No time for church? Here’s today’s sermon from Fr. Scott on a busy weekend.
Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30
Lent is not a season for mourning; it is a season for renewal. Look at the land around you at this time of year. It is resting under a blanket of snow, but just beneath the snow are powerful stirrings of life—renewed life—making ready to burst into a glorious and fruitful spring. Indeed, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this season is known as the Lenten Spring.
Lent is a fallow season. It is a time when we look inward to the state of our soul. Even our souls need renewal, and the season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination so that we may see the work that needs to be done to make us again whole, complete and fruitful in our faith. It is a season to open ourselves to the powerful, healing love of God through Christ Jesus.
Lent is a season to repent—literally to “turn around”—to see where we have been that we may better know where we are headed. It is a season to turn to Jesus and offer up all that weighs us down: our grief, anger, isolation, self-pity, dissatisfaction, envy, un-forgiveness and resentment. Jesus invites us to give him these burdens to bear so that we are freed to take on his burden—the burden of a discipleship filled with love, faith and hope.
Lent is a season for letting go, that is, of letting go of what stands between the way we have been going and the way Jesus bids us to go. This Lent, start to let go of the concerns and burdens that we have taken upon ourselves. Turn off the TV or get off the web for a little while, and in those quiet, fallow moments, think about what is truly important to you. Think about where you have been going, and think about where you would like to be going. Then pray that the Spirit will guide you to new paths and new ways of living.
Look in your hearts and souls for those first stirrings of new life. Then, nurture those stirrings and give them the time, space and food that new life needs to become vibrant, strong and fruitful. Nourish your rested souls with the renewing waters of baptism and the life-giving food of the Lord’s Supper. Be regular in prayer, and be regular in silence. Open yourselves to the new venues God has prepared for you, and with renewed commitment, ask Jesus to give you the courage to follow where he leads you.
Then renewed, forgiven, healed, offer your very best to God in the glory of Eastertide. Resurrect your spirit and your soul to new life in him who rose on Easter that we might live forever in his loving grace. Set aside your old self and embrace the new life you have received through your baptism into Christ’s death and mighty resurrection. Be reborn into the Baptismal Covenant and renew your promises to love and serve God as we love and serve others. Let us go forth into the world in the power of the Spirit!
Almighty and everliving God, who in the Paschal Mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Book of Common Prayer, page 223
Psalm 1 Blessed are the man and the woman who have grown beyond their greed and have put an end to their hatred and no longer nourish illusions. But they delight in the way things are and keep their hearts open, day and night. They are like trees planted near flowing rivers, which bear fruit when they are ready. Their leaves will not fall or wither. Everything they do will succeed. Translation by Stephen Mitchell
Gardens have been much on my heart and in my mind of late. Perhaps this is because our Sunday worship is in a garden; perhaps because of the vibrancy of the colors of the late summer flowers; perhaps because of the lushness of the fruits and vegetables of the summer harvest. Whatever the reason, I know that gardens are important to our understanding of God and our experience of Christian faith. Human existence begins in a garden. Jesus prayed in a garden the night before his crucifixion. The empty tomb of the Resurrection was in a garden.
Like a garden, our souls need tending and nurturing. Prayer, meditation, the Sacraments and the word of God in Scripture all nourish our souls. We are created beings who are more closely linked with creation than we often realize.
We are fortunate at St. Mary’s to be in the midst of magnificent gardens and amazing natural beauty. The historic Afton Town Square Park, Carpenter Nature Center, Afton State Park, St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and even our own Memorial Garden offer beautiful trees, flowers and landscaping to reconnect us to God and creation. And I know that many of you have attractive yards and gardens at your own homes.
Take some time this summer to “stop and smell the roses.” Explore the gardens and landscapes of the St. Croix Valley, or the natural beauty of the state and regional park system. Turn off the air conditioner and open the windows of your home or automobile to let in the sounds and smells of creation. Tend your soul so it too may grow and flourish in the love of God and the glory of God’s creation. Store up the energy of the sun for the fallow season of winter that is all too close at hand.
As you enjoy the created beauty of the world, take a moment to reflect on our relationships with the whole of creation. Below are some reflections on those relationships by others. Perhaps you will be able to add your own experience of nature to the list. Enjoy, and God bless you.
“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”— Thomas Moore
“There is a little plant called reverence in the corner of my soul’s garden, which I love to have watered once a week.”— Oliver Wendell Holmes
Grant me the ability to be alone, May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to. Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav
“I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”— e.e. cummings
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.BCP pages 280, 291, 515, 528 and 540
The great collect of renewal, one of the most beautiful and powerful Anglican prayers, appears more often in the Book of Common Prayer than any other. We hear it on Good Friday, at the Easter Vigil, and at the ordinations of bishops, priests and deacons. It proclaims the mighty power of God to transform weakness, brokenness and age into perfection—holy perfection.
Its frequent repetition supports the concept that this transformation and renewal is not something locked at a certain point in time but is continuous and ongoing. Indeed, each day God calls us to transformation and renewal. It is said that the great scholar and reformer, Martin Luther, ran from his bed to wash in the baptismal font of his church each morning as a sacramental act of continuous transformation and renewal in each of God’s children.
The Church uses many sacramental signs to remind us of our continuing call to renewal and transformation. The water in the baptismal font at the door of the church, the sprinkling (or aspurging) of all the people with the holy waters of baptism, and the sacramental cycles of the Church Year all remind us that we are ever beginning again; never complete in this world.
Another sacramental symbol of renewal and transformation is the butterfly. From the earliest days of Christianity, the butterfly was associated with the celebration of Easter. The symbolism is clear enough really. Jesus was born and lived among us (the caterpillar stage), he died and was buried (the chrysalis stage), and he rose in a new and transformed state at Easter (the butterfly stage).
The butterfly is not only symbolic of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but also of our own. We too are born, will die, and are assured of resurrection to eternal life. The butterfly is a symbol of hope in Jesus’ everlasting promise of salvation. It is also a reminder that we are called to renew and transform ourselves; always seeking to more fully live into God’s call to us as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
At this time of year, there are many symbols of renewal and transformation all around us. Trees that appeared dead spring forth with leaves and newness of life. Flower bulbs long buried under the snow and frozen ground astonish us with their sudden profusion of brilliant flowers. And before long, the butterflies will be adorning the trees, bushes and flowers as well.
In these Great Fifty Days of Easter, open yourselves to experience the power of God’s renewing and transforming Spirit. Seek out ways to continue to mature and flower as a beloved child of God. Let the healing power of the Risen Christ empower you to stretch and grow in newness of life.
As Paul writes to the Church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about the child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine what Mary must have been thinking as she pondered all that had happened and had been foretold? Can you imagine?
Imagination is at the heart of our experience of Christmas. We, with Mary, Joseph, the angels and shepherds, are part of something magnificently wonderful—something that words cannot begin to express. We are part of the magnificence of God’s greatest gift, the gift of the Incarnation, something so spectacular that we are only able to imagine its implications.
God loved the world so much that God glorified the whole created order by becoming a part of the creation itself through the birth of Jesus—God’s only Son—to Mary. This act of love transformed the world and continues to transform the world as we know it.
Pondering the transformation of the whole world is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps we would do better to follow Mary’s example and ponder the implications of God’s gift of love in our own hearts—how does the Incarnation impact my life and my relationship with God?
To put it very simply (perhaps too simply), the Incarnate Christ is a constant reminder of God’s continuing, intimate presence with us; and we are a constant reminder of our continuing presence to God. The ongoing power of the Incarnation keeps us in a relationship with God that is deeply personal; it is what gives us the audacity to claim our inheritance through Jesus Christ as daughters and sons of God. As Paul writes, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal. 4:6, 7)
What greater gift can we receive than the gift of God’s unconditional love? But we feel unworthy to accept that gift because we are broken, sinful human beings. Yet it precisely because we are broken, sinful human beings that God has given us this gift, a gift that transforms us and enables us to love God and one another as God loves us. Moreover it is a gift that is ours forever for, as Paul writes in Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38,39)
Through this perfect gift of God we are transformed and we are empowered to continue the transformation of the world in the ways in which we share this gift with others. The love of God through Jesus Christ is inexhaustible. The more we share it, the more we receive, grace upon grace.
This Christmas, and always, share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. As a child of God, accept your portion of the work we have been given to do to help embrace a sin-sick and weary world that all may come to know and accept God’s perfect gift of love to us through Christ Jesus. Imagine the difference this gift will make in the world. Imagine the power you can begin to unleash. Imagine.
Like the apostles, we long to learn to pray as Jesus prayed: with faith, fire and fervency. Too often, however, we’re not sure how to begin, what to say, or even if our prayers will be heard and answered. This four-session discussion series will explore the four traditional forms of prayer: Praise, Petition, Intercession and Thanksgiving. We’ll learn that praying is a simple tool everyone has been given to enter into a conversation with God. We will discover the wealth of resources for prayer in the Book of Common Prayer and learn the basics for developing a rewarding prayer life with some down to earth tips from best-selling author and pastor Max Lucado.
Join us at 9:35 a.m. on the second Saturday of October, November, December and January to learn, share, explore and experience how a simple practice of prayer can enhance and enrich our conversation with God. There are no books to buy, no homework to do, and no attendance requirement; just a space to learn, grow and share.