St. Paul's Lay Preachers group prepares and deliverers sermons, generally on the first Sunday of the month. Please read some of the moving sermons that have been given.
October 2, 2016
Reflections on the St Paul’s Retreat Theme:
Building an altar in the world and taking it with you
Holy God, you are always with us.
Open our eyes to your presence.
Surprise! When Megan and Jeff asked if I would offer a reflection on our retreat theme this morning I was reluctant. I’m really not an expert. But then I thought that maybe it was a good idea for one of us lay people… a peer and fellow beginner to share some wonderings. How do we make an altar and take it with us in the world ---in our daily lives of stress and struggle and tedium … and o.k. fun and pleasure and important work.? Also I have come to believe that we really should be talking about these things more openly and with less embarrassment. Hasn’t it been good this weekend to talk about it and share our experiences?
First a word to the young people… in case you think this isn’t for you. Let me just say that the one thing I wish I had known while I was a kid and a teenager (and into my 20’s to be honest) was the value of sitting in quiet for even 10 minutes a day and focusing on my breath. Whether I knew it was prayer or not, I think it would have helped me a lot with handling the stresses and pressures of growing up. You know it’s much easier now because meditation has become very popular and isn’t even seen as weird. There are aps for your phone – there are clubs in schools (o.k. maybe only in California). You can put your earphones in and close your eyes and no one knows what you’re doing.
Thinking about this question of how to create an altar and bring it with us into the world, it occurs to me that the only way to really do that is first in our hearts – in our inner lives. In the spirit of openness and sharing a work in progress without embarrassment, I will briefly describe what I do and some ways that I think about it.
Most mornings I sit in a straight-backed chair in my living room for about 15-20minutes. I say a brief prayer out loud at the beginning. Lately it’s been the one I started with. Then I breathe in and out for 20 minutes (I set a chime timer). Lately I focus on a phrase “breathe in me Holy Spirit.” Sometimes I feel physically uncomfortable and restless. My mind wanders a lot and I try to notice that and return to the phrase and the breath. The chime rings and I say a closing prayer. That’s it.
I’ve come up with a few guidelines borrowed from friends and writers –
Low Expectations… I just try to show up and keep practicing without expecting perfection or some otherworldly calm and peace to descend. From what I can tell, commitment and intention is more important than “getting it right.” Maybe this is faith.
Regularity and frequency seems to be more important than length. I know the Dalai Lama meditates for 8 hours a day—but I can only manage 20 minutes – sometimes 10. It’s way better than nothing.
Curiosity…Instead of striving for some particular outcome, I try to take a “who knows?” perspective. Observing and paying attention become the operative actions. If I try this practice for a period of time, what will I notice? What will happen?
So is this practice prayer or meditation and does it matter? I think its prayer – contemplative prayer—and I think the distinction matters because it just might be how we Christians can hope to cultivate a relationship with God and an awareness of God’s presence. There is a story going around about Pope Francis that I love. A reporter asked him how he prays and he said “I listen.” The reporter followed up with … and what does God say? Francis said “He listens.”
I think we do have a lot to learn from other religions’ approaches to prayer and Buddhist practice in particular. They have a lovely thing called “Loving Kindness Meditation.” The meditator focuses on wishing or visualizing happiness or freedom from suffering for another person. A really wonderful aspect of the Buddhist tradition is that as you learn this practice, you start with yourself… with holding oneself in loving compassion. I think we Christians often skip this step. Sylvia Boorstein is an American Buddhist teacher and self-described Jewish grandmother. She shared that when she wakes up in a fit of anxiety in the middle of the night (and I just want to point out that after 40 years of practicing mindfulness and meditation this still happens to her on occasion) she calms herself by breathing and saying “Dear one. You are having a hard time.”
It is obvious that these are times of a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. As we leave this beautiful place, maybe we can encourage each other in a practice of prayer centered in loving kindness. I will close with some words from Brother David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. The brothers offer a word of the day that you can subscribe to and this was the word “Abide.”
“We can learn to abide in God, to draw our strength from God’s life at work within us, to rely on God every moment of every day. We can have this larger life, this eternal life, the very life of God as our daily fare.”
Thank you so much for listening. Next year one of you take a turn.
by Kate Kelley
I am Kate Kelley. With my husband, Steve, we have attended church at
I am going to talk about them, Jon and Nick, a couple of times. They are now both in their mid twenties. Jon lives in
All three of the readings today deal with, in part, the development of a religious faith. Each reading shows a different way in which people in the bible came to a belief or faith.
Before talking about the readings, I’m going to start with the beginning of Jon’s and Nick’s faith journeys. We started coming to
So you can hear that we had 2 unhappy children who often thought we were really mean parents to make them come to church and Sunday School. They would rather have been watching TV or playing soccer. My guess is that some other families here at
Now I’m going to talk about today’s bible readings, but we’ll come back to Jon and Nick later!
In the first reading, Isaiah talks of a dramatic occurrence, a vision, where God appears to him with seraphs, the most holy of angels. Isaiah feels he is unworthy to see God, he has not led a good life. In this vision he is forgiven his previous sins. This is such a powerful and dramatic experience that when God asks who can he send out into the world as a prophet, Isaiah volunteers “Here am I, send me” This was sudden acceptance of faith, after a dramatic experience, or conversion.
In John’s gospel, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jewish council, comes to Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, presumably so that the other Jewish leaders won’t know about his visit with Jesus. He is obviously perplexed by Jesus’ miracles, amazed by them but unsure how a how a human being can do such things. He seems in a quandary, unsure how a poor young carpenter can be sent from God, when the Jews were expecting a royal King type figure to fulfill earlier prophesies from the Old Testament. Nicodemus rebuts or questions each of Jesus’ comments.
It was obviously very difficult for Nicodemus to accept Jesus’ divinity. In the end, after all of his doubts, I like to believe he became a believer. Later in John’s gospel it says that Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Nicodemus reminds me of many people, including some scientists, who come to a religious faith after much uncertainty and doubt, feeling that one can’t believe in God if you can’t scientifically prove that God exists. These people may argue and discuss for years but some then acknowledge that not all things in life are logical or rational. They become able to accept that one can be both a rational thinker in worldly matters, but also combine that rationality with a spiritual faith
Lastly, in the epistle to the Romans, Paul says “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. You have received a spirit of adoption.” I think that means that God has spiritually adopted people who try to live by the tenets of Jesus’ teaching, encouraging us to social activism on behalf of disenfranchised people. As Terry’s husband, the Rev Richard McCall preached some weeks ago: by coming to
As an example of this last group, I come back to Steve’s and my sons, the ones who came so reluctantly to
I asked them yesterday: did
I think Jon and Nick are reflective of many of us at St Paul’s, where we experience a diversity of faith journeys and include members at different stages along the continuum of religious belief.
As a member of the Rector Search Committee, I reflect back to our Parish profile, the description we wrote, with the vestry’s review and approval, about our
I think today’s readings show how many different ways people can come to God. We at
I want to close with another quote from our Parish profile. We express our wish for a new rector who will “be our spiritual leader who follows in the path of Christ, be grounded in faith traditions and challenge our complacency, as Jesus did. We will move forward with a rector who embraces people of diverse spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, races, classes and ages. I am excited and looking forward to Jeff Mello coming to
by Sarah Thiemann
We are the wilderness, crying. We are the desert, parched. We are the wasteland, the crooked roads, the rugged land. We are all people everywhere. We wait for you. Comfort us. Come like rain, and abundant harvests. Come to us, Lord Jesus. and fill us with your glory. Amen
There is a precious gift that comes even before Christmas. (and I'm not talking about a Hanukah gift) I am talking about Advent.
What a gift Advent is, what a gift it is to be given this time to get ready.
I want you to think about -- you wish you could have been more prepared for?
A test in school - an interview for college or a new job - pause - the loss of one
a date - a game you had to play in - when your best friend moved away - when your parents got divorced, when the stock market crashed, when you lost a loved one.
There are so many things that can happen when we least expect it, when we are not ready. How many times have you said If only I had known...or ...I wish I had been more prepared.
What a gift it can be when we ARE given time to prepare. This advent, As I think more and more these days about someday becoming a parent, I have been thinking about Elizabeth and Mary. I imagine the birth of a child is one of the most life changing events a person can experience. Thank goodness we get nine months to prepare ourselves. Even though I hear you are really never ready for it. But even more importantly that child, that life, NEEDS that 9 months, to be ready for the world.
At the science museum there is a wonderful presentation in the planetarium about the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
There are many many cultures that celebrate this event with lights and feasting.
I was so struck by what Wikipedia told me when I looked up the winter solstice - Apparently Jan-April were the toughest months, with not a lot of food, - so after April, communities would start preparing for the next winter, because it wasn't certain who would live survive it. So they started gathering 9 months in advance.
So what are we getting ready for this advent? And every advent?
And how do we do it?
John the Baptist is our messenger - In Mark he proclaims "the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me" Now I believe this is commonly thought to mean "Someone more powerful is coming next."
But when I read this in preparation for this sermon, I heard the phrase "coming after me" a little differently. This time I heard instead "the one who is more powerful than I is seeking me out, is trying to find me."
Advent is about preparing ourselves because GOD IS SEEKING US OUT so that we can do God's work.
Definition of prepare : to make ready before hand for some purpose
God is trying to find us. And Jesus comes like a beacon of light.
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths, TO US, straight."
2nd question how do we do it - what does it mean to prepare?
Pre - in advance, beforehand
Pare - to trim off an outside, excess, what is not needed, or what gets in the way.
Isaiah tells us what is necessary - "every valley should be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" - what might the end result of this road construction be -
ASK: will it be easier or harder for God to find us? Easier - and a highway is two ways.
It will be easier for us to find God.
As the lay preaching group sat around the table and discussed these readings we made different associations to this imagery. I immediately thought of the roads in Honduras. Anyone who has gone on our Honduras mission can tell you what the roads there are like. Full of potholes and treacherous. It definitely made it a lot harder to get to the villages we were trying to serve.
Someone else in the group thought of earthquakes. A violent upheaval. Certainly not an easy task.
Here's what I think is the really good news about advent: we don't only have 4 weeks to prepare, there is no set deadline.
Those tectonic plates whose shifting causes earthquakes? It takes a million years for them to move 25 km. They move as slowly as your fingernails grow.
In 2 Peter, Simon Peter tells us to the Lord, One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day." The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some may think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish."
To me, this means that this time of preparation, this time to ready ourselves, will take as long as it needs to take. God is waiting for us on the other side of that highway.
And as the unexpected occurs, the plates shift, the mountains and hills rise up again, our smooth places will, yet again, start to get a little rough.
Thank goodness that we have the gift of advent every year so that we can get ready over and over again. Amen.
by E. Lorraine Baugh
Blessed Lord, I ask that you guide me, give me insight and wisdom to say the right words in my interpretation of your holy scriptures. Amen.
Jesus taught people through sermons, illustration and parables. Jesus' teachings show people how to prepare for life by living properly right now. In today's Gospel the parable is set in the realm of finance or loaned money. It tells the story of a master, a wealthy land owner, who is about to embark on a long journey. Before leaving he entrusts three slaves with his property in the form of Talents. The master has the expectations that the slaves will invest or do something that will increase his money. In those days a talent was the equivalent of 15 years of wages for a laborer and was worth more than a thousands dollars.[i] So in this period this was a fairly substantial investment on the master's part. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the third one. The first and second slaves play one role and the third another. The key to these roles rest on the phrase found in the text, "he gave to each according to his ability." It is also important to note that each slave was given something. No one was left idle. Why is this so important? It is important because it ties in with the expectations that the master had of his slaves and its ties in with the expectations that Jesus has of us. No one received more or less than he could handle. If one failed in his assignment his excuse could not be that he was overwhelmed. Failure could come only from laziness or hatred toward the master.[ii]
The master expected a return on his investment but had the wisdom to recognize that based on the knowledge of his slaves he could not or should not expect the same return from each. What we do or how we plan to make a return on Jesus' investment is based on using all of our abilities. Not all of us are five talent people. I would venture to say that there are more one and two talent people than there are five talent people. The important thing here is not so much how many talents we have but after a long time how well we have used our talents. It is Mathew's way of saying: "Our master may be delayed in his return, but, in the meanwhile, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you. Matthew was clear, on one issue. God expects a return. We had better not simply bury that which has been given us and return it when he comes.[iii]
When the master returned and called his servants in for an accounting he praised the first two servants who had doubled his investment and said "Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness. The master was not happy with the lack of effort of the third slave and condemned him and sent him out to be punished.
God expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. The phrase "to each according to his ability" in modern languages is translated to mean the gifts, aptitude and flair, or talent we have. To be good stewards of His gifts to us we must use all of our abilities to accomplish it. We must be prepared to use our time, talent and treasures diligently in order to serve God completely in whatever we do.
by Lizbeth De Selm
When people ask me what I do for a living, I look them in the eye, all serious like and tell them, "I make drugs." No elaboration initially. Then I wait and watch their response, usually with a mischievous grin developing. At this point I explain my job.
In case you haven't been on the receiving end of this discussion, I should probably explain: For you knowledgeable about very early drug discovery, I am a medicinal chemist. I use synthetic organic chemistry to make small molecules that we test first in enzymes, then in cells. If we are lucky, we then test the molecules in tumors, and if we are really lucky, we get to test in humans. If we are astronomically lucky, we get to actually release them to market, helping patients everywhere. Theoretically.
For those of you are don't know the ins and outs of drug development, let me use more conventional terms. Let me explain it to you this way. I make really super complex ‘keys' (molecules) (often from scratch) with the hopes that I'll be able to fit my key into the lock we are targeting. The lock is the enzyme. We are usually looking to ‘gum up' the lock- that is, block it and render it useless for a short duration. The idea is if we stop the lock from turning, then we stop the disease.
It sounds like a really neat job. ‘Sounds' being the ‘key' word here. You see, I make maybe about 100 molecules (keys) each year. If I am lucky, one out of one thousand molecules (keys) that I make, may actually enter into clinical development- which is another, perhaps more sterile way of saying we test it in humans. If I am really lucky, one of my molecules, out of ten thousand, might actually make it out of clinical trials and into the sick patients. Everywhere. Theoretically.
So statistically speaking, 99% of my work is destined for failure, and of that remaining 1%? Lets say 99% of that is still destined for failure. Talk about long odds.
I wonder at this point just how many of you are wondering what this has to do with today's Good News? Well... is it simple.