Sunday Readings & Comments

DECEMBER 13, 2020 THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The Collect for this Sunday in 1928 Book of Common Prayer fell on the Sunday before Advent. It was called “Stir Up” Sunday as some may recall. I am told it began the baking season for Christmas – the work of stirring to prepare for baking. Now, in Advent, we pray for God to come mightily among us – stir us up. We acknowledge our sins, asking for God’s grace, help and deliverance. We prepare ourselves in Advent, as in Lent, by taking stock of ourselves, repenting, and returning to the Lord. God is faithful to answer such prayers.

The reading from Isaiah reflects confidence in the coming of the Lord. A new day is dawning – of great joy by all the people. Expectancy turns into joyful exuberance. That which was is now past. The anointed one, here first speaks, then the Lord — a message of liberation. Justice, righteousness and praise will blossom – and all nations, are included in this vision. God’s vision is one of justice, compassion for those who struggle and suffer, and walking the way of doing right, not wrong to others.

Psalm 126 recalls a time past when God’s mercy broke out surprisingly, Laughter and joy rang out. And now the poet prays God will produce these same mercies and joys. The character of the community and individuals will be transformed.

The Epistle from 1 Thessalonians yearns for the Second Advent – the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, an expectation of the early church. We still wait for that event – when this world comes to an end, in some way. When it does, Christians rejoice, pray, and give thanks. For now, blessings of rejoicing, thanksgiving – are offered as if that day has occurred. We think of Jesus’ promise of presence with us through the Spirit as we wait— not just the physical, bodily return of Christ.

The Gospel from John also raises the spirit of expectancy — a period of time between promise and fulfillment. John the Baptist is here to prepare people – make straight the Lord’s way into our lives and bring the kingdom to come, near. The Lord came. John wasn’t so sure — and many, religious leaders and governments didn’t want him. He threatened their worlds, with the Kingdom of God, as do those who follow the Lord. Not much has changed. Soon the Advent of the adult Christ will come. John’s baptism prepares for that moment.

As you read, and re-read aloud, and listen to your speech, and pray to receive God’s word for you in each — more and more the despair of the earlier Sundays of Advent begins to shift. Think of the coming of God’s great and gracious inbreaking just ahead.

Blessings, and faithfulness to the God who came, will come, whom we ask to be present in our hearts and minds, words, thoughts and actions, Fr. Steve 
 

Third Sunday of Advent – December 13, 2020

The Collect

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God; 
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
 

The Response

Canticle 15

The Song of Mary Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Epistle

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The Gospel

John 1:6-8,19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

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Sunday Service Video Stream

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Three items below:

(1) 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.

(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 39th virtual service!

THE CAST

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

 You may watch the church service here:

 https://youtu.be/CskxGUErqIo

The hymns are 65, 343, and 67.

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
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Sunday Reading & Comments

DECEMBER  6, 2020 SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Dear Sisters and Brothers who wait in Advent,

On Sunday the Second Sunday of Advent we light first, the Candle of Hope, and then the Second Candle – Love. In the readings, note the deep and ever abiding love of God to comfort and save his people – all creation. That is also the hope captured for us now, in these present days, also echo in the Collect of the Day. God sends messengers – prophets like John the Baptist, to call people to life in God’s realm. In the Gospel we’re introduced to John in the wilderness, the last of Old Testament prophets who call us to turn toward God again, each day, and be washed anew by divine forgiveness and love. As in that day – we do the work of self-preparation. Salvation is here. To receive it, we align ourselves with the Lord’s vision for us.

Isaiah’s words to captive Israel begin with that familiar recitative from Messiah – Comfort ye my people. Handel captures the prophet’s words in the prophets words from the Lord. God is the faithful comforter of sorrowing souls. As someone once said, “God comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.” If it doesn’t always seem to happen for you that way, rest assured. One day it will. God will come and straighten our ways out, smooth the uneven places of our lives, and His glory will be revealed, in gathering us all, safely home.

The Psalmist echoes Isaiah’s words. God’s promises are laid for us. Pay attention. It’s not so much fear and threat — though that has its way of getting our attention. Focus instead on what the Lord is doing and will do. With our eyes and hearts, our actions fixed upon him – we are able to respond properly and faithfully to receive and live God’s promises.

God’s love for us is reflected in Peter’s second letter. The focus is clearly on the Second Advent. The first Advent inaugurated a new relationship with God for us, the Second is promised to those who wait for Christ – living with hope — and engaging actions of love for what God loves — all peoples, all creation which God creates and loves. All of this is remarkable and disorients this present world’s values, and ours, prepares us for Christ’s second coming project of full reclamation. While we wait – get with God’s program. Examine and make needed changes – work to help others live God’s agenda — practice for life to come.

The Gospel focuses on John the Baptist in the wilderness – preaching, calling for repentance, and baptizing for forgiveness of sins. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, starts with John. Mark harkens back to our passage from Isaiah to cast Jesus as the Lord in the wilderness to lead us out — and John is the voice of the prophet, this time. John makes Advent, but is forgotten by Christmas. I once preached on John in Advent — noting no Advent or Christmas cards carry John and his message that begins the good news. Nor does he rate an appearance in holiday scenes on front lawns. The husband of our Deacon at the time brought me a picture the next Sunday from their front porch. He’d dressed a figure as John the Baptist — a wilderness hippie looking rough and austere, lighted and sitting by their front door. John got his moment at Christmas. Jesus will later say John is the greatest of these prophets. There are still prophetic voices among us — but not with the charism of those in the Old Testament God called, or John. Year B – we meet this last prophet who prepares God’s final path home for us.

Continue as I suggest — to read, reread, pray, mark, inwardly digest — and meditate to listen to what God is saying to you. The sermon is another word – someone else speaks. Sometimes God may speak through a sermon. God’s most direct route is through the time you give him – and the listening you do.

Blessings as we continue our Advent journey – Fr. Steve

Second Sunday of Advent – December 6, 2020

The Collect

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The Epistle

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

The Gospel

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
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Daily Gospel

DECEMBER 5, 2020 SATURDAY

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. — Isaiah 9:2

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Today, I share something I found interesting recently – from another liturgical church family. It seems liturgical Scrooges are all over. Their publication’s editorial prepares the way if so inclined, to jump the gun on Christmas this year, relaxing their usual position in an atypical year.

Long ago in Baptist-land, where I pastored “liturgically” oriented churches, hymnals lack the rich Advent hymns and carols we enjoy. Early in Advent our music directors selected some Christmas hymns and carols for services. We attracted Lutherans, Episcopalians, and others who couldn’t hold Christmas hymnody back until Christmas Eve. Visitors swelled our ranks in Advent.

Advent is a distinct season. I tried my best to make it that way — lighting an Advent Wreath each Sunday, included. I doubt many of our people adhered to keeping Advent strictly at home – waiting until Christmas Eve -beginning Christmas then, lasting until Epiphany – 12 actual days. Advent is its own season, distinct and important — not to be rushed, but savored – waiting, hoping, preparing — meditating both on Jesus’ birth and Christ’s reappearing.

The editorial rescinds their support this year of those who decry the rush into Christmas carols — holding back decorating the home. Go ahead, turn on the lights – sing some carols. This season is different. We need some of the joyful festivity now – ahead of the Twelve Days of Christmas we observe. Christmas this year will be hard enough as it is – warnings to make Christmas more virtual than present – not to gather with those beyond your household. Too many empty chairs will be set around tables on Christmas Eve/Day. Who knows what the health implications will be for those who survive COVID? This year we are those people walking about in darkness, awaiting a different time of great light.

Our plans as of now – we’ll record the Christmas Eve Service early in Christmas week – to be available by Christmas Eve afternoon on the church Youtube link. We also will offer a “drive-by” opportunity. You can receive Eucharist, in individual cups to take home — or to drop off safely for others in our parish who couldn’t be here to get it. The sacrament will be blessed at the Eucharist as we record the Christmas Eve/Day service. We encourage you to watch and participate at home in the Spirit of God’s loving presence with us, together. The service will be available on Christmas Day.

May the joy we know as we await Christmas Eve night fill us with hope even now, in this difficult year. Always remember, we are people who walk in light – Christ’s – the light of the world, through this present darkness.

Blessings, peace, and God’s love holding you this day – Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

DECEMBER 3, 2020 THURSDAY

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! - Psalm 24:14

Dear Church Family,

This past Sunday I asked — “What are you waiting for this Advent?” Of course, we await – in Advent – the second coming of our Lord. Waiting, is not a passive activity, but active. Think about times you have had to wait, and what goes on your mind, what you reach for to read or do to pass the time of waiting. It is hard to wait. Few people get excited about waiting for Christ’s second coming. It stirs up images of fear, disruption of what we know and are used to. We may not wait with joy – or strength or courage. Chances are we may not give Christ’s second coming a lot of thought. We wait — but not for the Lord.

One reason to wait — may be not the future, but the present. If we can wait – be still, focus on God’s love and grace – we experience both being held in the experience of divine love, and the desire and freedom to choose it. Focus on faith that God is there, even when you are not. Focus on trusting God’s love for you will never be more — or less, than it is right now. Sit quietly. Listen to the words you pray for experiencing the Lord’s love for you. Maybe that is a daily practice you could do this Advent.

I hope that Christmas — different this year, even though different this year, will yield for you God’s blessings – Christ born anew within you. I hope all of us can appreciate the traditions that bring joy, good memories, and the spirit of the Christ within, between, and among us. Maybe in this year’s “different” Advent, we can gain a depth and meaning that touches our hearts and spirits in ways we might miss, were this a “normal” time. One of the lessons of these days, from ancient times — is to realize how captive we are to the many things of this world. We may also hear new yearnings for God, for love, for joy, and for hope.

Last Advent some of us began a class to share our reflections on the stanzas of the Sarum Prayer – based on Ken Wilson’s book, God be in my Head. How might we wait for the Lord? Remember, no matter what, God’s love and promises never pass away. That’s what we await – reorienting our frantic lives in quiet waiting. I close with that prayer for you to pray today, and each day as you feel called by its words in these Advent days. Just take some time with it each morning, and before you go to bed at night. See what it does.

Blessings, peace, and God be with you, Fr. Steve
 
 
The Sarum Prayer
God be in my head — and in my understanding
God be in my eyes — and in my looking
God be in my mouth — and in my speaking
God be in my heart — and in my thinking
God be at my end — and at my departing
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Daily Gospel

DECEMBER 2, 2020 WEDNESDAY

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! 
— Psalm 27: 13-14
 
 

Dear Beloved of our Lord,

In this time the church calls us to wait, I am learning to examine my wishes and disappointments. I try and release them, and make room for hope. Your life and mine are precious and meaningful to God. Too often we lose sight of that. We begin trusting lesser desires and wants to give us meaning that leave us uneasy, anxious, empty. We lose that connection of trust in God’s love that always holds you. If you’re fortunate you realize how much you miss it – or never had it.

Trusting God completely requires intention and commitment on our part – in good times and bad. It is to place our bets on hope in the Lord- that something is happening for us – not against us – that we can neither see or even imagine.

I think those who are grounded in what Henri Nouwen called radical waiting, especially waiting now — for a vaccine, a return to living “normally” where we can safely be together again, for God to answer prayers — find hope. With hope, something changes, something beyond expectation happens within. Sometimes we wait for people to change and see things “my way,” and end it frustrated they can’t “change” anyone but themselves.

Even if you look back, thinking last spring you left “the land of the living,” you haven’t and won’t. Not to diminish the importance of life and now, but what we see and experience presently – is not what we finally get. God, if we cooperate, molds us in love. Waiting in the unknown is hard. Being strong to me, means staying focused not our mortal selves and wishes which often turn into dust when we attain them, but centered in the immortal and eternal God. Give up trying to control your life or others’. Ask God to help you relax and trust Him. God molds you in love, holds you in tender compassion, removes our fears, and hands you holy hope in a future that will come, one day, somewhere, somehow.

Living this way, helps me to relax and wait, being actively present to each moment, expecting new and good things are about to happens — things we cannot predict, yet alone imagine. It is a very radical position to take, often against the world’s values — asking God to be in control, recognizing how much “I” want, the myth I create my personal security. You will see God in the land of the living – when you follow Jesus first. It takes strength and courage to wait so radically. And then the Lord comes – one day. Or you might find if you look closely – he’s already here, and is with you. And you realize, if you muster up some courage to trust his goodness, you will see his goodness.

Blessings, hang in here, encouraging each other to wait on the Lord, to open your eyes, now – Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

DECEMBER 1, 2020 TUESDAY

Dear Church Family,

Marc Gellman, a rabbi and Msgr. Tom Hartman, a Catholic priest – teamed up for years to talk about faith, religions — making faith relevant and accessible to many, including youth and children. Fr. Hartman died of Parkinson’s Disease at age 69 in 2016. His death left a big hole in Marc. Together, on radio, TV, and in newspaper, they were the God Squad. Marc continues their mission, often mentioning “Tommy.” They wrote a column, Marc continues.

Sunday, Marc wrote who overwhelmingly sad this Thanksgiving – curtailing family gatherings, travel – social distancing to protect ourselves, friends and family. That left a sad hole in many of us. We naturally focus on what we can’t do. Rabbi Marc’s antidote?—What we can do – laugh more. He calls it “spiritual balancing.” Spend equal time focusing on and talking about your blessings, not just sad burdens. Remembering joy keeps us balanced. Somedays it’s hard to heed the Psalmist — “Serve the Lord with gladness (or joy).” We can’t force gladness or joy. We can look for it. Even in darkness, light is close by.

I know this is a somber, heavy season – Advent, reflection and preparing our souls spiritually, in addition to the burden of this virus and its horrible toll. Marc offers “church bulletin bloopers,” to make us laugh. I remember some I have made — and with time, learn to laugh at myself. The deadly virus does not have the final word. God gets to speak it. And it is joy, hope, everlasting life. Joy isn’t just a heavenly hope for one day. It is ours now. Keep your blessings before you, even small ones. So, to bring a bit of mirth to “spiritually balance” weeping and sadness — I offer a few “Church Bulletin bloopers,” to lift your spirits today – courtesy of Marc Gellman. I recall the morning my dad died. We sat with him for several hours — Karen, my sister and I – recalling memories, singing hymns, laughing and savoring his life and the gifts he gave us. In times of loss and sadness, let not joy and gratitude be too far away. Forgive me for these:

— “Ladies don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands. (Ouch)
—  For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
—  At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic is “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice,
—  Low self-esteem group will meet Thursday at 7pm. Please use the back door.
— Weight Watchers will meet at 7pm at the church hall. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

 

No kidding – a Rabbi wouldn’t pull our leg. These are painful days in which we live — for frontline workers, many deaths, fear as numbers head in the wrong direction. It’s serious, but so is the love God holds us in. Step back, and remember the light shines in darkness. Joy and laughter help lift our burdens.

In the end, God wins – not the pain, suffering and losses we experience in these days. It’s called resurrection. Keep your eyes open and be cautious, as advised, not foolish – but also hold fast the God of love and life – who always has you. Present times are not the last word. God speaks that – and it is very, very good.

Blessings, and maybe a smile for you this day, Love — Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 MONDAY

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Today, I share a meditation written by an old friend. Ken lives in Southside Virginia. He was the editor of a local newspaper. Now he is retired, and devotes his time to writing and speaking. Ken is also a lay reader and minister in his local Episcopal Church. In my time as a Baptist pastor there, we worked together on a number of projects that overlapped our vocations and faith commitments.

I hope you find his reflection on the texts from the First Sunday of Advent as helpful and insightful as I.

Blessings and peace this day, Fr. Steve
 
 
By Ken Woodley
There always seems to be another wilderness, doesn’t there?
One more “wilderness moment.”
And some are bigger than others.
COVID-19 keeps us in a wilderness that has already lasted more than half a year. And this pandemic-driven landscape is in addition to our own personal wildernesses.
With recent storms, the trees in my part of the world are mostly shorn of leaves, bare limbs silhouetted against the sky.
But in the early morning, and then again at sunset and into the gloaming, they are compelling sights. Their stark darkness emphasizes the beauty of a new day’s dawn and reminds us of its wonder as that day passes away.
They are not unlike our own outstretched prayers reaching up from our souls toward the heavens after wilderness moments have stripped away all of our own “leaves.”
Like beauty, the wilderness can be in the eye of the beholder.
And, crucially, there are leaves we cannot see that are nevertheless storm-proof and beyond the grasp of seasons.
In nature, even the seemingly barren wilds have their own transcendent splendor, if we look hard enough with a discerning eye. Our moments of inner wilderness can provide hidden gifts, as well. They can reveal opportunities for spiritual adventure. Difficult ones, perhaps, but adventures nonetheless.
As we begin the season of Advent, let’s re-frame our minds and set a determined course to have an “Advent-ure” between now and Christmas.
The wilderness doesn’t have to be relentlessly dangerous or continuously scary. It can be liberating. Deepening. Filled with epiphanies, large and small.
The wilderness, after all, is where things happen because it removes all of our artificial props and distractions.
The wilderness is where we can most deeply encounter the Holy Spirit.
Jesus knew the wilderness. It was where he embraced his shepherding ministry of servanthood after overcoming the temptation to rule the world.
The wilderness is where we embrace our own spiritual destiny and truest selves, often overcoming the temptation to regard ourselves as lost or left behind.
We are nothing of the kind.
It may seem that we are in a lonely place.
But that’s alright.
That can, in fact, be a good thing.
Jesus often sought out a lonely place to pray, contemplate, and commune with God.
Lonely places are where things happen.
And there’s an interesting thing about the word lonely.
Remove the first L and the word becomes “onely.”
A “onely” place.
A place where we may become one with Jesus, even if only for a flashing instant of reverberating epiphany.
Where we might become one with God for a single breath that goes on breathing.
Where the Holy Spirit brushes past us, touching our arm in a way that tells us it won’t be last time.
Christmas is weeks away.
What an “Advent-ure” it can be getting there from here—with Easter in our hearts.
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Sunday Service Video Stream

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 SUNDAY

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

Three items below.

(1) 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.\

(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 38th 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/BQN0EP_le10

The hymns are 58, 68, and 73.

 

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
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Sunday Readings & Comments

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 SUNDAY

Dear Brothers and Sisters of St. Stephen’s,

In just two days — Happy New Year! It’s Year B, already and again. It’s Advent – the season of slowing down and waiting. We wait differently this year – and with maybe a deeper yearning for God to come and make right what’s wrong.

Light and dark are themes of our Collect. We are moving toward the darkest and shortest day of our calendar year. The Incarnation is celebrated in the darkest season of the year, corresponding with the Winter Solstice. We wait and pray for a spiritual experience of light – the light of God’s love. Regardless of the depth of darkness, it still shines. Especially in this year, with all the fear, facing our mortal natures head on, divisions, anger and violence that divide us, and other nations, maybe even more we yearn for that day, however you imagine it, when the Risen and Ascended Lord, will once again descend to uncover his hidden presence within and among us all along. May we cast away our inner darkness to put on the light of his armor now.

Isaiah’s writings play a prominent role in our Old Testament Lessons for Advent in Year B. Isaiah’s words are prayer – speech, calling upon God to act again for his people Israel. He expresses our present yearnings, as does the Psalmist, for God to break silence, remove sin – to draw us more into God’s hope. Lent is not the only season we are called to repent and yield our lives as clay into the Divine Potter’s hands. The Psalm echoes Isaiah’s words.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians begins with thanksgiving, calling forth the best in and from the young church. They await the final revealing of Christ – the second coming. We, as they, in this in-between time, can become aware of our failures – and pray for Christ’s healing, and our redirection. God’s promise is sustain us, so we can be presented, blameless unto God. Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in the Lord’s love and mercy. God provides. God is faithful. God has you covered — assurance.

In Mark we read what is called “the little apocalypse” – scary, foreboding language that fires the imagination. It is metaphor for the disruption of this present world. It frightens, displaces, dislocates. It is dramatic language to grab our attention. No one knows when the second coming will be – not heavenly, cosmic beings, nor humans on earth – regardless of what some say or write in books. Our mission is not to fret and be anxious – but to focus on God – divine love, orienting our lives for God, and loving as Jesus loves. One way to think about “delay” is not for the future, but now – to align ourselves with Jesus, and follow him more fully. To stay awake this way, is to wait with the love and hope God gives freely. We yearn and strive to be faithful to the God who is first faithful to us. Then we live in peace, held in the assurance of eternal, everlasting divine love. As we grow in love, we also grow in becoming more like Christ.

Read the texts – several times. Listen to the words and what begins to stir within – in your waiting. Pray your responses — and then listen for what God may gently “say” to you. Maybe as we are forced to slow down as stores, ads, and catalogues push us toward Christmas, we can be countercultural, take more time this Advent to prepare for Christ’s birth anew within our hearts.

Blessings — and see you this Sunday, Fr. Steve
 
 

First Sunday of Advent – November 29, 2020

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil–
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter; 
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever. 
Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.
3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.
18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
 
 
The Epistle

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind– just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The Gospel

Mark 13:24-37

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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