AUGUST 8 REFLECTION

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

August 8, 2021 Reflection

Sandy Burnett

In 1987, Pope John Paul II visited the Bay Area. As usual, my editor at the San Mateo Times was looking for a local angle on the story and he found one. I was sent to the Mercy Center, a convent and meeting center in Burlingame, to interview a nun who had written some new music that would be used during the Pope’s Mass in San Francisco.

That was how I met Sister Suzanne Toolan. When I mentioned that I’d recently returned to the Episcopal Church, she said she had a hymn in our Hymnal, so from then on I started checking the names of hymn composers. Turns out Sister Suzanne wrote “I Am the Bread of Life,” which also appears in Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist hymnals. The song, which Sister Suzanne wrote between classes she was teaching in 1964, has been translated into 20 languages. She’s also written lots of other music, including some Taize chants like “Jesus Christ, Yesterday, Today and Forever” and “Now in Peace, O God.”

Sister Suzanne has said that I Am the Bread of Life shouldn’t really work for congregational singing. “It’s too low. It’s too high,” she says. She believes the big draw is the Scripture from which the lyrics are drawn, some of which were read to us today.

What is it that’s so compelling about Jesus as the bread of life? Over the past few weeks, it seems that bread and feeding have been talked about over and over in the Gospel. Spoiler alert, we’re not done with the topic yet.

For me, I think it comes down to both the simplicity and the complexity of the message. Jesus tells us that belief in God  and the Savior are all that we need. We need faith to survive in a way that transcends our need for physical nourishment. This was a hard message for the people in his hometown congregation to hear. They had been taught that obeying the laws and customs of their people were the only way to a peaceful Paradise. Now one of their own was telling them they had to believe in him and he would raise them up on the last day. In the early Christian church — the people for whom John’s Gospel was written — the sacrament of the bread and wine became a way of being church, after many had been ousted from their synagogues for their beliefs.

This message of God’s continuous care for us sounds too good to be true and so we struggle with it. It’s not as easy as it sounds because believing in Jesus isn’t really the end of it. If you believe in Jesus and his message, then you also believe that doing your best to imitate God, as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, follows that belief, Can you really believe in God’s mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus without believing that you are destined for good? As the Psalm says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they that trust in him.”

But we are often at a complete loss to discern what is good. Our trust wanes when things happen that don’t seem right and God doesn’t seem to do anything about it. That brings us to the first reading. Absalom has committed two very serious sins. First, this son of David takes it upon himself to murder his half-brother, who raped and abandoned their sister, Tamar. David had refused to avenge his daughter.

Second, Absalom leads a rebellion against David, God’s chosen King of Israel, in which thousands die. Absalom dies grotesquely, but David mourns this rebellious but beloved son. David knows very well that his own sins have had a big role in the sorrow of both his family and his country, and he wishes that he had died instead.  As so often happens, a sin leads to a cascade of unforeseen events. David’s successor, his son Solomon, asked God for the gift of wisdom, of discernment to know the difference between right and wrong. Absalom surely thought he was doing the right thing.

But we don’t have Solomon’s gift. We continue to sin, sometimes unknowingly, doing things we don’t really want to do. Even when we’re really trying to do good, we can sin. Which brings us back to Jesus as the Bread of Life, who is with us every single day and hour to comfort us in our guilt and frustration, and to forgive us. This nourishment, this love, is what keeps us going through our earthbound lives and into the afterlife. As living beings, we need real food and water to live, but as living spirits, we need our faith, and we need it 24/7 and forever, not just at mealtimes. Our Holy Communion is a way of reminding us of this need and of our relationship with both the Trinity and other believers throughout the ages.

Last week, we were fortunate to once again be able to have an in-person Communion which many of us have really missed this past year. Yet this longing, for me, has also made me think more about what I really need from church. From the first Christians, Communion has not only offered us a living reminder of the Bread of Life, but has been part of the identity of Christians and the church. But as always, what Communion stands for is the real Sacrament. And we’ve had to look at new ways of addressing the future, which I find both scary and exhilarating.

Of course, the whole world has gone through this experience. The Mercy Center, where Sister Suzanne, now in her 90s, still lives, hosted a Taize prayer service on the first Friday of the month from 1982 until April, 2020 — 38 years. I used to go occasionally when I lived on the Peninsula and there were many people for whom this was their home congregation. When the sisters realized that Covid wasn’t going to end anytime soon, they began an online Taize service. If you would like to participate, go to the Mercy Center Website for details. I’m not sure if Sister Suzanne is still able to be there, but I know that her music is still part of the service.

And today, we’re going to sing “I am the Bread of Life,” difficult as it is, but knowing that our basic needs can only be met through our faith.

Pentecost 10 

St. Alban’s Church                                                                           II Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 14

Pentecost 10                                                                                      Psalm 51: 1-13

August 1, 2021                                                                                  Ephesians 4: 1 – 16

Pastor Jim Stickney                                                                          John 6: 24 – 35

 

Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry. [Ephesians 4: 12]]

 

When I was a young man newly arrived at seminary, I was with a group of novices

who were assigned to be guided by a wise older priest who was our mentor.

Almost every day we gathered in a large room called “the exhortation hall,”

and there this experienced priest would deliver a formal “exhortation.”

 

Some of you may not be familiar with this word or concept, even though I’m sure

you have both exhorted others and have been exhorted yourselves.

An exhortation is a kind of spiritual pep-talk, an energetic encouragement

for people to excel in the practice of virtues, often Christian virtues.

 

Many of us are following the amazing athletes taking part in the Olympics in Tokyo.

Each one of these athletes has worked under the guidance of many coaches.

A good coach will challenge you to work harder, to summon forth your best effort.

and in performance or competition your coach will both affirm your success

and call you out with strong criticism when he or she sees that you’re slacking off.

 

This is the way the prophet Nathan criticizes King David for his abusive behavior.

Nathan calls out and condemns the king’s compounded sins —

the sin of adultery with another man’s wife, and the sin of having that man killed

in an attempt to cover up his transgression. Nathan “catches the conscience

of the king” with the little story of the poor man’s lamb served up to dinner guests.

David needed direct “negative exhortation,” and sometimes we do too.

 

Contrast that with what St. Paul tries to do when he writes to the Christians

in the early church: it’s positive exhortation, with words of encouragement.

He doesn’t write to make this community feel guilty about being wicked or foolish;

no: he pays them the compliment that they’re mature enough, savvy enough,

and experienced enough, to build upon their solid foundation in Christ Jesus.

See for yourselves if these words don’t give you a spiritual boost:

 

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind

            of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head,                           into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together

by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly,

            promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

 

In our Gospel for today, Jesus exhorts his followers to a higher form of discipleship.

Just after he feeds 5,000 people, some are tagging along for more free food.

I wonder if Jesus had a smile on his face when he looked them in the eye and said,

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs,

but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes,

            but for the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus wants to equip these people,

and us, to dig deeper and find more substantial motivation for discipleship.

 

That brings us to ourselves, aspiring to be saints, or at least good Christians,

in the same way that the Christians living in first-century Ephesus were exhorted unto.

How do we equip ourselves to do the various ministries we live out? Paul says: the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,                                some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

 

You know that St. Alban’s has a lot of work to do as we emerge from the pandemic.

I’m happy to be a small part of that rebuilding as we gather in public

for common worship after more than a year of Zooming and distant worship.

My last celebration of the Eucharist here was fifteen years ago,

and I’m delighted to be invited for monthly worship with you here for a while.

.

In the years since I last led worship here, St. Alban’s has continued

and increased its ministry to the neighbors who are in need of care.

The spiritual food and wine from the altar is given to equip the saints —

the ordinary Christians — to sustain us as we exercise the gifts God has given us.

 

This includes the healers, the administrators, all kinds of volunteers —

some feeding the hungry, some caring for the elderly. Can you clarify your ministry —

what it looks like? and who it is you’re called to serve?

Then ask: how can this church help you live out this ministry you have?

 

Because — Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● July 25, 2021

Steve Hitchcock

2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm 145:10-10

Ephesians 3:14-21

JOHN 6:1-21

When I first read today’s Gospel from John 6, I said, “Good.  This is John’s account of the Last Supper.  This Gospel is perfect for helping us prepare to gather next Sunday, after such a long absence, for in-person worship and the reception of Christ’s body and blood.  This reading from John reminds us that as we celebrate the Eucharist, we experience the abundance – with leftovers – of God’s grace.

Unlike the other three Gospels, John does not include an account of the meal Jesus partakes before his crucifixion, when he tells his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me. Instead, John shapes his account of the feeding of the 5,000 – a story told in all of the Gospels – to highlight links to the Eucharistic celebrations practiced by the first Christians.  Jesus starts by giving thanks (Eucharist in Greek), and Jesus – not the disciples – distributes the food.

But whenever I start to study a particular Gospel for a particular Sunday – that is re-read the text and the rest of Gospel, examine specific words and phrases, and sample what scholars have to say – I end up at a different place from where I started.

Yes, today’s reading is about the Eucharist, but the second part of our Gospel makes the even more astounding claim: Jesus gets into the boat of our lives, and we are glad that he does.  We willingly receive him.

In the other three Gospels, the point is that Peter needs to get in the boat with the other disciples – to be part of the community that trusts Jesus’ power to save.

What is so startling about John’s account is that it is Jesus who gets in the boat.  He doesn’t take us out of the boat and whisk us away to some fantasy land.  No, Jesus is here in the midst of our uncertainty and our fears as we struggle with the storms of our lives.

How Jesus gets here and why we willingly welcome him is set forth in the very first verses of today’s Gospel.

Last Sunday, while I was on vacation, you reflected on those memorable words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters.”

Today’s Gospel reading shows us these verses are more than just beautiful words to comfort us.   We hear today that Jesus is our shepherd, that we want for nothing, and that we are surrounded by green grass and calm waters.

The Season of Bread

First, though, let’s step back and sort out where we are this Sunday.  We’re at the Ninth Sunday in the long season of Pentecost, so-called ordinary time.  This is the liturgical year B, so the Gospel lessons are generally from Mark.  But Mark is about half the length of Matthew and Luke, so we interrupt our regular program to fill in with readings from John’s Gospel.  During the next four weeks, which I’ll call the Season of Bread, we will read the very long chapter six – with 71 verses – of John’s Gospel.

Today, in this first Sunday in the Season of Bread, we hear the story of the actual feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes.  This miraculous feeding is a story told in all four Gospels, followed by the account of Jesus walking on the water to the disciples in the storm-tossed boat.  The rest of John 6 is Jesus’ long conversation about what this feeding meant, including the famous Bread of Life discourse.

John is reminding us that we are part of this abundant feeding today.  He is saying that the “fragments” – a word used for the bread in the Eucharistic liturgy – were so abundant that they were left over.  Indeed, enough leftovers, if you will, to keep feeding all those who gather into the future to feast on Christ’s body and blood.

But the real miracle of this feeding is not that five barley loaves and a couple of fishes – provided by a small child – went so far.  No, the real miracle is that we experience this abundance in the midst of suffering, persecution, and loss.

Who is this Jesus in the boat with us?

That’s the point that John makes in the story that follows the feeding of the 5,000.  Jesus, like Moses, goes back to the mountain to communicate with God.  The disciples end up on a boat without Jesus in the middle of the lake, full of fear as they are tossed about by the stormy seas.  Then Jesus, as in the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus story, comes walking on the water.  The disciples “wanted to take him into the boat.”  Or more accurately translated, “they willingly took him into the boat.”

They – and we today – are willing to receive Jesus because he tells them – and us – who is.  And that makes all the difference.

First, John notes that this feeding takes place at Passover, the feast that remembered when, during the final deadly plague in Egypt, God passed over those houses where a lamb had been sacrificed.  This is John’s way of telling us that Jesus is the new Moses, the one who is leading a new exodus, a new liberation from captivity.  And this new Moses is creating a new people of God.  This was especially good news for John’s first readers who were being kicked out of synagogues, excluded because their faith in Jesus labeled them as apostates.

Second, the Jesus in the boat with us is the Good Shepherd.  That’s why today’s reading notes that “there is much grass.”  As in Psalm 23, Jesus leads the people to green pastures where they will experience no want.

This reference to the Good Shepherd was also a signal to John’s readers that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gathers us together and who lays down his life for our sake, the paschal lamb who saves us from death.

            Third, the Jesus in the boat with us is I am.  Those two words are way the NRSV has translated as “It is I,” but the actual phrase is “I am.”  Those words were the answer to Moses when, at burning bush, he asked Yahweh who he was.  This “I am” pronouncement by Jesus sets the stage for “I am’s” we’ll hear later in chapter 6 and in other chapters: I am the Bread of Life, I am the Way and the Truth, I am the Vine, and I am the resurrection and life.

So, the Jesus is the boat with us is God, the power and being that creates and loves everything that is.  The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word that was with God and without whom nothing is created.  The good news isn’t that Jesus is like God, but rather that God is like Jesus.  God gets into our storm-tossed boat of life.  God listens to our fears and anxieties.  And God suffers with us, laying down his life that we might be raised to new life.

Keeping Jesus in the boat with us

What freedom from fear and joy for living becomes possible when this Jesus is the boat with us!  But John knew that his community found it hard – generations after Jesus had lived, died, and rose – to trust that Jesus was with them.  They, like us, wondered if they were better off without Jesus, whether it really made any difference to trust his presence among them.

For those first readers of John’s Gospel there was lots of evidence that God had abandoned them, that they had no status or place, that suffering and persecution were their fate.  And we today often struggle to believe that all this enthusiastic Jesus talk amounts to anything.  The world around us, the people close to us, and our own minds and bodies seem to betray us again that again.

That’s why John links the feeding of the 5,000 – Jesus the Good Shepherd feeding us all that we need, making sure that no one is lost – to what happens when we gather for the Eucharist next Sunday.  John knew that to sustain their faith and hope his community needed to hear those words about Jesus – and feast on the Bread of Life – Sunday after Sunday.

John’s Gospel is organized around a series of misunderstandings about who Jesus is.  Mary his mother doesn’t understand why her son doesn’t solve the wine problem right away.  Nicodemus can’t understand this business about being born again in the Spirit.  The Samaritan woman at the well misunderstands the type of water Jesus is talking about.  Later in chapter 6, the disciples fail to make the connection between the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus as the Bread of Life.  And, in the pivotal chapter 11, Mary and Martha don’t understand what Jesus is saying about the death of their brother Lazarus.

This pattern of misunderstandings is completed – and resolved – in chapter 20 when Thomas’s so-called doubt is actually his understanding of who Jesus really is – and why he’s in the boat with us.  The Risen Christ – our Lord and God – is the One whose hands have been nailed and whose side has been pierced.  Our Lord is wounded for us, and our God has suffered death that we too might live in resurrection time.

The Eucharist and our gathering together again and again to hear Jesus’ words enables us to join Thomas – seeing Jesus’ wounds – to say, “My Lord and my God.”  In the Eucharist, we put our hands on Jesus’ broken body, we partake of his life poured out for us.

And because of this meal we partake – Sunday after Sunday, hearing the Good Shepherd call us by name – we are happy to sing while the boat rocks, we pray while the storm rages, and we are glad to be in this boat together.  Amen.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Alban’s Church                                                   II Samuel 5: 105, 9-10

July 4, 2021                                                                Psalm 123

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost                                  II Corinthians 12: 2 – 10

Pastor Jim Stickney                                                  Mark 6: 1 – 13

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

When the flamboyant English author Oscar Wilde began his very successful visit

to America in 1882, he went through the New York Customs House. He was asked

if he had anything to declare. He said, “I have nothing to declare, except my genius!”

 

Some of us might recall the portrayal of Mozart in the play (and movie) Amadeus,

when Mozart speaks about how he sees himself in relation to other composers.

At one point he comes right out with it and says that he’s simply the best.

He’s reprimanded that others could take offense at his lacking the customary humility,

but by hindsight we don’t mind words about Mozart claiming to the the best.

 

This morning I’m considering this tension between showing humility & taking pride.

Some of us may be following the riders in the world’s most famous cycling event,

the Tour de France. More of us will be watching parts of the summer Olympics,

postponed from last year and held in Japan — a celebration of the world’s best.

We expect these winners to take their places on the podium and accept their medals,

(or yellow jerseys). Yet we also expect them not to trash talk about those who lost.

 

There are a few human beings who obviously excel at their chosen fields of endeavor,

and we cut a lot of slack to someone who’s obviously brilliant, especially

if such a person can display a little of the common touch and stay grounded.

 

But for ordinary people, what we want to hear is that they’re not the best.

In fact, something in us wants to cut huge egos down to size — especially enemies.

Just as we admire true excellence, so we can’t abide phonies, frauds, or pretenders.

This is why St. Paul declares, I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

When it comes to spiritual things, we want our religious leaders to display humility.

We assume that someone who is given the privilege of preaching in a church

also shares in human weakness, and does not remain silent during the Confession!

 

         I will not boast — except of my weaknesses. St. Paul utters this gem of a guideline

only after he speaks of some extraordinary spiritual experiences (perhaps “mystical”).

He refers in the third person to someone caught up into the third heaven.

That person — most likely the writer Paul himself — was in Paradise, and heard things

that can’t be told, of experiences that can’t be trapped in mere human words.

 

It might seem quite a stretch for us to see Jesus described as weak or powerless.

And yet, in the Gospel story chosen for today, we hear Mark tell us,

                   “He could do no deed of power [in his hometown], except that he laid his hands

                   on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

 

Jesus could not do much for people who had seen him grow up, for they knew him —

both too well and not well enough. His Good News couldn’t get past their history.

It didn’t matter that he preached well in their synagogue — that only made them feel

somehow inferior to this person to whom they had once been superior.

 

Did Jesus go back and make a special campaign to get them to change their minds?

Perhaps to our surprise, we hear: Then he went about among the villages, teaching.

He gave witness to who he was and what he could do, and then he left his home town.

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

Some parishioners were born in other countries, and chose to come here.

But most were born in this country, and like you, I said the pledge of allegiance

and was taught that ours was the best country in the world — that other countries

looked up to us as the best example of human freedom. Sure, we had some problems,

but thanks to active citizens, we could vote to change policies and solve problems.

 

But on this Independence Day, we have to admit that our pride has been challenged.

Despite advanced technology, we had more Covid deaths than any other country.

The murder of George Floyd revealed even more the realities of racism among us.

And on January 6th, our own fellow countrymen staged an insurrection.

We have to admit that our nation has been humbled.

 

Recall that St. Paul is careful to mention “a thorn in his side.” This character defect,

this constant irritant, kept him from being too proud about his lofty visions.

We all carry around with us our own personal “thorn in our side,” some reminder

of our frailty — despite our other gifts. As our country strives to better itself,

we know that simply chanting “USA! USA!” won’t get us very far. What will help

is our telling the truth about the thorns in the side of our country.

Honest examination of our shortcomings is the first step in correcting them.

 

One advantage of this Zoom format is that I can show you small photos

that would not be visible from a pulpit. Here’s one I took from our deck on Flag Day:

Our church’s flag and our country’s flag flying side by side.

 

Now, our church’s Hymnal places the National Songs on the very last pages.

In fact, the last song in the Hymnal is “O say can you see.”

A more singable national song is there, known as “America the Beautiful,”

Each of its three verses asks that God shed grace upon our country.

 

In particular, the second verse implores God to assist us overcome our weaknesses:

America, America, God mend thine every flaw —

confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

Mark 5: 21-43

Mark 5: 21-43

St. Alban’s June 27. 2021 service

Mary D.

What strikes me in reading this gospel is the absolute trust that the woman with the hemorrhage and Jarius show in Jesus. They have no doubt that he can heal the woman, and also Jairus’ daughter. The woman trusts that if she can just touch his cloak, she will be healed of her affliction. And Jairus pleads with Jesus in the assurance that if He lays his hands on his daughter, she will be made well, and live.

The depth of trust and faith that these two have is truly remarkable – and enviable. How often have we been called upon to “take a leap of faith”? And how often have I, and perhaps others, been found wanting in that leap? It takes enormous courage to open oneself to that depth of trust – and faith. How often do we tell ourselves that we “just can’t do it”, or that “it won’t matter what I say, do, or think”? How can we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit, and trust that the outcome will be what was meant to be – whether or not it was what we desired or expected? We will need to learn to be open to hearing the Spirit in our hearts, and listening intently to hear that voice over the clamor of everyday life. We can begin by committing ourselves to walking in the way of Jesus, through the good, easier times and the more challenging, harder times. This will require us to look into ourselves and identify those thoughts and actions that separate us from our fellows, and from Jesus. Then we must be willing to change, and accept the consequences of those changes. The changes may be difficult, and unpopular, but we must “stay the course” and continue on the path set out by Jesus. We can help one another in this with our support, love for one another, and mutual prayer.

Also striking is the fact that these two people were not “followers of Jesus”, but an unclean woman and a leader in the temple. They must have been very desperate, very courageous, and also very moved to trust that Jesus could give the help they asked for. Perhaps they had heard of other miracles that Jesus had done, and were open to asking for the help they needed. They persisted, and were rewarded for their faith. We also need to persist in the face of adversity, and not give up or give in to doubts or despair.

Another thing that strikes me is the fact that the healing of the woman was very “public”, in that it took place in the midst of the crowd. And Jesus tells the woman that her faith has made her well (has saved her), and to go in peace. Contrasting with this, Jesus allows only three disciples to go with him to the home where the daughter is lying. And he clears the house of all but the three and the mother and father. This is quite a departure from the public healing just performed. He then takes the child by the hand and bids her to get up. After she arises, Jesus tells the select onlookers to get her some food, and not to let anyone know about this. Thus, we too can go about our lives as we have also been saved.

In closing, these two miracles give us much to think about – and are a reminder that a “lively faith” can indeed change lives.
Amen

Reflection on Samuel

In today’s reading from Samuel, the Israelites ask for a “king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel hears this request, and tells God, and both Samuel and God agree it is a bad idea.
God tells Samuel to tell the Israelites about all the things they will give up for a king. When you read this list, it sounds kind of crazy that the Israelites actually want a king.
God warns the Israelites that the king is going to “take your sons” for commanders, and chariot drivers, and people to run before the chariots. So, God is warning the Israelites that this king is going to determine where many of the younger men are for much of the year.
And God warns that the king is going to “take your daughters” to be perfumers, and cooks, and bakers for the royal court. So, the women of working age won’t be producing for the family, or the local community, but for the king.
If the king is going to take sons and daughters, and tell them where to work and what to do, the king is going to disturb expectations of being a parent, and a child, and a worker.
God further warns that the king is going to change the relationship between the Israelites and the land. God warns the Israelites that the king is to take a lot of the good land away from them. The king will take “the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.” What do we know about vineyards and olive orchards? They take a long time to be productive. Those who sew do not always stay long enough to reap. The courtiers are going to take the things that other people have worked long and hard to establish.
And God warns that the king is going to take the animals and people that the Israelites use to get work done. The king is going to take the “male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.” The Israelites are presumably used to commanding the work of the male and female slaves, and the donkeys and cattle, but they are going to lose that control.
God further warns that the king is also going to take one-tenth of their flocks, and, most ominously, “you shall be his slaves.” We know that this comes after the exodus from Egypt—the Israelites have spent a great deal of time getting out of being slaves.
Why would they ever agree to be slaves again? Why would they agree to this kind of abuse of authority?

But if we look earlier in the book of Samuel, we see that there have been other, less formal attempts at getting authority figures for the Israelites, and those authority figures have abused their power, too.
We have Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Eli exercises authority properly, but his sons do not. We learn that Eli’s sons are taking more than their share of the sacrifices at the tabernacle. And they are also having relations with the women who gather at the tabernacle. Eli himself may be righteous, but his sons are abusing their authority. So Eli brings up Samuel at Shiloh. And as we know, Samuel becomes a prophet, and a judge. Samuel is good, but his sons become judges also and do not follow his ways. They take bribes and pervert justice. So, Samuel himself may be righteous, but his sons are abusing their authority.

The Israelites may be willing to take on the burdens of having an established king because at least they will know what their obligations are. They’ve already been living with people taking too much of their sacrifices and their women and their money… but on the sly or by surprise. Maybe they just want to know what the cost is up front.

On reflection the Israelites are coming together to make a social contract. They are saying that they will give certain things and get a king in return. They are deciding what balance they want between being left to fend for themselves versus giving things up for the sake of other people, even other people they may not know or even like.

This is an old piece of scripture, but we are still working through these issues it raises. Certainly, we’ve had an extended conversation in the last ten years in this country about what we owe the national government and what it owes us. What the power of the President should be, and what his obligations should be. That’s still with us, but it is a political conversation.

But this is also the assigned reading for the second Sunday after Pentecost, a time when we reflect on the formation of the early church. This season seems particularly rich because we, as a community of St. Alban’s, are somewhat in transition in a process of formation or re-formation.

So, what is the connection between this reading from Samuel and the early church? There are likely several, but to me, I think of how before his death Jesus said that he had a kingdom, but it was not of this world. He said if it was of this world, his followers would be fighting for it, but since it is not of this world, his followers were not. So, in the Samuel reading, God tells the people what they owe a temporal king, a king of this world.

What can the reading tell us about what we owe Jesus, a king who is not of this world? One way to answer that is to say we owe time and treasure, to both a king of this world and a king not of this world.

Another answer is that we are expected, as a community, to determine how our relationship with God will affect our relationship with each other. How much will we contribute of our time and treasure? How will it affect how we work, how we parent? How will it affect how we treat the earth, and the animals over whom we exercise authority? How will it affect our relationships with our bosses, and with those over whom we exercise authority?

I certainly don’t have all the answers to these questions, but this season gives us the opportunity to think about them and incorporate them into our work as we prepare to eventually come back together in person.

TRINITY SUNDAY

TRINITY SUNDAY

Steve Hitchcock

May 30, 2021 

Isaiah 6:1-8

Canticle 13

Romans 8:12-17

JOHN 3:1-17

 

Some of you may recall that a couple of years ago a bishop from another diocese visited St. Alban’s.  He preached on Trinity Sunday and explained that somewhat esoteric doctrine, so I’m not going to attempt to do that today.

Things aren’t going back to the way they were.

Rather, I’d like to try to exorcise the demon – more a quandary – from the trip Jan and I made to Mendocino two weeks ago.   For at least ten years, we’ve visited that lovely little town every February.  We were fortunate to do so last year – just weeks before we were all locked down.  This year, we delayed our trip until late May.

I’m probably the only one who was completely surprised that Mendocino isn’t the same wonderful vacation spot as in years past.  We’ve been vaccinated, virus cases are at record low levels, and it’s Spring.  But restaurants aren’t serving inside.  Others have closed permanently.  And, instead of February fog and drizzle, high winds make hiking a frustrating exercise.  Two weeks later, I’m still in a funk.

This minor – and obviously petty – setback has led me to conclude that things are not going to go back to the way they were.  Not soon and probably not ever.  The days ahead are going to be filled with struggles at the personal level. Our neighborhoods and cities will be challenged by homelessness and congestion.  Because of post-Census jerrymandering, Congress will likely be even more opposed to the interests of the majority of voters.  The Middle East and all the other places of international conflict will make this a dangerous world.

Ordinary Time

It’s fitting, then, that the Prayer Book notes that Trinity Sunday is the First Sunday after Pentecost.  Today is the beginning of what we call “ordinary time” in the church year.  Interestingly next Sunday, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, is the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time.  The date of Easter determines how many Sundays after Pentecost we have.  Curiously, we work backwards from Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost usually in late November, and then we cut out any Sundays at the beginning of the Pentecost season.

And, because this is the year of Mark’s Gospel – which is half the length of the other Gospels – in the middle of the summer we have the “Season of Bread.”  For five Sundays in July and August, we will read sections of John’s Bread of Life discourse in chapter six.  All along, we’ll be reading sequentially from the Old Testament and from Paul’s epistles.  Even Barbara Metcalf will find it hard to find any connections among the three Scripture readings.

What a hodgepodge all this is, one confusing and sometimes frustrating mess.

Of course, all this liturgical and lectionary disarray reflects “ordinary” life.  Our day-to-day existence is one step forward, two steps backward.  In some ways, aging and illness are the best we can hope for – fearing the worst, violence and tragedy.  In this so-called ordinary time, talking about God’s love seems insufficient if not delusional.

Born again – by dying with Christ

That’s why today’s Gospel – echoed by our second reading from Romans – is such good news.  We are given the promise that we can be born again.  A fresh start.  A new beginning.

Jesus makes this outrageous claim in response to a question from Nicodemus, who comes in the dark of night.  It’s important that it is Nicodemus, a religious leader, who asks the question of Jesus.  Nicodemus is a person with knowledge and authority descended from Moses, the great prophet who led the Exodus from Egypt to the promised land.  He represents the best human effort to shape society and inspire good living.

Nicodemus’ question reveals his skepticism that we can be born again.  His question may also reflect doubt that we need to born anew.  Isn’t it enough to be a religious leader whose is preserving and continuing the great heritage of Moses?

Jesus’ response is that “Yes, we can be born again.” But it will take a new Moses and a new Exodus.  And what makes Jesus the new Moses is dying is the way to be born again.

During the Exodus, Moses lifted up the serpent on a cross as the antidote for those Israelites who were dying from snake bites in the Wilderness.  So, too, Jesus, lifted on the cross is the way God rescues us from death and gives new life.

Significantly, in chapter 19, it is Nicodemus who helps Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus down from the cross and prepare him for burial.  Nicodemus literally participates in Jesus’ death.

Baptism and Eucharist – where the Spirt blows and breathes

John wanted his first readers – and us today – to join Nicodemus and participate in Jesus’ death.  Today’s Gospel suggests how that is possible.

Our reading today is just a few verses away from the wedding in Cana in chapter two and a prelude to Jesus’ meeting the woman at the well in chapter four.  These stories remind us that it is through baptism and in the Eucharist that we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection.   The huge amount of water, wine, and bread gushing through John’s Gospel is a metaphor for the abundance of God’s grace we experience as a beloved community gathered around baptism and the Eucharist.

What makes it possible for us to experience this abundant life today – to be transformed by water, bread, and wine – is indeed Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, there is no Ascension 40 days after Easter, nor a Pentecost 50 days later.  John wanted his first readers – and us today – to keep both the Ascension and Pentecost closely connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Indeed, in John, the crucifixion is depicted as a type of resurrection as Jesus re-joins the Father who, in the crucifixion, gives God’s own life in death.  Right after the Resurrection, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene in the burial garden.  Jesus tells her that she can’t touch him because he hasn’t ascended to the Father.

Then, in chapter 20, Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room and Pentecost takes place right there.  Jesus invites Thomas to touch his crucifixion wounds.  Then the ascended Jesus – breathes his Spirit on the disciples.

In all of this, the Spirit – that third person of the Trinity – is present.  Last week, Kathleen Van Sickle reminded us that the Spirit is a wind that blows where it will.  And the wind is something heard, and speech is a form of breathing.  And what we hear, as the Spirit breathes and blows, are the words of the Risen Christ.

Our commission for Ordinary Time

After his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t take the disciples with him, but rather leaves them to live their ordinary existence.  Indeed, the Risen Christ breathes on his disciples and commissions them – and us today – to engage with the world, to keep talking about him and about the new life we are living.  In other words, to love one another.

So, yes, we are stuck in ordinary time, but today’s Gospel and Epistle remind us that we have an extraordinary family.  Our baptism is our adoption into a new family with a parent and a brother who literally sacrifice everything to keep us together.   And we experience that self-renewing love today and every time we gather – even by Zoom.  Hearing scriptures, praying, singing, and – yes – talking with each other helps us begin again.

So, our post-covid world will be both uncertain and ordinary.  But each day and each week will also be an opportunity to be born again, to start over, to build new connections in our new family, and to invite others to join us in this beloved community.  Amen.

 

Easter 7

Easter 7

May 16, 2021

Barbara M.

Several weeks ago when I went to write “reflection” on my calendar, I was intrigued that it overlapped with the beginning of “Shavuot,” clearly a Jewish observance but not a word I knew. And May16th came right after the Muslim`Idul Fitr. So here was the last Sunday of the seven weeks of Easter – Ascension Sunday, the Sunday that falls between Christ’s rise in glory to the heavens and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. What a week. What a happy confluence.

No surprise about Ascension Sunday and Shavuot once I found out that that was Pentecost. That `Idul Fitr is now, however, is by chance since in the Islamic lunar calendar dates move backward 10 or 12 days each year.

A word about these Muslim and Jewish festivals. `Idul Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, particularly hard when, as now, the days are long since the pious abstain, even from water, from dawn to dusk. You can imagine how joyously believers greet the appearance of the new moon. There are gifts, and feasting and prayer so well attended that in many cities there are outdoor fields to accommodate the numbers. Why Ramazan? It is the month that commemorates the revelation of God’s infallible and unchanging word in the Qur’an, God’s presence, in the world, with one of the last nights of the month a night of particular blessing, perhaps a time when the angels inscribe each person’s fate for the year to come. The pious stay awake all night. There is an ethical dimension to the fast, making palpable a person’s dependence on God’s gifts and grace, and bringing home the everyday deprivation of the poor.

Shavuot, too, celebrates God’s word, again, God’s presence, in the world, in this case with the receipt of the Torah, and, above all, the gift of the ten commandments to Moses. Tonight there will be people keeping a night-long vigil, now to study the Torah. Tomorrow the faithful gather for prayer and there is the joy of sharing special food. Torah and Qur’an alike are symbols of mutual love and bond between God and his people. In ancient Israel, Shavuot was one of the three great pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which brings us to where we’ll be next Sunday at this time.

That brings us back to our festival, the Easter resurrection that we’ve been celebrating, thinking about, reflecting on all these past weeks. Easter is not, of course, the revelation of any text, but it converges with those revelations in affirming God’s presence in the midst of human life and guiding us to its meaning. Easter shows us the reality of God’s presence in the Incarnation, and it is the Ascension that confirms at once Christ’s glory and his presence in the world unbound by bodily form. At Easter, the disciples looked for Jesus in the wrong place: he wasn’t in the tomb. He was easy to mistake, taken for a stranger, a gardener. In the Ascension, the disciples were off course again:

“… suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” They were again looking in the wrong place.

During the 40 days of Eastertide, Jesus appeared, his “tour of faith” as Chantip called it, when the disciples tried to explain to a seeming stranger what had happened in Jerusalem and broke bread with him; he appeared when they were gathered in his name and he was suddenly in their midst; he was there when they were hungry on the beach and shared a meal of fish. And the Jesus after the Ascension is present in the same way – easy to miss – he may be mistaken for a stranger – but then his presence becomes real in talk and shared bread and times of loving communication.

Love has been the theme of our lessons these recent weeks, when we have heard Jesus’s final words to his disciples, that include the organic, living image of the vine, of ourselves as branches, corporal and incorporated into the ground of our being. “Abide in me, abide in my love…love one another as I have loved you,” and, so incorporated, bear fruit. In today’s lesson, we hear Jesus’ words of protection to his Father for his disciples – “Guard them,” “protect them,” “let them be one.” This is the prayer that we hear Paul praying over and over for the new followers. These are the prayers any loving parent would pray for their children — guard them, protect them, let them get along with each other, love one another. “Love” has been the joyous word of this season, in these gospel readings and over and over again in John’s first epistle.

There is love in many stories of second chances. I think Thomas doubted that Jesus came back not because he was dubious about resurrection – Pharisees, lots of people at the time I think believed that –I think he doubted that Jesus came back to them. Why to them when they had denied him, had run away? Peter often stumbled — putting his foot in it – or putting his foot in and sinking – but most of all denying Jesus at the end. But, as Jim Stickney chorused on Easter Day, “Christ died not to make us good but to make us alive.” And what life Peter found. In the stories of Acts we’ve been hearing he is the fearless orator, the healer, the evangelist inside the jail, the branch rooted in love. And in our story today, the body of the disciples, rent by the tragedy of Judas, now has its second chance, its body repaired, with God’s grace — and Mathias joins their number.

Our reflections in Eastertide have pondered what that love means, how to realize it, and we have circled around the differences, knowing that what each of us is capable of varies. We have contemplated evangelism in many forms; chances to help a neighbor, from garbage pails to sandwiches; acting with love even if the feeling has not yet caught up with the act. That love comes as it did when Jesus walked the earth. Sharing bread. Gathering in love. Pondering the scriptures. This last can be hard. But we discuss them and do our best. It was conversation that made Jesus real on the road to Emmaus; and conversation that made him real between Philip and the Ethiopian. The eunuch, and one can be sure Philip, too, went on their way rejoicing.

And so convergence in all these three great traditions, of the conviction of Divine presence in the world. In emphasizing the resonance in all three, it’s important to skirt the implication that they are all the same or at the other extreme to make one’s own better than the others. But they do share, not only audacious notion of the intersection of the divine, the transcendent, with the human. And from that confidence in God’s love, they embrace a vision of generosity, justice, and compassion — love – called for in human relations. Love is there in the joyous encounters and gifts of the feasts. It is there in the Muslim tradition of “fitrana,” charitable gifts that are traditional on Idu’l Fitr.

And they are there in the scripture to be pondered during Shavuot in the story appointed for this day, none other than the book of Ruth. (Talk about convergence. The Bible reading group led by Larry – by chance? — has just read the book of Ruth out loud). I’ll close with reading a few lines from a rabbi’s recent sermon for Shavu’ot with lessons on love for us all.i In her words:

“Some of the deepest truth of Shavuot lie in the unabashedly human tale we read on this sacred holiday….The classical midrash on the Book of Ruth tells us that the entire point of the book is to teach gemilut hasadim, acts of lovingkindness and generosity.” The story in brief: a famine forces a family into exile, all the men of the family die, Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, are left alone, and Ruth defies convention to stay with Naomi, to protect and serve her. In their vulnerable state, Naomi and Ruth, a foreigner, return to Naomi’s home and find kindness and generosity. Notably from an older, remote kinsman, Boaz, who lives up to his society’s standard of generosity to allow gleaning, and then, in a further exercise of compassion, offers Ruth the best that the society can provide a woman in that time, the protection of marriage.The story is a model of lovingkindness and generosity for peoples who have received just that from God. It is a call to the love we can strive to demonstrate individually in daily life. It is also a call, the rabbi reminds us, as best we can, to be clear-eyed and active about the standards and practices of the societies we live in and the many forms of injustice in which we are complicit. In this year of calendrical convergence, let us celebrate and seek the Ascended Christ who abides with us in the world.

Rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, “Celebrating the Torah of Economic Justice and Compassion,” Shavuot 5775, at https://ajws-americanjewishwo.netdna-ssl.com/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/cc_shavuot_5775.pdf Accessed 5/15/21.

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Reflection for May 2, 2021

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Lawrence DiCostanzo

Acts 8:26-40

1 John 4:7-21

John 4:7-21

Psalm 22:24-30

My grandchildren love the Tales from the Arabian Nights.  And I do too.  If one can fall in love with a fictional character, I am entranced by Scheherazade who tells every one of the Tales.    As you know, she invented and spun out her stories and stories inside of stories to delay, night after night, the possibility that she’d be killed in the morning.  Yet, she was always so calm and self possessed — for one thousand and one nights!  And what stories!  Bright-colored wonders – caves filled with jewels, the dry valleys of serpents and diamonds, genies in lamps and jars, flying horses, magic carpets, brave men and brave and clever women.  My grandchildren are spellbound.

Today’s passage from Acts has some of the same trappings.  A wild place.  An exotic Ethiopian man, rich and important, probably with great clothes. His carriage with a smooth enough ride to allow him to read. There have to be great horses.  A stranger joins him, and changes his life.  The stranger is whisked away.  It is almost as if God would like the message of the Kingdom to entertain and entrance us.

But there is a big difference between the Tales from the Arabian Nights and today’s passage from Acts.  In her own story, Scheherazade won through to a good life.  She reached her Sabbath.  The Ethiopian man has not.  And neither have we because, like the Ethiopian man, we are living in a “time between” – the time between the Resurrection and the time before we feel the impact of the full Kingdom.  For me, the challenge of the story from Acts is how to live in this in-between time with its mixture of joy, sorrow, hope and death.

Let’s look at the characters in the story.

The first is Philip.  This Philip is not the Apostle Philip.  Rather, he is a man whom the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem designated to “serve at table”.   In this way, the Apostles could share the workload and spend their energies in prayer and preaching.  One of Philip’s colleagues was Stephen, the first martyr.  (Acts 6:1-6)

After Stephen was stoned to death, Philip ran away to Samaria because a persecution started.  That is where Philip seems to have discovered his golden tongue.  Because of him, many, many people in Samaria accepted baptism and, as Acts says, were filled with joy.  Philip’s converts even included a famous magician named Simon.  (Acts 8:1-24)

An angel told Philip to leave Samaria and go to a wilderness road where he meets the Ethiopian.  In their encounter, Philip spreads joy to this receptive man.  Spreading joy seems to be Philip’s gift.

While the Ethiopian goes on his way rejoicing, Philip is magically whisked away to a town called Azotus, which used to be Ashdod, one of the big towns of the old-time Philistine enemies of Israel.  From there he goes all the way up the coast to Caesarea, the headquarters of Roman government.  I think he may be the evangelist whom St. Paul visited in Caesarea.  (Acts 21:8).  So, it’s evident that Philip continued to spread joy.

The second character is the Ethiopian.  He holds a high position as royal treasurer in his home country.  He’s on leave to go up to Jerusalem, and he meets Philip on his way home.  He is an open-hearted and courteous man.  Although he is a real person, he is also a stand-in for people who are outsiders.  He is not a Hebrew.  He is a gentile.  He is a searcher, but he is a stranger from a land far away.  In a way, because he is a eunuch, he has no gender.  As a eunuch, he belongs to a class whom the Law of Moses values as less  (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1). He is an outsider.  Luke values outsiders, witness the Good Samaritan, the Samartian leper who was the only one of ten who turned back to thank Jesus for his healing, witness Zacchaeus the rich tax collector, the short guy who climbed a tree so he could see Jesus.

Although he doesn’t appear in person, there is a third character.  He is the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah saw a great deal of sorrow and suffering.  He saw the “ten lost tribes” disappear when Assyria conquered the north of Israel.  He was present when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem in the southern part of Israel.  Isaiah himself may have been executed.

Isaiah wrote a song of intense hope combined with intense sorrow.  It is called The Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Ethiopian was reading from this song when he and Philip met.  Philip, with the sense that prophecies were being fulfilled, explained the passage as referring to Jesus.  The delighted Ethiopian descends to some pond or puddle to be baptized immediately and goes on his way rejoicing.  (Maybe, he founds the church in Ethiopia that Barbara Metcalf talked about in a reflection she gave us a while ago.)

What do I learn from this story and these characters?

First, the example of Philip tells me to recognize the universalism and diversity of the Kingdom.  Philip has an affinity for outsiders – Samaritans, Ethiopians, eunuchs, pagans who might have lived in Ashdod, and certainly Romans in Caesarea.  No one is excluded from the Gospel message – Ethiopian, rich, poor, of color, white, Episcopalian, or evangelical.  Part of being an evangelist like Philip is simply being aware that nobody’s heart can be ignored because every heart can flower.

The Ethiopian tells me how the Gospel liberates and rejoices us.  This is a man with many cares on a long journey.  He is reading an intensely tragic portion of scripture.  Yet, he goes on his way rejoicing.  How could he do that after reading the sad passage from Isaiah?  It’s simple.  As Philip tells him, this sad Scripture has been fulfilled.  And he accepts this.  We are exactly in the same place.

But Isaiah reminds me of the question “what next?”  I mean, Creation is not fully in the Kingdom, and we have not reached our final Sabbath.  The rejoicing Ethiopian will still have to go home and read the equivalent of all the emails that have piled up in his absence.  And there is worse.  Sorrow and tears and fear are obviously not banished from our world.  The passage from Isaiah is still living prophecy, a poetry that speaks over and over of the same thing.  For example, I read in the papers that an immigrant alliance held a memorial in honor of the martyred Archbishop Romero.  And another part of the Song of the Suffering Servant was recited.  “He was pierced for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us peace was on him.”

Ultimately, the story of the Ethiopian speaks to me about the virtue of Hope.  Hope and rejoicing do go together.  But so do Hope and suffering.  We live in a climate of Hope.  We’re not like Scheherazade who reached her Sabbath.  We still live in the earlier part of the Tales of the Arabian nights.  Hope is what gives us the strength and refreshment to read the papers and not despair.  It makes us pray “Thy Kingdom come.”  It makes us grab for the essence of the Kingdom to come.  We bring out our neighbor’s garbage cans.  We assist the homeless.  We instruct ourselves about justice.  We turn the world upside-down and make the effort to love our neighbor and our enemy.  And that’s it.  It’s just what the Ethiopian had to do.

April 25 Reflection-St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

Robin D’Oyen

April 25, 2021

 Reflection – St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

I am a historian. Unashamedly so. I am curious by nature and I always like to approach things by investigating their origin. This is always my starting point to Biblical studies; examining the historical perspective first. Who is the speaker? Who is the audience? What is the context of the interaction, and what does it say to how we should encounter God?

Today is celebrated as the Feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, traditionally celebrated as the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the Gospel that scholars widely agree today is the oldest of all four Gospels although it appears as the second one in the New Testament. It’s fitting that we are able to celebrate our service today, on this Fourth Sunday in the Season of Easter as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord; for this is, after all, Mark’s year. This is Year B in our Liturgical Calendar, which means that we will delve deeper into this particular Gospel over the course of this year, sharing in the Evangelist’s witnessing of the life of Jesus.

Who was Mark? Like many of the early figures in the history of the Church there is not much hard, literary evidence that can tell us definitively who he was. Depending upon the sources or tradition you rely on, he could be one or even three separate persons, which makes him somewhat shadowy of a figure. Tradition states that he was a companion at some point of Peter; that at some point he began to write down the account of Jesus’ life that would become the basis of the Gospel that today bears his name; that he was sent with Barnabas to act as a missionary in Cyprus and other areas; that he founded the Church in Alexandria in Egypt and was later martyred there. As fascinating as all this may be, however, we need today to consider one important aspect of his life that gave him the title that is most commonly associated with his name: Evangelism. For Mark is, after all, known as Mark the Evangelist.

An Evangelist. Who, or what exactly, is an evangelist? Over the years as I delved deeper into the Bible and I studied and learned more about my faith there were certain terms and words that I initially struggled with. This was one of them, until I realized that I was conflating the words ‘EVANGELISM’ and ‘EVANGELIST’ with its cousin ‘EVANGELICAL’ … a totally different word that, without going off track and into too much detail is, for me personally, a word or term that has been tainted, sullied, and demeaned. However, let’s circle back:- so who is an ‘evangelist?’ An evangelist is, first and foremost, a WITNESS to the life of Jesus. They are meant to preach the word of the Gospel, thereby sharing the message and teachings of Jesus, and evangelism, the noun, is therefore the act of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. (As an aside, from its original Greek and Latin word, we also get the word ‘Angel’, or Messenger of Good News.)

This act of evangelism or witnessing is intertwined with our everyday duties as Christians under the Great Commission as given us by our Lord: to preach the Good News to all about the Kingdom, and to call upon others to become disciples. Indeed, the Great Commission requires us ALL to be evangelists to our faith. Seen in this light virtually all stories and readings from the Bible are about evangelism. Our first reading, of Peter’s confrontation with the Sanhedrin, is a powerful example of witnessing. Here we have the foremost disciple and leader of the apostles after Jesus’ ascension proclaiming before the authority of the council the power and nature of Jesus. Peter’s witness is even more powerful bearing in mind that he himself was a firsthand witness to all the things he stated. The reading from the First Letter of John goes in a slightly different direction but here John implores us to implement physical action and not mere thought, and by doing so we live in the Father and thereby become part of the Kingdom just as He likewise dwells in us. This is also a powerful act of witnessing, of evangelism. Finally, the reading from John’s Gospel closes the circle by giving us an insight into Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his love for us all as His sheep. By the mention of the sheep that do not belong to the flock that He must also bring into the flock, the writer of the Gospel indirectly introduces us to the Great Commission and challenges us to do what the Master requires us to do. (Second aside:- the writers of the four Gospels are also commonly known as the Four Evangelists.)

But what does evangelism, or witnessing look like to us today, right now, in 2021, where we sit? My personal experience in my early years of my walk in Faith used to be mixed with a bit of Imposter’s Syndrome. I have never, ever invited anyone to come to Church, or gone out to recruit people to Church, or been part of a Bible study for the purpose of converting anybody. In my early days of a Christian, being exposed to other denominations and churches who rely heavily on such methods, I thought that this was the one of the yardsticks upon which a Christian was measured. As I matured in my walk in Faith, however, two things began to shape and inform my view: one of the Rules of St. Francis, and Paul’s teachings in Ephesians. “Preach the Gospel everyday, and if necessary, use words” is wrongly attributed to Francis, but part of the Rule DOES state that “let all the Brothers preach by their deeds.” Your actions, in other words, can speak as loudly, if not more loudly, than words. Paul’s writing in the Letter to the Ephesians stated that “the gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” In other words, we all have very unique gifts that equip us to witness in our own unique ways.

What is an evangelist? They take many forms, as myriad and unique as grains of sand on a shore. An evangelist can witness or share in many different ways.