (heraldic: “silver”) and azure (heraldic: “bright blue”) on a saltire (heraldic: “X-shaped cross”) between a mullet (heraldic: “star-shaped object”) in chief (heraldic: “along the shield’s top), an arrow head in base (heraldic: “the shield’s lower part”), and two wagon wheels in fesse (heraldic: “across the shield’s center”). The saltire contains a shoemaker’s awl and a leather knife that are counterchanged (heraldic: “opposite, but balanced”) symbolizing St. Crispin and Crispinian (patrons of cobblers and leather workers) near whose feast (October 25) fell all important changes in our Diocese. The shield is surmounted by the bishop’s mitre. The star symbolizes the state; the arrow head - Indian Territory; the wheels - the land runs. The counterchanging of azure and argent symbolizes two equal Missionary Districts that united.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
~Eight Sunday after Pentecost (A)
July 26, 2020
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And Jesus said, “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” This was a sharp group that Jesus was talking with that day—very wise to have understood all this on their first hearing! For me, this reading takes a little ‘unpacking!’ In this reading, we hear Jesus describing “The kingdom of heaven.” Come to find out, calling it “the kingdom of heaven” is St. Matthew’s preferred way of referring to what two other evangelists, St. Mark and St. Luke call, “the kingdom of God—or the reign of God.” This, in and of itself, helps us understand more clearly that what Jesus is talking about is a relationship rather than a place. Jesus is saying, in essence, this is what it is like to be in relationship with God.
In this reading, we hear several of these comparisons, of what it is like to be in relationship with God. First of all, we hear that to be in relationship with God is like being a mustard seed. We can understand that we are this seed—tiny and insignificant. But, when we are planted in God’s field, when we break away from our aloneness, our singleness without God, and join in relationship with God, we grow in all kinds of unimagined ways.
Similarly, we also hear that this relationship with God is like the yeast that is mixed in with the flour to make bread. I hear that with so many people staying home these days that baking bread has become a popular pastime. So, many of us, either from our own experience or maybe from watching a parent or grandparent when we were small children, will recall what happens when that yeast is added in. I remember when my father baked, he placed the dough in a large crockery bowl and put a moist towel over the bowl. A few hours later we’d come back and remove the towel, and to my great surprise that little ball of dough had taken over all of the interior space of that big bowl! Like the growth of the mustard seed, when we join in relationship with God, this is our path, to grow into the fullness of what we are, or who we are; we grow in to the fullest expression of our unique being.
We move next to three other comparisons that Jesus makes: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field; the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; and the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind. Each of these has its own special quality to suggest about our relationship with God.
Let’s look first at the treasure hidden in the field. The background on this teaching story is that a person was tilling around on some land that he did not own, and discovered this enormous treasure—so great, in fact, that when this person discovered the treasure, he immediately hid it back into the ground. Now in Jesus’ day, since there were not safety deposit boxes at nearby banks or other means of securing objects of wealth, it was not uncommon for folks to bury their treasures in the ground. Suggested in Jesus’ teaching story, either the landowner forgot his treasure was buried there, or maybe the landowner died and left no information for his heirs to know that the treasure was there. The finder of this great treasure clearly understands that this wealth is greater than the sum of all of his accumulated possessions, so he sells everything, and purchases the field to claim the treasure. I won’t get into the ethics of this purchase because I have read biblical scholars that take positions on both sides of the ethical argument, and I think this detail distracts from the arc of the teaching story. Primarily, the story tells us of a person who discovered the greatest treasure of all and experiences equally great joy. This person does everything within his power to claim that treasure and that joy. Further distilled, let’s understand this teaching tale as saying that this person has had a conversion experience, suddenly finding a treasured relationship with God and fully understanding the enormous value in this relationship; understanding that this relationship is greater than all of his possessions combined, and does everything within his power to claim that relationship and its inherent joy.
A similar story, the merchant who searched for years for fine pearls, also finds THE ONE, THE PEARL of GREAT VALUE, sells all and purchases it. There are obvious parallels between these two stories of finding something of unbelievable value and selling all to claim the prize. The difference between the stories, and I believe what Jesus was describing here, is that there are those of us who have quick and radical conversion experiences—as portrayed by the man who bought the field—people who discover God and immediately understand the value of this relationship. But there are others who, by contrast, work at this relationship day after day, year after year—just as the merchant who must have looked at millions of pearls before he found THE ONE of great value. Our relationship can take either form. One is not better than the other.
I think of my friend George, whose daughter had been murdered. He and his wife had gone through the most difficult days of waiting to hear of her whereabouts and then getting the call from the coroner’s office in a distant city. They went to claim the body and make funeral arrangements. George, a man who had pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, a self-made man, had done quite well for himself according to worldly standards. But, this blow was devastating. Aside from his relationship with his sweet wife, George only had his wealth and status to fall back on. And this proved to be no safety net. George was distraught. However, he came home from the funeral, and felt called to go into his bedroom and shut the door. He then entered the closet of that bedroom, and again shut the door. What he did next surprised this man who had never been one to pray. He felt compelled to fall to his knees there, alone in that closet, and ask God for help. George says that at that time, he palpably felt the love of God comfort him and bring him into relationship with God. This relationship, like a mustard seed, like yeast and flour, grew and grew. It grew George up beyond his own self-acknowledged arrogance and insecurity. George grew into becoming a deacon and in God’s own fertile field, God and George grew something of their own: The Episcopal Prison Ministry in Oklahoma, where George became well-known throughout the state as a prison chaplain and friend to prisoners. George was often asked if serving those in the state’s prisons might have actually exposed him to his daughter’s killer. And George always responded to this question in the same way… “It very well may have. That’s OK. I’ve forgiven him.”
Less dramatic are the many, many people I know who have built their relationship with God day by day, year by year. That number probably includes most of us, doesn’t it? And, that’s OK; that’s wonderful! The interesting thing inherent in all these parables is that God is there first, and it is we who by surprise or by plodding, discover God.
This brings us to the last teaching story in this series (paraphrased), God’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down and put the good into baskets and threw out the bad. What a timely message! What Good News is this!?! This net that God casts is for everyone! All are welcome! This has long been a motto here at St. Augustine of Canterbury, and here we learn is God’s own value: All are welcome! The sorting is not done by color of skin. It is not based on who we love. It is not based on our wealth or our lack; it is not done by how smart we are, or how healthy or good looking we are. It is not based on whether our politics are conservative or liberal. The sorting is simply made based on “good” or “bad.” And while our God of compassion and love surely has a deeper understanding of what constitutes good and what constitutes bad, here we are given to understand that in the end, there will be a reckoning. How have we lived the gift of life that we’ve been given?
In this Gospel lesson, we are pointed to consider what we value. Posing the question, “What do you most value in your life?” I can imagine a range of answers from “my spouse or family” to “my home.” Maybe “peace wherever I can find it” makes the list, or “my skill to earn a living.” We can go lots of different directions on this. But I wonder how many of us will also list, “My relationship with God”? When we name it and nurture this relationship like we would with anyone we love, the relationship will grow into something larger than ourselves. We grow into our fullest expression of what God created and calls us to be and do in this life. This relationship will be there as a tremendous support when we have little to fall back on. And in other times, let us share this Good News of Jesus with others who may be alone and feeling insignificant, who may be searching for something larger than themselves.
This brings us to consider what concrete form our relationship with God takes on this earthly, human-to-human, plane. I think it’s important to first of all, remember that we are born in the image and likeness of God—God made us to reflect Godliness! That’s a lot to think about, but God didn’t create us and leave us here to sort it out on our own! We must steep ourselves in and follow the teachings of Jesus: Love God, love ourselves, and as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is so fond of saying, “Oh, and while you’re at it, love yourself, too!” We must invite and allow ourselves to be inspired by the Holy Spirit—actually, pay attention to when the Holy Spirit is nudging and directing us, inspiring our thinking and feeling, creating openings for us to do the right thing, be the right people; creating openings for us to meet the Holy. When we do these things, doesn’t it follow that we will resist evil and whenever we miss the mark, will repent and return to our relationship with God? Doesn’t it follow that we will want to share this Good News about Christ with others through our own words and deeds? Doesn’t it follow that we will seek to find this Christ we love in all persons and want to serve Christ in them—that we will love others as we love ourselves? And, doesn’t it follow, that we will do whatever we can to strive for justice and peace, that we will respect the dignity of every human being? And, surely, doesn’t it follow that to live in this way—a so much larger life—that we will need God’s help and fall on that relationship daily?
And Jesus said, “Have you understood all this?” and they answered, “Yes!”
~ Fr. Tony Moon
Jesus’ life is intertwined with Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, while these groups are not mentioned in the Old Testament (OT). Between the last events recorded in the OT and the events in the New Testament (NT), there is a 400 year gap. During this time interval, the various groups listed above became prominent. After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C., a devout Jew’s focus shifted from the Temple (sacrifice) to obeying God’s Law in the Torah. This swing resulted in new leaders arising. Scribes (aka “lawyers” in the NT) copied the Scriptures. With time, they evolved from mere copyists to teachers. Pharisees were the keepers of the Law. They surmised that Israel’s abandonment of the Law was the cause of the dispersion of the Jewish nation. To prevent this from recurring, they created legal “fences” surrounding the desired goal. I.e., if the object were to prevent Jews from traveling to Tulsa, they would preach that a devout Jew should not even go to Oklahoma. Sadducees were functionally like the Pharisees, but each hated the other. Sadducees rejected all Scripture except the first five books (the Pentateuch), and they also rejected the belief in a resurrection.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2020
“Wait Until Harvest”
A teacher opened his Bible. He turned to the Sermon on the Mount and read these words of Jesus to his class: “You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world.”
The teacher closed the Bible, sat at the edge of his desk, and said to the students: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could weed out the Church?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could remove from it all the half-hearted Christians?
Think of the impact the Church would have on the world if it had only committed people in it!
“A million committed Christians would be a far better witness to Jesus than 25 million half-hearted Christians.”
Suddenly the students began to see his point. They began to nod in agreement. But, one girl in the back of the room raised her hand and said: “I agree with what you say. But who would decide who’s to be weeded out and who’s to stay?”
A flurry of hands went up. One boy said, “I think almost anybody could decide that. I can give you the list of names right now.”
It would seem that in our world today the lines of demarcation are not being drawn in the sand. But rather they are being etched in granite to decide who’s in and whose out, whose right or wrong, or who’s a righteous saint or a hell-bound sinner.
Some would say, “Look at the predicament we are in, right now!” The world is going to hell in hand basket. There are a whole lot of weeds out in the world, Father. Frankly, I’m willing to get my weed-wacker out, and go to work.
This raises a question. Would it be good to weed out the Church from time to time?
Would it help everyone, even half-hearted Christians?
Would it shake people up and make them more committed?
Would it help the Church become what Jesus called it to be: salt of the earth and light of the world?
Today’s parable of the weeds and the wheat may shed some light on these questions.
Apparently, good quality wheat seeds have been sown in the soil and overnight, an enemy comes and sows’ tares—weeds in amongst the wheat. Understand, the weed referred to by Jesus was a curse to Palestinian farmers. Ancient writers described it as a kind of “fool’s wheat.” In the early stages of its growth, it looked very similar to real wheat. This was one of the reasons that the owner told his workers to wait until harvesttime. They might pull up some real wheat, thinking it was fool’s wheat.
And it’s right here that the parable sheds light on the question about weeding out halfhearted Christians from the Church.
Just as workers might mistake real wheat for fool’s wheat, so we might mistake committed Christians for halfhearted Christians.
Even more tragically, we might condemn someone who seemed to be a half-hearted Christian but had potential to be become a committed Christian.
The point is this: Judgement is not ours to pass. Judgement should be passed only at the end of a person’s life by God, not in the middle of it by people.
That’s such an important point.
So, you may be wondering what you can do today and tomorrow to make a difference
Maybe, we have to be content to live in a world and a church where saints and sinners live side by side. A church full of saints might be nice church, but it wouldn’t be Christ’s Church. As Henry Beecher put it “The Church is not a gallery for the exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones.”
For when we recover our God consciousness and our ability to listen, learn, lament, love others unconditionally, we begin to value every life, regardless of skin color, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or creed.
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay
The lifting and breaking of the consecrated host by the Celebrant is called “the fraction”; one of the four basic elements of the Eucharist. The fraction is so intimately involved with Eucharist that the name “the breaking of the bread” has become a synonym for the entire Eucharistic liturgy. The fraction has occurred at various places in our Eucharist. From the 1662 Anglican prayer book until the publication of our 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the fraction occurred at the words in the Eucharistic prayer, “He brake”, spoken by Christ at the Last Supper. The fraction was moved to its present location following the Lord’s Prayer with our current Book of Common Prayer’s publication. A fraction anthem is often sung or said at the time of the fraction. Rite I lists two fraction anthems: 1) the first is called the pascha nostrum, which begins with “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”. The alternative is: 2) the Agnus Dei, beginning with “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world...”. Rite II not only lists “Christ our Passover”, but also states “some other suitable anthem may be used”. The Episcopal Book of Occasional Services provides fifteen fraction anthems for various occasions.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
The word, “Sheol”, is mentioned sixty-five times in the Old Testament. Sheol was the place in the lowest parts of the earth where ancient Jewish scholars believed that both righteous and unrighteous persons went after death. In the Psalms, Sheol is described as a place without light and sound that is cut off from life and from the Hebrew God. The inhabitants of Sheol were called “shades” - weak, trembling entities without personality or strength. In a forbidden practice, the shades could be contacted by the living, as the Witch of Endor contacted the shade of the prophet Samuel for King Saul. Contrariwise, by the time of Jesus, it was common for Jews to believe that the righteous dead go to a place of comfort while the wicked go to Hades (Sheol). “Selah” is another word used seventy-four times in the Old Testament, primarily in the Psalms (seventy-one times). Its meaning is not precisely known, but it is probably an instruction by the psalmist to “stop and listen”. Since the Psalms were often sung accompanied by musical instruments, Selah may also indicate a pause in the song to stress the importance of the preceding passage.
~Dr. Gil Haas
A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 12, 2020
by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
“Open Your Ears”
You know, it’s been said, that if you started attending church as a child, by the time you are 25, you have heard God’s word read and explained about a thousand times. After all these times, why haven’t we improved more than we have?
The answer to the question may lie in the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel.
Jesus teaches people in parables when he wants to get a point across. The parable uses a common experience to explain a deeper meaning. In fact, this parable of the sower belongs to a group of parables sometimes called the Mirror parables. These parables act as a mirror into which we can look and see ourselves.
Understand, in ancient times when you sowed grain, you didn’t have plows like we do today. You would broadcast the seed and then most people would take a stick or log and push the seed down as the oxen pulled. It was murderous work. So, you could only scratch the ground a little.
It was not uncommon for some of the seed to blow on to footpaths that crisscrossed fields or to blow into rows of thorn bushes or briers that sometime enclosed fields to discourage animals from entering them.
The other thing that is amazing about this parable is the fact that the sower is so sloppy and generous with the seed. Clearly, that’s not what you do. It says something about God’s word being spread.
What about the incredible yield? Today, we would say, if you had a yield of seven or eight times the result, that’s good! You would never get 30, 60 or 100, ever. That crazy!
So, we ask the question like the disciples did “What does it all mean?”
The farmer in parable is Jesus.
The seed is God’s word.
The seedbeds- path, rock, thorn, good soil- refer to the people who hear God’s word.
Some people reject it outright. Other receive it, and reject it later. Still others receive it, treasure it, and put it into practice.
It is important to note that in only one case was the word rejected outright. In the other three cases it was received with joy.
The problem is not in hearing or receiving God’s word. The problem is in treasuring it and putting it into practice.
There are, therefore, three steps involved in responding to God’s word: listening to it, receiving it, treasuring it, and practicing it.
The first step is hearing God’s word. We might call it the “mind” step. It involves listening attentively to Scripture being read and explained. Notice that before Jesus tells the parable he says, “Listen.” Then, before he explains the meaning he says, “the one who has ears let them listen.” How often do we remind each other that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
The second step is treasuring God’s word. It might be called the “heart” step. It involves taking to heart the word we have just heard. We consider its implications for our life and how it can make our life better.
The third step is putting God’s word into practice. We might call the third step the “soul” step. It involves acting on what our heart has treasured.
My friends, if we can begin to put these three steps into action after we have heard God’s word, then we can be assured that we will not only grow but flourish in God’s grace.
But, it all starts with listening. Opening our ears to be receptive to the good news that is extravagantly being broadcasted in our midst.
God has many things He desires to reveal to us. So, open your ears O faithful people. Open your ears and hear God’s word. Amen.
~Fr. Joseph C. Alsay
℣ and ℟ are the symbols for “versiculum” (main composition) and “responsum” (refrain), and they are used in psalms, canticles (an example is found on p 97 of the Book of Common Prayer), and responsorial prayers. A versicle is the first half of a preces, said or sung by an officiant or cantor and answered with a said or sung response by the congregation or choir. One of the most familiar examples of this is, “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” answered by “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia,” Their are other examples of this format scattered throughout our services. According to our Book of Common Prayer, psalms can by said or chanted in several formats. Direct recitation is the reading of a whole psalm in unison. Antiphonal recitation is the verse-by-verse alternation between groups, between the minister and the congregation, between the choir and the congregation, or between the two sides of the congregation concluding with the Gloria Patri. Responsorial recitation is chosen by some churches. In this format a refrain is first sung by a cantor and repeated by the congregation. The cantor then sings several verses from the psalm interspersed by a reprise of the refrain by the congregation.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
An ordinary is a church or civic authority who has “ordinary power” to execute laws. Such officers are found in hierarchically organized churches of Western Christianity. Diocesan bishops are ordinaries in the Episcopal Church. The term can also be used in outside the church, and in many southern states, the county ordinary issues marriage licenses and adjudicates claims. In the Episcopal Church, a person exercises power to govern either because the person holds an office to which Canon Law grants power (ordinary power) or because someone with governing power has delegated the power to that person (delegated power). Jesus originally gave ordinary power to bishops when He established Peter as the first bishop; diocesan bishops are successors to Peter and retain ordinary power within their dioceses. Episcopal Canons assist a Dean in a cathedral’s administration or a bishop in a diocese administration. The latter bears the title “Canon (assistant) to the Ordinary (the bishop).” Canons to the Ordinary oversee the ordination process and are involved with parish development. The title of Canon may also be honorary and is bestowed by cathedrals or bishops to clergy or laity who provide significant service. Fr. Tony Moon served as a Canon in our diocese.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.