What Do You Believe? April 9, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Discipleship, Jesus, Thoughts & Ramblings.
Tags: Doubting Thomas, Easter, Jesus, John, Mary Magdalene, Resurrection, sermons
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Easter 2: Year C – John 20:19-31
Today is often called Low Sunday, not because it is a particularly low point, but simply because of the contrast from the previous week of uniquely emotional and engaging liturgies. In some communities, it is also a Sunday with low attendance since everyone had their fill of coming to church last week. But that doesn’t seem to be the case today at St. Matthew’s!
Easter continues this Sunday (and every Sunday). Today we hear the two appearances of the Risen Lord before the disciples. After a Sunday of proclaiming this remarkable miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the joy and proclamation and song that goes with it, now we get down to the hard question.
Do we really believe this?
Yesterday I joined my family for an excursion into the city to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway. I’m not sure sharing the plot here is quite appropriate, but it does involve the belief in something that is seemingly ridiculous – to me and probably to lots of other Christians. But many of these dancing and singing young men in pressed white shirts tucked neatly into trousers with non-descript neckties showed the passion one can have about one’s belief system. (more…)
Abundance & Transformation January 20, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Discipleship, Faith & Culture, Jesus.
Tags: abundance, Babette's Feast, Epiphany, movies, transformation, Wedding at Cana
A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut on Epiphany 2, January 20, 2013.
We have finally, fully entered the season of Epiphany. With the change of color to green, we have an outward symbol of the ongoing life of the church. While the ground may be frozen outside, it is a green, growing season signifying growth in discipleship and new life as we come to know Jesus through signs and symbols. We’ve heard how the magi and then John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus’ presence in the world. Epiphany is a time of transformation as we walk along with the disciples traveling with Jesus throughout the Judean countryside.
Later in the Gospel of John it says that Jesus did “many miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples” (John 20:31). Miracles are about transformation, and today we heard the story of the very first one – at Cana in Galilee, about nine miles northwest of his home in Nazareth (John 2:1–11).
Through Jesus’ action, ordinary water was transformed so the abundance of a wedding could continue to be celebrated. Water turned to wine – the best wine.
Transformation occurs all around us all the time. We often talk about change – for good or for bad – but do we ever focus on the actual transformations that happens in our every day lives? (more…)
Doing Good October 23, 2012Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Discipleship, Faith & Culture.
Tags: discipleship, Jesus, Matthew, mission, service, stewardship
The following is an abridged version of a sermon I preached on Sunday, October 21, 2012 based on Mark 10:35-45 (21st Sunday after Pentecost) at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut.
In the spring of 2007 Robbie Brown was in a van riding back from Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport and met Elizabeth Sholtys from Ithaca, New York. Although both attended Emory University in Atlanta, they had never met each other before. Chatting along the way they discussed where they had been traveling to and from.
An international studies student, Liz had spent the previous year, as a junior, studying in Mumbai, the most populous city in India with 25 million people. While there she fell in love with the street children who lived around the residence hall where all the international students stayed. Liz shared with Robbie the story of her work there, and Robbie didn’t forget. Months later, he was awarded Emory’s McMullan Award – a $20,000 check made payable to the recipient. No questions asked. To be used however the winner chooses. Robbie turned around and gave the $20,000 to Liz. Read an account of this story as reported in the Emory Report from May 2007.
Soon after this story hit the AP News Service, Roger Nishioka, who teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, contacted Robbie and Liz via e-mail. Liz ultimately went back to Mumbai, where she is still involved in her foundation, the Ashraya Initiative for Children.
When Roger asked Robbie, “Why did you endorse a check for $20,000 to a girl you hardly knew?” he responded, “In this day and age we can do well but I think it is more important that we do good.”
Robbie was recognized for his academic success and rewarded with a gift – no strings attached. He did not seek this “reward” although he probably worked very hard to attain the grades and recognition he achieved. With the prize he won, he could have purchased anything he wanted. Front row tickets to a concert of his favorite band, a new car, a great vacation, whatever he might imagine. During his four years at college he had probably sacrificed a bit along the way. Studying instead of partying. Participating in sports instead of sleeping in. But he chose not to cash the check for himself. Doing good – not doing well.
Today we hear about James and John vying for the best seats in the house with Jesus. Why not? They’ve travelled the dusty roads, they’ve sacrificed and given up their jobs. They’ve probably left wives and children to fen for themselves back home. Don’t they deserve a prize? When is it time to cash in for their devotion and commitment to Jesus?
Jesus doesn’t put up with such nonsense. To follow Jesus means to be a disciple, the heart of which is not privilege, but service. And the one who does this service does so with no thought that recognition may result. As Jesus tells us today, “The person who is truly great is the one who seeks always to provide for the needs of others and to promote their welfare – the one who is ready to be the slave of all” (v. 44).
The model for this service is Jesus himself, who “came not to be served but to serve” (v. 45a). Moreover, he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45b). In God’s Kingdom, the quest for individual power and status are replaced with humility and service to others. This, indeed, is true greatness.
Discipleship isn’t tidy or neat. When we step out of our comfort zone to help someone else or speak up for an injustice, we put ourselves at risk. It often means giving up a luxury or getting our hands dirty. Our actions today may bear fruit that we’ll never see. But the unpleasantries of servanthood could turn out to be some of the holiest acts we ever perform. When it comes to following Jesus it may be less about what we do than it is about who we are becoming in the process. It may be about doing good, rather than doing well.
There are things we can do. We can tell our stories to others about what gives us joy as a follower of Jesus. We can model for our children what it means to respect the dignity of every human being. We can seriously look at how and where we choose to spend – and pledge – our money. Being a disciple means jumping fully into following (and sometimes leading) with heart, soul, and possessions. And it involves sacrifice.
This past June the Vestry and members of the Outreach Committee met for a day of retreat to reflect upon who we are as individuals, as a community of followers of Jesus Christ, and how we are in relation to one another and those we serve – the “Other.” The faces we may not see and not seen – here and in our surrounding communities that benefit from our giving and service. Following our retreat, several of us met to construct a statement about St. Matthew’s which has become this:
St. Matthew’s, being a manifestation of the Body of Christ, is a community that respects the dignity of every human being. We worship, learn and serve together as we experience the light and love of God in community. Embraced by God’s grace, we are joyfully sent forth in service and mission, as we each strive to be examples of Christ in the world.
How are we disciples of the Gospel and servants to others? In addition to worship and education, our congregation is very involved in a number of service opportunities. While some involve writing a check, many involve hands-on activities in which we are given the opportunity to see Christ in the face of another through helping build a home, tutoring a child, serving a meal to a homeless person. Whether we know it or not, we are being a servant to another child of God.
Here at St. Matthew’s, working together we can make a difference. We may not see the results immediately, but that’s not why we are follows of Christ. We are simply (if simple is even the right term), living out our faith and our Baptismal Covenant. Called to do good – not just do well.
Margaret Wheatley is a management consultant who studies organizational behavior. She states the following in her book, Focus on Leadership:
“The essential truth I’m discovering right now is that when we are together, more becomes possible. When we are together, joy is available. In the midst of a world that is insane, that will continue to surprise us with new outrages . . . in the midst of that future, the gift is each other. [Our culture lives] with a belief system that has not told us that. We have lived with a culture that says, ‘We’re in it for ourselves. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Only the strong survive and you can’t trust anybody.’
As Christians we know better. We have need for each other. Dr Wheatley continues,
“We have a desire for each other, and, more and more, I believe that if the real work is to stay together, then we are not only the best resource to move into this future—we are the only resource . . .”
Each of us is a resource for St. Matthew’s. We have already proven we want to work alongside those who are in need – in body, mind and spirit. Many of us make a commitment in the form of a financial pledge to support the ministries of our parish. For just as serving together can make a difference, so can giving.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and his service was unstintingly given. We humans are often stingy, thinking, “How much will I have left?” As church members, even if we were to empty our pockets, giving out of our abundance to serve those who have less, it is unlikely that we would be without a roof over our heads, food to eat, or clothing to wear. What other losses do we fear? Jesus gave himself completely, without measure, unto death upon the cross. Can we profess to follow Jesus and do less than prayerfully moving towards emptying our pockets to serve the ministries of St. Matthew’s and the neighbors God has given us to love and care for?
I have always found that whatever I give, whether it is my time, my talents, or my money – I always receive so much more in return. After all, none of it – my time, my skills or my money was ever mine to begin with – all were given to me by God.
What I can do in return is give back.
Greatness is not found in places of honor or position, but in carrying one’s cross, serving others, and following the Lord.
I often wonder if I could put a radioactive tracer on every dollar that passes through my hands or credit card transaction and follow those dollars around for a month. How many lives would those dollars touch? What stories would those dollars tell? Would I like the answers? Would those dollars do good?
As you reflect upon what St. Matthew’s means to you this stewardship season and how you are a servant to others’ in Christ’s name, how might you answer the question: “Are you doing well . . . or are you doing good?”
What stories could your dollars tell?
Concluding Lent April 3, 2012Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Discipleship, Jesus, Uncategorized.
Tags: discipleship, faith, Holy Week, Jesus, Lent, parenting
Yesterday I was reminded by a colleague how different Holy Week is when you are not working in a congregation. It’s been 15+ years since I’ve been immersed in the planning, preparation, crazy hours and last minute details of assisting in the implementation of the wonderful experiences of walking through Holy Week from the inside out.
Since then, Holy Week has become a more personal journey, participating from the outside in for lack of a better description. The work week continues the same, but there are few phone calls and less e-mail. Everyone is focused on the moment to come.
Many of us in the pews may be looking forward to reclaiming what one might have “given up” for the season of Lent. I never give up anything. I do try to do something new or take on a contemplative practice. This year it was purging.
Not purging of the physical kind, although I am trying to lose weight – the old fashioned way by eating healthier. I’ve been purging the contents (again) of 60-years worth of stuff. My dad moved to an Assisted Living facility right before Ash Wednesday. The condo in which he and my mom were living is now just about empty. We have a tenant to move in May 1st. The carpets still need to be cleaned and perhaps painting will be done. Two pieces of furniture remain – a 100+ year-old Federal drop-down desk that has been in my father’s family for years, and a 10-year-old dining room hutch. Craig’s list has become the latest bookmarked site on my computer.
But I still have all the stuff. Stuff of years of accumulation which I thought they had sold, given away or tossed out when we moved them to be closer to us from eastern Maryland almost four years ago. Boxes of 3 generations worth of china, crystal, knickknacks, photographs, papers, and memorabilia.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
I do not need more stuff. Even though it may be valuable to its once owners, it is stuff. Our home is already full of 18th century antiques from a previous deconstruction of my husband’s parents’ estate. The pieces are beautiful and serve as wonderful conversation pieces. I doubt my children will want much of it someday – they are not about the accumulation of things. It is a generation that travels light and desires to be mobile at a moments notice. Stuff gets in the way and inhibits freedom.
We rented a storage unit when the kids finished college and had not yet settled into a “permanent” location. For the past several years the boxes and furniture have slowly left the unit – for the summer tag sale, new apartment or donated to those in need. We were about to rid ourselves of the unit, having purged what we did not “need.” Now it is full again – with stuff. Stuff we do not need. But stuff that was sacred to past generations. And things that my dad still cherishes and believes are worth more than their weight in gold. “You don’t want it?” he asks. “Then sell it. I can use the cash.” He shakes his head in despair. A lifetime of collecting things with no one to share it with. And so he tries to hide money in his unit for when he needs it. For all those trips he should have taken with his wife when he could. For that new winter coat my mom needed but they couldn’t “afford.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Well, the stuff is not worth anything anymore. It doesn’t fill the regrets of “we should have done it when we could.” While all these possession and treasures of their lives have not been stolen – their “golden years” have been. He visits Mom at least three days a week as she calls him her “sweetheart” and asks to go home, even though she does not know where home is. She asks for her mother, and she calls me “Mama” sometimes. She is what has been stolen.
Almost a year ago my husband said goodbye to his mom. On Good Friday we decided to stop all medical care and allow her to die in dignity. Yesterday the nursing home called to let me know that Mom has suspected pneumonia – test results due today. It’s Holy Week again. Amidst talk about bank accounts, hiding cash, and selling stuff I wish this was all over. I want to purge the responsibilities of being the daughter, the eldest child. But Good Friday must come first.
I give thanks to all my friends and colleagues who are deep into the preparation and logistics of these next few days. The planning is done. It is now time to re-create the annual pilgrimage to the cross. Thank you for allowing me to forget about all the stuff. Ultimately, the stuff is so unimportant. Who do we break bread with? Who do we allow to wash our feet? Who remains with us when we are alone and abandoned?
Blessings as we wander the streets of Jerusalem together this week. For there is hope when all has been purged and given over to the One who accepts and embraces us all.
Investing in the Future November 13, 2011Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Adult Formation, Children's Ministries, Christianity, Discipleship, Mission, The Church, Uncategorized.
Tags: children's ministries, Christian education, discipleship, Episcopal Church, faith, formation, God, sermons
1 Thessalonians 5:1-1 Matthew 25:14-30
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the talents. Let me ease your minds upfront; I’m not going to talk about money, our economic situation, Occupy Wall Street or our investment portfolios. But I am going to address the feelings we may have in this world at the moment. And I believe it is the root of what Jesus is asking us to sit up and pay attention to.
All of today’s readings contrast hope and fear, and abundance and scarcity, as spiritual issues that shape our personal and corporate behavior. Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
I returned home on Thursday from an intense 48-hour gathering of over 80 Episcopalians who came from all over the Episcopal Church. All orders were represented: lay folks, deacons, priests and bishops. A multitude of Episcopal networks were represented: camps and conference centers, youth ministers, Christian educators, policy makers, school administrators, seminary professors, musicians, and liturgists. We represented the diversity of region, economics, ethnicity and theology of our church. And it is one of the first gatherings I have attended in a long time that was filled with the equal participation of young adults – those between the ages of 18-30. And how life giving it was to have their voice along with those of us aging and graying folk. Besides our commonality of being Episcopalians, we all had a passion for Christian formation. We were invited to participate in a Faith Formation Summit entitled, “Building the Continuum.”
One of the goals of the gathering was to analyze the present realities and future uncertainties in the church and the world and envision potential futures for Episcopal faith formation in a diversity of settings over the next 5-10 years. Our focusing question was, “How might Christian lifelong faith formation over the next ten years affect the renewal and transformation of the Episcopal Church in a 21st century world?”
It was a timely question, because just as in our readings for today, we are concerned with the future – of our community, our families, and our church. Resources for children, youth and Christian education continue to be marginalized on the congregational, diocesan and church-wide level. We see it in how budgets are put together and how they are cut when income goes down. We see it in how much we invest in our teachers and their training. We see it in how we welcome the child in our midst in all that we do – not just Sunday School. How do we invest in these human resources?
So much of our conversation at this gathering was how our churches are living in fear. Recent demographic studies have shown the membership of mainline denominations is aging and decreasing. Young adults are not attending church. Families are so busy that going to church is low on the priority list – sports, school, vacations, and simply downtime now fill the Sunday morning time slot.
In such a reality, how are we helping all our church members engage with the world with Jesus eyes? How are we engaged in bringing about God’s kingdom to those who are crying to be healed in a hurting world? How can we look outward when we are worried about survival?
Today’s Gospel urges us to be risk-takers with our investments. And one of the greatest investments we have is our children. They offer possibilities that are beyond our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what God calls us to be and do. Their sense of awe and wonder of the world around us cause us (if we are paying attention) to stop, listen and hear their words of prophecy.
Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
One of the scenarios about the Episcopal Church of the future that was developed at the gathering was one we titled, “Episcopal Christian Country Club.” This church was focused on itself, its immediate neighborhood and membership, church activities, its building and identity. It is trying to maintain itself as to what it was 50 years ago and so has become insular, aging, using its resources (financial and human) to maintain itself. It is a church living in a world of scarcity, fear and isolation. This scenario is one in which the church will die. And in my travels around the United States, it is a growing reality. Those that choose to retain their identity in what once was instead of what could be. Living in a world of scarcity without wanting to take new risks. It’s the third servant who buried what was given to him.
Another scenario that was a polar opposite is a church that is totally engaged with the world, embracing technology for the building of community. This is the church that is open to the extravagance in our lives, one that is focused on God’s mission of abundance. It involves all sorts of possibilities. It moves us from seeing life only in terms of the bottom line or our current perception of our resources as barely adequate to support our needs. It involves children, youth and young adults as co-contributors to the church’s mission.
We can see this in the feeding of the five thousand: the disciples complain that they only had five loaves and two fish, which, of course, can’t feed five thousand. But Jesus believed in a deeper reality, which included God’s lively energy, the generosity of the crowd, and divine-human abundance hidden in apparent scarcity.
The spiritual gifts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, trust, compassion and active care need to be invested and used in the service of others. And those who take the risk of investing those gifts do receive in abundance. More will be given to them. But for those who have not risked the investment of those gifts but have buried them in the ground, even the gifts they have will be lost.
One example is our children. How we invest in them in our churches will also determine our future as a church. If we invest ourselves in mentoring and accepting the children in our midst and helping them grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, they will continue to pass on their faith.
But it is not by sharing bible stories and coming to church. That is important, but investing in them by showing them what a life of following Jesus is really all about. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. The investment envisioned by Jesus is an investment in the priorities of the kingdom of God: giving to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison as in the parable that follows the one in today’s reading.
Noted preacher Fred Craddock writes about today’s parable: “Take account of the high risk activity of the first two servants. They doubled their money entrusted to them, hardly a possibility without running the risk of losing the original investment . . . the major themes of the Christian faith – caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, hoping – cannot be understood or lived without risk.”
As we are liberated from our own fears our presence will automatically liberate others. Don’t worry about the future. Take risks. Live in abundance and hope. We are children of the day, called to walk in the light, trusting in God and one another. As part of the body of Christ, we are an interdependent community in which our joys and sorrows, successes and failures are woven together. We can choose what the future will be by how we choose to engage with it.
We have everything we need to be faithful to God and live abundantly. Share it with joy – from generation to generation.
© Sharon Ely Pearson, preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, New Canaan, Connecticut ~ November 13, 2011.
Watch this video to learn more about “Building the Continuum”:
- The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28 Year A – November 13, 2011 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage September 11, 2011Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Discipleship, Events, Mission, Thoughts & Ramblings, Uncategorized.
Tags: 9/11, God, Pardon, St. Francis
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Today is the 10th anniversary of the tragic day that all of us over the age sixteen will remember for the rest of our lives. I have avoided (as much as possible) all the television coverage and visual reminders replaying those moments over and over again. The individual postings of friends and family on Facebook to “Never forget,” “These colors don’t run,” and “Do you remember where you were when . . .” have filled my screen – so I am avoiding Facebook today too (for the most part).
This morning we attended services at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton as we would any Sunday we are in town. It was a Sunday when many have come back to church following summer vacations as school has now started. Christian education programs will begin next Sunday, so all were worshipping together today.
Our rector, Mary Grace Williams gave a homily directed to the children, although we all know that adults glean just as much out of these moments as the kids do. I watched some of the younger ones watch her, and nod that they didn’t remember what had happened, let along had been born yet. She spoke of sadness and hope, not having an answer, yet having a place to go when things are beyond our understanding. Family, friends, and our church communities.
It is in such communities that we need to be fed and nurtured to put on the true “armor of God” as Paul states. Not putting on weapons for war or defense, but “weapons” of hope and love that will ultimately conquer all. Lighting candles, the words in one verse of a hymn we sang (by James Quinn) told me what we are to be about:
Where all is doubt, may we sow faith; where all is gloom, may we sow hope; where all is night, may we sow light; where all are tears, may we sow joy.
Those of you who did go to church today probably noticed how applicable our readings were. I’ve already blogged about that on Building Faith and The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education‘s blog page. Today our prayers and music also expressed our sense of remembrance, but gratefully more about looking to the future, hope, and the sense of God with us at all times, all places, and under all circumstances.
I have several plaques and icons in my office here at home of St. Francis. Together we said the prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
The Hymnal 1982 was easily left open to two hymns about Christian Responsibility – #593 (Lord, make us servants of your peace of which one of the stanzas is found above) and #594 (God of grace and God of glory). Both are messages to hold onto for today.
God of grace and God of glory, on they people pour thy power; crown thine ancient Church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.
Lo! the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise: grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.
Cure thy children’s warring madness, bend our pride to thy control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal, lest we miss they kingdom’s goal.
Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the gift of thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Life, death. Light, dark. August 13, 2011Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Adult Formation, Christian Quotes, Discipleship, Mission, The Church, Uncategorized.
Tags: Christian education, Christian quotes, discipleship, faith, formation, Jeremy Taylor
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Feast of Jeremy Taylor
Proverbs 7:1-4 John 3:11-21
“My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.”
Passing on the Christian faith from generation to generation is at the heart of the life and work of the Christian church. But this fundamental task requires much more than passing on biblical and doctrinal information. Passing on the Christian faith to others involves the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives birth to trust and confidence in the creative, redeeming, and renewing power of God.
We are called to be witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to tell God’s story as we share our own faith stories through our teaching, mentoring, and ministering with and for children, youth and adults in our church communities. And in the year 2011, this is not an easy task. We find ourselves in a culture that is not always open to hear the radical message of Jesus: to wear our faith on our sleeve, our hands, our hearts – outwardly as well as inwardly.
As it was and is to our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Shema is at the core of their relationship to God . . . to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Marking it on our foreheads and our doorposts. It was probably the underpinnings of Jesus’ religious education as a child in the home of Mary & Joseph. As Jesus grew to adulthood, he deepened and broadened that commandment to include and love your neighbor as yourself. And perhaps almost 400 years ago, Jeremy Taylor, for whose life we mark today, grew up with the same mantra as a child.
Bishop Taylor is remembered as one of the “Caroline Divines,” those Anglican theologians and writers of the mid-seventeenth century who wrote with great passion and belief. He wrote what we might call a manual of Christian practices entitled, “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living”, published in 1650. Some of his chapter headings resonate as timely topics for us today: Care of our Time, Holy Living, Purity of Intention; the Practice of the Presence of God; Christian Sobriety; Of Christian Justice; of Christian Religion. Some of the actual writings are a bit puritanical, but he spoke to the centrality of putting God at the core of who we are. Isn’t that what we are called to do today?
In many ways, Jeremy Taylor lived in a time similar to ours. Yes, he didn’t have globalization, an unstable stock market, Facebook, sports on Sunday, or a culture that spoke of being “spiritual, but not religious.” But he did live in a time in which the Church (which was also the State) was caught in a political as well as religious struggle. The son of a barber, who somehow was educated at prestigious schools and ordained at the ripe old age of 20, he was known for his preaching. But was also known as a spiritual guide and director, someone people came to see from far and wide for advice and counsel.
The period of history in which he lived was not one of stability. The mid-1600s was a time when the Church was caught in the midst of a Civil War in England. Soon after he was ordained, he was chaplain to Archbishop William Laud and King Charles I. Soon the Puritans came into power forming the Commonwealth; those who were supporters of the king’s cause and the episcopacy found themselves imprisoned. It was an unsettling time full of risk of death for many, depending on “what side” you were on – whether it was with the Puritans or the “papists.”
The context of our Gospel today is also one of tension and taking sides. The verses before our reading is of Nicodemus coming to see Jesus in the middle of the night. What we just heard was Jesus’ response to him. It is a message of light found in the midst of darkness, of new life and new sight. Following Jesus brings us clarity of vision. We are called to be witnesses for Christ.
Taylor was a witness for Christ, and was repeatedly imprisoned for it. Would we follow in his footsteps in our proclamation of the Gospel? How are we imprisoned within ourselves by being hesitant in sharing the Good News of Christ?
A quote that is attributed to Jeremy Taylor is one that we can carry with us today. “A religion without mystery must be a religion without God.” It is what I believe those in our communities (within and outside the church) are hungry for – mystery. We can find just about anything we need to “know” by googling it. But we seek that mystery – that wonder, awe, and mystery that Nicodemus was searching for.
Knowing Christ, we have the peace that passes all understanding. The Christian hope that we will be reconciled to God in Christ. In the meantime, we are called to preach the Gospel and go about the work of reconciliation in the world. Like Nicodemus, and perhaps Jeremy Taylor, we know our days are numbered – but our time is not the same as God’s time. We seek rebirth. We seek to be the apple of God’s eye. And through Jesus we know we are. We are loved. It is what we hope for our children, and our children’s children.
One of the prayers for the Visitation of the Sick as found in the Book of Common Prayer (p 316 in the 1928 American edition) was written by Taylor. It reads as follows:
O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered; Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days: that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favour with thee our God, and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Homily preached by Sharon Ely Pearson at Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington, Kentucky at the joint Christian Formation Day of the Dioceses of Lexington and Kentucky. August 13, 2011
Oscar Romero March 20, 2011Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Christian Quotes, Christianity, Discipleship, Events, Prose & Poetry, Teacher Training, Uncategorized.
Tags: Óscar Romero, Christian education, formation, prayer, Saints
This week we celebrate the anniversary of the assassination of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. On March 24, 1980 he was gunned down while saying Mass in a hospital chapel during that country’s civil war. Once a lightning-rod for criticism because of his support for liberation theology, Archbishop Romero today is seen as a champion of human rights.
President Barack Obama will visit his tomb during his visit to El Salvador this week, a gesture that some say is U.S. recognition of the slain human rights activist’s cause. Romero spoke out against repression by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army during the Central American country’s 12-year civil war in which at least 75,000 people died. The government and leftist guerrillas reached a peace treaty in 1992. “It’s historic,” said Congresswoman Lorena Pena, a former guerrilla fighter with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a rebel group-turned-political party. “It’s a recognition of our pastor who was killed for fighting for justice, for democracy and human rights.” (Washington Post, March 19)
I often like to share the Prayer of Oscar Romero when I speak at events focused on Christian formation. To me, his words resonate the role that we have as Christian educators in our world today:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about,
we plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation.
In realizing that. This enables us to do something,
And to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
But it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
Between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Words Matter January 16, 2011Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Children's Ministries, Discipleship, Faith & Culture, Resources, Thoughts & Ramblings, Tolerance, Uncategorized, Youth Ministry.
Tags: Barack Obama, Christian education, discipleship, Jon Stewart, Southern Poverty Law Center, tolerance, values
A huge snowstorm struck New England this past week, dumping 18″ of snow on the already 2 feet we already had on the ground. My brother, Dave, was visiting from California and arrived Tuesday evening, just before the flurries started to fly. He had come for a couple of days to visit with my parents who live about 3 miles from us. Of course, he got snowed it with us, so their visit was delayed by a day. The night he arrived, the two of us did stop at my parents, where he picked up their car, knowing mine would not be good in the snow and drove back to our house.
We finally got plowed out on Wednesday night, so the plan was to pick them up on Thursday morning to go out to breakfast. However, along the way Dave got delayed en route. As he left our house in my dad’s 1990 Buick, he came upon a car that had spun out, struck an underpass and with steam pouring from the engine lay in the middle of the road. A woman was standing stunned next to the car – in the middle of the road. Dave pulled over and encouraged her to step off the road. She was shaken, but okay, and had called the police. Dave said he’d wait with her until the police came. He called my dad telling him he was going to be late . . . “There was a car accident. I’m waiting for the police to come. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Simple words. For those on the scene, it would make perfect sense. But for my 86-year-old father, whose son from Berkeley, California was driving his car on snowy streets, those words meant something very different. Dave was in a car accident. Was he okay? His car was totaled. He couldn’t afford repairs. Now what? He sat for an hour in a panic, not knowing what to do or what to think except imagine the unimaginable.
Of course, that was not the story. And Dave showed up with the Buick about an hour later without a scratch to find a very upset and shaken man. How words are used to convey a story matter. It’s important that the speaker is clear to the listener. And with an older person, talking slow, allowing for questions, and full explanations with as many details as needed are important.
In our national news this week we also heard about how words matter. Terms such as ‘civility’, ‘discourse’, ‘tone’, and ‘rhetoric’ have been all over the internet, talk shows, and radio following the horrific shoots in Tucson, Arizona. Conversations, whether it be a simple phone call about a car accident or discussing our views on health care or immigration, need to be spoken with the listener in mind. And when opinions differ, we need to respect the thoughts of the other person. We CAN agree to disagree.
Even Jon Stewart, one who often seems to bait conversations and poke fun at others, used his platform and audience to tone things down. President Obama said as much in his speech at the Arizona memorial service, offering us some avenues to follow.
Share his speech with your youth, in print and on video. Talk with them about the crucial role that free and reasoned speech plays in self-government, and in helping us to bridge the barriers between us. From Teaching Tolerance, here’s one idea about how to proceed. Take this excerpt from the speech:
“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do—it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
Words can heal or wound, Obama said. Words can shed light or generate heat. (Remember the car accident and my dad?) We can think of other comparisons—do we speak to convince others or to understand them? Do we want speeches that inspire hope or fear? When we are speaking to others, what are our words REALLY saying?
Ask your students to work together to come up with different pairs of contrasting outcomes. They can use any of these prompts.
- Words can . . . or . . .
- We speak to others to . . . or . . .
- We can hear . . . or . . .
In what other ways could you use this speech in your congregation or Christian education program? And can you plan to encourage a conversation about civil discourse?
Is Formation Important to the Church? September 23, 2010Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Adult Formation, Children's Ministries, Christianity, Discipleship, Mission, On the Road Again, Teacher Training, The Church, Trends, Youth Ministry.
Tags: Anglican Communion, Christian education, Church School teachers, Denominations, discipleship, Episcopal Church, Episcopal Divinity School, formation, Phyllis Tickle, United Methodist Church
My travels take me to many dioceses in The Episcopal Church. In 2010 alone I’ve made presentations for the Episcopal Dioceses of Bethlehem, Rochester, Hawaii, North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, plus events in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. I’ll soon add Oregon and San Joaquin to the list this fall. Several themes and questions emerge from all these trips. I’ve also participated in ecumenical events and networks. The questions are the same, with perhaps a few tweaks in the responses:
- Is Christian formation important in the [Episcopal] Church?
- How does the [Episcopal] Church measure up when it comes to promoting life long Christian Formation in 2010?
- What will the future of the Church be?
- Are there mandates for guiding the Church in being more intentional about Christian education in the future?
Depending on who you speak with or what diocese or congregation you are in, the answers to all of the above range from “Yes” to “No” and “It is a high priority” to “It’s just given lip service.” Some congregations are innovative and provide engaging opportunities for growing in knowledge and the mission of Christ, while others still focus on education for children in a 1950s model of coloring and pasting, pizza and games for youth (if there are any), and passive adults who have never opened a Bible, let alone read it on their own. Some just choose to “entertain” because they feel it is the only way to grab folks’ attention. After all – we need to be fun! (Is that what Jesus calls us to do?)
Some denominations put more emphasis (read: staff and funding) in the area of support and resources. Despite budget cuts in all denominational and publishing areas, the ELCA still sets the bar in making education a priority. The Presbyterian Church is not far behind. And I would give kudos to the United Methodist Church. Something they have in common is their high regard for educators in their churches. They have standards for professional Christian educators and they make sure they are compensated and recognized for their expertise. They require continuing education – and then offer vehicles for obtaining the CEUs needed each year. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church continues to pass the buck, if there even is one for education.
Gone are the days when Mom stays home to take care of the kids and volunteer 40 hours at church for the Sunday School, Women’s Club, Altar Guild and Rummage Sale. Mom (or Dad) is lucky to have the time to volunteer an hour or two on Sunday mornings to teach or lead youth group (forget about the time to plan ahead). And the leadership in many churches fail to recognize that the paradigm has shifted about how we learn, what it takes to put a quality program that is holistic together, and the necessity to move away from the clerical model in which “Father knows best” (and I don’t mean Dad).
As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, we are living in the midst of a new reformation. She quotes Bishop Mark Dyer as saying every 500 years the church has a rummage sale, and now is the time for us to clean out what’s been laying around. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-energize and invigorate. What do we need to do that is authentic, creating a new paradigm?
At the 2009 General Convention, the Episcopal Church endorsed two resolutions that did not get much publicity after the initial press releases. For many, they were resolutions supporting what we thought we already believed in. For others, it was a celebration of a time long in coming, when mission and formation were at the center of who we are as a Church. Fourteen months later, I wonder how many leaders (bishops, priests, deacons and laity) remember these statements?
The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education
This is an intentional opportunity for the entire Church to engage in conversation about how God invites, inspires and transforms us through education, liturgy, service and mission. Read more here.
Five Marks of Mission
Adopted throughout the Anglican Communion, these are areas we are called to live out in our teaching, practice, and everyday living.
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
One of the events I participated in this summer was a “symposium” sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School. I have a previous post about this event sharing what trends this group of educators saw in the Church. Another area of energy focused on the needs of Christian educators. This list was long, and frankly, depressing. Educators have a passion for their work and ministry and continue to soldier on, despite oft-times being powerless in a clerical system, marginalized in leadership settings and structures, and asked to do more with less.
All of this has been reinforced in my travels this year. Listening to the volunteer and paid Christian educators it is obvious they are committed to this ministry. They seek resources and connections. They desire more communication from their “national” church staff. They desire more support from bishops and other judicatory leaders as well as their congregational pastors and governing boards. They desire seminaries to offer courses for laypersons as well as practical tools for ministry to those who aspire to ordination. And it’s not all about money. It’s about respect and collegiality.
If the Church is to have a future, we need to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what it means to be formed in the image of God. We need to create safe communities for conversations on difficult issues. And if we support educators by offering local training, resources, support and validation we will be able to help all ages articulate their faith in a multi-cultural, post-post-modern world. Living out documents like the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and the Five Marks of Mission will be central foci for what we are to be about.
I’m probably preaching to the choir here.
- Any ideas how we can move forward?
- How are you supported (or not) in your formational ministries?
- Your thoughts?