The church met for the first time at the church since late March, 2020. Of course, we met outside keeping our distance from one another and wearing masks.
Father George’s Sermon:
Welcome (28 June 2020)
“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” this is the message of the ubiquitous blue and white signs that mark the way to a local parish church all over this country. When I travel noticing those signs have started many a side trip, or distraction, from the road.
This morning’s Gospel is about welcoming the stranger, inviting into our midst one who is unknown to us and bringing them into our fellowship – inviting them to be at home with us, even if they’re just “passing through.”
In the ancient middle east hospitality wasn’t just a courtesy, it was often a matter of life or death. Travelers were sometimes dependent upon the kindness of strangers for food, water, and shelter in an extremely hostile environment. To turn someone, especially a sojourner away was a grievous breach of cultural expectations and was considered a sin in many communities.
Hospitality and welcoming are something we do well here at the Church of the Mediator. In the few short months with you I have noticed that we go out of our way to welcome the visitor, make them feel at home in our worship services, and see that they are included in our fellowship time in Ryan Hall. In this way, we are living into both our baptismal covenant and our congregation’s mission statement.
When we welcome the stranger, or sojourner, into our midst we are welcoming Christ himself. Throughout Christian history we Jesus appeared to his Church, he always came to us in the guise of a stranger – often a poor stranger who would be easy for us to reject and/or neglect.
Joan Chittister writing in her book in 40 Stories to Stir the Soul (Benetvision, 2010) tells this story:
There was a monastery that was renowned for its hospitality, a welcoming place for many weary travelers in need of rest. One day while the abbot was deep in prayer, an angel appeared, surrounded by golden light. The abbot gazed in rapt contemplation and was filled with a peace beyond measure.
Suddenly a series of heavy knocks resounded on the front door. “It is some weary traveler come to find shelter,” the abbot said to himself. “What should I do? If I go and answer the door, the angel might disappear. If I stay, who will care for the traveler?”
Reluctantly the abbot rose, looked resignedly at the angel, and left the room in order to attend to the needs of the dust-stained traveler. When he returned to his cell, the angel, to the abbot’s great surprise, was still there. The angel said to him, “Had you not gone to help the needy traveler, I myself would have been compelled to leave.”From 40 Stories to Stir The Soul
When we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus himself; and suddenly, we find that we are his guests at his table as he welcomes us into his fellowship. Amen.
Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. Stay safe and let us all remember to pray for each other.
Adapted from the weekly email to members of Church of the Mediator by Father George, June 26 2020.
Several have asked about “Spiritual Communion.” I’ve written a brief response, as follows:
Interest in “spiritual communion” is on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our nation and the world making our usual form of Holy Communion impossible in light of remote worship services. It’s actually a reawakening of a long-standing spiritual discipline that many Christians have used through the ages to connect with the presence of Jesus the Christ in the Holy Eucharist when access to the Eucharistic celebration was either not available or practical. The Roman Catholic Church offers it as an alternative for non-Romans attending the Mass who are not permitted to receive Communion.
The practice of Spiritual Communion is used by Christians, especially Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists, when they have been unable to receive the Holy Communion, especially in times of sickness and during persecution by states hostile towards religion. Anglican priest Jonathan Warren Pagán cited the joy Walter Ciszek experienced by making spiritual communion during the era of state atheism in the Soviet Union that resulted in the persecution of Christians in the Eastern Bloc.
Referencing theology related to the Body of Christ and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Anglican priest Jonathan Warren Pagán wrote that “Gathered worship in word and sacrament is therefore not an optional add-on for Christians” though the COVID-19 pandemic rendered it necessary to move to online formats for the common good. He encouraged the practice of Spiritual Communion amidst the pandemic, especially during the Anglican service of Morning Prayer. Pope Francis also suggested that the faithful say Spiritual Communion prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which renewed interest in the practice; Methodist clergy have also encouraged Spiritual Communion. Wikipedia
An article in Wikipedia states:
According to Catholic theologians, the value of a spiritual can be as great as Holy Communion itself. “Spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention,” stated Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M. Conv., S.T.D., in his book Jesus our Eucharistic Love.
“A special advantage of Spiritual Communion is that we can make it as often as we like — even hundreds of times a day — when we like — even late at night — and wherever we like — even in a desert, or up in an airplane,” Fr. Stefano continued.
The Church of England, mother Church of the Anglican Communion, teaches with regard to Spiritual Communion that “Believers who cannot physically receive the sacrament are to be assured that they are partakers by faith of the body and blood of Christ and of the benefits he conveys to us by them.” Some examples:
My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though Thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee. Amen.
Another example is:
As I cannot this day enjoy the happiness of assisting at the holy Mysteries, O my God! I transport myself in spirit at the foot of Thine altar; I unite with the Church, which by the hands of the priest, offers Thee Thine adorable Son in the Holy Sacrifice; I offer myself with Him, by Him, and in His Name. I adore, I praise, and thank Thee, imploring Thy mercy, invoking Thine assistance, and presenting Thee the homage I owe Thee as my Creator, the love due to Thee as my Savior. Apply to my soul, I beseech Thee, O merciful Jesus, Thine infinite merits; apply them also to those for whom I particularly wish to pray. I desire to communicate spiritually, that Thy Blood may purify, Thy Flesh strengthen, and Thy Spirit sanctify me. May I never forget that Thou, my divine Redeemer, hast died for me; may I die to all that is not Thee, that hereafter I may live eternally with Thee. Amen.
Here’s a couple of Protestant examples (also from Wikipedia):
Mitchell Lewis, a Methodist elder, authored an act of Spiritual Communion for use in the Methodist tradition:
My Jesus, I love you above all things. How I long to receive you with my brothers and sisters at the table you have prepared. Since I cannot at this moment receive you in bread and wine according to your promise in the sacrament of Holy Communion, I ask you to feed me with the manna of your Holy Spirit and nourish me with your Holy presence. I unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from your love. Amen.
St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Pompano Beach, published the following act of Spiritual Communion:
Lord Jesus, we desire earnestly to experience your love as guests at the heavenly feast you have prepared for your children on earth in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. As were are not able on this day to be gathered at your Table, may we receive you into our hearts by faith, trusting the word of your promise, that “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Strengthen our faith, increase our love and hope; and after this life grant us a place at your heavenly table, where we shall eat of the eternal manna, and drink of the river of your pleasure forevermore. Hear us for your own Name’s sake. Amen.
I commend the practice of Spiritual Communion to you as a means of staying spiritually connected during this time while we need to be apart. Always remember that there is no place or situation where our Lord is absent from us.
Why Are You Afraid?
This past several weeks the talking heads on the various news programs have been commenting on the fearfulness of our times. I will admit that some of the news is potentially frightening. Yet, once again, we hear Jesus inviting us, no urging us, to let go of our fears. The one phrase he says more than any other is, “Do not be afraid.” Yet, fear continues to be a potent and pervasive force in our lives and in the life of our community.
From the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us, certainly to fear the stranger, sometimes to fear even those who are closest to us. Political leaders have long recognized the power of fear in ensuring our conformity to the structures this world, even when doing so does not serve our best interests. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy, as well as, increasingly, our political priorities.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in a lecture at Auburn University said that we are born with two innate, or natural, fears: loud noises from behind and falling from a height. All of our other fears are learned – including our fear of strangers and the unknown. Our parents, and our families, are the chief source for our learning; and once embedded into our souls, our fears are difficult to dislodge and/or overcome.
Jesus recognizes that fear will also cause the failure of discipleship. Jesus’ disciples courageously leave the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the advent of God’s reign, but they, too, will know and ultimately bow before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel inevitably puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. So, as Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he is starkly realistic about the threats they will face, at the same time he builds the case for why they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness.
Is there an answer for our fears and anxieties? I believe the answer lies within today’s epistle lesson. Paul is describing for us both the immediate, and eternal, effects of the sacrament of baptism by linking our baptism with the death and resurrection of Jesus, reminding us that as Christians our lives are already caught up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Theologically, Paul’s view on baptism is that it is a journey or a process and its effects are not only for a moment but for an entire life. Believers must understand that the baptism Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not just wash away the stains of sin, but rather, it is a participation in the death of Jesus the Christ and an anticipation of his resurrection.
The result of this participation and anticipation are that one has to believe in and embody a resurrection life. Christian life is basically a life of resurrection and that is what makes Christian faith unique from other religions. Secondly, baptism does not erase sin, rather it puts it in check. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, baptism builds a wall around a believer and sets boundaries on what to practice and what not. With time, a believer walks into grace and life become a new creation Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
One can experience salvation in the now moment, but the full view of salvation is a mystery and will be revealed to us in God’s time. The theological point to be noted is that the follower of Christ is reconciled with God and is in the furnace of being saved. The reconciled person in Paul’s theological view is the one who will “walk in the newness of life.” Salvation in Paul’s proclamation of the Gospels is that it is embodied in the real life of a believer. However, suffering, temptation, and tribulation are not excluded simply because one is in Christ. Rather, suffering is in many ways a process through which God’s salvation can be manifested and realized.
Those who identify themselves with Jesus the Christ in his atonement through baptism can no longer tolerate and even cooperate with sin – which includes our fears. Our life is now grounded, shaped, directed, and formed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the motivating center of our everyday living is now directed towards Jesus the Christ. Everything we do is determined by Jesus the Christ on whom and through whom sin has been defeated forever.
This is the hardest part of being a Christian, not just in North America but also in the Global South. Christians must always remind themselves that our old self, our culture, our rights, our private spaces, and the desires of our flesh were crucified with Jesus the Christ. Our daily living must demonstrate our newfound and grace-filled status in Christ.
As we continue to live in fearful times, let us remember the calming words: “Don’t be afraid.” In doing so, let us once again remember who we are, and whose we are through our baptism; and surrender our fears to the all-consuming love of Jesus.
Easter 6, 2020
The readings for this Sunday offer a rich variety of material. We have Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens telling his listeners that the “Unknown God” they have been worshiping is really the One who created the heavens and earth and gave his only Son for us. Peter reminds us that it is our baptism which seals our salvation. The Gospel reading takes us back to the last supper when Jesus is saying “goodbye” to his disciples.
Our Gospel reading for today continues with that part of John’s Gospel known as the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13 – 16). Although the words are spoken on the night he was handed over to suffering and death, they only begin to make sense when we listen to them in the context of the Easter Season. Jesus is physically leaving us for the final time. Ascension Day is next Thursday, May 21st. So, Jesus is preparing us for his visible departure from us.
One of the things Jesus does to prepare us for his leave-taking is the promise of an Advocate who will be present with us always, who will remind us of Jesus’ teaching, and serve as a resource for our conscience – both individually and collectively. This promised Advocate is the Holy Spirit who will be given to us on the feast of Pentecost just two weeks from now (May 31st this year). The Holy Spirit is the outward sign that Jesus is still present with us in our thoughts and actions, as well as in our prayers – he reminds us that we are never truly alone, even in the midst of our loneliness.
This is one of the underlying gifts given to us in baptism. Baptism is the outward and visible sign that we belong to Christ – a relationship that is absolute and eternal. It’s more indelible than any tattoo, but it marks us as Christ’s own forever. It is through baptism that we, and the world, know that we have accepted Jesus the Christ as our Savior and have promised to follow him as our Lord.
Another gift given to us by the Holy Spirit is an awareness of God’s presence in what might seem to be the oddest places. Paul uses something he has noticed – the altar to the “Unknown God” as a segue into proclaiming the Good News to his listeners. Think of those moments when an apparently ordinary event or occurrence gave a flash of insight into God’s love and gracious presence.
All of this together offer us some of the tools we will need when Jesus takes his leave of us on Ascension Day with a promise to return and take us to himself. Amen.
FROM FATHER GEORGE:
Second Sunday of Easter, a.k.a. St. Thomas’ Sunday or “Low Sunday”
Our journey through the Great Fifty Days of Easter continues with a story we hear every year on this Sunday – St. Thomas’ story. We all know the story; you can read it at the following link: www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Easter/AEaster2_RCL.html.
John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The importance of Thomas’ story is that it speaks directly to our faith stories. Thomas was the first of the “second-generation Christians” – those who learned the Good News from another person without being a personal witness. You and I are all second-generation Christians, because we know the story from hearing it from another person. Just as the Good News was told to us by another, hopefully we will tell others about Jesus.
Who told you the Good News? During this another week of staying at home, I invite you to think about those who told you about Jesus and his resurrection As you recall them, gave thanks for their willingness to tell the story to yet another generation.