Daily Gospel

AUGUST 12, 2020 WEDNESDAY

 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.             —Psalm 19: 1-2

Dear Church Family,

The other day someone asked me, “does God speak,” and if so, “how do you hear and know?” I thought about my answer, which is “Yes.” But how do you explain – a spiritual way of hearing/knowing?

For me God “speaks” – not literally as you or I converse – but in everything. God is a relational presence. I participate by awakening to that presence. Sometimes I am aware. Sometimes I am otherwise occupied with thoughts and other mental activity. I believe God is all in all – in all, and we can “hear” or experience God if we actively attend to the world around us – everything, every person, every situation.

Each moment contains God’s “YES.” The Word, the presence from the beginning, embedded and living in all creation, is that “Yes.” I “hear” the birds sing. I sometimes think about the trees breathing, and hear them. I stand by the pond, sometimes hearing the frog chorus, other times in the late afternoon’s summer heat these days – hearing silence as I watch the still water. The glory of God is proclaiming his handiwork all around me. God is teaching me in how I respond to others – in moments all I can believe they are so wrong.  Each moment is waiting to show us the divine “Yes,” in a unique way for each person.

“So how are you doing these days?” a friend asked recently. I take my inner temperature, periodically – but to answer someone is different. Regardless of all the chaos and noise around me these days — the many distractions, the pain, fear, the unknown — holding up Jesus’ revelation of God’s kingdom and his call for us to live it – as I realize how far we are from it, even “God’s people,” — I told my friend, “I look for the blessings.” I choose what I give my attention to. It’s a choice I make. It’s a longing to refocus on my connection with God – to hear and feel the pain which often manifests as anger, and mean speech – as I believe God hears our cries. I focus on God’s love, grace – to know within, I am – you are – each one of us is beloved. To reclaim God in his handiwork, in speech that is beyond words, in knowing far deeper than explanation or reason.

In the midst of angry voices – one voice is always speaking – if I, you, take a few moments to focus, to listen – to be still. Today, can you take time for that voice to speak to you – in your emotions, through your eyes, in your heart? God’s got quite a conversation going on with us – of beauty, love, and grace — even in the chaos, dis-ease, isolation, and unknown that lies just ahead. There is a greater known that surrounds us – and it’s telling forth God’s glory.

Blessings and love this day, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

AUGUST 11, 2020 TUESDAY

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. — Ephesians 2: 8-9

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Saved through faith, by grace. That’s who you are, what Christ gives you. Your only “doing” is to receive what you’re given. Trust God that it is so.

In my years I’ve encountered people that had a problem with this idea. Only those good enough — those who “accepted” Jesus and prayed the prayer of salvation — deserve being saved. After I preached the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard once, a man tells me that’s crazy. That’s not how things work. You don’t arrive at quitting time and get paid what someone earned working in the hot sun all day.” I said, “It’s grace. The employer can do as he wishes.” “That makes no sense,” he snaps back. “Congratulations! You get it. Grace makes no sense — it’s a gift. Take it.”

Others come at grace from a different place — knowing they can’t save themselves. Knowing and overwhelmed with their sin, failures and weakness, they carry scars of such guilt and shame that prevent believing God can so love them. Their fear — God’ll run out of grace before He gets to them — or they’ve already used up their credits.

I tell people who came to the vineyard before others — worked longer and harder in the church — did more, and feel smug and secure for their efforts – “Get over it.” And those who look at the gifts and all the work the early arrivers put in – and fear they’re not enough, haven’t lived worthily enough to earn a pittance at best, “Take it. It’s God’s offer, not your work.” The sun shines, the rain falls – and we’re all blessed. Grace – grab it. Trust it. Live it. You receive it through Jesus. It’s not up to you to figure it out. God has an infinite, everlasting supply of grace — for everyone He’s created — which means all people. And it’s free for the asking, the taking – Trust the Abba, as Jesus says. God keeps promises – ask Abraham.

And you’ll know grace within when you appreciate – cherish, what has been given you. It’s the way God turns us from sin, guilt, anger – toward His face, His love. The more you experience God’s unlimited grace – the more your desire becomes to live and love like Jesus.

Do you realize this and each day – you are saved by grace? How does it make any difference in your life? Have you opened your heart as wide as you can so God can fill you with security enough to know you are saved through faith? “Saved” is not about heaven later. It’s the gift to live “saved,” healed, whole now. God’s got you covered, by grace. Let’s live like we believe and trust it.

God’s love and grace holding each of us, this day and forever, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

AUGUST 10, 2020 MONDAY

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  — Galatians 3:28

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Both Paul and Peter were big on inclusion. Christ is not local, but Universal. The old divisions of nation and races no longer hold in God’s reign. You’re familiar with these words from Paul to the Galatians. We say we believe. But to live them?

Even Jesus seems to stumble on his earthly journey a bit with this idea. A Canaanite woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter. He refers to his mission for Israel, not her, a Gentile. She insists — responding in kind – even dogs beneath the table get crumbs. Scholars have tried to soften Jesus’s response, “Maybe he’s testing her faith.” My spiritual director in Wilmington challenged my understanding. She raised the question — perhaps it’s a teachable moment for the human Jesus. I had to think about that. Luke says Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man. John, the last Gospel written, well beyond Mark, Matthew and Luke, presents a Jesus fully aware of his divine nature – an image of the post-resurrection Christ. The earlier gospels point to a more human Jesus — who grows “in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.”

Whatever you want to believe, her words impact on. He must have sensed the Father’s presence in her love for her little daughter. Jesus is moved by her faith, his compassion – and crosses that line, granting her request. A Canaanite woman calls Jesus’ hand. It’s a prelude to Paul’s teaching to the church at Galatia. God’s choosing all people, even Israel’s former enemies – the entire world, as John would say, God so loves.

If Jesus learned and grew as scripture says, so must we. Some Christians today seem stuck. The early church was changing and growing – expanding its roots in Judaism to a universal diversity. God does so love us all – the world. Paul writes in a way he never would have if Jesus hadn’t “dropped in” on his life. He was very religious, well schooled, zealous – and wrong about Jesus. Yet who God loved and took Paul in.

Jesus, with this Canaanite woman’s help perhaps, grew past thinking he had come first to bring the lost souls of Israel home. He’ll die to lead the world home. And when we have been found and brought home to God, then what Paul sees as no longer existing — divisions and hostilities against others not like us — will be no more. That’s what happens in the Kingdom of God. Jesus gives his life – not for some, but for the entire world. We open our lives, as he did his. We are all equal in dignity and worth, bearing God’s image and love, to awaken that same image in us – who you truly are created to be.

May God grant us the grace to trust so much as to live – we are all one in Christ, Blessings – Fr. Steve
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Sunday Service Video Stream

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Update: Laurie Austen will be our delegate to the 205th Annual Convention on November 20-21, 2020.  Thank you, Laurie!

Sunday Service… 

Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures, a small cast was able to record the service in church. This is our 22nd video!

Fr. Steve was joined by readers Jay Elliot and John Todd.  Mark Gibbons provided the music.

The *prelude* was recoded some years ago in our church on our organ by world renowned organist the late Carlo Curley.  Curley gave an excellent mini-concert to show off our newly refurbished organ. Curley passed away in 2012.  https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-19250242

You may watch the church service here:

 https://youtu.be/04yugbUrSUY

The hymns are 390, 608, and 410.

Let’s watch the service at 11:00 am Sunday, August 9, together as a church from the safety of our homes.

Virtual services will likely continue through Labor Day when there will be a reevaluation of our ability to hold in-person services. I look forward to the day we’re back in church for real!

Michael B Wells, Senior  Warden
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Erwin NC
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Sunday Readings & Comments

AUGUST 9, 2020 SUNDAY

Dear Church Family,

The Collect of the Week beseeches God’s aid that we may think and do the right things. What are the right things? To pray for the spirit to discern what is right – to live according to God’s will. We need God’s help. We are imperfect beings. We fail. We continually ask God’s help. When we ask sincerely and listen closely, we more likely say, think, and do what honors God and embody His love.

The saga of Israel’s formation continues in the Old Testament reading from Genesis. Joseph is our focus. The selection omits Joseph’s dreams. To recap— they cause jealousy and turn his brothers against him. And that his father gives him a beautiful coat — Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat adds more fuel to their fire. Joseph is not nearly as popular at home as he will become in Egypt. Read the story. It tells how Joseph gets to Egypt – that his brother Rueben intervenes to save Joseph’s life. One more layer — Joseph is first-born of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, and thus the favored child. All of this is the backdrop – for more than a play and movie — but the unseen, presence of God guiding this story to a happy end of the Book of Genesis.

Psalm 105 recites the saving events in Israel’s history. It summarizes God’s wonders and judgments, God’s hand in these events preserve God’s people. The end of the story resonates with the memory of dreams fulfilled – Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation serving him well and preserving his life.

Romans is the pinnacle of Paul’s theology and teachings. Chapter 10 is thick and rich. Paul is well schooled in Jewish scripture, and interprets the events of Jesus’ life through their lens. Paul interprets Israel’s past as a continuation of God’s determination to save the world through Israel, ultimately revealed in Jesus. Paul insists on the universal availability of salvation for all. The text for Sunday is a snippet of the myriad of riches from Paul’s heart and mind, so filled with his love and gratitude Jesus chose him, as an apostle, too.

Matthew 14 is also a multi-layered story in the unfolding revelation to the disciples. Matthew shapes the story for the early church, a stormy time of persecution and danger. Over the years, I have come to see Jesus’ walking on water, more as an epiphany story, than a miracle story. The disciples know Jesus, and more — God’s power to subdue chaos and destruction; divine, power that can rescue us from the fear of death. It’s the power of resurrection – Jesus’, and his life raised in you and me on this earthly journey. Only God walks across the seas. Here Jesus does. What does this say about Jesus? Read it in the light of the Transfiguration Story. Briefly, Peter, James and John see Jesus in more than human form – transfigured, changed. The same transfigured Jesus appears from nowhere to the disciples, Easter Sunday afternoon. The Emmaus Road Jesus, revealing himself in the scriptures, the breaking of bread – epiphanies that reveal by faith what eyes cannot see. It’s that ongoing presence Jesus promises – as Matthew ends his gospel, and human Jesus departs to send his presence as peace, through the Holy Spirit, so to be with us as the Universal Christ — “Lo, I am with you always.”

As you are able, read, reread aloud (and with another, if possible) to hear the spoken word. What catches your attention? Gets you thinking or asking a question? That becomes the fertile ground of meditation – conversation with God. And from such encounters, the Spirit of God is with us, and faith grows.

Blessings and peace as you finish your week, and as we gather in our homes to worship together Sunday, Fr. Steve

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost – August 9, 2020

Proper 14 – Year A

The Collect

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

The Response

Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b

Confitemini Domino

1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
16 Then he called for a famine in the land *
and destroyed the supply of bread.
17 He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19 Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the Lord tested him.
20 The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21 He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions,
22 To instruct his princes according to his will
and to teach his elders wisdom.
45 Hallelujah!
 
 

The Epistle

Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The Gospel

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

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Daily Gospel

AUGUST 8, 2020 SATURDAY

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. — 1 Corinthians 13:12

Dear Church Family,

How little we see spiritually, and yet think we know. How limited is what we see going on in the world around us, and yet how much people believe they know. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly.” Humility is a gift — or should be — to pray for. Meekness is a word Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Paul says our vision is dim. We know only in part. That’s a humbling reminder. When I think I know what another person thinks, what they mean without asking, how and who they are, based on some exterior criteria of who I dimly see, that mixture of light and dark gives room to see and believe in my limited way. The humble, the meek become the wise, by not assuming they are all wise. The person spiritually aware will work to see things, others — as they are. It all rests on where we begin. Thomas Merton would say, that’s “what the scoop is.”

Choosing wisely the spiritual path helps us begin to see what one day we shall see in full – to know fully, as you have been fully known. Prayer, meditation, reading scripture – daily spiritual practices are necessities to grow in God’s kingdom. These practices begin clear dimness, allowing you to focus – to see more clearly, humbly, not assuming you yet know fully. In these days, it’s easy to forget how God sees each of us — His Beloved. How easy to forget God has created each of us to bear the divine image – His. That is where the journey begins of knowing and humbly embodying who you are coming more fully – God’s beloved child.

You’ll never see clearly in this world, as you will one day. You will be known fully – not for your flaws and mistakes. You will see you as God sees you. You will see others the same way. You and I know now only in part – and we know enough. Jesus has come and keeps coming – to let us “know what the scoop is.” May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts attuned to God’s reign in our lives. Humility — how little I really know, yet assuming I do.

Blessings and God’s grace to give us humble spirits — Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

AUGUST 6, 2020 THURSDAY

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8

Dear Church Family,

These days I have more time on my hands, a gift of lesser daily activities. Do you? I have more time to think about imperfections — what’s wrong in me. What spiritual practices might help me to either improve or accept my flaws? Others may not notice, but I do. It’s a desire to “fix” before imperfection is seen.

If that resonates for you, we’re not alone. It’s natural. Parents want to “fix” what they see could hurt a child’s future – some behavior, attitude, habit that annoys. Do you ever focus on the small thing, and miss the bigger picture? It’s hard to love others as they are, if I am unable to love myself as I am.

God looks at each of us, and loves us as we are. That was one of the simple gifts (Mr) Fred Rogers gave every child who watched his TV show. He began with the simple beauty of each, as we are, not on improvements we “should” fix. It’s like how I believe God sees you and me – whole, the special mess we are.

Oliver Cromwell told Sir Peter Lely, who was painting his portrait, to include facial imperfections. “I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will not pay a farthing for it.”

Paul writes that God proves his love for you and me in Jesus’ life and death. God first, loves us as we are, sinners — warts and all. The cross — Jesus’ resurrection — the sign of God’s love for us, as we are. Do you love yourself as God loves you? That’s where the real journey with Christ begins – not in what’s “wrong,” but what’s right – what God has done already that you and I could not. God loves us – as an old friend would say, “warts, carbuncles and all.”

It takes time, prayer, desire, “re-programming” what some “bad” religion has taught us, to fix first, what’s wrong, and make us lovable to God. That’s already a given. What if you began where God sees, and how God loves now— you and everyone. Just that, right there — ask God to help you, love you through God’s eyes, and then you may begin to see and love one another as God does.

A prayer from a book of daily prayers by Brennan Manning:

Dear Abba (Father),

I’ve come to the place where I’m letting You love me more each day, but I still struggle with letting You like me. I realize that has much more to do with me than with You, not to mention my ongoing attraction to tenderness, then repulsion, then back again. Thank You for Your still, small advances toward me displaying that yes, my Abba is very fond of me! Please help my unbelief. I want to rest safe in Your arms.

God’s love and joy holding you this day, Fr. Steve 
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Daily Gospel

AUGUST 5, 2020 WEDNESDAY

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. — Matthew 24:42

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Stay awake, says Jesus — or an expression, “Life can turn on a dime.” Live your life for today, because tomorrow you could walk out and be hit by a bus. That’s one way to read it. OR seen from a different angle, “Life can turn on a dime can express an optimistic viewpoint. How do you live your life — in fear, or optimistically? A recent article I read got me thinking about this.

It’s hard these days to live optimistically, isn’t it? COVID-19, unable to connect safely with friends for social occasions. Parents with a new job – teachers. We wear masks, or don’t – even being told that doing so protects others’ right to life. Life can turn on a dime. How are living your life these days? What is “normal” and how will we know its return – or will it?

What has been “normal” has not been life-giving for all – not as Jesus introduces us into God’s kingdom. When we fail to love as Jesus, fail to see beyond our small world, fail to understand all of us are his children – we fail to live in God’s dream of what is and will finally be “normal.”

Jesus died because we sin — our thinking, minds, and actions indicate our primary residence. He died to love and draw us back to the Father – to see his face in the faces of others. By his death he is raised, to raise us to this new life. Maybe we can, even now, work more committed to fulfill God’s view of normal, which certainly challenges values of the world as it has been. We begin when we deny ourselves, take up what Jesus offers – not a crown, but a cross, and follow. We do, so that heaven can begin living in us on earth. God is eternally optimistic we can. He did send Jesus. Life turns on a dime – quickly. Our choices matter.

I am confident we’ll survive the fear and fragility of these present days — masks and safe-distancing. What will we learn in this time? Is the old normal enough? Will we want to do better? Optimistically, I trust that day to come – choices to do better, be better people – live more fully the values of God’s kingdom, will be open before us. We’ll reconnect again, and with God’s help, in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

What if we read the verse from Matthew — “you do know on what day your Lord is coming,” not in the usual way – doomsday or death, but as if we really believe and trust, that day is here. Lo, he is with us always, just as he promises. What do you think Jesus would offer to help you build a new and better normal for all?

Blessings and God’s grace this day, Fr. Steve 
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Daily Gospel

August 4, 2020 TUESDAY

What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” —Matthew 15:1

Dear Church Family,

Jesus also says a blind person leading a blind person will likely lead both into a pit. Jesus is addressing the purity laws that separated and divided people. Was hands, an exterior performance, does not mean you keep the law of God’s love. It had become a sign separating the clean from the “unclean.” Jesus’ response is to say, in essence, if you follow someone who can’t see and doesn’t know God’s heart, you’ll fall into a pit with them. It’s not what goes into your mouth, but what comes out – not just your words, but do they match your life.

Evil thoughts yield evil actions. Pious behavior cannot ultimately mask the hidden evil disguised within. Those who appealed to the “Law” without living it, were ones Jesus calls out.

Jesus teaches his disciples, and us, these are the blind who lead those who blindly listen to and trust them. Jesus teaches how God so loves – as we are to strive to love others. That doesn’t mean we disregard rules or norms. They guide  us in our love for God and for each other.

She was an old woman, a small and simple house. She’s homebound, but not lonely. Her adult children and grandchildren live nearby. Going to visit her felt more like a chore to get done. As I forced myself, I begin to see and cherish her simple faith, her unwavering love. Our prayer together would include her son. He wasn’t baptized – and didn’t care to be. She prayed for him — didn’t scold, berate or hound him. She leaves her prayer for God to answer, not her to force. Her piety, simple. Her faith, strong. Her heart, loving. And as I left her at the door, I wondered why I dreaded to make time to visit her. I always feel better. One day the son’s wife calls me. He wants me to visit him — in the hospital. He’s weak, not much longer to live. When I get to his room, he asks if I could baptize him. I knew why – his mother’s love, quiet prayers for him — her faith. After I gathered what I needed. I returned, and I, for the first time, baptized someone in a hospital bed. I left, and went to his mother’s house. I stood at her door and simply tell her, “God has answered your prayers.” And I told her where I’d just been. Her eyes filled with tears.

These days I hear words written and spoken by “Christians” that remind me of Jesus’ words – it’s what comes out of the mouth, not pious behaviors, joining a church, going through motions that matter. This dear, simple woman taught me to listen more closely to Jesus’ words. Jesus shaped her life – not empty, pious words. She never said that to me. God did, in listening to her life and prayers.

By the way, within about six months I held two Burial Offices for that family – a mother and her son. His mother’s love and prayers, helped her son find peace. What comes out of our mouths shows what, or who, we have in our hearts.

May God give us pure hearts, to love and embody his compassion to all, especially in these days when anger and fear often take God’s place. The more we know Jesus, the more we know God, and God’s love for us all — even Pharisees and scribes among us, who observe the “laws” but are blind to God’s love. God will finally get us all home – I humbly believe.

God’s love holding you and me this day, Fr. Steve

AND — prayers as the storm passes on, all of you are safe, and prayers for those in its continuing path.
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Daily Gospel

August 3, 2020 MONDAY

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. — John 15:15

All the best qualities of friendship begin in Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ (Alfred of Rievaulx).

—Bernard Bangley, Nearer to the Heart of God

The Rev. Bernard Bangley was pastor of the Quaker Memorial Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Bangley has written numerous books updating the writing of Christian thinkers and mystics through the church’s history.

I am drawn to the above quote from Alfred of Rievaulx. In these days, friendships are being tested. Times like these raise fears from many directions. Friendship becomes agreeing on ideas and positions, the political party I like, religious beliefs hold. What if we started from the heart of Christ – with all he brings to us from the Father? What if our desire was to follow what Jesus reveals of God’s friendship and love for us all? We are friends of Jesus in taking seriously and trusting our lives to everything he brings to us from the Father. That doesn’t mean we always “get it,” right. But we try – our desire and goal — is to love as the Father loves, John 3:16. Perfection is the target, striving is the path, mistakes and the need for forgiveness is part of the journey. Our efforts are perfected in Christ. Over my ministry years, I’ve learned that sometimes those with whom I disagreed have helped me pray and listen more closely to God, focus on God’s love for this world, and all of us here. As Alfred writes, “qualities of friendship begin in Christ.”

To me the starting point with Jesus, is to take the towel and basin he hands us — start tending, physically, spiritually, prayerfully -  to others – all. Jesus never says do this exclusively— for those you agree with, share your values, and no others. We are servants of Christ first, who are learning, praying and focused on loving as Jesus loves.

Read again, more slowly, Jesus’ words. Shape the highest and greatest commitment of your life – in serving God, like Jesus. In so doing, you become more of who you are made to be, beloved of God and friend of Jesus. You live beyond yourself in seeing as Jesus sees. move beyond yourself, just as he did.

All the best qualities of friendship begin in Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.

And prayers for safety for those in the path of the coming storms. Stay safe.

Blessings, love and peace knowing we are Jesus’ friends – Fr. Steve
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