Welcome to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church!
We invite you to join us at 11:00 AM to watch the Palm Sunday Service by selecting this link:
Some resources for you for Palm Sunday. Especially wonderful — the Mozart Requiem. More resource suggestions to come from the Diocesan website. - Fr. Steve
YES, here I am Lord, to have a few minutes quiet time with you. It is good to be here and to think a bit about my day.
THANKS for all the day has been and for all your gifts. These are the moments that come to mind when I think about saying “Thank you”
I’M SORRY for the moments of selfishness and unkindness and any other times when I did not manage to be your hands, Jesus, your feet, your eyes, your love, your compassion for the people around me.
PLEASE give me a nudge if there was something you were trying to tell me today when I wasn’t paying attention! And promise you’ll be with me all through tomorrow too, Amen
This was my introduction to the Awareness Examen. I used it with youth and spiritual counseling. It’s easy enough to remember, and use at the end of the day. I like the suggestion, too — of praying Psalm 8 to end the examen time. And it doesn’t need to be done in a group — alone with God is just fine…Hope this helps.
Day 3 of my 30-day writing challenge.
Friday night is Bible study night at the Myers house, and has been for over a decade now. Tonight’s study featured friends of more than 10 years and a friend of less than 1. We’ve almost always started with dinner (Pre-made lasagna tonight, plus the transcendently crispy wings and buttery garlic knots from the small Italian place one block over) and informal conversation before moving to the study portion, but in the last few months, we’ve started by asking people to share their “highs” and “lows” for the week.
This routine is something we first learned about from friends. Their family would go around the dinner table every night, giving every person a chance to say the best and worst thing about their day. We loved the way it gave everyone, no matter their age, a chance to reflect, speak, listen, and connect, and we started doing the same thing with our family.
Recently, we revived this practice again, after I read about it in Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. Its dreamy watercolors make it look like a children’s bedtime story, and one of its aims is in fact to make the Ignatian examen accessible to children, as well as to anyone looking for a basic, gentle approach to this practice.
The examen is a way to review your day – how God was present, and how he might be inviting you to move forward – by asking yourself, “For what today was I most grateful? For what I was least grateful? Over time, paying attention to where in your days you find grace and life, and where you experience pain and resistance, points you towards how God might be moving and guiding you. It builds awareness and discernment, hope and faith.
For children, authors Dennis, Sheila Fabricant and Matthew Linn simplify the examen questions to precisely the ones we learned from our friends: “What was your high today? What was your low?” These are concepts children can easily understand – our five year old answers them quite vocally. We’ve also found them to be helpful in our small groups. They are non-threatening enough that most people don’t mind answering them, even visitors and new members. People can provide answers as detailed or as vague as they choose, sharing small ups and downs or deep joys and sorrows. Finally, the questions are easily explainable to English language learners; that’s an important criteria in our church, which was started specifically to welcome immigrants and internationals and to foster diversity.
Our group continues to gradually learn more and more about each other – what each person cares about, what they are going through, the unique ways they relate to God. And if we are good listeners, then each person has a chance to feel heard, valued, and loved.
Around the room tonight, the group’s highs and lows were predictably varied. My twelve-year old’s high was that there was no school on Monday; My kindergartener was excited that her graduation cap and gown were delivered today. There were a lot of lows pertaining to work – finding work, the wrong work, conflicts at work.
After completing our group examen – although we never actually use that term – we read Psalm 8 together. Psalm 8 juxtaposes God’s glory and the vast universe he’s made with his intimate care for all of his creatures, down to the very smallest. Verse two says “You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength.” Sleeping with Bread and the examen can help parents do just that – partner with God in teaching their children to be aware of both God’s majesty and his daily involvement in their lives. And it’s good for the adults too.
Dear Sisters and Brother in Christ,
On Good Friday, this year, not Palm Sunday, we shall read the Passion Story. As we prepare ourselves for Holy Week, I remind you of what I said yesterday for Palm Sunday. As I begin to plan and walk the journey ahead, in my devotional reflecting, that Thursday night looms large right now. Jesus goes to one of his favorite places to pray – the Garden of Gethsemane. Nearly a year ago Karen and I were there. The Sons of St. Francis pray the 11pm to midnight hour every Thursday night at the Chapel of Gethsemane to commemorate Jesus’ prayers long ago.
Jesus, according to those whom he would later share those prayers, asks the Father if there was a way other than drinking the cup he was being offered. He sweat tears of blood. He heard nothing. He felt abandoned, not just by the betrayer, the denier, but is friends. That’s how he enters the hour he knows has now come — for him, for us.
I imagine your prayers in these days are colored with anxiety, fear, and if you expect pain to be taken away, disappointment. Jesus asked his friends if they think they can drink his cup. He would like to avoid the suffering that was in his path, yet he is willing to follow the Father’s will. The Psalmist says, “My cup runneth over” with goodness and mercy. The Prophets allude to the cup holding other things — the wrath of God at times for his people, the image of suffering – ours and God’s suffering with us. Jesus, Son of God, does not avoid where we walk — suffering, uncertainty, an unclear future. Whatever is in the cup, Jesus would rather avoid drinking it. Perhaps it is those emotions that rise up when we feel alone, abandoned — “what have I done wrong? Why am I being punished?”
In 1996, shortly before he would die of a heart attack, one of the greatest books by Henri Nouwen, ironically, was published. I include this thought from the Nouwen Society for today. Henri’s insight and wisdom about the cup from which Jesus drinks to the bottom. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer – the burial office says, “In the midst of life we are in death.” That is also the reminder with which we are marked on Ash Wednesday. We are born into a life that ends in death — not choice, no one can do this for you. Yet also is true, in death, you are in life. God, as Nouwen says, in not a God of revenge, but is moved by our pains, and participates with us in our struggles – in days like these. And in small ways prepares us for resurrection along the way.
Take a moment and reflect on what that means for you right now. Where do see, feel, experience God participating in your life right now? Where are you participating in others’ lives? It might be in making a phone call you’ve been thinking of making. It might be a decision to read Compline each night before turning out the light to rest in God’s peace. It might be letting a family member who is distant, know you are thinking about them, and love them. The only change you can make, is only in you. God’ll do the rest. How does it change your life, to imagine, even experience God, participating in the fullness of all you struggle with, all that brings you joy, even in days like these?
Blessings — Jesus’ love for you, the Father’s grace given you, the Holy Spirit making it true in you, - Fr. Steve
The mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. Out of this divine solidarity comes new life. Jesus’ being moved in the center of his being by human pain is indeed a movement toward new life. God is our God, the God of the living. In the divine womb of God, life is always born again. . . . The truly good news is that God is not a distant God, a God to be feared and avoided, a God of revenge, but a God who is moved by our pains and participates in the fullness of the human struggle. —Henri Nouwen
Dear Church Family,
We’ll do a modification of Morning Prayer, that will open with the Liturgy of Palms. If you did not get a packet from the church which had palms we would have used, create your own and color it, or a collect a branch from a bush outside your home, and hold it during this time.
Since the flyers with readings have gone out, I am not attaching the readings for this Sunday. I cite the readings for Sunday below the Collect.
The Collect anticipates Good Friday. We can think of “walking” in way of Jesus’ suffering as the beginning of Holy Week, as Jesus enters Jerusalem.
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The readings are for Palm Sunday, and I shall use Isaiah 50: 4-9a, Psalm 31: 9-16, and Philippians 2: 5-11. The Gospel is the Passion according to Matthew. It is long, and I invite you to read it at your leisure (Matthew 26:14-27:66, or Matthew 27: 11-54). We will read the Passion According to John on Good Friday.
Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates one whom the Lord teaches and instructs. This one listens, will endure rejection and suffering obediently, and because the Lord is with this person, will prevail over his accusers, and the perpetrators attempting to shame and disgrace him. This text anticipates the week ahead for Jesus and the Passion story both. As Jesus enters Jerusalem he is hailed by those present. By Friday, their “turmoil” will erupt into shouts, “Crucify him.” That day ends not anything like what Isaiah envisions for this servant of the Lord.
The Psalmist, long before Jesus, writes a hymn/poem that fits the night of prayer in Gethsemane. We must go there with Jesus, and know his genuine agony, as those who were there, remember that night. Jesus goes through the pain of anticipatory suffering, rejection and isolation you and I encounter in our lives. God does not spare or “save” him from this time of trial. He enters it. All Jesus fears is ahead, is. And on that Friday, when his followers, his family, those who thought he might be “the one,” leave Golgotha and go home, they figure him dead and done.
The selection from Philippians (St Paul) anticipates Easter — the second movement of Incarnation. Jesus descends (kenosis — putting aside his status as the second member of the Trinity) to come and be at one with us — not in theory, but flesh and blood presence. Jesus entrusts the ascending (lifting up) to the Father, completing his obedience. Jesus descends for us — as Richard Rohr says, a counterpoint to our human inclination to climb, achieve, perform, and prove ourselves. He entrusts ascending — the resurrection, Ascension, and the sending of the empowering Spirit at Pentecost to the Father. In these days especially that feels like a descent into the unknown, knowing Jesus has gone there ahead of you, showing us to entrust the lifting up to God, in God’s time and way.
The homily will be based on the Palm Sunday text from Matthew. For the time-being – no hints. All that is hidden shall be revealed, when you go to the website Sunday morning, and click on Morning Prayer, and we join together, while being apart.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
This Sunday begins Holy Week — already. This time last year, I was becoming familiar with St. Stephen’s traditions. I contracted a sinus infection early in Holy Week. Fortunately, I was up and going for Maundy Thursday. Then tornado, winds, and heavy rain canceled services throughout our local counties for Good Friday. And here we are now, in an even stranger time.
Holy Week is a sacred, special week. Holy Week can be tiring and draining for the clergy and all who plan, decorate, and lead various parts of our worship – from bulletin creation, to music, ushers. Like no other, these days reveal God’s love so profoundly — what God did and keeps doing for us in Jesus the Christ — what it means for us to take up our crosses and follow him.
Scott Gunn, Director of Forward Movement says it well about this Holy Week:
I’ve had my moments of grief. Perhaps you have, too. There will be no grand palm processions. We won’t see the altar stripped bare on Maundy Thursday. The cross will not be venerated by a fervent congregation on Good Friday. We won’t kindle a blazing fire in the darkness of Easter Eve, moving into resounding praise in the first Eucharist of Easter. No new Easter dresses, or brass players, or fragrant lilies, or beloved hymns belted out on Easter Sunday. It’s just not going to be what I’ve longed for, what I expect. And yet, all will be well.
All is well — it’s just hard to get there this year. All is and will be well, our Lenten journey always takes us to the same place — Easter. Christ is risen! And we shall get together — apart, and together. God is faithful – always! Whether churches are full or empty, this year — we shall worship on Easter Sunday — and Palm Sunday, and Good Friday by a recorded service. For all is still true, whether or not we can gather around our sacred rituals, liturgies and sacraments. Read the scriptures for Holy Week that will come to you soon. Listen to God’s voice of love in them – love that includes suffering and death as the path to Easter morning.
Daniel Horan, Franciscan friar and theology/spirituality professor advises us:
Perhaps in this challenging and uncertain time it is best for all of us to reflect on this wisdom of scripture, which starkly admonishes each of us: “For whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
So, for the love of God (literally), stay home, stay safe, keep watch and pray. God is with us, and may his presence and love hold you now and always, –Fr. Steve
Transitions are occurring at many and different levels this Lent. For instance, as I walk the neighborhoods where I live, signs of St. Patrick’s Day are gone – replaced by signs of life. Signs are banners and door decorations of spring for some, and of Easter for others. Yards are coming back to life after wintFlyers from Kohl’s, from Food Lion, Harris Teeter are beginning to proclaim, in their way, Easter — or occasionally to Passover or Ramadan just ahead.
We are a religious people — all of us — Searching for a Divine, Supreme Being, and finding our way. When we are on the path, you realize you were found before you began to search. For us at St. Stephen’s our daily Lenten walk, we promised to take, on Ash Wednesday brings us closer to the destination.
Holy Week and Easter are going to be different this year. Maybe we shall take these days more seriously. This Sunday of Palms, when we would gather, bless, and receive the symbols of both life and death, God has not left us. The Palms have become symbols to remind us of a deeper reality – the day when two kingdoms the kingdom of this world meets the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we worship the symbol more than the sacramental life it gives. The Palm fronds of Easter become the ashes of Wednesday. From the ashes, the dust, God raises us and restores us to eternal and everlasting life.
We are moving, in the these darkened days of isolation and numbness, into signs and symbols of another world — we rise into each morning, fall asleep into when the day is done. God is always renewing life – “the upside of the mortal cycle of birth to life, to death, and God drawing us to life again.”
We have the rituals we cherish – in churches, and in families and with friends. In the early church, the beginnings of new life were often in the catacombs — places of death and burial. Here Christians in training were instructed – and baptized. It symbolized the journey into Christ — death to our old lives, to be raised in into newness of life. God sends Jesus, even in this moment, to us — forever, the one who always pleases God, the lifted up Son of Man. And when Jesus said this, John records that many believed in him.
The reading below is the reading for Lent on this Tuesday. The Jews – not all — these are the authorities who maintain a system the prophets railed against, trying to draw people out of death and sin, back to God. It is a cycle of descent and ascent. God descends to be with us, so we can be set free from sin and be drawn into His life – the one we’re created for. I believe these are the words of good news, we need to hear right now.
John 8: 21-30
Again he said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’ Then the Jews said, ‘Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in him.Blessings and God’s love holding us all this day, Fr. Steve
God loved you before you were born, and God will love you after you die. In Scripture, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” This is a very fundamental truth of your identity. This is who you are whether you feel it or not. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say, “I love you, too.” – Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual guides. Every word he wrote must be in print. The above is from “You are the Beloved,” a daily devotional guide.
In light of our Gospel text yesterday, Nouwen’s words shine so clearly. Jesus has a greater miracle to proclaim than healing and bringing someone back from death. In these days a miracle would be nice — miracle cures, miracle vaccines, miracle protection for health care providers. All of that would be great.
But Jesus had another message as he now turns to go toward Jerusalem, his suffering and death. In life or in death, we are the Lord’s. As the Psalmist writes — we are his, the sheep of his pasture. He made us, and made us from love, for love. You were held in that love, created in that love, sent here in that love. That love never fails you (St. Paul). And again, from St. Paul – O death where is your victory? Where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ our Lord. The message for these days — Love. Love. Love.
Jesus’ prelude to his death, was raising Lazarus from his. Lazarus later died. We don’t hear from him again. These are stories of God’s love in action, for us — love that holds us “eternity to eternity.”
When you become overwhelmed and anxious by all the dire news, prognostications, warnings — Step back, tune it out, take a break — go for a walk, call someone to check on them — and remember who you belong to always. We are not here long. The older I get the faster it goes. So in the time given us, let your life be an offering back to God, “And I love you, too.” In the light of such love, maybe try and say more to one another, in words and acts of compassion, “I love you.”
Blessings, grace and peace this day – Fr. Steve
The combination of new COVID-19 guidelines by the state, Wake County, and diocese prohibits us from gathering at church to record services as we’d planned. Instead Father Steve recorded morning prayer from his home.The video can be found at this link: https://youtu.be/Gp12JHw5KHc
Let’s plan to watch together from the safety of our homes at 11:00 AM Sunday.Take care! Mike Wells Senior Warden