A Chance to Inquire

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 14

By: David May

I have a favorite memory from many years ago. At coffee hour, a parishioner of nearly 80 years old wondered if she could ask me a question. She was baptized in that parish church, confirmed there by the Bishop on the chancel steps, married there, seen her children married there, and watched as some of her grandchildren were baptized there too. She was an ‘every Sunday’ parishioner. If she missed a Sunday, she told me why.If she missed a Sunday because she was out of town, she brought me the bulletin from the church she’d attended when she was away. She brought her offering every week tucked in a pledge envelope. Every week. She cooked dinners for people with new babies or for those just home from the hospital. She baked a pound cake if someone lost their husband or wife. She was a member of the ECW for decades. She was an old-fashioned Episcopalian who practiced the virtues of Christian living ‘in word and deed’ according to the Prayer Book’s instruction. And she loved Jesus.

“I have to ask you something,” she said in a whisper. “I should know, but I don’t, not really. I feel embarrassed to even ask,” she said. And then she asked with perfect simplicity, “at Holy Communion, does the wine really become the blood of Jesus?”
We sat and talked about the blood of Jesus – about life, death, and the Gospel. We talked about God and prayer. We talked about sin, forgiveness, and the Nicene Creed. We talked about all of it.

When we talk about faith like that, we end up talking about our own lives; but in a special way: in a way that brings meaning to the living of our lives. It may be one of my favorite parts of being a parish priest.

I tell you this story because I am offering an invitation for you to sign up for the Inquirer’s Class. We have not had an Inquirer’s Class in almost three years if you can believe it. What is an Inquirer’s Class? It is a class for anyone who is new to the Episcopal Church or to any church or to St. Mary’s. It is for those who might like to be presented to the Bishop in May 2022 to be Confirmed or Received into the faith in the Episcopal Church, or to Reaffirm their own baptismal vows. It’s a class for anyone who might like the chance to ask questions that we think everyone else in the world knows the answer to, except me! Usually, those kinds of questions are ones we’d all like to ask but are afraid to.

If you would like to join this year’s Inquirer’s Class (for whatever reason or none at all!), please just call the church office. I’ll bring the coffee, you bring the questions!

What is it about Epiphany?

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 7

By: Lauren Clay

While growing up, my parents didn’t celebrate or know anything about the feast of the Epiphany celebrated on January 6. Years later in college, during my western European studies, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the various traditions of Epiphany in the wider Christian world. Many colloquially know it as “Three Kings Day,” referring to the three magi, or kings, who journeyed from the east, following the star to the newly born Christ child. Over the years since my own “epiphany” on the Epiphany, my kids and I have embraced some of the numerous Epiphany traditions, such as an Epiphany house blessing, and wearing paper crowns while searching for the plastic baby Jesus in our slices of Rosca de Reyes or King Cake. Since the magi came bearing gifts, many cultures save the big gift exchange for Epiphany rather than Christmas, making it an even grander celebration than Christmas itself.

What is it about Epiphany that gets the Christian world so excited and filled with such rich traditions? And why does it get its own liturgical season? In fact, there are three epiphanies that are celebrated throughout this season: the arrival of the magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding feast at Cana. These three realizations or manifestations of Jesus’s divinity point to the mind-blowing miracle that is Christmas! What is the point of Christmas if it wasn’t God himself becoming flesh to dwell among us? THIS is why we celebrate Epiphany!

I wish that I could say our family celebrated this Epiphany with the same fervor and excitement as in years past, but no. The paper crowns never came out. The trip to La Sabrosita Bakery to buy a King Cake never happened. In fact, I think I am most excited to finally take down my Christmas tree and get my house back to “normal.” Despite my doing nothing for Epiphany, except writing this reflection, and trying to get back to “normal,” I simultaneously realized that life will never be the same or “normal” in the wake of that first Epiphany. The great miracle has happened, whether or not we are celebrating; all of us have been redeemed through God’s unfathomable love for us.

So, on this very low-key Epiphany, I think of the last stanza of Christina Rosetti’s famous poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

I pray that I can at least give Him that.

He Became One of Us

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 17

By: Harrison Higgins

I like Christmas and parts of it I love: the family gatherings, my wild and wonderful children and grandchildren, sweet memories of Christmases past, my wife’s calming, beautiful presence next to my chaotic all-over-the-placeness. But most of all I love the story that God decided to come to this earth and be with us, Emmanuel, actually to become one of us.

When I look out a plane window, I often wonder what it must be like to be God and know every person down there, to see their lives, their thoughts, their hearts; to see their acts of love and cruelty. Would it be more heart warming or heart breaking? I naturally tend to think the latter, but I don’t know. I hope I am wrong on this. What I am sure of is that I would not want to be one of these people; I would love them, try to help and teach them, forgive them when they repented but I would not want to become one of them. That would be asking too much, going too far. “They need to learn. They need to grow up.” I would be saying to myself.

But that is not the God we believe in. He did become one of us. I believe when He looks down at us, because of Jesus, He now also sees Himself. This gives me hope and sometimes even strength to not give up and to keep working for a better world. Christmas really is good news of great joy, if we can get past all the shopping.

One final thought – in today’s world, what is the equivalent of being born in a stable? A homeless shelter? A refugee camp? Under a bridge? And if God had chosen to become incarnate in 2021, who would He (or She) be? If God can see Himself in humanity, I think He also wants us to see Him in each other too.

This is something beyond my understanding that happened in that stable 2,000 years ago where a man and a woman, some shepherds and animals, and angels gazed in silent, reverent awe as the heart of God revealed itself and found voice in a cry of an infant son.

The Stories of our Shared Family Tree

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 10

By: Amelia McDaniel

Knowing your family tree is a great gift. I love hearing stories about the people who have gone before me, like my great-grandmother who moved west in a covered wagon or my first-generation Lebanese grandfather who made his way in a new country. These are the kind of stories that feed my imagination and my understanding of who I am in this life.

Today, we learn about the genealogy of the people of God, the stories of Jesus’s family tree. We call this the ‘Jesse Tree’ which comes from the scripture that says “out of the stump of Jesse will spring a Savior.” The practice of the Jesse Tree traces the story of God’s people from the beginnings of creation through the birth of Jesus. There are some real characters in there. Some of the stories in this family tree are a little dicey and a little racy, but nevertheless show both the goodness and tom foolery of being a human in this world. All the stories reveal that we are made by a loving God who simply refuses to give up on us no matter how ridiculous we can be.

For the past few weeks, the children and youth have been making Jesse Tree ornaments. We began with the story of Creation and the Fall. Let me tell you: there were some questions. Hard ones. Like “why do people have to die?” and “just where is that serpent now?” When we told the story of Abraham and Sarah being the father and mother of a nation more numerous than the stars, their eyes widened in wonder. Telling the stories of the people we belong to is a way of inviting them into this great, big, grand family tree that we are a part of. And the same invitation is offered to you today.

I hope when you hear the stories from the Jesse Tree you will smile and let your imagination go. What if Noah was your great-great-uncle who came through on a visit every summer and told you crazy tales about the ark? What if sitting around in a family gathering someone told you that you laughed just like your great-great-grandmother Sarah? Or imagine that as a kid struggling to master a skill that required you growing bigger, someone reminded you that your third cousin ten times removed, was David and that small people, with God’s help, can do big things.

It may sound a little wacky to stretch our imaginations that far. But these stories really are the stories of our shared family tree. They remind us how far we have come – by the faith of our mothers and fathers who have gone before us who trusted in God’s promise of love. And they remind us to how we are to carry on – with great hope, love, and trust in God’s never-failing love.

A Matter of Time

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 3

By: Eleanor Wellford

Time marches on! No, time stands still. Time is running out! Actually there’s plenty of time left. The time is now! The time was then. Time means everything! Time means nothing. So, which is it? How can “time” be so many things at once?

It can be that way because we’ve made it that way! We’ve made time really important in our lives. And if you don’t believe that, just think of how often we look at our watches or more likely, our cell phones to see what time it is. And what good does it really do because the more we see what time it is, the more we tend to stress about it – whether we’re running out of it or have too much of it. Rarely is there a feeling of satisfaction after seeing what time it is.

According to the church calendar, we are in the season of Advent which is a time to wait for Jesus’s birth. Yet what we’ve been hearing from our readings recently, is that we are to be prepared for Christ’s second coming at an unknown time.

To say the least, it’s a confusing time! There’s a stretch of time, however, that can be captured in the phrases “in the meantime” or “in between time” which means something hasn’t happened yet but is expected to happen.

The apostle Paul was concerned about this “in between” time. In his letters to the various communities of recently converted Christians, he wrote about the importance of keeping the faith when it was hard to do so. The ground on which those early churches was founded was shaky to say the least; but against all odds, those churches not only survived, but thrived because of their faith.

I believe that faith is the only thing that allows us to live a meaningful life during times of stress and uncertainty – something we’ve all become used to during the past almost two years.

So the next time you look to see what time it is, especially during Advent, try to be aware of the time that marks the beginning of something not yet here. As humans we know how hard it is to live in that time, but as Christians, we have faith that God’s love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, will be the strength we need to see us through whatever time it is.