Agape: April 2, 2020

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

“We love because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:19

We are to love God, our brethren and our fellow man is understood here because God first loved us by sending His Son Jesus to die for us. He provided the example and we, out of gratitude and following the Way, want to show love to our fellow man.

People watch what we do rather than just taking for granted that we will do what we say. Our church should be a welcoming place for everyone who walks through our doors no matter how society may categorize that person. We welcome everyone to participate in communion, the exchanging of the peace, the Celebration of Life, just to name a few activities. Many parishioners share in supplying and serving food for the coffee hour after the Sunday service to offer a time for new attendees plus other parishioners to join in a time of fellowship and support for one another. We are sharing our love for Jesus with others and hope they will join our community.

I had been looking for a church home for quite a while when Ashley suggested that I come to St. Paul’s with her. I really felt a sense that God was very present in this place, a lot of times moved to tears. I had been to many churches where I had entered, worshipped and left and no one knew that I had been there. I did not feel welcome. It was like a club, and I did not meet the requirements, or so I felt.

But this love needs to go beyond the borders of our church to reach out to our community. We participate in organizations like Family Promise that reaches out to the homeless, Friendship House that provides food and lodging for some of the homeless and Habitat for Humanity that helps people build their first homes. Our church building is used by the community for theatre practices, memorial services, weddings, and a place for many to meet with a common cause.

Lord, please help me to live so others will see Jesus’ love reaching out to them. Amen.
-Marilyn Allen

Agape: April 1, 2020

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

In September 2000, the leadership of my school’s chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship thought it would be a good bonding experience for all of us to take part in the high ropes course, and I was talked into doing it by Mike, one of my staff workers, despite being severely afraid of heights. After being given a safety lecture, fastened with harnesses, and handed helmets, we ascended the course. A key feature of our safety lecture was the assurance that the daisy chain, a piece of webbing material with multiple loops on it, would hold our weight and catch us if we fell.

I made it across the first five elements without a problem as they were pretty basic bridges and things like wooden balance beams, and I found that I could forget about how high up I was if my focus was on the tree in front of me. On the sixth element, we had to walk a wire strung between two trees, grabbing a series of ropes hanging down from above as we edged across sideways. I made it probably 20 feet out onto wire before I realized that I was looking out into the distance and that I was 60 feet in the air, being suspended by a webbing cable. Any confidence I had in my ability to get across the wire instantaneously vanished, and I did the most logical thing I could think of doing… which was to break into literal hysterics. I was screaming in fear and sobbing my eyes out, and all I remember is the voice of my friend Erik yelling encouragement to me to keep going.

“Jen! You’ve got this! Take two more steps and you’ll be at the next rope. Grab it! OK, now just scoot along holding that rope! You’re almost at the next one!”

I eventually made my way across, clipped my carabiner to the tree on the platform, and wrapped my arms around it. I was sobbing my eyes out, and when my Erik made it across, he hugged me tightly and told me repeatedly how proud he was of me. Eventually, I was talked into continuing and made it across the next element before Mike and I hit the one where we would have to go across sideways, using each other for balance. This was going to be tricky because Mike was a good foot taller than me, but we prayed quickly before starting, and we managed to inch our way halfway across before I suddenly fell backward.

To my surprise, my daisy chain caught me.

I was suddenly suspended 60 feet in the air, completely supported, and it was the most amazing feeling. Somehow, Mike and I were able to get me back up onto the wire and in a standing position, and we managed to inch our way slowly to the next platform. At that point, I had complete and utter confidence that I wasn’t going to fall, and I literally ran across the last element to the final platform where I was able to climb down.

One of the lessons I learned that day was that I needed to keep my focus on God during times like these when my depression and anxiety hit. I never have to worry about Him catching me as I fell because His hands are big enough to catch me.

Gracious God, help us to remember that You are holding us in your hands and will never let go of us, even when times are hard. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Agape: March 31, 2020

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

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” -1 John 4:18

Fear can be a terrible paralyzing emotion to live with. There is the fear of an illness making your family bankrupt due to the high cost of medical care. There is the fear of losing your job and not being able to support your family. All these fears, if realized, will bring a “punishment” to those involved whether ostracization, bankruptcy and/or homelessness.

We, as Christians, can put our trust in God and feel the perfect love from Him that casts out the fear and allows us to live above the fear surrounding us. We also have the opportunity through an organization such as Family Promise, to provide a safe environment for those families who have lost their home due to a family illness, a loss of a job or both. St. Paul’s participates in Family Promise along with Trinity Lutheran Church in providing our clients with a free place to stay, meals provided by church members and the support of the church community while they save their money for their rent deposits.

When we provide the meals or chaperone our clients through the night, we have an opportunity to hear their stories. I will never forget the young couple a year ago New Year’s Eve, that shared their story about being pregnant and living in their car. They were so appreciative of the Family Promise program that was giving them that second chance to rise above the fear and shame of their situation. Hopefully, they realize that there are Christians who care and want to share His love with others. What a small inconvenience we experience having to sleep on a cot for one night when there are those who live with the fear of not knowing where they will sleep tonight or how they will ever be able to provide for their family.

Lord, help me to be a beacon of God’s love and hope to those who live in fear. Amen.
-Marilyn Allen

Agape: March 30, 2020

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

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” -1 John 4:12

I make it a habit to engage, complement, and encourage strangers in public places. I don’t go out of my way to do so, but don’t let an opportunity pass by. In line at the post office. Waiting for a light to change at a street corner. In passing on a dock or in the aisles of the grocery store. At the very least, I make eye contact and smile or nod. I don’t do this for any ulterior motive or for self-aggrandizement. It comes from somewhere deep within, a soul-to-soul connection, even if we never see that person again. And often the blessing bounces back to me.

Two examples stand out in my memory of being particularly touching. And neither of them involved words.

The first was on an airplane trip to New York from Seattle on a hot, muggy August day in the late 1980s seven months pregnant with my third child with my four-year-old son in the seat adjacent to me, and my two-year-old daughter on my lap. Seated in the bulkhead row for more room, we shared the space with a Muslim woman in full traditional dress, only her eyes showing. She, too, was pregnant with two small children. Although we didn’t speak the same language or adhere to the same religion, we shared a mother moment (for five and half hours!) Although I couldn’t see her mouth, her eyes smiled. I smiled back, mother to mother.

The second instance occurred this past fall while visiting the Sistine Chapel at The Vatican. In the utter silence and pressed on all sides with a sea of humanity, a toddler in a stroller next to me dropped her bottle on the marble floor. I bent to pick it up, tapped her mother on the shoulder, and handed the bottle back. The mother smiled and nodded her thanks. Not five minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the same woman. In her hands was a sweater that had dropped from my arm. Now it was my turn to thank her with a smile and a nod.

Whether we rely on words or not, it’s touching one another’s humanity that speaks volumes.

Dear Lord, help us to see the humanity in everyone we meet, regardless of gender or religion or political persuasion. Amen.
-Ashley Sweeney

Agape: March 29, 2020

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

It was January 12, 1997. A few weeks earlier, my friend Kyle had asked if I wanted to go to church with him at the Episcopal Church in Almaden. Having accepted Christ into my heart a few years earlier and not having a church of my own, I said “yes”. It terrified me to walk into the church that morning because I am incredibly shy, but I knew in my heart that I needed to be there.

Over the next few weeks, my shyness started dissipating and I started getting to know more and more people. I was welcomed as a member of the church on May 18, 1997, which happened to be the day before my 17th birthday, and I was invited to join the choir that fall. Margaret Kvamme, the choir director, was a professor of music at UC Santa Cruz, and I ended up singing under her baton as a member of the Women’s Chorale during part of my time there. Andy Kerr, the director of the Folk Choir, recruited me as a member and even invited me to play special music at one of the Christmas services when he discovered that I was a classical pianist.

Perhaps the person who had the biggest influence on me was Winnie Jackman, one of the sopranos in the choir. I stood next to her every Sunday morning and I learned the liturgy by heart from hearing it spoken in my ear every Sunday. She and her husband Jack would sometimes give me a ride home from choir practice, and I would occasionally run into Jack when I was walking home from school. They were at my wedding at the church in March 2002, and Winnie remarked that she had not cried at her daughter’s wedding, but she had cried at mine.

In June 2014, I received an email from Margaret. Winnie had passed away after a ten-year fight with dementia, and her funeral was to be at the church that Saturday. I was living in central California at the time and was in the process of moving down to southern California with my former husband and my son Daniel, but I knew I needed to be there. My mom offered to watch Daniel for me, and I walked into the building for the first time in 11 years. The funeral was all familiar music, and it was good to see many of the people again.

As I was walking out the door to head back to my parents’ house, I heard Andy’s voice behind me.

“Jen, I expect you to be at folk choir practice tomorrow morning.”

I smiled. It was good to be home again.

Thank you, Lord, for churches that adopt 17 year olds and welcome them back with open arms. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Agape: March 28, 2020

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

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” -1 John 4:10

I could write you a very lengthy list of all the ways that my love falls short of the Gospel message, should you have the time and inclination to read it. Out of everything on that list, however, the expression of love that I cannot imagine, let alone emulate, is sending my children (or grandchildren) into the world as an atoning sacrifice for my sins. But seeing as how the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons (and daughters), isn’t this essentially what we do as parents?

The hard truth is that if we ever hope to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth, what choice do we have? And what choice do our children have if not to atone in some way for the sins of their parents’ generation? It’s either that or learn to live with those sins — and I hope for the sake of my children’s children that they don’t make that choice. Rather than dwell on the sacrificial nature of this passage from 1 John in an Abrahamic sense, I find greater comfort and hope in a line passage from a pop culture icon of my youth, Khalil Gibran:

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Lord, thank you for the blessings that are my children and grandchildren. Keep me ever mindful that our children come through us, but not from us. That they are with us, but do not belong to us. They are in your hands, as are all things , and we ask your blessing upon them. Amen.
-Michael Boss