Reflection on Ash Wednesday: Remember you are star dust

If you’ve followed this blog, you might know that Babylon 5 is one of my favorite TV shows. I even did a series of blog posts last year based on questions from the show. One of my favorite scenes takes place in the second season episode “A Distant Star.” Delenn, the Minbari ambassador, finds Captain Sheridan in the station’s garden. In their conversation she tells him the great secret of the universe.

Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. As we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.

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Repost: Ash Wednesday: The day of

[Reposted from Ash Wednesday 2017]

ash2“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer)

When we receive the ashes on this first day of Lent, we acknowledge both our mortality and our need for repentance of sin and conversion of life. We’re not talking light stuff here. Needless to say, most of us don’t like thinking these things. I certainly don’t.

It’s easy to think of sin in terms of things we do that violate some rule. “Oh, I sinned when I did x, y, and z.” That certainly is part of it, but I also tend to think of it in larger terms. Let’s call it (big-S) Sin. It’s not so much an act as a state of being where we find ourselves separated (or apparently separated) from God. Sometimes it takes the form of particular actions or inactions. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Other times it involves larger systemic and societal wrongs, especially when we ourselves benefit.

But somehow that doesn’t quite capture the full power of death and sin, “the evil that enslaves us.” There are times when we find ourselves trapped, unable to see God’s Light. It isn’t necessarily our own fault either. For example, I know all too well the hell of depression. It’s not simply about being really sad. It’s a disorder affecting one’s whole being – body, mind, and spirit. Being in the depths of depression is like being covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash.

mtsthelens     buried-car

Yet the ashes on Ash Wednesday are something different . . . (to be continued)


Be Not Afraid: Part 2

Image result for fear

In an earlier post, I started to discuss what it’s like to be trapped by fear, taking inspiration from a sermon on the Parable of the Talents. However, I wrote more about facing the fear of physical things and working to overcome them. More psychologically based fears are another, more difficult matter. That’s what I want to focus on here.

When I face a fear of something physical, I can handle it. I can see it or hear it or touch it. I can reason my way through it. I can even at times wall off the fear temporarily in order to do what I need to do. Why can’t I do that when the fear is of something more internal?

Since I was very young, I’ve been afraid that I wasn’t good enough. Even though the message from teachers and my parents was always, “Kevin, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” I still wanted it to be. The picture had to be colored perfectly; the construction paper figure had to be cut perfectly. Therefore, I was often one of the last to finish.

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Year of the Lord’s favor or day of vengeance? Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Advent – 12/17/17

3rd Sunday of Advent – Year B

[The video misses the first minute or so. You can listen to the audio of the full sermon here.]

Imagine for a moment that you’ve died and gone to heaven. You stand around outside the gates and watch as people go in. Eventually, you proceed through the gates and expect to find gold streets and gemstone buildings. Instead, you see a bunch of tents, like in a refugee camp, though nicer than any on earth. Bright, clean, the sounds of laughter and songs of joy. The angels greet you and say, “Welcome to heaven. Here’s a broom. Go sweep the paths among the tents.” Or “Here are soap, a washcloth, and fresh clothing. Go greet the lepers, wash their wounds, and get them dressed.” Continue reading

Be Not Afraid: Part 1

This past Sunday (11/19/17) at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, my parish here in DC, one of the members of our Preaching Guild provided the sermon. Before reading my post, I invite you first to read the lessons and then to watch and listen.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Proper 28, the Sunday closest to November 16 [and 2nd to last Sunday after Pentecost])

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Days of the Dead: Halloween/All Saints/All Souls

allsaints03Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
— Collect for the Feast of All Saints

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed [a.ka. All Souls]

The above icon of All Saints is one of my favorites. It’s one that I actually have, a graduation gift from the Episcopal campus minister at Emory. It was also the icon I had brought with me to the hospital when I had some lung surgery in January 2001.

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Thoughts and Prayers? Prayers and Deeds

Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

David Becker/Getty Images

[For a more political take, see my post “Firearm Idolatry” at Political Wandering]

So much tragedy has happened over the last several weeks, especially the hurricanes and the pitiful response by the federal government to the growing disaster in Puerto Rico. (Let’s not forget about the U.S. Virgin Islands either.) Now we’ve got yet another mass shooting to deal with, this time in Las Vegas. If a bunch of kids being killed at Sandyhook didn’t get Congress moving on this issue, I don’t think even this will.

Aside from the horror of what’s happened, there are two things that I want to address. The first has to do with the opinion by some that talking about gun safety now only “politicizes” the tragedy and is inappropriate right now. I believe the British expression “load of bollocks” would be appropriate. After a natural disaster, we talk about how we could have done a better job minimizing the potential damage and how we can do a better job in recovery. After a terrorist attack, we talk about what wrong and how best to prevent another. Why should we then not talk about how to prevent (or at least minimize) future mass shootings? This is exactly the time for the discussion. If not now, when?

Second, after something like this, there’s the inevitable chorus of “thoughts and prayers.”  A lot is genuine. Some of it is an empty platitude given instead of anything substantive. There’s of course then the reaction of people saying that all of it’s empty and should be replaced by action. I’m all for prayer. I think there should be more of it. I’m also all for putting one’s faith into practice. While we might be saved through faith, faith without works is dead.

That being said, I do want to push back on those (including some Christians) saying that prayer is totally empty unless also accompanied by action. For a lot of people, prayer often consists of sending good thoughts and wishes for others or simply talking to God and asking Him for things. That’s part of prayer, yes; but prayer is much more than that. The way I see prayer is that it’s a way of strengthening connections both with God and with each other. It can be about praise, thanks, petition, confession, wonder, joy, lament, anger, despair. It’s about both talking and listening. We pray to God. We ask for the prayers of others. (I’d also include asking the saints in Heaven for their prayers.) For the Christian, prayer is not just something nice we do. It’s a fundamental part of who we are as the Body of Christ.

Image result for jesus healing icon

Ethiopian icon: Jesus heals the blind man

One of the first sermons I preached at St. Aidan’s, my field education parish in San Francisco, as on Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray with our voices, our ears, our hearts, and our minds; but I raised the question of how our actions can be prayer. In fact, what would it be like if everything we did, from our work or our service or anything else in our lives, became a form of prayer? What if we even approached our voting as a form a prayer? I’m not suggesting a melding of church and state. Instead, I’m asking how it might change our lives and others’ if our political actions reflected our calling to work toward justice and shalom in our world.

Continue to pray, but let your prayers be more than thoughts. Let them also be in the words you speak and in the acts you perform. Let them all be for God’s glory.

From Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.