Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.
This past Monday, I received in my email an old Jewish morning prayer. It dates from the 16th century and Jewish tradition calls for this prayer to be said when one first opens your eyes, before you get out of bed. The prayer is only four short sentences, talking to God.
I gratefully acknowledge Your Face;
Spirit lives and endures.
You return my soul to me with compassion;
How great is your faith in me!
It seems the last line of this morning prayer – “How great is your faith in me!” and a line from our collect are connected - “bring forth in us the fruit of good works.” These words can also be used to frame our readings for today as we reflect on these questions,
“Where is God?” and “What must we do?”
So here we are, together - on ZOOM, again. What brought us to this point is not easily forgotten. The first case of COVID in Oklahoma was reported on March 7; and the first Oklahoma death eleven days later, the shutdown on March 24.
For many this period has been spent “attending” Church by looking at a computer monitor. For too many it has meant the loss of jobs, stretched finances, and unsettled futures. It has included the illness or loss of loved ones, fellow parishioners, and friends.
We have not been allowed to reach out, to support, to comfort or to be comforted. For many of us, the losses can be close to unbearable.
And we cry out – “Where is God?”
At this same time, while we manage our isolation and distance ourselves from illness, we also see the disorder within our country, within our society. The taking of George Floyd’s life on May 25th, and just this week, the assault against Jacob Blake, are recent, horrific examples. For many, these events have brought an awareness of a pandemic of a different kind, a pandemic of inequities within our country. Too often the opportunities offered and assumed to be available for all, have been withheld systematically from many. The history of these injustices begins over 400 years ago in August 1619 in the Colony of Virginia when Africans were sold into slavery.
And if we listen, we can hear them cry… Where is God?
Still, our opening prayer calls for our rejoicing at the morning light— How great is Your faith in me. In the Book of Exodus, we read of the fulfillment of the divine promise to increase the children of Jacob, who become the Israelites. And while Israel grew into a great nation, they find themselves in Egypt where the practices of oppression and genocide are the norm.
We hear their cry, “Where is God?”
I think an answer exists in our opening reading. Today, we hear the story of the burning bush. As “Moses kept the flock of his father-in-law,” we might imagine Moses on a beautiful, sunny day, keeping these sheep.
We would expect that Moses wasn’t looking for a miracle—just as we likely would not set our sights on a miracle, either. Moses was only trying to get through this ordinary day.
But God had other plans.
“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush.”
Now it’s common in Scripture to use winds, fires, and earthquakes to serve as messengers of God. In these situations, God is present with his people. And in this lesson, we also learn of God’s motives for appearing. God is not deaf. God has been listening to the cries of his people. We read, “the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry…” and later, “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.”
But “Moses looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
Most of us have heard the story of the flaming bush—but a bush on fire that is not consumed? As a person anchored in the physical sciences, I know that a flaming bush that is not consumed is really not possible! That’s just not the way of the world! My guess is, Moses was grounded in the physical world too—not grounded in the physical sciences, but as a shepherd, Moses met nature every day. And Moses surely knew that fire burns things up! We might imagine Moses being surprised, maybe even afraid.
As I reflect on this image of a burning bush not consumed by flame, I am encouraged to see that this is a symbol of God’s unquenchable fire of Love. This flaming bush which remains unconsumed reflects God’s undying care for us.
It reflects his unfailing desire to reassure us. God tells us he will always be with us. After Moses’ surprise and fear, I wonder if he may not have also felt reassured, felt loved.
In this fire that does not consume, I also see the Church. Here too is where God’s Spirit will always reside, regardless of pandemics, financial instability, or social unrest. Today we find our lives and even the church engulfed in unprecedented situations—but like the bush, the Church is not consumed by it.
Maybe when we look, we find our own burning bush. Early this week, I was reminded of God’s unchanging love and presence while sitting at my desk. I was looking out the window, the stars were visible. As I sat there, I saw what I thought was the North Star. After several days of looking every morning, my observation was confirmed. It struck me that the North Star represented a burning bush to me.
It reminded me of God’s promise to be with us--always! When I see the North Star, I imagine the generations that have gone before and the future generations that have and will look on that same star. God’s love was with them, is with us, and always will be. Even in the darkest times, God’s love is with us.
So, given these signs and promises, how will we respond? Our Gospel lesson for today gives us guidance. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples for the first time that God’s purpose involves Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter responds, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
But Jesus’ response is to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Suffering and death were not the future Peter envisioned for the Messiah, and they were not the future he envisioned for himself, either. But Jesus knows he is not going to Jerusalem in search of death... Jesus was going to Jerusalem...in search of life! Jesus tells us, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Saving one’s life means conforming to the injustices of the present, for opting for our self-interests. It is giving in to the flesh. It is focusing on human things, not divine things. We try to hold on to our lives.
The moment we start to fear death, it will not be long before we start to fear life. …the moment we start to fear death, it will not be long before we start to fear life.
Let us also recognize that Jesus directing Peter to get behind him is no accident. To place Peter behind Jesus is to place him in a position of following Jesus. Have no doubt: Peter was a leader, and he was also a devoted follower of Jesus—a servant-leader.
This is our place, our position and calling, too. Jesus calls us to be his disciples, Jesus’ servant-leaders.
Like Moses, we spend much of our time “just keeping the flock,” doing our jobs, tending our relationships, our lives. And like Moses and the Israelites, we too to cry out,
“Where are we? When will it end? Where is God?”
The burning bush that is not consumed reminds us that God is always present with us. Where is God? God is always with us! God is presence in our lives, in our Church, in those around us. God is in the temple that is our world, an unspoken statement of his presence.
God is expressing his faith in us—in me and you! How great is God’s faith in me! In you! God affirms this every morning.
And with this awareness comes our call to action. God – though Jesus has given us a road map. Jesus has demonstrated how to model love for all. He calls us to discipleship, to follow.
Let us be present to God
Let us extend the love of God to all.
~ Deacon Intern Todd Olberding, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Formal mindfulness meditation is the practice of sustaining one’s attention to the body, breath, sensations, or whatever arises in each moment. Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali (a unique language of the Indian subcontinent that was used to write many Buddhist and Hindu documents) term sati (sometimes translated as “to remember”). Many psychologists believe that rumination and worry contribute to depression and anxiety, while the practice of mindfulness is an effective reducer of rumination, worry, as well as drug addiction and pain. Mindfulness meditation is practiced sitting with one’s eyes closed either cross-legged on a cushion or in a chair with the back straight. The meditator’s focus is on the abdominal excursions during breathing or the feel of breath within the nostrils. Desirable physiological and psychologic changes can be monitored scientifically in a person employing mindfulness meditation. Henry Thoreau’s writings from Walden Pond offer a uniquely American slant to mindfulness observations. Mindfulness-based stress reduction was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center using a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful producing the beneficial effects of stress reduction, relaxation, and improvements to their quality of life.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Although originally worn by the higher graduates of universities, a biretta is now the three-sided cap worn by clergy on ceremonial occasions. A complex set of rules of when and when not to don a biretta during a church service has been formulated. A zucchetto is the small skullcap worn by Christian clergy since the 13th century. A zucchetto should not be confused with the similarly shaped Jewish jarmulke. A biretta and zucchetto are black if worn by a priest and violet if worn by a bishop. The distinctive liturgical headdress for a bishop is the miter (Greek for “turban”). Two fringed lappets hang down the back. It originates from the crown of the Byzantine Emperors and was not worn by bishops in the West until after the fall on Constantinople in 1453. Miters were not used in the Church of England from the Reformation to the nineteenth century except at coronations and funerals of bishops. Miters are typically worn during processions and when the bishop pronounces a blessing. None of these headdresses are worn during the prayer of consecration. Vergers often lead processions. Verger’s hats or bonnets vary from designs similar to birettas to puffy bouffants.
~ Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Our Cathedral has a Chapter Room to the east of its sanctuary. It was added during the Cathedral’s reconstruction after the Murrah bombing. A chapter room is a part of a cathedral, monastery, or collegiate chapel in which meetings are held. When such a room is attached to a cathedral, a “chapter” of clerics (the cathedral’s dean and its canons) may meet there for administrative functions. A monastic community would meet daily in this room to hold “chapter” for readings or to hear the exhortations of the abbot. Since many cathedrals were originally monasteries, it is common for a chapter room or chapter house to be located nearby. Academic deans and canons of a college also met in chapter rooms. In medieval times, monarchs on tour of their territory would often take over the chapter room for audiences. As occurs in our Cathedral’s chapter room, seating was built into the walls of the room with the central space left open. It was often the practice to build the windows too high to prevent a view in from the outside to avoid eavesdroppers. Altars, thrones, and fireplaces are often found in older chapter rooms.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Following the American revolution, our country needed its own prayer book, and the first American BCP was ratified by the first General Assembly of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789. Subsequent changes required the approval of two successive General Assemblies. The first book relied heavily upon the 1662 Anglican prayer book (which continues to be the official prayer book for the English church) as well as the Scottish Eucharistic rite of 1764 (in deference to America’s first bishop being consecrated by Scottish bishops when English bishops refused). The Scottish influence resulted in the inclusion of the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) during the Eucharistic prayer (absent from the English prayer rite). Following approval of that first prayer book, alterations were made in 1892, 1928, and in 1979 (our present Book of Common Prayer). Currently, our prayer book contains a church calendar and services for four types of daily offices. Collects and propers for the church year as well as special days, Eucharistic prayers, the offices of morning and evening prayer, and burials can be found in both contemporary (Rite II) and traditional (Rite I) language. Our current Book of Common Prayer is the first one that includes services for baptism and family devotions.
~ Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Lectio Divina is the ancient method of prayerfully reading the Bible. Its origins were in monastic orders, but now the practice has become an important part of the lives of many Christians from many different traditions. The method enables the reader to contemplate God and God’s will which deepens the reader’s relationship with God. When beginning a lectio divina of the Bible, the reader is not concerned with study to increase his knowledge or with an expectation of some extraordinary experience. Instead the reader is attempting to listen to what God has to say, to know God’s will, and to live more deeply in allegiance with Jesus Christ. The recommendation of Eli to Samuel is appropriate in this context: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” The practice of lectio divina does not depend on the effort of the reader, but entirely on God’s freely-made decision to dialogue with the reader. Like any meditative practice, the right surroundings facilitating attentive listening are important. In addition, the reader must ask what the words actually say, what does the text specifically say to the reader, and what does the text lead the reader to say to God?
~Dr. Gil Haas
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Fr. Anthony Moon
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It sounds like we have two distinct and separate stories being told here in this morning’s Gospel reading. How they are linked is not immediately obvious, so if you’re unsure we will visit this aspect of the lessons soon and come to learn about this.
In the first story, we hear Jesus declaring that all foods are clean and edible. The Jewish people listening to Jesus that day were up against some very strict purity laws, laws that told them precisely what they could and could not eat. Jesus was moving away from that boundary, teaching that, on the contrary, all foods are edible. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” Jesus says, “but it is what comes out to the mouth that defiles.” Jesus was less concerned about what people consumed—what they put into their mouths—and more concerned about what came out of their mouths. Jesus describes what comes from the mouth as coming from the heart, the deep intention of a person. Jesus names the result of evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication, theft and so forth.
To apply this part of today’s reading to our 21st century American culture, it zeros in with distinct accuracy. As a culture, we are extremely concerned with what we eat, what goes into our bodies. Many, if not most of us adhere to or at least pay homage to, some form of diet or dietary lifestyle. And in some instances, we do so with a fervor that puts the observance Jewish purity laws to shame! As a culture, we are obsessed with reading packaging labels and with what we eat. As a culture, we are much less disciplined about what we express, however. We are much less disciplined with what “proceeds from the heart,” as Jesus says. A simple and convincing witness is to look at the comment section of most anything posted on-line. There we see murder in the form of character assassination; adultery or theft in the form of taking over and contorting others’ ideas; false witness and slander abounds. Perhaps these expressions of the heart are not so much linked to what we eat or refuse to eat, but the ideas and attitudes we consume; the ideas and attitudes we feast on every day. Wouldn’t it be a different world if we were as aware and discerning about our psychological and spiritual diet of ideas, attitudes, positions and entitlements, as we are about our food choices? Now that’s an idea worth chewing on!
But fear takes over, worry takes over, and we become victimized by this or that concern. Sooner or later we find ourselves fighting to get out of a corner that too often we place ourselves in. We see ourselves as victims wanting to fight our persecutors, whether that persecutor is a situation, a circumstance, another person—or, even ourselves. When we feel that sense of becoming a victim, that is a good time to take a step back, or as one author on leadership says, ‘step away from the action that confronts us on the dance floor, and go up into the balcony for a different perspective.’[i] In other words, get some distance from the situation to experience it more clearly, less threateningly. Go up into the balcony and look down on the crisis we find ourselves in—or maybe go up even higher, from the balcony to a heavenly perspective; try seeing the situation through God’s eyes.
Now, this situation may be very real—like the threat of the pandemic, racial strife, illness or financial strife—or it may actually be contrived by our own perceptions and beliefs. We can be guaranteed, however, that staying in a victim mindset will not allow us any room to resolve either the issue or our feelings about the issue. When we can take a step away from the real or imagined drama we find ourselves in—and take a deep breath—we are closer to being able to respond rather than only react. And, when we are in a position to respond, we are in a position to ask God for help. I think of the words of Albert Einstein, when he said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” And I think of the words of Jesus when he warned us several times, “Fear not!”
So, Jesus pushes the boundary of Jewish purity laws and tells his followers that all food is edible, thereby loosening the binding chains of those laws. Jesus also pushes his physical boundaries when he moves away from Galilee to the district of Tyre and Sidon. There Jesus encounters a woman from another race and religion. Now while the pagans had no issue with talking with a Jewish person, Jewish law forbade them from making contact with a person of another race or religion.[ii] Although Jesus was trying to operate in secret without recognition for his miracles, his reputation preceded him. The woman spots Jesus and begins to beg Jesus to heal her daughter. The woman begins to shout at Jesus, pleading for her daughter. While we commonly see Jesus responding with compassion to the oppressed or anyone in need, this time we see Jesus not responding at all—a strange response for Jesus, but given the customs of the day, understandable. The disciples become concerned about all the shouting and the scene the woman is creating and ask Jesus to send her away. Jesus explains his silence. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” So, his silence is connected to his awareness of his mission and is a result of his fidelity to the law. Jesus’ silence worries the woman who disregards the law that binds Jesus. She ramps up her demand of Jesus, throwing herself at his feet, begging, “Lord, help me!” This woman of another race and religion now claims Jesus as her “Lord.” And, Jesus only responds with a one-sentence parable: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Concretely stated, the children are the Jewish people and the dogs are the pagans.
The woman’s commitment to her daughter, and her unwavering faith that Jesus is the sure answer to this impending tragedy, causes her to reply, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She wasn’t even asking for a full portion. Similar to the woman who knew if she only touched the hem of Jesus garment she’d be healed, this woman knew that even a crumb from Jesus would be enough. It is at this point, I believe, Jesus is opened to a renewed mission, a clearer engagement of God’s direction to be of service and draw all people to God. Jesus shifts from disregarding the pagan woman, to remarking on her faith: “Woman great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed immediately.
These two stories are linked by intelligent and spiritual responses to boundaries. Jesus presses a boundary on what is consumed in favor of a more meaningful boundary of what is expressed. Even more to the point, the more specific boundary that Jesus is speaking of, is the boundary of the heart: What do we let in there, and what do we turn away? What do we allow our heart and soul to consume, and what do we reject? Just as a heart muddied with evil which is expressed through evil intentions, a pure heart will express our holy intentions.
The other boundary that Jesus was pressed up against was the boundary that rejects others based on who they are, where they’re from. In this story, race and religion were the bases for rejection.
Today, I invite you to become aware of the boundaries in our lives. Become aware of how they serve us—such as in discerning what we allow into our hearts and what we reject. Do the work to strengthen these boundaries. Also of consideration is exploring boundaries that serve neither God nor humankind—such as rejecting others for who they are. Have courage to reject these boundaries. Doing this kind of soul work of discovering, strengthening and correcting boundaries takes patience with ourselves; it takes awareness and it takes discipline. Doing the work of strengthening healthy boundaries brings us into unity with God. And discovering boundaries that need correction is critical, as these are the boundaries that separate us from God’s love. These are the boundaries that serve only as a wedge between us and God.
[i] Ronald Heifetz.
[ii] Helpful reflections were provided by Lectio Divina of the Carmelite brothers at https://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-20th-sunday-ordinary-time
The Nicene Creed states that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father”, meaning that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son has occurred throughout all eternity - past, present, and future! In other words, the event was not limited to a single moment in time when the Holy Spirit incarnated Jesus in Mary’s womb. The Creed then reiterates the difference between “making” and “begetting” when it states that Jesus is “begotten, not made...”. C.S. Lewis wrote: “We don’t use the word begotten much in modern English. To beget is to become the father of - to create is to make. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers. If (a man) is a clever enough carver, he may make a statue which is very like a man. But, of course, it is not a real man. What God begets is God (‘very God of very God’); just as what man begets is man. Contrariwise, what God creates is not God.” (“Let us make man in our image - Genesis 1:26). God is incapable of creating something that is of Himself...He must beget it.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
The early Church developed a fairly uniform Eucharistic prayer or anaphora (“offering”). These anaphora could be divided into: 1) introductory dialogue (our Great Thanksgiving); 2) preface (unique for each Sunday of the church year); 3) Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy...”); and 4) anamnesis (an all but untranslatable Greek word which means a past event that is made present here and now). Usually Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension are “brought to the present”. The words of institution (the “moment of consecration” in Catholicism when the bread/wine become the body/blood of Christ) are in the anamnesis. The invocation of the Holy Spirit, or epiclesis, is the “moment of consecration” in Orthodox Churches. An epiclesis was not present in Roman or Anglican anaphora, but it has been in all Episcopal anaphora since 1789. This may be because Samuel Seabury (the first American bishop) was consecrated by Scottish bishops whose anaphora contained an epiclesis. Many Episcopal theologians believe that the entire anaphora taken as a whole completes the consecration. In this theology, the congregation robustly completes the anaphora said for them by the celebrant with the Great AMEN (printed in the Book of Common Prayer in all capital letters to encourage enthusiasm).
~Dr Gil Haas
The Anglican version of the Catholic rosary was developed in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas as an aid to daily prayer. An Anglican prayer bead set consists of thirty-three beads divided into four groups of seven beads called Weeks with four large Cruciform beads separating the four groups. Attached to one Cruciform bead is a cross and a single Invitatory bead. Each type of bead is associated with a different prayer by the user. The user begins at the cross saying, “In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” moving on to the Invitatory Bead where the user says, “O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me, Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” The first Cruciform bead is next where the user prays, “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon me”. The user moves to the right, through the first set of seven beads, and at each bead the user prays, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The user then moves to the next Cruciform bead, and so on continuing around the circle.
~Dr. Gil Haas