Making the sign of the cross is a ritual request for a blessing made by many Christians. It is common to invoke the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously. Until the twelfth century, both the western and eastern churches made the sign of the cross similarly - from above to below and then from right to left. However, western churches gradually changed to a left to right pattern, which is our current Episcopal tradition. Pope Innocent III commented that the newer formula (from left to right) mimicked the passing from misery (left) to glory (right). Current Orthodox and Roman Catholic sources curiously argue that their opposite actions are responding to the motions of a priest’s blessing. Catholics note that the priest makes the sign of the cross over the people from left to right, and laypersons crossing themselves from left to right “imitate” the priest. Orthodox counter that parishioners are “mirroring” the priest by crossing themselves right to left. Orthodox bunch the larger two fingers and their thumb together to symbolize the trinity while the two smallest fingers are bent against the palm symbolizing Christ’s dual nature. Many Catholics use an open hand symbolizing the five wounds of Christ.
~ Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
LENTEN MEDITATION AND REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 9:14-29 BY JON WALLINGFORD, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The Pharisees were asking a lot of people who Jesus was, but not asking God. They were witnessing miracles; but searching the earthly realm for proof that they were not. While belief in God is a start, we have to remember that the Lord may not look or act as we expect. Let us not deny what the Lord has done and can do for fear of repercussion.
God, grant us the ability to discern what things in life are good from those that are evil. And the wisdom to pray when we cannot. Remind us as believers to bare witness to the blessings and miracles of the Lord. Amen.
Submitted by Jonathan Lynn Wallingford, who was born in Midwest City, OK. Jon has lived in Oklahoma for the majority of his life, growing up in the Assemblies of God Church. Jon and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, have two small children, Richard Dale (4 years) and John Virgil (6 months). Jon’s professional work is done primarily outside. He has worked as a residential framer, commercial construction and worked as a utility locator. Now Jon owns and operates a lawn care and landscaping company. Jonathan found the Episcopal Church while looking for a place to grow spiritually with his family after a long absence from attending church. He and his family have been attending St. Augustine of Canterbury since September 2019 and are very happy here. They plan to be members and continue attending services, in person or virtually.
REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 3:7-8 - YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN - DR. NOEL JACOBS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I have wrestled and wrestled with the term ‘born again’ since I was a child, first leaving the Episcopal church for a visit to my grandmother’s church, which was Southern Baptist. I did not know how very different the interpretation of scripture was from group to group! Coming back as an adult to my Anglican roots after significant journey, and after intentionally becoming part of a much broader interfaith community (that includes Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh communities, among others) I feel, ironically perhaps, that I have a much stronger grasp of the allusion to Spirit than I did when I was younger. I also feel I have a greater understanding of the term ‘born again.’ We know from other passages that love, kindness and patience, along with several other qualities, begin to emerge when someone is transformed by Spirit. And that process of being born a second time? I see and experience it as a quietly beautiful, sometimes painful, process of transformation in which we slowly let go of old ideas, old ways of thinking, old pains from this world that injures us at times, as we feel the peace of that Spirit moving through us like the wind, unseen but definitely there. And I am thankful for my ongoing process of rebirth.
Creator, You have always known what we need. While the world hurts us and also coaxes us into holding on to it tighter, You know how Your unseen wind, the Holy Spirit, can give us a new birth. Help us through this process, so we can show Your fruits and help transform the world around us with Love. Amen.
Submitted by Noel Jacobs, who has been a member of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church for over four years with his wife Anne and their twins Keegan and Felix. He enjoys making jewelry for his family and friends and traveling with his family. He is a child psychologist who serves kids going through treatment for chronic health issues, and has recently discovered a love of making films that are helpful for teaching and encouraging kids and families.
Many Christian feasts are associated with local traditions that make the feast unique to that region, and Lent is no exception. In Italy, holy water is passed out during Lent so that families can bless their homes. On a more gruesome note, some Philippine citizens actually endure a brief crucifixion on Good Friday. Many countries eliminate meat on Fridays during Lent, but in some countries beaver tail was considered “fish” since beavers live in water. On Bermuda, families fly kites made with wooden sticks on Good Friday to represent the cross on which Jesus died as well as his ascension. On Malta, some families visit 14 churches, with each church providing one of the Stations of the Cross. On Maundy Thursday in the Czech Republic, church bells fall silent, and children use wooden clappers to call villagers to services. In Bulgaria, the Lazarouvane festival is celebrated on the Saturday before Easter. Young girls walk through the village singing and decorating the village gates with willow twigs. If a young girl refuses to participate, tradition predicts that the girl will never marry. In Germany, Maundy Thursday is known as “Green Thursday”, and green foods such as salads and spinach are eaten.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
HOUSE CLEANING - A SERMON ON EXODUS 20:1-17 AND JOHN 2:13-22 - REV. JOSEPH C. ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered
the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2021
Exodus 20:1-17 & John 2:13-22 “House Cleaning”
For thousands of years, human beings have called out people from their midst to speak to and of God in the community, to help the rest explore and face the mysteries of God.
But such religious leaders often create ways to control this. We build boxes – temples, churches – and say they’re the only places to meet God. Once God is well-boxed, we make theology about what God says and does, controlling God for the people.
We religious leaders, and, let’s be honest, many religious people in general, can be fiercely protective of our God-boxes, of our right to have the final say about God, to control access. It’s a huge temptation, and we don’t like being challenged about it.
The Temple in Jerusalem was just such a box, like all made by peoples throughout history. Its leaders controlled the God-message, and access to God, and taught that in this place alone the true God was found.
So Jesus challenges the way they’ve cared for this God-box.
They’ve made a market out of a holy place, he says. Necessary things for sacrifice in the Temple are bought and sold within. Lambs sold for sacrifice, money changed from Gentile currency to Hebrew, and religious folks are making a profit. And the Son of God will have none of it. This isn’t what the house of God is for, he says.
This challenge to their authority, the driving out of animals, spilling of coins, and unmistakable rebuke is – no surprise – not well received. We religious people don’t like that.
Jesus is saying in essence, It’s time to do a little “House cleaning.”
Dealing with the clutter isn’t anything new.
Isn’t that what Lent is all about?
A season to engage in a Spring cleaning. A yearly taking stock of what gets in the way.
Anything that gets in the way of God.
All of the gods that vie for our attention, clutter our minds and get in the way.
You shall have no others gods before me. So begins the Ten Commandments. No problem right. We’re monotheists. We believe in one God. We don’t worship a golden calf. Our sophisticated worldview keeps us from silly superstitions. No idols on our dashboards.
But are we being duped? Theologian Paul Tillich defines god as whatever we make our ultimate concern. Even if you don’t believe in a god, you have one. Or maybe, many.
Sometimes gods come garbed in modern costumes and are defined as the “isms” that permeate our lives: racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, heterosexism, consumerism, militarism. There are many, many gods to which we bow.
So, there seems to be plenty of clutter and chaos in the Temple and Jesus is full of righteous anger.
In essence Jesus says. The Lenten call to get our house in order. Not only our residences. But our communities, our churches, our temples.
Hardly anyone, disciples included, understood him at the time. But it was profound. If Israel met God at the Temple, the true Holy Place, with the Holy of Holies, now Jesus claims that he is the new Holy Place.
Jesus who is the intersection between God and humanity. God is now with us, in housed in human flesh, able to be loved, touched, embraced and embodied in Jesus.
He is the locus of God’s presence.
But beloved in Christ, understand that body – that temple – is also us, we are the body of Christ.
This is our baptismal promise, too: you are God’s temple, the Holy Spirit lives in you. We walk our journey of faith dripping wet from the waters of our baptism, reminded that we are not our own. You are not your own. God lives in you, and will transform your heart, and your actions and life as you live bearing God’s Spirit in the world.
Yes, because we follow Christ, we know that to be God’s Temple in the world is to risk everything for the sake of those whom God loves. To walk Christ’s path, to sacrifice with our love, our lives, our hearts, our hands. Amen.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 7:1-13 - LENTEN MEDITATION BY DEBRA KRAUSSE, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
After this, Jesus moved about within Galilee; but he did not wish to travel in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. No one works in secret if he wants to be known publicly. If you do these things, manifest yourself to the world.” For his brothers did not believe in him. So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but the time is always right for you. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify to it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast because my time has not yet been fulfilled.” After he had said this, he stayed on in Galilee.
But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but in secret. The Jews were looking for him at the feast and saying, “Where is he?” And there was considerable murmuring about him in the crowds. Some said, “He is a good man,” while others said, ”No, on the contrary, he misleads the crowd.” Still, no one spoke openly about him because they were afraid of the Jews. John 7:1-13
A feast! Celebration! It makes one want to be in on the joy! In our time, though, I can understand Jesus’ statement about the world being evil. We are dealing with events somehow inconceivable. Even though it is not Jesus’ time to be seen publicly, I think his presence in our world is apparent. We are struggling, but our belief in Jesus, His ministry, His death and resurrection for us is indeed miraculous; we shall overcome those things which seem so insurmountable. We must remember, also, that at the end of our journey here, there will be insurmountable joy as we live in Heaven with Jesus.
O Lord, support us all the day long until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.
~Submitted by Debra Krausse, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 5:31-47 - BEARING WITNESS AND THE GENTLE TEACHER - TESSA YEAKLEY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
John 5:31-47 (NKJV).
“If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
“I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
In this story, we catch a glimpse into Jewish legal proceedings. Witnesses were very important when it came to law. Here, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of sin when he healed a man on the Sabbath, and Jesus speaks about His four witnesses: John the Baptist, His own teachings and miracles, the Father, and Moses (Old Testament teachings). He does not ask anyone to take His word for it. He points out that His presence and miracles are foretold in Scripture and witnessed by living people of the day. Yet, the people who claim to believe in these witnesses do not believe Jesus. If people cannot agree with those they profess to believe, how can they believe in the words Jesus says about Himself?
The Pharisees make for such interesting analysis because it is hard for us to see how they missed the parallels between Jesus and the Old Testament. Personally, for this and many other reasons, I do not think we are very different from the Pharisees much of the time. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in Scripture and in our lives, but we struggle to see Jesus. We claim to believe in His teachings, but we struggle to live like people who agree with what He teaches us. When we wrestle with doubt or right living, perhaps it will help to examine the witness testimony. Let us remember what the Holy Scriptures say. May we surround ourselves with the love and light of Christian witness in our own lives. Most of all, we must take it a step further and trust what Jesus says – that He is the Son of God and our salvation.
Lord Jesus, help us to strengthen our knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. Open our hearts to the glorious testimony of our friends who have been touched by your goodness and mercy. Give us the boldness to trust you like a gentle teacher and yet revere you as Almighty God. Amen.
~Tessa Yeakley, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
"FATHERS" - A REFLECTION ON JOHN 5:19-20 - ADAM YEAKLEY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
John 5: 19-20 (NKJV)
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.”
An earthly father figure can come in many forms -- a father, step-father, grandfather, uncle, friend, or another important influence. I was raised my entire life with my biological father at home. My wife and her father were separated for the better part of her childhood. The only grandfather she knew was out of state. An elderly neighbor named Mr. Rich fulfilled this role for my wife.
My father taught me a great deal. He showed me how to tie fishing line and how to fix things. But it’s the things I watched him do that I remember most. How he treats others with kindness, his selflessness; those are the things I try to follow. Though I never met Mr. Rich, I can see the impact he made. He bought my wife her first Bible, paid for her violin, sent her to church camp, and did so many other kind things.
Just like my father, Mr. Rich’s kindness and selflessness really showed through. Our Heavenly Father has provided us the greatest example of kindness and selflessness through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, so that we can have everlasting life.
God, grant us the strength and wisdom to be examples of Your kindness and selflessness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
~Submitted by Adam Yeakley, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
In many churches we can find the symbols of a fish, a pomegranate, and a phoenix. Christianity and fish are linked. The Greek word for “fish” is ΙΧΘΥΣ. From this, Christians made an acrostic: Ιησους Χριστσς Θεου Υισς Σωτηρ, i.e., Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Christ fed multitudes with fish, and he called his disciples, “fishers of men”. If a Christian met a stranger, he might draw an arc representing half of a simple fish symbol. If the stranger drew a second arc (completing the fish), both believers knew they were in good company. The pomegranate as a Christian symbol is derived from the myth of Properspina who was fed six pomegranate seeds by Pluto, forcing her to live six months each year with him. Christians adopted Properspina’s return to earth each spring to represent Christ’s resurrection. The explosion of seeds from a cut pomegranate is likened to Christ bursting from the tomb. The phoenix myth was also used by Christians. Every 500 years, the single existing phoenix built a nest, set it aflame, and perished in the flames. Three days later, another phoenix would rise from the ashes. The parallel to Christ’s resurrection are obvious.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
"LISTEN" - HOMILY REFLECTIONS ON MARK 8:31-38 - TODD OLBERDING - ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Today is the second Sunday in our Lenten journey, a journey of 40 days. A journey which calls us to listen. We might recall Jesus’s journey into the wilderness for 40 days where he wrestled with what it meant to be the chosen one. As Christians, we might be asking - what does it mean to focus on divine things. This requires us to listen.
Then Jesus rebuked Peter and said to him,
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Today, we find Peter in trouble. This exchange happens just 3 sentences after Peter has exclaimed with confidence, “You are the Messiah.” What has happened that Peter has gone from being a mouthpiece to a tool of Satan. How did this happen?
If we listen, Jesus tips us off when he says he “must be rejected”. I would like you to place yourself with the disciples for a moment as you hear Jesus say, I must be rejected.
What does Jesus mean?
While Jesus was here to share the good news of Immanuel, of God with Us, Jesus also knows he will be rejected. That rejection was the path that had been laid out for him.
While there are many synonyms for rejection, I think a key element is not being heard. I suspect all of us can recall a time when we felt rejected, of not being understood.
I think Jesus’s rebuke has two parts. One is of Love as he is asking Peter to get behind him as if to say watch me, follow me. But there is also a harsh element in his response. I think this reflects how important it was for Peter, the disciples and for us to understand.
So how did Peter, who was there with Jesus, fail to hear?
The disciples have been with Jesus for about 3 years and have witnessed many miracles. They were there for the cleansing of the leper, the healing of the one that could not walk and the feeding of the five thousand. Ironically, they were present when Jesus cured a man who was deaf.
Maybe the disciples should have signed up for that healing too. (HAHA)
It is easy to see how Peter thought he had it all figured out. Jesus was the one. Jesus was the one who would triumph over evil, who would not be defeated. He was the expected king of the Davidic line who would deliver Israel from foreign bondage and restore the glories of its golden age. Peter was thinking in human terms – where might and force are seen as the answer.
Peter wasn’t listening. He could not understand Jesus’s announcement of his suffering to come. Jesus was rejected because people expected a Messiah “perfect in power and perfect in goodness.” Suffering and death were not supposed to happen to the Messiah.
We too are often drawn to power as a response to the world. We love our rules and the predictability they afford. The security of knowing how things should be done comforts us.
Where Peter got into trouble is the same place we get into trouble; it is thinking that our ideas about rules and regulations and how the world operates should be reflected in the way God governs. We assume we know how God should act. And we stop listening.
Like Peter, when we examine our hearts, we might realize that we, too, have sometimes wanted to take Jesus aside and rebuke him.
Some of you may recognize these lines from a song by Lenard Cohen called, “Anthem.”
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
As many of you know, I have been involved in the IONA Formation process for the past several years, a large part of which is reading and writing and fellowship. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this process; I have had a chance to study and work with some fine people. I give thanks to Father Joseph for his support and encouragement. I am thankful for the friendships at Saint Augustine’s.
A large part and maybe the most significant part of IONA is the ongoing act of discernment; of actively listening for and understanding your particular call.
While I’m getting better, I must admit, I’m not particularly good at this. I am often better at calculating than listening. But listening is required.
Listening is required of all baptized; all of us are called to engage.
So who are the ministers of God’s Church? The Book of Common Prayer says: quote “The ministers of the Church are the Lay Persons, Bishops, Priests and Deacons.” It is not by accident that lay persons are listed first. As Father Joseph will tell you, the lay people are the backbone of the Church. Accordingly, we are all called to be ministers. We don’t need to be ordained. We all are called to represent Christ; to bear witness to him wherever we may be according to the gifts given to us.
I had seen my path as leading towards Ordination as a Deacon for a long time. But as I listened, I understand this is not to be. My call is much simpler – it is to do what I can, to ring the bell that can still ring. I understand there is no perfect offering. While one might see this change as failure, I see it as a course correction, an enormous gift. Even the timing of this change during Lent seems so appropriate. A time where we are especially encouraged to listen.
Listening can happen in many ways. It can happen as the choir shares their prayers. The Lenten reflections and classes offered by St Augustine’s provide an outstanding opportunity. There are many on-line opportunities too. Listening occurs when we pray - which takes no special training. For me, I strive to begin each day with listening and prayer. Mother Teresa said:
"God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer."
I understand my calling is to remain in lay ministry. I recently re-read Martin Luther King Junior’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. There he said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We, as laity are called to take the Church into the streets, to carry out Christ's work of reconciliation in the world, loving our neighbor as ourselves and striving for justice.
As I was reading the lessons for today, I was struck by the irony of the 1st line in Genesis.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him….”.
Did you hear that! Here is Abram, at the age of 99 – still listening. And in the process, his name is changed to Abraham, establishing a new identity that God wished him to embody. Here is a perfect example for all of us. Listening should never cease.
Sometimes we imagine life going a certain way. We have these plans or expectations for how we desire the story to play out. Sometimes God has a different plan. May we be willing to let go of the life we imagined for the life God has ready for us.
Let us Pray,
Help us to loosen the reigns of control on our lives. Rather than constantly tell you what we want, help us to listen to what you want and have for our lives. Teach us to embrace with openness the life you have ready for us.
~Todd Olberding, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.