Daily Gospel

November 24, 2020 TUESDAY

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

Dear Church Family,

As Thanksgiving nears Thursday, and Advent begins Sunday, I want to get more meditations for you in these special seasons. As COVID continues, and our souls grow weary, I hope in my praying and writing, I help you – as it helps me, to gather my thoughts.

Henri Nouwen once suggested making a prayer room in your house. A room may not be practical. If not, try what one of my spiritual directors taught me. Make a space dedicated for prayer. Put objects, sacred and special for you there. Maybe create an “altar” — a table, or space that symbolizes God’s presence for you. Maybe a candle you can light that reminds you of the light of Christ within you and awaiting you. The purpose is to help you focus on God. Go often there, and often return. Close your eyes. Speak with God, then be silent and listen – feeling and experiencing God’s gaze of love upon you.

In these days when it’s hard to be peaceful within, begin with the words from John 16:33. Carry them through the day. Your thoughts become a channel into your heart, an opening to celebrate Christ’s victory over the world throughout your day. It’s not a victory readily seen. Christ who has overcome death, sin, and evil fills you with his peace. Rest into his peace.

A prayer discipline is important to daily life, but especially right now when we are bombarded by death, disease, uncertainty, division and hatred among us. You can’t control what’s outside of you. You can invite Christ to guide your response — to bring his promise of peace to your yearning — to draw you into oneness with the Father. It comes, not in a day, a week, a month – but each moment you hear, see, experience God’s love for you.

People may begin to see peace in your eyes, your hands, your work. Jesus is able to transmit the energy of divine love through you. Jesus never promises to remove us from the troubles of this world. He promises to always be with us. In his death and resurrection, we know he has overcome. This world and its woes are real — but even more real is Jesus, and the peace he breathes into you and me – if we give him our hearts and our time.

Blessings, and much peace this day — Fr. Steve

[Message clipped]  View entire message

Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, News & Events | Comments Off

Daily Gospel

November 23, 2020 MONDAY

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, — Matthew 25: 31-32

Dear Beloved in Christ,

I can’t and won’t say all I might in one sermon. Jesus’ parables evoke more than one’s imagination can reduce to a few thoughts – or to one meaning. Evocative – they ignite the imagination and keep it turning. They’re like a kaleidoscope you held to the light as a kid. You keep turning it and the prisms fall differently, creating something new to see.

The parables that draw us into thinking about the end of life/end of time are such – ones we read as the Church Year draws to a close. The end of time still awaits us in Advent – preparing us for the present, between the times, where we live – Christ’s first coming in flesh, and his second – his return, to judge and as ruler to tidy things up in our lives, and here on earth.

Yesterday’s Gospel can be read in many ways – a warning to repent; a threat of hell/heaven; a “king” to both fear and adore. We cannot, in my understanding, read these parables outside the context of Jesus’ other teachings. Separating sheep and goats sounds like a reward and punishment operation. Yet there’s more. Jesus is not just a judge. He is a Shepherd who searches until he finds the lost, wayward, stubborn, independent-thinking goats and brings them home. He is the “prodigal father,” in that he violates religious and family customs by welcoming home the wayward child. He goes out to seek the elder son, begging his return – and leaves the door open, after the boy slammed it shut and stomped out. Who could blame the son? Not even the Father, who invites him back. Goats may get herded off for a “bad place.” But not left there. Maybe God has a “time out” room for us to “season in his love.” We may sometimes, unknowingly, send ourselves there – by the choices we make, the failure to connect our lives with the amazing grace and love of God that changes and transforms us into loving people. That’s where the rubber of faith meets the road, and we grow and change more into the likeness of Christ.

Over the years God has spoken in different ways at different stages of my life. Faith is an ever-evolving, growing experience into the mysteriously beautiful love and yearning of the Father to awaken the deep yearnings of our hearts – as we search for that peace and love — because that is how we are made. We are created. We sin. We learn. We are redeemed. And stamped with the Divine Image, we are forever loved by the Father who continually draws us toward Love.

As we approach Advent, I hold up the image of a tender God of love, a newborn child, the joy of angels singing, shepherds seeking and finding, wise men wandering. If I begin there — I come home to the ending — whenever, of a God of love – waiting, seeking, losing and finding — who gets us all home somehow.

Blessings as we move together into these special days, Fr. Steve
Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, News & Events | Comments Off

Sunday Service Video Stream

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Five items below for your review:

(1) Congratulations new vestry members! At the November 18, 2020 meeting, in accordance with diocesan guidelines, the current vestry selected three parishners to begin a three-year term in January. Congratulations to Winsome Foulkes, Florence Lee, and Frank Trainer!

(2) St. Stephen’s Annual Report.  We will not be able to have an annual meeting this year because of COVID-19, but we will prepare a 2020 Annual Report for our records and history.  Committee chairs and other group leaders, please send the report of your group’s 2020 activities to Heather Honeycutt before December 16 at  kheathersauls@yahoo.com  She is compiling the St. Stephen’s Annual Report.

(3) Stewardship.  You should have received the annual stewardship materials from Stewardship Committee Chair John Todd.  Please review and return your pledge card in a timely manner.  The vestry will be finalizing the budget over the next several weeks.  Accurate budget forecasting relies on a good return rate of pledge cards.  Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

(4) Sunday’s service.  Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures, a small cast was able to produce our 37th virtual service!

The Cast

         Rector and Celebrant: Father Steve Teague
         Crucifer: John Todd
         Lay Reader: Laurie Austen
         Organist: Mark Gibbons
         Videographer: Michael Wells

You may watch the church service here:

   https://youtu.be/GaVrxN46ZpM

The hymns are 460, 544, and 494.

Let’s watch the service at 11:00 am Sunday together as a church from the safety of our         homes. Virtual services will continue for the foreseeable future.  We are                 following Diocesan service guidelines which require our county to be under certain               thresholds and have stable or declining case rates.  Harnett county is still above those           thresholds and the number of COVID-19 cases is currently climbing.  Stay tuned.

(5) Happy Thanksgiving!

 

I look forward to seeing you in person soon!

Michael B Wells, Senior  Warden
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – Erwin, NC
 
Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, Media, News & Events, Sunday Video Stream | Comments Off

Readings & Comments for Christ the King Sunday

NOVEMBER 22, 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Well, here we are now – the end of the Church Year. Time has flown for me, especially since mid-March and we shifted from in-person worship. Maybe that’s a sign of aging. It certainly doesn’t fit with “time flies when you’re having fun.”

Onward with the Collect — Note the optimism — for all peoples, restored to unity in Christ. Think of our present divisions, fears, sin that tears us apart, inwardly and with our neighbors. Pray not for a future day – but now, to be set free from sin that spawns hatred and division, making room to so see Christ in one another, and live more fully into God’s kingdom, now – here on earth.

Today’s readings sound a triumphant note, but not a triumphalist note. God’s universal rule is expressed in Christ, the Shepherd-King. It’s quite a juxtaposition of images – a lowly shepherd. No power finally can withstand or match his. He is seen and enthroned not by demonstrations of power, wealth, greatness – but in the lives of the needy, marginalized and those who slip beneath the cracks of this world and go unseen. If God’s eye is on the sparrow as the spiritual says, you better believe God cares for the least among us. And to live close to God’s kingdom, we will, too.

Both texts – the Old Testament and Psalm dwell on the nurturing and protecting role of the Shepherd-King. We, every one of us, are his people, — like sheep safe in his pasture. We tremble not in his presence but sing our praise. Ezekiel’s words give a political twist to the shepherd’s role by condemning “shepherd-kings” in the land who neglect and exploit the flock. Yahweh intervened in the past — and will in the future through a future king in the line of King David.

Both of our New Testament readings — from Ephesians, and Jesus’ parable in Matthew — echo the Old Testament, pointing toward God’s anointed King above all earthly rule, authority, power and dominion. The texts only point to the nature of God’s rule in the lives of those who love the Lord and anticipate His coming rule over all creation. We live in the interim – and for now, the crucified and suffering Lord is manifest in the hurting and least of this world. God’s reign will be complete. Those ignored and left out – are the subjects of God’s care. The least, surprisingly, think they’re the mighty in this earthly kingdom, while ignoring God’s care for those they consider least. God’s reign will be completed – and complete. Jesus guarantees it. How do we prepare? First, we fall in love with the God incarnate in Jesus Christ, with more than words. Death will one day be vanquished. The Son of Man, will rule over the created order as judge of the nations — and each of us personally. “The slave is our brother,” brother who rescues and redeems, placing us in God’s loving arms forevermore. To be able to see all peoples — beginning with the least and working our way down to the top is the way of God’s kingdom. That’s where the Reign of Christ takes us. Best we begin getting with the program.

Read, learn, pray and meditate with, and inwardly digest our readings. Take your time with them. Give room for the Spirit to find room in your heart. God is always seeking to fill our hearts with the security of Divine Love so that we might be His presence of compassion to those around us.

Blessings and Christ’s peace holding you, as we soon bring this Church Year to a close, Fr. Steve
 
 

Last Sunday after Pentecost – Christ the King

November 22, 2020

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

The Response

Psalm 100

1 Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
 
 

The Epistle

Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The Gospel

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, Media, News & Events, Sunday Video Stream | Comments Off

Daily Gospel

NOVEMBER 17, 2020 TUESDAY

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end; — Lamentations 3:22
 
Dear Beloved in Christ,

With all swirling around us right now — politics, dissension, divisions, fear and disease, the writer of Lamentations lifts us into a larger place. We can easily become distracted — lose our connection into the presence of Lord who is steadfast love. Many right now feel alone and abandoned.

In all of this the Lord waits to break through our personal darkness. If you still listen to the news, or read the newspaper, do you believe God is working through the events of our day? It’s hard. We struggle with the power of evil, of distractions that take us from God’s love — and the hope of our salvation. Yet God’s love is steadfast — ever present. Can you find room within to trust and have faith that God is love, wills your best, and when the dust settles, God’s love and kingdom will be standing? Read the day’s events through the mind and heart of God. That makes a big difference for me – where I begin.

Prayer — a key to our lives in and with the Father. It needs to be gradually more and more reality-oriented. That reality is God’s love incarnate in Jesus. Think of his presence with you right now. He lived as we, and now through the Spirit fills us with truth, our salvation – and leads us into a future that is not out of control.

Most important, pray — focus on who Jesus is, what those who wrote his words and of his deeds in the Gospels, how disciples like Paul, Jude, John, Peter — encounter Jesus as the core reality from which all things come and exist. What is not real does not belong to God, as Henri Nouwen says.

Filter each day’s events – not through the lens of the world’s version of truth. Filter them through God’s – the heart and mind of the creating Father of our Lord, Jesus. That’s the way we can hold on with faith and trust – in the steadfast mercies of divine love that hold us now — and will carry us forth. For the present time, live in the embrace of God’s steadfast love for you, your neighbor – the whole world. And let go of your worry about the rest. At least breathe deeply and take a rest – in the Lord’s love for you.

Rest in the Lord, as you can, this day…Blessings, Fr. Steve
Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, News & Events | Comments Off

Sunday Service Video Stream

NOVEMBER 15, 2020 SUNDAY

 

Happy Saturday, Saint Stephen’s Family!

Three items below for your review:

(1) Vestry members needed.  Three of the nine vestry members’ terms expire in December.  Based on information from the Diocese and the lingering pandemic, it is likely that we will not be able to hold an in-person annual business meeting this year.  Vestry members are normally elected at that meeting.  The Dioceses has given the current vestry authority to (a) to appoint three replacement members OR (b) simply not fill the vacancies.     At our October meeting, the vestry chose to appoint three replacement members.  The new three-year term will begin in January.  If you are willing to serve or wish to nominate someone, please let me or another vestry member know soon.   The vestry will appoint its new members from the nominees by secret ballot at our December vestry meeting.

(2) Stewardship.  You should have received the annual stewardship materials from Stewardship Committee Chair John Todd.  Please review and return your pledge card in a timely manner.  The vestry will be finalizing the budget over the next several weeks.  Accurate budget forecasting relies on a good return rate of pledge cards.  Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

(3) Sunday’s service.  Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures, a small cast was able to produce our 36th virtual service!

The cast:

Rector and Celebrant: Father Steve Teague
Crucifer: John Todd
Lay Reader: Jenny Sills
Organist: Mark Gibbons
Videographer: Michael Wells
 

You may watch the church service here: https://youtu.be/bfn2ubQvCu0

The hymns are 561, 551, and 680.

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

Virtual services will continue for the foreseeable future.  We are following Diocesan service guidelines which require our county to be under certain thresholds and have stable or declining case rates.  Harnett county is still above those thresholds and the number of COVID-19 cases is currently climbing.  Stay tuned.

I look forward to seeing you in person soon!

Michael B Wells, Senior  Warden
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Erwin NC
Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, Media, News & Events, Sunday Video Stream | Comments Off

Sunday Readings & Comments

NOVEMBER 15, 2020 SUNDAY

Dear Church Family,

May we be blessed with a wonderful day — as I note this particular Friday….As I wrote in my journal early this morning — “Every day is blessed day – a gift of God — the joy of a life among friends and loved ones – love and grace. Risk trusting that is so – for that’s what Jesus teaches us.

And you shall read and pray one of my favorite Collects. When it comes up, the end of the Church Year is near. Soon we turn the page and begin Year B, with the First Sunday of Advent, November 29 this year.

In this Collect is an outline for a Divine reading of scripture. We read, and read again — aloud, to hear the words spoken. Hearing scripture – first, an oral event, before it was written. Mark words, noting who, what, where, when and how — without making judgments or conclusions. Then reflect on what the Spirit lifts up within. What gets your attention? What do you resist? Note any sensory reactions. We inwardly respond. What is God telling you? Offer your thanks and praise, as you experience and intuit God’s words to you. Rest then – and let the process sink in. In such a way we hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest a lively engagement with the Spirit through scripture.

As the year closes, our texts have an apocalyptic tone – on God’s near presence, as well as God’s character and nature. As is written in Judges, God is to be taken seriously, and will not be ignored. The third servant in the parable of the talents represents how a misreading of God’s nature can lead to rejection outright of God’s intention for us. God is more than a casual relationship – one among many, or if we have time. The Psalmist reminds us that God is enthroned in the heavens – and draws our attention beyond the distractions and cares of this world to a larger one that surrounds us. It is a call both to take this world and the world to come, seriously.

First Thessalonians makes us aware of the suddenness of God’s coming. “A thief in the night” awakens our complacency. It is a call to live prepared, but not anxious. Trust God who has shown us in Jesus, our salvation – and whether asleep or awake, we are held in and live with him forever. It is the word of hope and encouragement.

The Gospel challenges us to live confidently in the Father’s love – to take risks, leaps of faith. The workers/servants who follow the owner’s lead in risking all he has on them, is the model for us as God’s servants. We venture and invest without certainty of our outcome – but know how God brings it all together at the end, whenever. Our faith is in a God who knows what it means to take a risk and can turn what seems to be failure into extraordinary success and our salvation.

Blessings as we listen to, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Spirit of the Living God who comes and whispers to us in Holy Scripture. See you, in our present way of gathering, this Sunday, Fr. Steve
 

24th Sunday after Pentecost 

November 15 — Proper 28 

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

The Response

Psalm 123

Ad te levavi oculos meos
1 To you I lift up my eyes, *
to you enthroned in the heavens.
2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *
until he shows us his mercy.
4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
and of the derision of the proud.
 
 

The Epistle

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

The Gospel

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. So, take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, Media, News & Events, Sunday Video Stream | Comments Off

Meditation

NOVEMBER 10, 2020 TUESDAY

‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.— Matthew 6:1

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The other day I read a meditation that caught my attention and memory. Some years ago, I was in a planning meeting for a stewardship campaign. A committee member proudly announces her strategy to increase her gift to the church next year — by forgoing her daily “treat to herself” once a week, of a special latte drink at Starbuck’s, and increase her pledge that much. She wanted to drop a few pounds anyway. Since she and her husband were quite well-off, I quietly hoped her increase wouldn’t break them.

Then, as the Advent/Christmas season approached, some conversation centered on these “street people,” asking for money and how to not feel guilty when you walked by. Someone suggested – Take the person into (again) a Starbuck’s, buy them a coffee or latte, and sit down and ask them if they’d like to talk. Get to know someone whose life you observe from a distance, but never know her/his story. Be lovingly curious, which means seriously interested and empathetic. Of course, that is not practical right now – but I have hope — as soon as vaccines now being developed are finally tested and offered.

Giving to those in need is a value in the Kingdom of God – here on earth as in heaven. But if we don’t take time to see the other — without looking them in the eye, our gift may be more for our own sake than theirs. People who ask for help are in a vulnerable position. If we can meet them as a sister or brother in Christ – without judging or feeling superior to them, we have added a gift to the gift. We are connected to all people. God calls us to listen and “walk with.” Leave judging to the One who knows how. We came into this world in need, and we’ll leave needing help, quite likely. We are all “givers and receivers.”

Jesus teaches us to examine our inner motives carefully. We honor those we reach out and give to, by remembering those who have helped us along the way.

One of the gifts of aging I read, and now discover, is to remember - “I am not self-made.” So many, including you, have shared “gifts differing” with me. Since the first of this year, four dear friends have died. I wish I’d taken time before they did, to thank them – to let them know what they have given me — to look them in the eye. Think about such people in your life, and those you “help” to help you feel better about yourself. Then consider Jesus’ words. The reward God gives when we practice piety God’s way – by simply giving – not from a one-up position — seeing Christ in them, becomes a double gift — the help you give and the time you spend helping someone be heard. Our lives are connected by God – in His love for you, and yours for one another – all others. We each have a story that needs sharing.

Blessings, grace and love this day – Fr. Steve
Posted in Daily Gospels, Featured, News & Events | Comments Off

Sunday Service Video Stream

NOVEMBER 8, 2020 SUNDAY

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Three items below for your review:

(1) Vestry members needed.  Three of the nine vestry members’ terms expire in December.  Based on information from the Diocese and the lingering pandemic, it is likely that we will not be able to hold an in-person annual business meeting this year.  Vestry members are normally elected at that meeting.  The Dioceses has given the current vestry authority to (a) to appoint three replacement members OR (b) simply not fill the vacancies.     At our October meeting, the vestry chose to appoint three replacement members.  The new three-year term will begin in January.  If you are willing to serve or wish to nominate someone, please let me or another vestry member know soon.   The vestry will appoint its new members from the nominees by secret ballot at our December vestry meeting.

(2) Stewardship.  You should have received the annual stewardship materials from Stewardship Committee Chair John Todd.  Please review and return your pledge card in a timely manner.  The vestry will be finalizing the budget over the next several weeks.  Accurate budget forecasting relies on a good return rate of pledge cards.  Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

(3) Sunday’s service.  Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures, a small cast was able to produce our 35th virtual service!

THE CAST

Rector and Celebrant: Father Steve Teague
Crucifer: John Todd
Lay Reader: Winsome Foulkes
Organist: Mark Gibbons
Videographer: Michael Wells

You may watch the church service here:

 https://youtu.be/ZUoaBDGvP7M

The hymns are 376, 518, and 460.

Let’s watch the service at 11:00 am Sunday together as a church from the safety of our homes. Virtual services will continue for the foreseeable future.  We are following Diocesan service guidelines which require our county to be under certain thresholds and have stable or declining case rates.  Harnett county is still above those thresholds and the number of COVID-19 cases is currently climbing.  Stay tuned.

I look forward to seeing you in person soon!

Michael B Wells, Senior  Warden
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Erwin NC
Posted in News & Events | Leave a comment

Sunday Readings & Comments

NOVEMBER 8, 2020 SUNDAY

Dear Church Sisters and Brothers,

This has been quite a week in our nation. Our deep divisions, anger, hatred and violence toward others is brought from just below the surface into the open. In the church our calendar moves us more deeply toward the church year’s end. Eschatology is the area of theology concerned with judgment, death and the future. As many are knee deep into Christmas before Thanksgiving, we prepare for Advent – awaiting the Second Coming of Christ, as we pray for the birth of Christ anew within us. Our readings the next two weeks set the stage – parables which point us toward living as we wait. In days of such division and hatred over politics and how to control an out-of-control disease, I imagine a different world – not just the future, but here. That is God’s vision for us, revealed in the teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our world can be different.

The Collect points us toward the Son who destroys the of evil, setting us free for life in the Father now. In such hope, take an inner inventory – to see areas you need to be purified, and take steps to become more open for Christ. “When he comes again” anticipates that mysterious future we await. Christ came and left this earth, but not alone. And Christ will come again. As you pray the Collect over these next days, focus on what you are asking of God – to be more like him in thought, words and action. Have hope as Christ will one day reign fully in us, and through us.

The text from Joshua is not eschatological in content, necessarily. Joshua insists on unwavering loyalty to Yahweh. Israel must have one God – Yahweh, not like tribes and nations around them. The hope that shapes the church as we listen to their confession of loyalty, draws us into our commitment to the demands of God. We continually heed such stories that call for our turning (returning) to the God revealed in Jesus when we stumble and fall. It’s God’s nature to forgive, love and form us into a people dedicated to Him, if we are obedient.

The reading from 1 Thessalonians addresses a concern of the early church – the fate of deceased parents. The language fits their understanding of a three-tiered world. Even though our understanding is so different, the truth is that Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of all people. Paul reiterates the hope in Jesus’ return. It is a theme we soon meet in Advent – living between the two comings of our Lord.

Psalm 78 bridges us to the parable in Matthew 25. The speaker promises to “open my mouth in a parable;” declaring the mysteries of ancient times. Matthew writes to the church expecting the return of Jesus. Here we are – still waiting – just as people two thousand years ago. How do we live with DELAY – that apparently goes on and on? The maidens expecting the immediate arrival of the bridegroom were the ones in trouble. Calculation of “Jesus’ return” is not the issue. How to live while waiting is. In this parable, the arrival of bridegroom merely reveals who is wise and who is foolish. It’s to live prepared, as if Jesus is here now. Think about that one.

Read, reread aloud the Collect and texts. Take your time. Let them sink in. Meditate on their worlds, what captures you. We can awaken from distractions that pull us from giving our full attention to God. It’s one thing to speak the Divine Name. It’s another to live with such love and compassion that someone might notice, and ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

Blessings, peace and grace, Fr. Steve
 

23 Sunday After Pentecost – November 8

Proper 27 – Year A

The Collect

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So, Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Psalm 78:1-7

Attendite, popule

1 Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3 That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
4 We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
5 He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel, *
which he commanded them to teach their children;
6 That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn; *
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
7 So that they might put their trust in God, *
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments.
 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The Gospel

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Posted in News & Events | Leave a comment