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

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

Magnificat: Credits and Acknowledgements

The cover image is a painting entitled “The Virgin in Prayer” by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, an Italian Baroque painter. I recolored it in a light blue so that I could add the text box for the title and because blue is frequently the liturgical color for Advent. Blue is also associated with the Virgin Mary.

I can do nothing on my own, so I would like to acknowledge the following people:

  • Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the devotion writers: Marilyn Allen, Keith Axberg, Michael Boss, Barb Cheyney, Kathy Fleck (Sister Katharine, OSB), Cathey Frederick, Fr. Paul Moore, Natalee Raymond, Ashley Sweeney, Mary Ann Taylor, Vicki Wesen, Penny Worrell, and Tom Worrell. Y’all inspire me, and I enjoyed reading your work in the process of assembling this project.
  • Thank you to Ashley Sweeney for sending me amazing pictures of artwork from Italy while I was working on this devotional book. It was a great help to me in formulating my own reflections and in searching for a cover picture.
  • Blessings to you in this Advent season and Merry Christmas.
    -Jen McCabe

    Magnificat: December 25, 2019 (Christmas Day)

    “So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” – Luke 2:16-19

    “Oh, but you didn’t have to!” How many times has a gift I gave been greeted by those words! And my standard reply is not really very standard: “If I had to it wouldn’t have been a gift.” I know I miss the point. They mean to express unexpected joy and gratitude. (I’m hiding my dumb luck at having stumbled on just the right gift.) In another sense, I don’t miss the point. Gifts are given freely or not at all.

    We’ve been reading all Advent long about two parallel songs of women whose sentiment toward God is similar. Hannah, childless until she conceives Samuel, the last and greatest of the judges of the Old Testament, bursts forth in song at the gift of what didn’t have to be. Mary, chosen by God to be the Mother of God, when it could have been most anyone else, bursts into song. The fact of the gift (rather than nothing) and the fittingness of the gift (when it could have been otherwise) give rise to unexpected joy and gratitude.

    And perhaps it goes deeper still. There is wonder; wonder at a gift freely given, and therefore truly a gift, and exactly fitting, for it was precisely what we most needed. I wonder when I think that God actually takes the cosmic risk of giving people the freedom to reject their own Source so that any relationship between them and the Source could be freely given and received. If I were more capable, a song would be fitting. And there is more. I wonder that God would hide divinity in a human face so we would understand. I wonder that God would hide in our faces as we face one another.

    It just didn’t have to be that way—and yet it is.

    (As a prayer, imagine yourself in a place that inspires wonder and ponder the gift God didn’t have to give.)
    -Fr. Paul Moore

    As a Christmas bonus to y’all, we have a playlist of Christmas music for you here.

    Magnificat: December 24, 2019

    “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” – Luke 1:54-55

    The Bible is the book that tells the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy to His people who did not always follow God as they were instructed. We all remember the story of God coming to Abraham and telling him that he would have a son when his wife Sarah was barren.

    “I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
    -Genesis 17:7

    We remember the stories of the crossing of the Red Sea, the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for forty years where they whined about the manna, worshipped the golden calf and wanted to go back to Egypt because they remembered “the good old days”. But God was faithful and merciful and kept the covenant He had made with Abraham and his descendants despite the unfaithfulness of the Israelites.
    This season of Advent, we focus on God’s gift of His Son Jesus who was born in a manager and became man to fulfill God’s plan. He died for us so that we can have both an abundant and eternal life.

    As Mary magnifies the Lord in this passage for fulfilling his promises, so I truly feel overwhelmed when I think how God has worked in my life. Like the Israelites, I have wandered off, done my own thing, but He has always been faithful and forgiving to me. Many a time I have reached out to God when life has been unbearable AND every time, He has provided a way out. My desire is to live a life that magnifies God in everything I do, making a difference in my community.

    Dear Lord, help me to magnify your Holy Name in everything I do. Thank you for your faithfulness and mercy, shown to me every day. Amen.
    -Marilyn Allen