Calvary is a special place with great preaching, wonderful music, an active laity, and a friendly and mission-focused congregation …
“As a place of tolerance and acceptance of others; the friendliness, love and support of our congregation ensures we will continue to remain an open and affirming place for everyone.”Vision 2020 excerpt
– The Rev. Deborah W. Rutter
Rector, Calvary Episcopal Church
[This posting originally appeared as The Weekly Pulpit on the Religion page of The Warren Sentinel of May 28, 2014].
I know that I am not alone in my feeling that we are living in exceptionally stressful and worrying times. Endless wars drag on while new ones threaten. Terrorism – the reality and the growing threat – is going from bad to worse the world over. Economic vulnerabilities raise anxieties for the shrinking middle class and pose enormous questions about the plight of the poor. The Ebola virus threatens millions. Political gridlock has produced severely dysfunctional government in our nation. Our public education system is failing in far too many communities. Healthcare costs are overwhelming, and the related debates over medical insurance are bitterly divisive. Ferguson, Mo., has exposed continuing realities of racism, both personal and structural, that are alarming and literally deadly. And each new day seems to bring us “breaking news” that is bad news.
Of course, such global and national issues affect us all personally, albeit in different ways and to different degrees. While some of us try to put as much as possible out of our minds and simply continue on with daily life, others become activists seeking to make a difference, and still others are charged with the responsibility of leading and making the tough decisions. It seems to me that the key is learning how to face the realities before us and then to keep a proper perspective.
I also believe that every one of us has something to contribute in how we as a people together understand issues and solve problems. For you as a Christian, this begins with your faith in the loving presence and redeeming grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The way you actually live that faith is rooted in the life and ministry of the Church. None of this makes us somehow immune to the distress we naturally feel in troubled times, nor are the complexities of the issues at hand sorted out any easier. But it is this personal faith lived communally that strengthens you through it all and allows you to form the kind of perspective on life in this world that will sustain you. The Christian worldview is not naive, but is essentially optimistic because we are a people of profound hope. What that hope looks like in daily life is the conviction that every person can in fact be part of the solution rather than be stuck in the anxiety or problem.
A towering example for us is Thomas Merton (1915-1968), widely recognized as one of the very greatest spiritual figures of the 20th century. He was a Trappist monk and hermit of the Abbey at Gethsemani, Ky., and was a very prolific writer. But he broke the stereotypes of monastic life in many ways. For all of the Trappists’ cloistered and contemplative tradition, Merton was also a very public, vocal and optimistic visionary. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was a civil rights activist and a leading personality in the “Peace Movement” focusing on the threat of nuclear war. The last years of his life were marked by his groundbreaking work developing interfaith ties, especially with Buddhist monasticism. His many books cover the range of his experiences. His best known work is certainly his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which has been acclaimed as the greatest spiritual testament since the Confessions of St. Augustine (late fourth century). In my view, Merton’s public popularity, both during his life and after, tended to oversimplify him. He was actually a very complex – many say even contradictory – man, but rather than confusing or diluting his witness, these qualities only served to enrich what he could bring to virtually any given topic or situation.
I first encountered Merton when I was in college, and ever since then he has been one of my favorite writers and exemplars in the spiritual life. I revere the simple and yet mighty straightforwardness of Merton’s faith and personal devotion, even through the evident struggles. I can identify with his complexity and contradictions, since I am deeply aware that such are often true in my own heart and mind. I can only pray that this will allow me to bring more to the proverbial table, to hear and understand more clearly the whole breadth of what is being said.
Below is a very illustrative and telling prayer that Merton wrote. It may surprise you, coming from such a spiritual giant and iconic leader, but I find a certain comfort in Merton’s bare honesty and in the fact that both his faith and his questions could be so close to the ground. I offer this in hopes that it will be useful to you when troubles and distress in your experience of life move you to return to the foundations of your relationship with God.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.
– The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
[This column originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of The Virginia Episcopalian].
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 17
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
8 The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you for ever.
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honour;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;
forget your people and your father’s house,
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.* 18In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 You must understand this, my beloved:* let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves* in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,* thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;* and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.*) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live* according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’*21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 16
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 15
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14