Agape: February 28, 2020

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” -Leviticus 19:18

Leviticus 19:18 states “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

When I choose this verse, I did not realize that we would be renewing our baptismal vows on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, January 12. The presider read “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We responded with, “I will, with God’s help,” and I had a flashback to one of Father Paul’s 2019 Inquirer classes when the question was asked, “who is our neighbor?” There were quite a few responses: the nice folks next door who wave and say “hi”, or the church lady delivering chicken soup after you have had surgery; but what about the neighbor with the obnoxious barking dog? The smelly homeless person with their whole world in a shopping cart begging for money? Those who committed the horrors of September 11th? A parent starving their child to death? Races of humans persecuted because of the color of their skin or their religion? The answer is that they are all our neighbors.

Last Monday, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and scholar who led the civil rights movement, and was “deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.” In one of his sermons, he wrote “in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, verses 42 and 43, we find these pressing words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: ‘ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

I’ve used the word “neighbor” several times, which reminds me of Mr. Fred Rogers, the gentle person whose quotes are the perfect antidote to the hate and helplessness that seems to be all around us:

“Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives”

Thank you Mr. Rogers for always starting your show with a song with the famous line. “Won’t you be my neighbor.” I will, with God’s help.

Heavenly Father, we pray that different cultures will be able to care for one another and that we all could be loving and compassionate to all our neighbors. Amen.
-Mary Ann Taylor

Agape: February 27, 2020

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

“In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” -Exodus 15:13

During my formation years as a Benedictine Sister, I have studied theology rather thoroughly. It is written that Moses led 600,000 Israelites out of Egypt and he was 120 years old! God gave Moses the instructions and directions and Moses obeyed each and every one of them even though it was with great difficulty.

Every day, God shows us, guides us and directs us but we don’t seem to obey, even with little or no difficulty. We have it so easy… yet we don’t always feel and accept God’s steadfast love.

When times are tough; poverty, war, depression, homelessness, we gladly open up to God. Pharoah’s slaves, the Israelites, opened up to God when they needed Him the most. Yet, they seemed to do so with conditions.

We need to know God and accept His love and guidance on divine terms, not our terms. He is always available to us. All we have to do is listen and obey. His strength will guide us always.

Holy Father, help us to listen with the ear of our heart, to trust, follow and exalt you in every step of our journey on earth. Amen.
-Sister Katharine, OSB

Weekly Reflection and News: February 26, 2020

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matthew 4:1-11

In 2016 Morgan Freedman produced a National Geographic series on The Story of God. It’s not really a history of the divine, but a compendium of the ways people have understood and talked about God over the millennia, and how that has developed. Like all reference to the divine, he comes at it obliquely, for that is finally all we can do. I had a couple of seminary professors who were going to do something similar with the devil. What’s the devil’s story? How has humanity understood evil, related to evil, courted, resisted, or given in to evil that seems somehow greater than they are?

The writer of this story seems to understand the devil in similar terms. Does Jesus need to avail himself of a greater authority in Scripture to overcome the devil? That idea flies in the face of the Resurrection, Christianity’s great story of the vindication of self-giving love over evil. The same is true here. Jesus could just stand up to the devil and say, “bead it, bad guy!” but he does not, because this story is not about Jesus beating the devil. It is about how we overcome evil. If we go at it thinking we can do it all alone we’re bound to lose. In that sense, the evil we face within and in society is greater than we are. But when we approach evil from the spirit, from that place in us that has surrendered to the love of God, evil retreats—it must retreat, for it cannot continue in such contexts.

I think of the movie, Moana, a fabulous epic tale. As Moana approaches the blazing volcano that has tried to destroy her in a kind of love willing to sacrifice her own life for her people, she is able to place the stone on the heart of the “devil,” and resurrect the world.

The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)

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Agape: February 26, 2020 (Ash Wednesday)

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

To impeach or not impeach. To strike Iran or not strike Iran. To testify or not to testify. To criminalize or to rehabilitate. To welcome or to deport? Shootings—the challenge of those experiencing homelessness—addiction—racial tensions. We live in a time of great public anxiety, deep divisions getting deeper, and fractures in society growing wider. And then there was Lent! Time to go around with sad faces, displaying a holy anxiety about the intensity of one’s sacrifice, hoping against hope that it will be sufficient to garner the mercy of heaven! Well, no, not exactly. We have (thank God) left that medieval way of thinking behind. And yet we all know grumpy people during Lent, whose disciplines have deprived them of their favorite comforts. They are no fun to be around, and I can’t see how they are much good for an anxious world.

Whatever you choose to do as your Lenten discipline (and we will love you even if you are grumpy,) as a church, we are going to look at ways to live un-anxiously in an anxious world. How do we keep the chaos outside from becoming chaos within?

The theme for these Lenten meditations is agape, that kind of self-giving love that we see in Jesus. Jesus truly gave himself for the world, and yet we also see him grounding himself outside the anxious world of his day, going regularly into the mountains to pray. He shows us that we cannot give what we do not have, and that agape love does not come from the world but from beyond it. Ours will be a discipline of detachment, of looking at ways of attending to the needs of the world without getting sucked in. If we, as a community of faith, can do that, then we truly have something to offer our world.

O God of peace, your Son, Jesus Christ, promised us peace unlike that of the world. Bring that peace to flower in our hearts and lives, that we may help lead the world out of the darkness into your glorious light, through the same Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, we lift our voices in endless praise. Amen.
-Fr. Paul Moore

Agape: Why Agape?

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

When I was pondering ideas for this year’s devotional booklet last spring while sitting in the classroom where I do drop-in tutoring, the word agape came to me. I love Greek words, so this sounded good to me.

Agape is one of four words that comprise the English word “love”. Eros is a romantic/sexual love, storge is a natural or familial love, philios is the companionable or relational love that is part of friendship, and agape is frequently rendered as “charity”. It is a soul-changing and divine love that transcends everything else. Fr. Paul describes it as a “sacrificial love”, which is fitting because it is the love shown by Jesus as he willingly died for our sins. It seemed like a fitting topic to explore this year.

Everything is laid out the same way as in previous years. The passage is at the top, there is a reflection under them, and then a prayer at the end. We at St. Paul’s wish you a holy Lent and a blessed Holy Week.
-Jen McCabe

Weekly Reflection and News: February 20, 2020

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

The season of Epiphany is nearly over. We have journeyed with the Magi, lo these seven weeks since the end of the Christmas season. We have traveled from Persia to Bethlehem; we have journeyed from Central America to the Skagit Valley; we have trudged the road of happy destiny from the First to the Twenty-First Century. Are you tired yet?

Moses spent forty days on the holy mountain before he was given the gift of Torah. Elijah spent forty days on the mountain hiding from those who would do him harm before he heard the voice of God in the still small voice. Jesus fasted in the wilderness forty days battling a variety of temptations – the greatest of which would be to stand in God’s shoes – before he returned home to Galilee to proclaim the Good News of salvation to a sin-sick and weary world. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?

Jesus climbed the mountain with his friends. When he was baptized, the voice of God came to him: You are my beloved; you are One in whom I am well-pleased. Up on the mountain, the voice of God speaks up: This is my beloved. Listen to him!

Listen. There is so much noise in the world. There is so much static in the air. I am tempted to close my eyes, cover my ears, and bleat forth with a hearty la-la-la-la-la – hoping and praying the bleary, dreary drone of this world’s metal on metal screeching will stop. But Jesus taps the shoulder – yours and mine – and says, “Follow me.” And so we leave the din of battle behind and we follow him up and up until we find our head in the clouds. Uncovering our ears we hear it: Silence in the presence of the Almighty. Jesus glistens; we listen.

From here we return to the valley of the shadow. Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem – his Exodus. He drapes his arms around the shoulders of his friends and says, “Let’s get going.” Those arms draped ‘round us will soon be stretched out for us, nailed to and old, rugged, ugly cross – fashioned from a Christmas tree we so recently gathered beneath with good cheer and joy; you’ll see.

Life is a journey. We have traveled with the Magi. Now let’s walk with our Lord. We need not fear, for He is with us and promises to be our food and drink every step of the way.

Shalom,
The Rev. Keith Axberg

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