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August 19: Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

By Dcn. Eric Whitehair on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

Before we get started, I always have a preface that I like to say whenever I do a Gospel reading that includes a particular word that, taken out of its historical and textual context and placed into the twenty-first century here in America, or in Europe, or pretty much anywhere else in the world, really, is going to look different then I think that it was intended when it was originally written. I do not presume to speak for the Gospeler, that being said, I will tell you why I am led to think this way.

“The Jews then disputed amongst themselves, saying…” I don’t know about you, but when I read that word aloud to you all, it jumped off the page, and it jumped around inside my head, and it knocked over all kinds of things in my brain. I’m going to reference this again in a second. But a part of my vocation, of my diaconal vocation, is to teach. And I teach history and religion to high schoolers. And it is impossible to run across the history of western civilization without bumping into some of the most hideous acts of oppression that have been perpetuated against a people. Anti-Semitism is a problem in western civilization. Western Europeans and Americans have a problem with anti-Semitism. That’s a fact. You may not as an individual, individuals may not have. Individuals have certainly acted in ways that have been good neighbors and protected and defended Jewish people. But at the same time, the reason they have had to protect people is because there were larger systems that were doing harm to them.

So after the terrible pogroms, after awful anti-Semitism that took its fullest form in the Holocaust, with the murder of literally millions of people and the murder of fifty percent of Europe’s Jews, even in our own beloved city of Baltimore, the neighborhood that I now live in, used to literally have a covenant that you had to sign. This is in the twentieth century, after World War Two, you must sign a covenant saying that if you were to buy a house in this neighborhood, a neighborhood I currently live in, you could not sell that house to an African-American person or a Jewish person. That was true in the lifetimes of people sitting in this room right now. And anti-Semitism that bold and naked is something that has happened in living memory. And while certainly, I hope, things have gotten better, it is not a problem that it’s completely alleviated itself.

And so, like an ugly stain, whenever we in America hear the word ‘the Jews,’ unfortunately, it comes filtered through that whole historical experience that I just spoke of. And if we aren’t careful, we can believe that the Gospeler, we believe that John, if John wrote this gospel, we might believe — we might put onto him anti-Semitic ideas. We might make him think that he’s, boy, he’s really showing us ‘the Jews’ and how much we disagree with them. It is my belief that that is a mistake of our filter. It is mistake of us in the twenty-first century, looking back through hundreds of years of oppression and looking at a piece of writing that was, let me say it, written by a Jewish man, about other Jewish people in a Jewish part of the world, who more than likely was probably writing for a Jewish audience. In which case, again, it certainly isn’t my place to change Scripture or to tell you what the Gospeler is thinking, but it seems to this one historian standing in front of you speaking that perhaps when John wrote ‘the Jews,’ instead of thinking, as we would, of a specific oppressed people that are other than us, he probably would have been saying something more like “us, the people.” And if you read it that way, again, this is me, this is not the Gospel, this is me, “The people then disputed amongst themselves, saying” I believe, personally, that’s probably closer to what the Gospeler was trying to say to us.

And indeed, I have personally found it very edifying that when I bump into a reference to ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel, especially one that is critical, especially one that shows a people that are lacking faith or doubting, that it is often more beneficial for me, spiritually, personally, to put myself in that place than to put a group of people from the outside into that place. And so that when someone in the Gospel is being pointed out for not having enough faith, or for disputing, or whatever lack is being pointed out, that I remember that I am of the people, that I am of the crowd that would have been listening to Jesus. And, I have to be perfectly honest, I wonder if I was transported two thousand years ago and dropped into the middle of Judea, and I had the honor of listening to the words of my Lord, I would have had discernment and the understanding and the faith to listen to the words He said and to believe them perfectly? I’d like to think I would, but I’m also honest with myself, and I know that very likely I would have been critical, I would have been perhaps doubting faith. I may not have been the best exemplar of a believer in that time and place, just as I am not now.

Which brings me to the actual sermon for today. I know, you’re probably, “oh my goodness,” right? I have to be perfectly honest with you. This part of the Gospel of John is not my favorite to preach upon. Mark’s Gospel, to a deacon, is so much easier to preach on. It’s an action Gospel. There’s not a lot of long sermons, He just does things. Go out and do things, heal people, feed people! John’s Gospel records a different part of Jesus’s ministry. We have full paragraphs about bread and flesh and wine and blood and resurrection, things that, to be perfectly honest, when I look at them and the words on the page, I can’t tell you that I perfectly understand what John wrote, and that I don’t perfectly understand what our Lord said. Which brings me to the absolute most useful phrase that I have ever found as a teacher: “I don’t know.” I tell my students that phrase at least once a day, and sometimes several times more. And then I will tell you a phrase that was given to me by a spiritual mentor.

I came from a tradition of Christianity that placed a high premium on certainty. I came from a tradition in Christianity that knew The Truth. Capital T and capital T, The Truth. They knew what every Bible verse meant, literally. They knew what every line of Scripture meant, literally. There was no argument. There was no discussion. It was The Truth. The Truth was plain to see. The Truth was handed to you without question, and The Truth was expected to be embraced, memorized and, if need be, shouted in people’s faces as loudly as possible. I don’t have that kind of faith anymore.

One of my favorite authors growing up, Hermann Hesse, wrote in his book, Magister Ludi, faith and doubt govern each other like inhaling and exhaling, they belong together. And I think there’s a good reason for that. It isn’t faith in God that I don’t feel like I don’t have any more. That is a gift given to me. I don’t have perfect faith in my own understanding. I don’t have perfect faith in my ability to speak for God. I don’t have perfect faith in my ability to speak for the Gospel. And so when I decided to return back to a Christian practice, I honestly don’t think that I stopped being a Christian. I stopped practicing as a Christian. But when I returned back to a Christian practice, my spiritual mentor, Fr. Jesse Parker, told me a phrase that would change my life and my practice and my belief. He said, “When you must speak of things, it is often useful to say, I have been led to believe.”

I am going to lean on that phrase so hard when talking about today’s Gospel. Because, again, my two favorite phrases, both as a teacher and now is a deacon, are, “I don’t know,” and “I have been led to believe” and that’s not because I don’t have faith in God, it’s because I don’t have faith that my understanding is God’s understanding. I don’t know if I am completely getting this all the time. Scratch that. I give you one hundred percent certainty that I am not getting this correctly perfectly all the time, I guarantee you that. I have been led to believe, and I don’t know. And with that, I’ll give you one more thing, and then I just want to return to a second reading of today’s Gospel. And then we will continue in today’s liturgy. The type of Christianity that values and places a value upon absolute certainty, one hundred percent clarity, no arguments, Capital T The, capital T Truth comes from a culture that values certainty. Prove it! What are your stats, what is the data? What are the numbers? Right, that’s American, isn’t it? Prove it to me. We are certainty. Well, what are you literally trying to say? Sometimes, I have been led to believe, the truth is not literal. I offer that is a thought as we listen for a second time, to the words of our Lord.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” The Gospel of the Lord.

August 5, 2018: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

By Dcn. Eric Whitehair on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In some ways, the things that our Lord said to the folks following Him may have been a little hard to understand. They were looking for bread, very literally, for bread. He was speaking of bread, but by the end we see that He is speaking of bread in a way that, dare I say, we might think of as metaphorical, not a literal bread that you would hold in your hand, but the bread of life. But metaphor might be a little bit – not exactly correct. I’m not certain that when we come to the Eucharistic feast, that what we’re holding in our hand is merely a metaphor.

I’m always a little careful when I come to a Gospel reading, especially one like this, which could have a couple of meanings that seem very straightforward. When I was being trained in how to do preaching, homiletics, we were taught about exegesis; that’s a word that probably some folks here are very familiar with, exegesis, pulling things out of the Word that are there, bringing things out from Scripture and helping to make them apparent. But I have to be careful, and this is perhaps my own word, perhaps not, of exogesis, that is, taking my own things and putting them into Scripture.

If you can’t see why that might be a danger, for me personally, then you haven’t known me long enough. It is more important to me to hear what Scripture is speaking to me than perhaps what I have to say to Scripture. So, with that in mind, let me tell you what hopped out the reading this week for me, the conversation I had with myself, the conversation I hopefully had prayerfully with the Lord, and hopefully I share with you what I have been led to believe. That is perhaps the wisest thing that I have ever been counseled: that whenever talking about Scripture, whenever talking about spiritual matters, it is always good to remind yourself, if preface what you’re saying with, “This is what I have been led to believe.”

Why? Because, because I have my own things that I put into Scripture, I have my own things, my own understandings, my own, and this is the really important part, misunderstandings that I bring to Scripture and to theology. It is important to speak with God, to have conversations with God, with Scripture, with prayer, in prayer, but always understand that at the end our understanding is a human understanding and human understanding, by definition, is fallible and that I may be guilty of exogesis; I may be putting into Scripture something that was not previously there, something that, quite honestly doesn’t belong there.

Here’s what I saw. Upon the first reading, I asked myself, “What is being said here?”

“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, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on Him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to Him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Well, that seems rather easy, doesn’t it? Okay, so that’s my first clue that I might not be reading everything correctly. If I’m reading something Scripture, and if I’m reading something that my Lord is commanding me to do, and the first thing that pops into my head is, “Boy, that sounds easy,” I might not be reading it 100% correctly. Believe on Jesus, we’re done. We don’t have to feed people, right? That’s the bread that passes, right, don’t worry about that, believe in Jesus, and your work here is finished. My work here is finished. I’m just waiting now, right, for the end, however I come to meet Jesus, face to face, all I have to do is believe in Jesus, and you know, my work here is finished.

That might be exogesis. I might be putting something into the Bible that is not there. I might be putting something into Scripture that is not there, because Jesus said this to folks after He fed them. He did not say, “I’m sorry you’re hungry. But really, you just need to believe in me.” He fed them first, and then reminded them that there is a spiritual side, too.

If we take a look at the readings from the entire set of readings in lectionary today, we do see a real encouragement to look at making sure that our sustenance is not physical only, but spiritual. To make sure that we are being fed spiritually, and that, as Christians, one of the cornerstones of our belief is indeed faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is belief, that is true, and in every single one of the readings, your Deacon of course is going to remind you of this, there are physical feedings happening as well. Indeed, being fed spiritually is important, and, indeed, feeding people physically is important.

Mohandas Gandhi, a spiritual man in his own right, if not a Christian, said that God can appear to a starving person only as a morsel of bread. And he spoke literally when he said that. God can only appear to a starving person as a morsel of bread. So if I think that the words of our Lord are saying that it relieves me of my responsibility, my earthly responsibilities, and my physical responsibilities to feed, literally feed, my neighbor, then I fear that I may not be reading what is actually in Scripture, I may actually be putting in what I hope is true, that I don’t have to do any of the physical labor, I just have to believe and my work here is done. Physical feeding happens along with spiritual feeding. And like our Lord and like the numerous places in Scripture where it talks about sustenance, it is important to understand that, yes, we are to feed each other spiritually. We are to encourage each other’s faith. We are to build each other up in belief. We are to seek spiritual sustenance. But at the same time, remember, the physical sustenance is also part of what we do. That to one of our starving brothers and sisters, I might not be able to feed them spiritually until they have been fed physically first.

“I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And perhaps there, perhaps, is also instructions for us on how we are to feed the world spiritually and physically at the same time, so that our brothers and sisters are not hungry or thirsty in any meaning of the word.

July 29, 2018: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

I come before you today in the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel tells us about fear and unexpected plenty. And it underlines the connection between justice and divine liberation. Jesus and the disciples attempt to get away from the crowds as His ministry around the Sea of Galilee grows in popularity. But they cannot. Finally, on a mountainside, an anxious and hopeful crowd gathers to hear Jesus. Seeing a large group at an unplanned event, the disciples worry that it will be impossible to feed all who are present. This is not an unexpected fear, as they did not plan to have a mass teaching and healing event. Andrew points out a child with five loaves and two fishes. And Jesus says to share them. Seven is considered a number of completion or fullness in Scripture. All eat of this simple meal, and the scraps fill twelve baskets, just as there were originally twelve tribes in Israel.

Some people interpret this divine act as a moment when the people’s hearts were opened and they shared food they had brought, providing enough for all. While the text does not deny that this could have occurred, it also does not explain away this divine act, this divine sign. A few sentences later, Jesus is walking on water. While I respect the more modest, and perhaps modern, understanding of this text and the moral of sharing what we have with others, I think it is worth our time to stay a minute and ponder this sign from God.

This is not the first moment in Scripture that God provides enough food for his people in times of duress. God rains down manna on the Hebrew former slaves in the wilderness. He feeds them, even with quail, throughout their wilderness wanderings. The bread that comes from the heavens molders if it is stored. It is to be gathered daily and eaten. And the only day on which the people cannot gather it is the Sabbath. In the selection from 2 Kings this morning, a man brings Elisha twenty loaves of bread and some ears of grain, planning to leave them at the feet of the man of God. It is the midst of a famine. People are wanting for food. And someone wants to feed the prophet. Elisha, surprisingly, directs that the loaves be given to feed one hundred people, as God commands. According to God’s word, all have plenty to eat, with some left over. The feeding of the five thousand confirms that Jesus is indeed God. It tells us, as believers, that as a part of the Trinity, Jesus provides food for those who need it. God’s abundance in the feeding of the five thousand overcomes the anxiety of needy people seeking healing in a broken world.

Jesus’ feast, however, is one of simple food. Five barley loaves and two fish, likely salted so they could stay eatable, were shared by all there, and there was food left over. This is not to say there is no place for rich food in life. It is notable, though, that Jesus manifests a sign through simple food among a gathering of regular people, coming together, because of inspiring words and healing actions. John’s Gospel also notes that it is Passover. Passover is perhaps the original liberation meal; it is the base liberation meal for the tradition. God tells the people, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, to gather in their houses, to prepare a lamb, to mark their door posts. They are spared the calamity, and they are led to freedom. It is notable that John places this meal that occurred around the time of Passover on a mountainside, in a rural and fishing area with small towns, not in Jerusalem, not near the Temple, not near the centers of religious observance. A sacred moment occurs when people see God, in a man who they previously would not have even seen as a teacher.

We all have moments where God comes through in tough situations. I’ve had plenty of them. I was not here, but I gather that this parish experienced that with the boiler situation in the past year. This church, which is lined with brick, suddenly lacked heat. And yet the people still came and worshipped. Still came, seeking God, seeking company with each other. Seeking the fulfillment of God’s promises, and together with people showing up, through strength, through God’s grace, and through God’s power, heat was restored. And that is, perhaps, an experience of God’s presence, where God works through us in community, even when there are five loaves, two fishes that a child has brought.

Part of the beauty of community is that God can be seen in it through the many gifts that people bring. We must be present in this situation. And Jesus is even willing to work with Andrew in his anxiousness and bring all to a deeper understanding of the good news He has come to make known. It’s also interesting that this happens when the people have gathered, they’ve broken out of the rhythm of daily life. They’ve taken a day trip, perhaps, to come hear Jesus speak. Maybe they have an ailment. Maybe they need healing for a loved one. Maybe they’re inspired by the word, but they’re there, they’re on a mountainside, an impromptu gathering, because word is flying all around the towns on the Sea of Galilee, that Jesus is coming, Jesus is here, Jesus has moved here. And rather than run away, Jesus cares for their needs. He eventually takes the time He needs to recharge and avoid going to the Cross before He would like. But He takes the time to be with the people.

In participating in the event, the disciples also get to feed the people. They provide the apparently meager bread and fish, and everyone has enough. A moment of community, a moment of transformation occurs. People are filled with a renewed sense of God’s power, God’s love, and God’s presence that connects them to the rich tradition they share.

It goes without saying, I think, that we live in trying times. There are various political calamities. Climate change is showing itself in disastrous and quite terrifying ways this year. Extreme heat, floods, fires. Political leadership in many situations appears lacking. And there are people on our streets who go without shelter, who go without food. There are people in houses who struggle with debt, who struggle to keep that roof over their head. And there are the challenges of life that have always been with us.

To live in these times as a community of faith, we need to have a creative, sacred imagination. This is how we live as disciples, we proclaim good news that is almost difficult, it’s difficult to comprehend, how can we believe this? How does everybody have food when they were five loaves and two fishes? I can’t say how that happened. I can say that God’s light and God’s love have come into my life in moments of deepest darkness. I can say that I have experienced moments of empathy and connection with a stranger that seemed to enrich both of us in ways we hadn’t expected. I am here because God’s love is in my heart.

I didn’t originally grow up in the Church, but my parents put me in the church choir. I went to a Catholic high school. I got involved with Christian justice groups. Through these groups, in these contexts, the word of God was able to become clear to me. I sat, I learned, I responded. And I’m still amazed, sometimes, to find myself here in a position of sharing that good news. So, the last thing I would want to do is explain away the feeding of five thousand people, is to explain away a gathering of absurd hope on a mountainside in first century Palestine. I refuse to explain that event away, because I don’t know what unexpected thing God is still going to do today. I don’t know what unexpected thing God is going to show in the midst of the Church of the Advent in the community of South Baltimore, inside the church, out on the street. Because what I know of God is that God is indeed love. And God is the God who brought slaves out of oppression in Egypt, through the wilderness to freedom. God is the God who has made enough, who can make enough. Who has given us a world that creates so much. And sometimes, when that is not enough, creates more. And we as creatures, as humans living in this world, need to remember, I remind myself as much as any of you, that when the world seems totally dark and perhaps there’s a crazy dream, and we’re chasing it, we sometimes need to sit and wait for God. And when God shows up in a small way or a big way; whether our prayers are answered in the ways we expected or not, remember that God is a God of abundance, the God of creation. God known to us in Jesus, who would not let those who came to Him in need go hungry. Amen.

July 22, 2018: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

By Mr. Ed Schneider on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us always. Amen.

There are many spiritual disciplines. These disciplines include prayer, self-denial, simplicity, hospitality, work, study, fasting, worship, and giving. This isn’t a complete list, but it gives you an idea of how spiritual disciplines are intended to touch on every area of our lives. Spiritual disciplines are intended to help us move beyond ourselves and to learn to be open to experiencing God in new, diverse ways. Spiritual disciplines are so critical to our spiritual health and to the health of every Christian community that you’ll find some explicitly mentioned in Scripture. And you’ll find some at the core of all Christian monastic rules. Today’s Gospel is about one spiritual discipline that’s routinely ignored today. It’s the discipline of taking a deep, physical, mental, and spiritual rest. It’s the discipline of Sabbath rest.

The reading begins with the disciples returning to Jesus after He sent them in pairs on a mission to proclaim the Gospel, to cast out unclean spirits and to anoint the sick with oil and cure them. You can imagine that when they returned, they were excited. But you can also imagine they were tired from their work. Jesus saw that, and He tried to get them away from the crowd so that they could rest. However, the crowds followed them wherever they went, they couldn’t get away. The lectionary today skips over a large section of the text, and the missing bit is the story of how the crowds followed Him to a lonely place where there was no food. Jesus then fed five thousand people. That had to be exhausting. After Jesus fed the crowd, He again tried to get the disciples away somewhere quiet to rest. But again, the crowds followed. People wouldn’t let Jesus and His disciples stop. The crowds kept following Jesus to heal their sick, and Jesus, having compassion for them, continued to work.

Yet rest is what they needed. We all know what happens when we work long hours with no rest. We get tired. We can’t concentrate. We have accidents, we get irritable, we burn out, and our health suffers. We have to take care of our health. We all know that maxim, that we can’t care for others unless we first care for ourselves.

But there are so many demands on us. There are too many things to do and never enough time to do any of them. When can we take time to stop? We know we can’t always be Martha scurrying around doing our chores. We also know we have to be like Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet, and the Gospel lesson today plainly tells us that people will continually make demands on us and keep us from resting if we allow that.

This is why Sabbath rest is a discipline, a discipline. It requires us to make a commitment to rest and then follow through on our promise. It’s such an important discipline that is in Torah. God told Moses on Mount Sinai, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work. For in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day. Now, it’s easy to take this commandment and get all balled up in legalisms. Some have, and Jesus tells us in the Gospels that those people were missing the point. They were missing the point of what Sabbath rest is really about.

So then what is Sabbath rest? It’s about taking an extended time to be still. To be present. To be quiet. To allow not only your body to rest, but to allow your mind to rest as well. What does resting the mind looks like? What does that mean? It means letting go of and avoiding the distractions that filled our minds with verbal and emotional clutter. I don’t know about you, but I find it tiring to read newspapers, and the news online, to watch movies, and to scroll through social media. I appear to be sitting, resting, but my mind is working, processing and absorbing what I read and what I see. And I also get so emotionally stressed and wrung out from the very many dramas and horror stories, real and fictional, in the news, in movies, and in social media posts. When I need mental rest, I have to get away from it all. I had to turn the TV off or go away where there is no TV, where there are no newspapers, where there are no cell phones. The best vacations I’ve had are where I’ve had no access to any of that, because my mind then isn’t filled with that chatter.

Okay, we know the physical and mental benefits of Sabbath rest, and we have an idea what it’s supposed to look like. So why is Sabbath rest a spiritual discipline and not just a physical or mental one? Because it’s only when we’re rested, only when we’re still, only when we’re quiet, that we can be open to hearing God’s voice. How can hear God speaking to us when our bodies are tired? How can we be open to hearing God speaking to us when our minds are cluttered with the headline news and social media dramas du jour?

1 Kings 19 tells a story of Elijah fleeing to Horeb to escape King Ahab, “God said to Elijah, go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Now, there was a great wind so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” It was only in silence that Elijah heard God’s voice.

God’s voice is not in the earthquake of illness from exhaustion. God’s voice is not in the wind of our ephemeral fears and anxieties. God’s voice is not in the fire of our dramas. God’s voice can only be heard in the silence of our souls. As Psalm 131 says, “Oh, Lord, I am not proud. I have no haughty looks. I do not occupy myself with great matters or with things that are too hard for me. But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast, my soul is quieted within me. Oh, Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth forevermore.”

Resting the body and mind, stilling the soul, being quiet, being present: these are the elements of true Sabbath rest. And these elements are the conditions needed to enter into the deepest type of prayer, which is by far the most important spiritual discipline we can practice.

Prayer isn’t just about intercessions. God knows our needs, our wants, and our fears before we say anything, and God will help us in the ways we need. But deep prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God, and we can’t be receptive to what God has to say unless we take the time to be still, to be quiet, to be present. The spiritual discipline of Sabbath rest is about taking the time during each week, the discipline, take the time during each week, and it could be any day of the week, it doesn’t have to be Sunday, to rest. Be still so that we can be present to God. It’s a time we need to regain our strength so that we can meet the world as it is and where it is, and continue actively loving and serving the Lord. Amen.

July 15, 2018: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

I come before you in the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A plumb line may seem like an odd image for God’s justice. To start with, a plumb line was the ancient near Eastern version of a level: basically, an evenly weighted stone or some other material on a string. But it could show you that a wall was straight, based on Earth’s gravitational pull. A plumb line is not to be debated: your wall will be straight, or your wall will be crooked, depending on its measurements.

But in order to understand the full impact of Amos encountering a plumb line in a vision from God, we have to go a little bit further ahead in the chapter, because this is just the third image God has showed him. So in order to communicate the import of today’s reading from Amos, I’m going to share from the beginning of chapter seven:

“This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, ‘O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’

The Lord relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord.

This is what the Lord God showed me: The Lord God was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. ‘O Lord God, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’

The Lord relented concerning this; ‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord God.

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said,

‘See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’”

Now, interestingly, the text tells us directly of the reaction to Amos’ message. We are left to assume that after seeing the burning fire consuming the deep, Amos was convinced that he should bring this dire message to his people. The result is that the chief priest in Israel tells the king that Amos is conspiring against him.

And the King says, to go prophesy in the south. Your words are nice. I don’t want you to, like, be poor or anything, but just go tell those people down south that they better get their act together, because you can’t say these things in the king’s sanctuary. It’s interesting to note that the main objection is to saying these things in the king’s sanctuary. Because if you look at the first chapters of Amos, the people of Israel have strayed so far from their covenant with God: they have mistreated each other, they have followed idols, they have murdered each other, the gap between the rich and the poor has been growing; God no longer even cares for their sacrifices.

And yet when a dresser of sycamore trees is sent to say that the consequence will be exile, and the fall of the reigning house of the King, he has met with angry rejection. We see a similar dynamic in today’s gospel. Everyone is abuzz about who Jesus is, but oddly enough, King Herod gets closest to the truth. Not that he’s right, Jesus is his own person, but he understands the power of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and ministry, in his own kind of backwards way. Because he acts, it appears, from a deep insecurity, an insecurity that leads him to listen to John, but then order John’s execution when, in a moment of weakness, it is requested of him.

And I don’t want to lay all the blame on the women of Herod’s court, again, marriage was not something about which women had a lot of say in this society, but everyone within Herod’s court acts the way Herod does, out of fear, out of jealousy, out of a desperate attempt to cling to power. And the result is that the prophet is executed.

It is interesting that in both cases, people choose not to hear, or to ignore, or only partially hear, the word of the one who comes speaking truth. Amos, as he defends himself before Amaziah, demurrers, saying he is but a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Now in the Hebrew scripture, this connects him with a rich lineage. Moses was a herdsman for his father-in-law when he encounters the Burning Bush. His actions lead to the liberation of the Hebrew slaves and the downfall of a King. David is a shepherd when he is anointed King. God, we see in the Hebrew scriptures, has a habit of calling on those on the margins, those who are doing tasks others look down upon, who have time to listen.

Amos is a herdsman, he dresses sycamore trees, and God shows him a simple building tool, and Amos, following, trusting in God, goes forth, and tells the King that he will fall, that God will work with his people, but that part of this will involve exile. It’s not an easy word to hear, but it is an important one.

So for us today, as we encounter these prophets, these people who spoke truth, we must also ask ourselves, “What are the words that we knew deep down were true that we chose to ignore? Are there times when we are called to follow God’s plumb line and say that there are lines one cannot cross? Are we willing to sacrifice the prevailing order of the day to speak up for God’s justice?”

Martin Luther King is well known for the “I Have A Dream” speech and for a few others, but it is worth noting that when he was assassinated, he was planning a Poor People’s Campaign to occupy Washington DC and other parts of the country, that he was standing with striking sanitation workers, people who deal with the refuse of the city, and that he had spoken out against war, and that he had called what was patriotic “death dealing.” We’re all at different points, in different positions. We have different roles in society, some of us – we’re all called to different work.

But the example of Amos, the example of John, of the Blessed Virgin, of Jesus and the other Disciples tells us that, in those times when the authorities of this world have lost their moral compass, when society appears on the surface to be functioning but is filled with deep hidden suffering, we must speak out. And when we hear people speaking whose voices challenge us, perhaps make us angry, it may be useful to imagine, to remember, that they are sparing us from a rain of fire. That listening to God’s word, while uncomfortable, is worth the cost of avoiding the direction our own folly, individually and collectively, may take us. May we, dressers of sycamores in our own day, speak God’s truth. Amen.

July 8, 2018: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus is rejected. Rejection is one of the most difficulty of human experiences. It slightly unravels our sense of self, at least the false sense of self we receive from the feedback of others. Rejection is never something too easily sloughed off. Jesus knows this. So, He experiences rejection, first, for us, to show us the right way. Why would I say that He chooses this rejection? It doesn’t look that way on the surface. However, the One who knew all, also knew the way He would be received in his hometown, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that sometimes the people who have known us since childhood have a hard time changing their opinions.

Jesus wanted the disciples to be there for this moment of proclamation and rejection. Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, He was invited to teach, and the response of those gathered was, “Where did this man get all this? Don’t we know him? Aren’t his brothers Joses and Judas and Simon? Isn’t his mother Mary? Aren’t his sisters here today?” And they became offended by Him. They took offense at the teachings of Jesus. I won’t judge this community too harshly, at least not without acknowledging our almost universal tendency to think one way about someone, without allowing that people grow in grace as we do. We have to keep an open mind about others, as well as about our own identities, as they change and evolve in our journey with God. And it’s important to remember that our truest identity, children of God, does not depend upon our acceptance or our rejection by anyone. In our baptism we promise to proclaim the good news in word and deed; it’s not contingent upon how it’s received. Whether we are rejected or received with great joy, we are children of God.

But the onus is on us, however, to respond in the right way. Why did Jesus want the disciples to experience this moment of rejection? It seems like a weird kind of pep rally to give them before He sends them out, two by two. He wanted them to be prepared for the inevitable: that some people would not receive them with grace, and they would have to behave with grace. He said to the disciples a little bit later, “‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” I think that is an impressive response. After all, they’re just two ordinary folk, no fancy entourage, no nice clothes, not even a staff or a second tunic, showing up in a community with a word and a gesture of love. And moreover, they proclaimed that all should repent, that is, turn around. The response they received, in my opinion, was remarkably positive. But surely we know that there were some villages that did not accept them.

We need to hear these instructions as if Jesus Christ our Lord were standing in front of us teaching us about church growth. As if we had paid the Lord of Life to come and teach us, to be a consultant, because these are simple and remarkable instructions for that word we as Anglican Christians don’t like to use: Evangelism. Sharing the good news. Imagine, here are the instructions from the Lord of Life: Go! Don’t take a lot of stuff, and preach the good news. Stay for as long as you can. If they don’t accept you, leave. Shake off the dust, and start again.

Those are simple and powerful instructions for sharing a word and a gesture of love with a neighbor or a stranger, and we really ought to take them as seriously as we would take any instruction for church development from a paid consultant. Their lifestyle was a statement in itself, they didn’t call the people to come to them in some building, a center of power. They went out to the people, and that is what we must do as a community of faith.

I want to lift up something that happened on Wednesday, which was, as you know, Independence Day. A group of young adults from our congregation organized themselves independently to open up the church from 10:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. To offer a word, and a gesture of love. The word of love being a welcome, and the gesture of love being a cup of cold water, a good biblical offering. For those seven hours, they acted as evangelists. Not by convincing people of some complicated belief, but by offering a word and a gesture of love.

This simple organized act of love reached a lot of people, not only in person out there on the steps, but much, much farther through social media, and now it’s reaching everyone who listens to our sermons via podcast. Greetings, podcast listeners! As I and the young adults engage in the ministry of open doors along with so many others who are sitting here today, we know that when we offer a word of love, people are generally very happy to receive it. There is, however, some occasional rejection, and we can’t be afraid of that. We simply follow our Lord’s strategic plan for church development: To greet the friend, the stranger. To offer the word and the gesture of love, and if we are rejected, to move on and try again.

When we deal with rejection in our personal lives, it can be very difficult. It’s important to remember that if we’re in the heat of rejection in our own lives, that Jesus did not say, “Get revenge.” Jesus did not say, “Seek to justify yourself.” Jesus just said, “Move on.” Sometimes we’re called to reconciliation, and that involves staying, being present, communicating. But sometimes, we are not meant to respond to an unkind word, but simply to accept it as the price we pay for accepting the many blessings of others.

Most of the time, whether in our own lives or in our ministry as ministers of this church, the majority of folks will receive our word and gesture of love by blessing us with another word and another gesture of love. It’s important to note, also, that our word and gestures of love have consequences and effects that go far beyond the ones we might see in that moment. Not everyone we greet will come into our church, but some will. And even if they don’t, we have no idea the effect that simple act of love may have in the life of another, and in others through them. As we seek to be God’s ministers of the Church of the Advent, we’re called to keep going in this simple but profound ministry of presence by continuing our open doors ministry, and in other ways, such as our flea market which is coming up. Doing this work is our sacred call as the baptized. We’re called to share the good news. This is lived out, not in difficult, but in simple ways: by opening up our doors, by greeting people with a word of love, a cup of cold water, a listening ear. Not all of them will join us at Mass, but some of them will. And all of them will witness, by God’s grace, not by our effort, that we are striving to be an authentic community of love that lives into our mission, to be a loving, diverse, and inclusive community, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with everyone.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

July 1, 2018: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On this Sunday before Independence Day, in this particular time in our history, we should consider migrants. The story of America is a story of migrations. The first migrations were millennia ago, as the ancestors of the First Nations came onto this land as the first humans to live here, and then millennia later another wave of migration, this time from Europe. Many European migrants were fleeing persecution and violence, as migrants due today, but the migrants from Europe were not only human migrants, but also the migration of colonialism, disease, violence, forced conversions. Soon after the arrival of this migration, another one began: four hundred years of forced kidnappings, brutal transport, and the sale of human beings as chattel fueled the economy of this nation. Thanks be to God that those people of nobility and courage did not have their faith and hope extinguished but survived to a time of freedom. And yet we know that that freedom was often incremental in its progress and often went backwards. America is a story of migrations, and we can see the effect of this evil system today, all over the country but certainly in this city of Baltimore, in the inequality and lack of opportunity for people of color, in the culture of violence, and in the geography of this city.

America is a story of migrations, and the migrations continued after two world wars and during, when numbers of people from all over the world came to this country to seek the promise that we enjoyed. And yet so many of them were ghettoized and marginalized by the whites who were already here. Migrants pour into our borders every day. We hear the stories of so many of them in the news and so often unaccompanied child migrants, and maybe we wonder why their parents, if their parents are living, would allow or encourage such a dangerous journey. There’s only one answer to that: desperation. If you’ve not heard of the gang MS-13, you’re lucky. MS-13 is a gang that began in this country as disenfranchised migrant children were not allowed into public schools in the 1980s, and the gang grew from Los Angeles to all over this country and all over Central America. Last night I read a story about an eleven year old boy, the same age as the girl in the Gospel today, who was recruited by the drug cartel in his village in Honduras. The gang said to the parents of this eleven year old, ‘We’re taking your son.’ The parents said ‘No, please don’t, anything but that,’ but they knew the gang’s modus operandi, which is to take children, to tattoo the symbols of the gang on those children’s bodies, and then they are forever in that life of death and crime. This is no fate for any child. And if they resist, the parents are only too often murdered, perhaps with the children as well.

I’m sorry for these disturbing images in church, but I feel responsible to share them. In the Gospel today about another child in crisis, Jesus heals not only the child, but also a woman who had been suffering for twelve long years – the lifetime of these children in question. Today the mercy and power of Christ is shown in this story of healing for the woman with a hemorrhage, and this girl who was at the point of death. These stories testify to the unstoppable love, mercy and justice of God. And today that mercy works through you, and me. Baptized ministers of God. We who’ve made solemn vows to love and serve Christ in our neighbors, to uphold the freedom and dignity of every human being, are called to be agents of God’s work in this world. We need to remember this week, but all the time, that our nation is indeed great, but God is greater. We need to give thanks for our nation and work to improve it, and also remember that it is a sin to have any loyalty above our loyalty to God. We need to remember that ‘Liberty and justice for all’ has been interpreted in extremely limited ways in the course of our history and that each successive generation has fought to expand the concept of liberty and justice. We need to remember that all of us here are descendants of migrants. We need to remember that the wisdom of God decreed that our own Lord was a child migrant in the land of Egypt, along with the Most Holy Mother of God and St. Joseph, fleeing, as so many migrants do today, the threatened murder of their child.

As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, so he says to us: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may not be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” We can and ought to be so deeply grateful to God for setting us in this nation among many nations of the world. But we ought to remember this week that God has done this in order to give us rights and responsibilities. We have the right to free speech, to the vote, the right to civil action and protest, and so many other privileges shared by far too few in this world. We’re lucky to have them, and they’re gifts from God. And in this moment in the history of our nation, and in every moment, you are called to exercise your rights, not just as citizens, but as citizens of God’s kingdom. As ministers of Christ’s justice, mercy, and compassion. For the migrant, for those who are homeless, for those who live every day with racism, poverty and violence, for everyone who is marginalized. For our Lord honors those who are not honored in the world and blesses the poor and the persecuted.

Unless we exercise our rights and privileges to honor such as these, and to expand liberty and justice for all, our celebration of the national day is facile. And if we’re not making the right use of the gifts we have, we need to consider how God is calling us in this season to be agents of justice, love, and healing. Amen.

June 24, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

I come before you this morning in the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Six years ago, the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job saved my life. Perhaps more to the point, God saved my life through the story of Job. I had been experiencing depression for months: the type of depression that lingers much like a late Michigan winter. Drab, with the changing gray palette of the silent sky the only visible difference day-to-day. It was summer, however. The weather was lovely. I was in the middle of my time in college and I was starting to actively discern a call to the priesthood. However, my family was moving and I had to leave the home I grew up in.

I found myself at a Benedictine monastery in the middle of farm country in late August. I tried praying with the monks; I tried going on a long run on the dusty dirt roads to clear my head. Nothing seemed to quite work. Then, however, I turned to the devotional handout in my room, and I tried reading the gospel assigned; it had some meaning. The real breakthrough came when I reached out to God and I told God that I needed something, I needed to hear something, and I just opened the Bible – something I rarely do, I usually follow the lectionary. But I opened up the book and I saw the beginning of the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?” I was struck by the question, so I kept reading. Immediately, something opened up. The question tore through all the gray malaise and I felt God’s mercy pouring into my heart. I was not there, I did not know who laid the foundation of the Earth. I did not experience when the morning stars sang together and the heavenly beings shouted for joy. I felt alive. I felt loved. I felt worthy of love.

Now I was lucky: I was able to contact my family, get the help I needed, talk to my priest who was very empathetic, find a therapist. Years later, the experience is one of transformation, and not of frustration or tragedy. This, however, is not always the case, which is why I think it is valuable for us to turn to the Book of Job. Experiences of mental illness are not normative, and U.S. culture unfortunately tends to treat the non-normative as suspect at best. One scholar of the Hebrew scriptures has labeled Job an anomalous book within the wisdom tradition, because of its dissenting view of the theodicy, or the theology of why people suffer. Perhaps this is why Job’s story reached me in the middle of depression: an innocent suffer who rails against God and begs for answers, while losing everything and finding his friends to be unreliable and judgmental. While it can often be helpful to focus on the importance of responsibility, Job reminds us that even when we do everything right, as far as is humanly possible, we are sometimes tested by circumstances beyond our control.

And after losing everything, and suffering so much, Job receives consolation from God in the form of a powerful message about God’s strength. This is the God who has created life-giving rain and knows when the mountain goats give birth. In the moment I read those words, I could only give gratitude to our amazing creator and wonder at a creation that contains so much variety, including my flawed, beautiful love itself. God is bigger than and cares for us in the midst of our troubles. Because if God loves me, God loves you, and God loves everyone. We live in a time when people in power seek to diminish the humanity of some for the benefit of a few. The children ripped from their parents’ arms at the militarized place called ‘the border’ or ‘la frontera’ signal to us the dehumanizing currents that run through much of American culture.

Migrants fleeing violence and persecution threaten some so much that they cling more closely to their nationalistic fear than to God’s commands. Like Jobs’ friends who taunted him in his misery, they self-righteously persecute the poor while literally attempting to destroy brown families. Horror stories like these have occurred in this country since its founding, and until white society takes love of neighbor seriously, they will continue, both at the border and in places across this land. Genocide, slavery, and white supremacy must be overcome within people’s hearts and outwardly within communities or its dark tempting power will cause people to continue to forsake God.

James Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology, explicitly connects the Cross and the lynching tree: two powerful symbols within the black community. He argues that for the African-American community, both came to represent death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope, a thirst for life even in the face of death. He later invokes the Womanist theologian Shawn Copeland who argues that enslaved African sang spirituals because they saw on the Cross the One who went all the way for them. As well: as a result of Christ’s crucifixion, triumph over the principalities and powers of death, triumph over evil in this world.

This weekend I witnessed something that gave me hope in God’s weapons of righteousness, something that can equip us for spiritual battle in these troubled times. The Poor People’s Campaign, a broad-based movement for justice, based in moral revival, beyond party lines, gathered in Washington D.C. to commemorate the end of six weeks of action. Across forty states and many sovereign tribal lands, people got together, talked, raised their voices. Thousands were arrested. And on Saturday, yesterday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to hear the stories of the poor from the poor, white black, brown, of all status. People called for justice in the economy, in education, in the treatment of the environment, for an end to racial injustice, and for our transformation beyond a war-based economy. The movement draws strength from Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders, and is based solidly in nonviolence, in nonviolent direct action.

There were many Jobs in that crowd, people doing their best to live while struggling with unemployment, lack of health care, industrial pollution, mass incarceration, and failing schools. People spoke for themselves and they did not hold back. Clergy and other leaders supported them in their testimony. Just as God did not order Job’s suffering, so also God does not condone the suffering human beings endure today. As people of faith who believe in this awesome God, any response not based in deep love is insufficient.

If Jesus went to the Cross once and for all time, why are the weakest and most marginalized still killed simply for existing? Why can we still read the Book of Job and relate it to so many stories of people suffering in the world today? Why’s the humanity of some cherished and cared for, while others are given indifference, or worse, treated with cruelty? We must see, as Job tells us, or as God tells us in Job, that God sees every birth and death in all of creation, and sit with Jesus in the back of the boat. Jesus, who calms the storm, who calms the fears of those he loves, of those who follow him. And who in such actions shows himself to be fully God. Jesus incarnate shows us through his ministry that God cares most especially for those who suffer, for those who are cast out, for those in need. This is the Jesus who is the Lord of Creation and who will bring about peace. God restores the life of Job. Jesus calms the storm for his disciples.

How will we open our hearts today and reach out? Amen.