Daily Gospel


Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. —Psalm 37:7

Dear Church Family,

Implanted within each of us is a yearning, a struggle to discover the fullness of love. It is the search for God. I remember learning this verse from Psalm 37 in the King James Version as a child — “Rest in the Lord.” Being still is a way of “rest.” For me, I slow down, stop the noise and distractions that are always present. They are a low-grade fever of worry and fear.

Once you have tasted the love and goodness of the Lord, your journey becomes that search, while in this world, for a better world. How can you search for beauty and truth unless you already know it — not in your head, but your heart and soul. They are implanted deep within you, and await us.

It’s like a distant memory of paradise you once knew, but have lost – in the noise and distractions of other things. Henri Nouwen calls paradise — innocence – the state from which we entered this world. We had to learn guilt – and it isn’t hard. Even those who love us have helped us find it.

Think of being in light before you entered into darkness – at home, before you began to search for home. That memory transcends time and space. Deep within lies what we most long for – a life stronger than death, that is not just desire and hope, but a reality of a place we already know within.

Keep searching. It’s what keeps calling to you. Do not be overcome by these times — by sadness, depression, fear. For these things pass away. They alert us and point us to faith — beyond, merely believing – into knowing that a life stronger than death already holds us. That is our true home. Some just haven’t realized it, found it, or yet awakened to what fills the emptiness. Wait – wait patiently for the Lord, who has already found you — memories of paradise you may have thought were lost. Rest in the Lord. Look not at what others have. Fret not over those whose hearts are twisted and evil. Look to the One who always holds you dearly. Be still – take a breath now.

Blessings and peace this day, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55: 8-9

Dear Church Family,

Those who read Christian history carefully, often conclude that we create god in our own image. What we create is not God the Father, revealed to us in Jesus, breathed into us by the Holy Spirit. The god we create is an image of what we want God to be — a mirror of our desires, our wants, our failure to see beyond them, and engage the Father of Jesus. We are prone to reduce our god to one who supports our dreams, our political viewpoint, our kin, our nationality and race. We create and worship a god who exists only in our thoughts. The God of Jesus is neither fierce anger, nor will leave us to our own devices. God is both good, and so good as to inflict us when we aren’t. God is not punishing, but pursuing us – to hold us in the bonds of his love, to forgive, heal and restore us. Our thoughts and ways often may not be those of God.

As your day unfolds, think about the god you create and desire – images of your desires, concerns, hopes. What we create is not an image of the God who has implanted His image within. God gives us the option of creating a god we like. But that god won’t leave us satisfied. We’ll hunger for what we cannot create, only God can fill. My thoughts are not his. My ways are not his. When you and I realize the huge disconnect, then we begin to awaken to the God who is.

May the God you find this day, the God you mirror, be more than the god you create. This is a sin we need to name and turn from — to embrace and be embraced in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, who gently and lovingly leads us home. Home is not a future place. It is the place where our hearts are given to God — here and now.

God has equipped us to think thoughts beyond ours, to desire ways greater than ours. May God forgive us for settling for anything less.

Blessings, and God’s love holding and shaping us, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble — Psalm 46:1

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Many people are struggling right now. We are in a new and unfamiliar place. Chances are what we struggle with is not really new. They are old companions, different names, with a stronger and more tangible presence – fear, change, disruption, uncertainty, isolation. Our country’s divisions and the rhetoric of leaders doesn’t help.

The experience of isolation is nothing new. It often sits in the background, waiting. The older we get, the more aware we become. Familiarity with it does not ease the pain. We realize it ever follows us.

Maybe rather than trying to cope better, make some needed changes in our lives, we need to try something different. The Psalmist points us to God – our refuge and strength. We know this verse – memorized it long ago. Often it pops into our minds. But does it reach your heart? Do you take time to savor the enormity of this declaration? Rather than mouth the words, let them penetrate into your heart. “Humility and surrender to God” come to mind. You and I feel alone sometimes. It’s hard to admit to ourselves, let alone others. Deep down, it awakens a sense of belonging. When we touch that longing, we may realize it’s God’s place we have been trying to fill — seeking refuge and strength in what we think are adequate, but turn up – empty – ways.

Carry the verse above with you today. Realize God is Emmanuel — an image of presence, with us, always, and not just when we stop and think about it. When we stop our thoughts, turn toward God again, and not just remember – but experience the One to whom you belong. Maybe the Psalmist’s reminder will be more than a coping mechanism – a quick slogan passing through the mind, that misses the heart. Always – even when feeling overwhelmed, lonely, alone, discouraged, afraid — God is our refuge and strength, a present help waiting for you to ask. Pray that – ask that — through your day today, and notice the change in your spirit. Our help is in the name of the Lord – maker of heaven and earth.

Blessings, and God’s love holding us, Fr. Steve
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Sunday Service Video Stream

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and INCREASED safety measures, a small cast was able to produce our 28th virtual service!

Our Cast

Rector and Celebrant: Father Steve Teague

Crucifer: John Todd

Lay Reader: Jay Elliot

Organist: Mark Gibbons

Videographer: Michael Wells

You may watch the church service here:


The hymns are 551, 404, and 690.

Let’s watch the service at 11:00 am Sunday together as a church from the safety of our homes. Virtual services will continue through mid-October.  We are exploring the possibility of an outdoor in-person service in late October.  Stay tuned.

I look forward to seeing you in person soon!

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


Dear Church Family,

The Collect for Sunday draws us from being overly anxious about earthly matters, and anxious for God’s kingdom. It’s the ordering of priorities. What we attend to, in the world, is ordered by God’s rule in our lives. We don’t neglect our duties in the world. Our thoughts, actions, and relationships are aligned with God’s reign in our lives. In these days of anxiety and fear, this Collect is a prayer to restore God’s peace in us.

The Old Testament Reading from Exodus recalls the earthly concerns – Israel’s memory of lacking food in the wilderness. No visible resources to sustain life prompts the complaint carried to Moses and Aaron. God hears, acts and mysteriously and miraculously provides for their welfare in the wilderness.

The portion of is again from Psalm 105, the fourth in recent weeks. We recall the gift of God’s grace in hard times. It is a prolonged learning experience for Israel to trust in the Lord, and leave behind their rebellious ways. The Psalmist gives allegiance first to God and God’s that we may live properly on earth.

Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, struggles with his readiness for “heavenly things,” and what “earthly things” he’s called to do. Imprisonment has raised questions about his leadership. Paul tries to explain his imprisonment and how it fits into his life – to live is Christ, to die is gain. At this point, he wants to remain for the good of the church – to help, strengthen and grow them into their new life. Paul knows what and who lies ahead, now and later.

Matthew’s Gospel reading reminds us God is in charge. Divine mercy can offend us sometimes, when you think, “someone not as deserving as I am, ends up a winner, too.” God’s economy is alien to the economies of this world. God values all peoples – because God creates, rules, and loves each person. Would I want grace and mercy, or what I have earned on my merits? A story of an outrageous injustice reveals God’s justice rests not on us, but in God’s heart of giving not what we earn – what we need – mercy and grace.

Read the texts as I keep suggesting. Reflect on them, pray them, take time listen for God – the divine, quiet voice that grows us into the people God creates us to be. It’s reading for transformation, not information. Invite someone to join us on YouTube this Sunday.

Blessings, love, and God’s love holding each one of us — Fr. Steve

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost – Year A

September 20, 2020 – Proper 20

The Collect

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Exodus 16:2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

The Response

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

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.
37 He led out his people with silver and gold; *
in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad of their going, *
because they were afraid of them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a covering *
and a fire to give light in the night season.
40 They asked, and quails appeared, *
and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and water flowed, *
so the river ran in the dry places.
42. For God remembered his holy word *
and Abraham his servant.
43 So he led forth his people with gladness, *
his chosen with shouts of joy.
44 He gave his people the lands of the nations, *
and they took the fruit of others’ toil,
45 That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws.

The Epistle

Philippians 1:21-30

To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

The Gospel

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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Daily Gospel


Forgiveness is nothing less than how we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but it is not easy — Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thursday night began Rosh Hashanah for our ancestors who celebrate the start of the Jewish New Year. Karen and I were invited to be guests years ago, to attend with a church member and her Jewish husband who was also President of the synagogue. The service, beautiful and moving, draws us into a time of repentance, the practice intense forgiveness of others, of self, during the ten days, that end with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish New Year.

My dear friend and colleague in Milwaukee, Episcopal Priest and Family Therapist, Scott Stoner, founder of the Living Compass movement posted a  meditation on forgiveness. I borrow some thoughts from Scott – with his permission – to share with you.

As you probably realize, Jews also will gather online for nightly services in these holy days. Rabbis sought texts of sermons given during the same days in 1918 – the flu pandemic. Scott writes that they found a common theme. “Life is precious. Life is fragile. Life is fleeing. We don’t know how much time we have.” So they emphasized an urgent and focused message of forgiveness that year.

That same message is needed today. In visiting the Holocaust and Children’s Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem last spring, the Jewish people continue to stress forgiveness, as hard as it must be. In the sermon the other Sunday, I said that forgiveness is the beginning. Reconciliation is the goal that completes forgiveness. Sometimes it may seem impossible to forgive and reconcile with someone who has died, at least for now. Yet it is possible to forgive yourself — an internal and prayer-filled process, inviting God to be between you and the person you need to forgive and needing their forgiveness. You may be the person you need to forgive also. You may need to forgive someone in your past, you’ve lost contact with. Try it.

In this present time, we are continually reminded in sickness and death, that forgiveness is essential to our emotional, physical and spiritual health. Life is precious, fragile and passing on. None of us know when the end of life here may come.

I sometimes counsel you to look for the blessing(s) in the midst of this dark time. They are there. One of the blessings I remember from Roberta Bondi’s book on the Lord’s Prayer — when you pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” don’t stand before God alone. Take the person you need to forgive with you — in your heart and mind. After all, we pray – “Our Father,” and not “My Father.” As Desmond Tutu and his co-author daughter Mpho write, “The process is simple, but it is not easy.” Not a lot is these days. But I guarantee you — it will be good for your soul to try it — just stand there together, before God. Just try.

Blessings, peace and “wellness” to all, Fr. Steve

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Daily Gospel


I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — from Romans 8

Dear Beloved in Christ,

I have mentioned previously of my work with the dying and their families in a hospice. The dying can teach us about living. Dr. Ira Byock, physician, author, and early advocate of palliative care – shares lessons he’s learned. His books and lectures helped me understand how I could more effetely work with those in hospice care. I recently read a quote from him: “You know, Lily Tomlin, another philosopher in our time, said that forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past… It involves accepting that the past cannot be changed, while recognizing that it need not control our future.” One of the most important conversations, if the dying were ready, was to a life inventory — a life review – learning from the past as we move into our future.

I found a Buddhist prayer for forgiveness in those days. I offered it to several people as they reviewed their life. One in particular was a North Carolina poet, a woman who had some rough places with her daughter. God spoke to her through it. She asked I read it for her burial.


If I have harmed anyone in any way either
knowingly or unknowingly through my
own confusions I ask their forgiveness
If anyone has harmed me in any way
either knowingly or unknowingly through
their own confusion I forgive them.
And if there is a situation I am not
yet ready to forgive. I forgive myself
for that. For all the ways that I harm
myself, negate, doubt, belittle myself,
judge or be unkind to myself through
my own confusions
I forgive myself.


None of us know the moment death will come. Often we live in denial of the past, and present. To forgive those who harmed you, — to forgive yourself, is the daily work that frees us, now for God’s future. Remember Paul’s faith – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – in life, through death into life everlasting.

Remember the blessings God sends you in these days when they’re hard to see. Live prepared, for it’s not the end. As Jesus sees it – it’s the moment where total defeat and total victory embrace.

Hold fast to the One who holds you now and forever, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel


But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. — Luke 15: 22-24

Dear Church Family,

A broken family is the subject of one of Jesus’ most famous parables, the “Prodigal Son.” It’s so familiar to us. You know it well. Some insightful New Testament scholars have raised the question – how many prodigals are in this story? One prodigal “rips off” his father, breaks his heart, and leaves home. One dutiful prodigal stays home and works hard for the family. And the father of both boys, violates the norms of the day, by lavishly welcoming his younger back home – no apologies sought, a feast for family and friends prepared, the best clothes, shoes and rings restoring him — as if nothing happened. No penalties, no trial period to prove his sincerity, no berating, no “Boy, you nearly put your momma in the grave.” Hugs, kisses, tears of joy. The father as a Prodigal.

How do you return to God? Each day — we re-turn toward God in prayer. We return when God pops into our thoughts during the day. Something prompts gratitude – and you whisper, “thank you, Lord.” You have returned to God. Absence reminds us we drift from our “first love” – from God who never leaves you. But you must return and ask forgiveness, already waiting for you, for your sake. You realize your thoughts are not presentable – your words to others have been hasty and harsh maybe. You stun yourself when you realize this, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” Before you get the words out, arms of divine love, tears of joy – embrace you.

Returning is a lifelong practice. You seize the inheritance of your salvation, run off to a “far country,” – until suddenly the realization of what you had/have grasps you. The longing – regardless of motive, gives you courage. When you remember that Father Jesus draws for you, standing in the road, always looking, awaiting your return. Unconditional love’s arms ache to grab you up. And those words, “Welcome home, my child, I’ve been waiting for you.” We punish ourselves enough, if we are sincere and genuine, just by seeking forgiveness, yearning for what the Father’s already given you. And before you get the words out — once again, you are home.

Blessings and the peace, grace and love of God awaiting us all this day, 
Fr. Steve

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Daily Gospel



Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” -Mark 8:34

Yesterday, the church observed Holy Cross Day. We wear crosses – talk about having to “bear a cross” – like a snarky relative or neighbor. I had a friend in seminary who used to say, “Jesus said, ‘bear a cross, not wear a cross.’” In Jesus’ day, the cross was no pretty jewelry. It loomed as a disgusting, undesirable symbol of suffering and death. It symbolized weakness and vulnerability, the power of Rome – capital punishment on display.

What does “take up your cross and follow,” mean to you? Certainly it’s not a call to be executed, or even to torture. For Jesus it was taking on the greatest worldly power, and for those willing to follow his way, defeat the enemy of death, suffering by a greater power – the power of Divine Love and forgiveness. Did the powers of this world “get” their defeat? No – not yet. They just take different forms in different times.

We attack the world with our strengths. We study hard in school, find a job that gives us means and status. We know signs of success. Some use their success for some very good ends – for others, rather than just themselves. They listen more to Jesus than the world. You want to save your life, Jesus asks? Lose it for his sake. Life gets saved – what Jesus has done, not we have achieved.

The cross is a symbol we take up and accept, surrendering our allegiance to living as those who think earthly power, wealth and status means success. Our allegiance is to the one who leads us through “death” into life for which God has created us — not just when we physically die, but a new life to live for Christ in this world. Take up the cross of Christ.

Thomas Merton once wrote: “Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.” That is the action of Jesus. Sometimes it means standing for God’s values of justice and peace; love overcoming hate; being there for one another without first asking “who are you voting for?”; helping a neighbor as you can; walking a journey with someone – “You are not in this alone.”

As you think about what the cross means to you in these days – what do you hear God asking you to surrender, to put down, so you can take up the power of Divine Love? How can you embody the grace of God — and help others find new life? It’s also called living now on the other side of the cross — resurrection. Death is what happens when we refuse to be infused by God’s love.

Blessings and God’s loving arms holding you with each breath, Fr. Steve 
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Daily Gospel


But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  —Titus 3: 4-7

Dear Beloved of God,

The text above is a Christmas Day reading. When Jesus appears, everything changes. I prefer to say, when it was time, God disclosed the “Great Reveal.” In the beginning of creation – in the dream, plan, intention of God for this world, the universe – for you or me — long before we arrived here – it is set – was, is and will be.

“The goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour” — many Christians start at the other end — Fear. If that’s what gets your attention, fine. But we can’t stay there. God’s love, not fear, draws us into relationship. Fear repels. We no more work our way into righteousness than we worked getting ourselves into this world. As Jesus tells Nicodemus – “from above,” God’s Spirit – not earned, but prayed for, waited for, awakening to its presence all around us, before we knew who is saving us, and it is not “we ourselves.” God’s beauty and grace — is the energy that draws us into our saving.

You and I live each moment in the tenderness of God. You need no longer carry fear that you are not loved by God, not worthy enough, have not done enough. Our task is not to organize the means that get us to a desired end, but simply BE in each moment of awareness, an end in itself. You are already saved, by grace, God’s goodness and loving-kindness. In Genesis, the story of Adam, Eve and the garden fiasco is not news to God. God lets us choose. We sometimes make foolish choices, make mistakes, think unkind thoughts, size someone up before we really get to know them. We fail, listen to the wrong advice — unable to see the difference between a snake and a wisdom teacher.

You and I are saved – not by our goodness or badness — but by God’s mercy. Grace. A woman in a Bible study kept wanting to counter God’s grace with fear of the Lord. It was her motive to escape God’s wrath. She believed fear of God gets your attention, and keeps you obedient. I was taught that. But that wasn’t what kept my attention focused on God. It was when I realized as theologian Kevin O’Shea writes — “One rejoices in being unfrightened to be open to the healing presence, no matter what one might be or have done.” It’s the tender mercy of God that holds our attention, nothing we have done or can do – good or bad. It all begins in God. In water, by Spirit, you are sealed in Christ. Rejoice!

May God’s loving kindness embrace you from top to bottom today, Fr. Steve
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