A Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 25, 2022

By: David May, Rector

There is a phrase I remember hearing a lot when I was growing up. I heard it from parents in the neighborhood. And I heard it a lot from my mother. Maybe you’ve heard it too. Maybe you’ve even used it yourself. It goes like this: “If you don’t stop [fill in the blank], you’ll put your eye out!” That fill in the blank could be almost anything, sword fighting with sticks, bombing each other with acorns, flinging Matchbox cars over homemade ramps. My mother was a thoroughly reasonable person and was rarely stampeded by emotion, but the number of things that she thought might result in dire consequences to one’s eye was immeasurable.

I think I understand her perspective a little better now after having raised kids of my own. And I’ve also learned that my mother’s use of exaggeration is actually grounded in a very old method of teaching. Hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point, is a perfectly acceptable method of instruction with a long and proud history. The rabbis of Jesus’ own day used it. In this style of teaching – often using stories or examples – one draws clear distinctions between good and evil, righteousness and injustice, darkness and light. These rabbis, and subsequent teachers through the ages, were smart, sophisticated thinkers. They knew as well as anyone that there is infinite complexity and nuances of gray that we deal with in this world. But we can get swamped by all that gray sometimes. Exaggerated storytelling can clarify what’s at stake and get us back on track.

So with my mother, her “put that stick down or it’ll put out your eye” was in a proud tradition. Even though I still might want to counter with an appeal to my general past record of trustworthiness in not having put my eye out to date or my growing desire for more freedom. She knew that I needed to be disarmed first. Complexities could be dealt with later.

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A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 18, 2022

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation

 

Is your halo getting a little snug?
That is what my mother would ask me when I was getting a little too big for my britches, Is your halo getting a little snug? This question was brought out when I was behaving with some kind of remarkable lack of humility.

As an only child and grandchild for 12 years in a close knit family it was easy to feel spectacularly special. And the fact that I remember this saying clearly should give you some indication of just how often I needed a course correction.

I can still feel the sting of being called out for my arrogance. And truthfully there have been many times past my childhood when my mother should have marched up to me and asked the question again.

Being called out when you are well aware you are in the wrong hurts. But being called out when you are thinking you are good enough or being pretty darn good maybe even spectacularly good, that leaves a mark.

And often that was and is the job of the prophets. To leave a mark. To speak in such a way that gets people’s attention. Prophets go far beyond my mother’s gentle corrective question and they can throw gut punches. But prophets in their attempts to land words that alarm us are not trying to harm God’s people, they are trying to gather God’s people back to the life giving ways that God wants us to live.

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A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 11, 2022

By: David May, Rector

 

I think we could be forgiven for getting a little lost in the swirl of events – both near and far – that are going on all at once right now. Though it seemed like she could possibly live forever, Queen Elizabeth II has died and with her death the world has lost a visible, living connection to a much older and different world is gone, and probably more than that has been lost with her passing. Today is also the 21st anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a tragic and traumatic day that changed the world. When I watch the documentaries of that day (which has become almost an annual ritual for me) I still find myself saying, ‘what is happening?!’ in the present tense as if its still happening. Trauma operates like that, leading you back to the feelings you had when it first happened. Psychologists tell us that is because we are trying to get back to that original time and place, like retracing your steps, to find something that you know you’ve lost.

Nearer to home, today is the first nearly normal Kickoff Sunday for us in three years. There are children who the last time we saw them were being carried around in their parents’ arms and who today are walking around just fine on their own. And talking. For the past several months here at church, I’ve seen us try to pick up where we left off before the pandemic with limited success. For starters, that’s because we just lost contact with all of those regular routines and habits that shaped our life before and kept things rolling. So, we’re finding new ones, or trying to.

And nearer still to home, to right here, right now, we’re going to take time to dedicate and bless these new green hangings that are a gift from Georga Williams to the church in loving memory of her mother. We received these hangings from England just before the pandemic and with church closures and all the rest haven’t had the chance to thank God for Agnus Dyson Smith represented by this gift. But this is one dropped stitch that we can go back and pick up.

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Treasured Letters

Weekly Reflection, Friday, September 9

By: David May, Rector

The Apostle Paul’s letters follow a clear format. In Paul’s day there were no envelopes nor address, so each letter began by saying, ‘this is Paul writing to all the good people in Rome.’ Followed with a thanksgiving to God for the folks to whom he was writing. The body of the letter sorted through questions of faith and life that he knew a congregation was working on. He’d conclude by sending greetings from folks where he was (‘we all send you our love and prayers!’) to the congregation he was writing (‘be sure to give Chloe a hug from me!’). Congregations treasured those letters, held onto them, read them over and over again. We still do.

Letter writing is a lost art. Which is a shame because a real live letter written in a real live person’s handwriting has a special power. It’s as if that person is right there with you and you can keep something of that person. I’ve kept some letters from over the years, from my mother, my sons, a parishioner right after I was ordained urging me to hang in there, and a whole bunch from my wife Emmy. One I treasure is from over thirty years ago from someone I never met along with a picture of her grandson who was born with profound physical and mental disabilities. The letter includes words I know by heart: ‘please pray for him. He struggles so hard, and he is the light of my life.’

From time to time, I’ll take one out and re-read it. I realize that most of the letters I’ve kept came from pivotal moments in my life. When I re-read them, they guide me when I need guiding, encourage me when I need encouraging, or bless me when I stand in need of blessing.

The Vestry has written a letter to the people of St. Mary’s. Senior Warden, Missy Roberts, alongside Junior Warden, Wayne Dementi, will read it to you this Sunday morning. I am not going to steal their thunder, but it is not a letter asking for anything. It is a letter that comes at an important time in the life of our parish family. Like everyone else, we have been through such a hard few years. And hard for lots of reasons. And like everyone else, we are beginning to live our lives more fully again. God is putting us back together while the Spirit does her work to show us who we are and who we may be.

The Vestry’s beautiful letter is coming to you at the right moment with the right words full of the great hearts and spirits of the members of the Vestry. It may even be one you’ll end up keeping and taking out from time to time for guidance, encouragement, or blessing.

A Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 4, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

 

The other week, I went on vacation for a few days to the beach, and one of my favorite parts of going to the beach is visiting those cute local shops that have so much charm. So I was strolling around with a cup of coffee and stepped into a little bookstore, and as I was poking around the nick knacks and shelves, I came upon a section marked “Self-Help, Spirituality, Christianity”. I’m always curious about the Christianity section of bookstores and what authors they keep in stock, and I often see Christianity and Spirituality combined. That makes sense to me. But this addition of the Self-Help genre caught me off guard for a second.

I sort of stared at it, and thought about it, then had this sudden urge to say to anyone walking by “Wait, these aren’t the same. At all!” Now don’t worry, I was able to refrain from any kind of sidewalk preacher behavior or public embarrassment. But, since then, I’ve still been thinking about that moment, and I’ve kind of mourned this amalgamation of Self-Help and Christianity, because… they aren’t the same.

They’re almost opposite, really, because the story of Christianity is honestly a story about how self-help failed. We as humans were unable to save ourselves or will our way to God. That’s kind of the whole point of Jesus as Savior, Messiah. But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that our story is about how God helped us. We, my self-first included, big time, still try to help ourselves, to will ourselves to be better, to recreate ourselves and our story, apart from God, the true author of our lives. I mean, the amount of times I’ve started a new year, or decided to turn over a new leaf, and thought “This time I’ll read the right book, or I’ll listen to the right podcast, and I’ll finally make some good decisions for myself, and be better, and dig myself out of this hole.”

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