Agape: April 7, 2020

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

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” -1 Corinthians 13:7

Today, eleven years ago in the early hours of the morning, my son Daniel James Kibler was delivered by emergency c-section after I developed HELLP Syndrome in order to save both of our lives. I have spoken in previous devotions about the PTSD and emotional pain that arose from the circumstances of that week, but I want to share today about the incredible agape shown to me and my family during that time.

  • A parishioner of my former husband’s heard of Daniel’s birth and knew my former husband was out of town, so she raced down to Great Falls to be with me and hung out in the waiting room on the maternity floor all day in case I needed someone with me.
  • The church where my former husband was preparing to interview sent us flowers and a few members sent baby presents. We did not end up at that parish, but I have never forgotten their generosity.
  • My former husband’s parishioners sent so many flowers to me that every surface of my room with the exception of parts of the floor and bed were covered. We gave the best flowers to the nurses when we left, and the rest were flowers put on the altar on Easter Sunday.
  • Our ELCA bishop rushed to be at my side when my husband called the synod office to let her know. My first lucid memory after Daniel’s birth is of her stroking my hand and explaining to me gently that I had just had a baby.
  • My mom’s co-workers all over the world on multiple continents asked if they could pray for us. Their prayers spanned 5 continents and 3 major religions.
  • My Facebook friends all put me on the prayer lists of their churches and put out the word for their friends to do the same. Almost eleven years later, I still have people who contact me and tell me that they were praying for me at that time.
  • We were told by Daniel’s neonatologist that Daniel had an 80% chance of survival. My former husband wanted to baptize him, but I was terrified of doing it out of fear that something would happen to him if we did. (In my defense, PTSD and postpartum depression do not do great things to one’s reasoning.) My agnostic mother was the tie-breaking vote, reminding me that Daniel was a fighter and the baptism would be a celebration of that. We baptized him on April 10th, which was Good Friday. The pictures from the baptism remain favorites of mine, especially the one with my husband’s hand and my tiny bruised hand touching Daniel and praying for him.

Lord, thank you for the ways in which your people show love to others in times of crisis. Help us to remember that we all belong to each other and that we need to walk with one another in times like this. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Daniel's baptism

Agape: April 6, 2020

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

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” -1 Corinthians 13:4-6

This is what God’s love looks like, St. Paul writes. And this is what God’s love doesn’t look like. Familiar and beloved as this passage is, I had never before noticed how much more Paul tells us what love isn’t compared to what love is. But it makes sense. Paul was writing to a fractious church whose diversity was an excuse for negative community-wounding behavior.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the nations, all the peoples of the world, took this passage to heart and chose love? Of if we, in our little community of St. Paul’s, grew more and more into God’s love as Paul reveals it? And, not to miss the point, if the writer of this passage you are now reading learned finally to be authentically patient and kind? Can this child of God put aside all envy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, insistence on my own way, resentment, rejoicing in wrongdoing? Can God’s love live without God’s truth?

I’ve got work to do. Holy work. Thanks, St. Paul!

Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love. We pray this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
-Tom Worrell

Agape: April 5, 2020 (Palm Sunday)

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

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

This seems like a strange passage to be reading today, but we are looking at 1 Corinthians 13 this week, and we have to start somewhere.

Looking at today’s Gospel passage regarding the entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, for those who are interested), the thing that is striking to me about today is how completely opposite Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem was from the triumphal entry of Caesar or any major general who is flaunting their power or coming in to conquer the occupying forces. They came in atop war horses with trumpeters and standard bearers. In contrast, Jesus comes in riding atop a donkey. Those crowds who entered ahead of him proclaimed his entrance like they would someone entering atop a warhorse, but what they were shouting aloud was completely different. “Hosanna” comes from a Hebrew word that means “rescue” or “save”, so they were effectively calling on Jesus to rescue them from something.

The generals atop their warhorses are the antithesis of those with agape in their hearts. Their conquests were all about glory or power for themselves or for their country. Their words are all about their own glory—quite like a “noisy gong” or “clanging cymbal” to the ears of those they were conquering. Jesus spoke words of agape, words that show care or concern for those he came to save. It is a remarkable difference.

Thank you, Lord, for speaking words that show love and concern for those you came to save—who happen to be us still today. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Agape: April 4, 2020

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

“The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” -1 John 4:21

As a child, loving your brother and sisters isn’t too bad. I mean, I could do that. Sure, they can be obnoxious brats sometimes, but I still loved them. So, I’m cool with God, right? But then my Dad set me down one day and very seriously said, “Sandy, God says you must love your neighbor as yourself. Do you love your neighbor?” I had to think seriously about that. You see there was this big 2nd grade girl who hit me several times, knocked me down and broke my glasses and I sure didn’t love her. But she lived down the road a long way (probably 2-3 blocks) so I said, “how far down the road are they my neighbor?”

That is still the question isn’t it? Who are my sisters and brothers and how far down the road do we have to count them? Surely, God doesn’t count that jerk that cut me off in traffic. What about homeless people, or homosexuals, or foreigners, or Muslims, or people of color? Is God okay if we love them from afar without having to associate with them?

Those don’t bother me, but my test came when a man deliberately caused physical and lasting emotional pain to my daughter. I found I couldn’t even pray for him, much less love him. God, are you seriously asking this of me? How can I possibly be called to do this? It is just too painful. What I ended up doing was, I came to church and explained to several of my friends what had happened and asked them to pray for him since I could not.

On the surface, this commandment seems easy, but there are times when we are pulled up short and have to look deeply into our hearts or into our personal prejudices. Other times following this commandment means walking our talk and what you need to do is start making your actions match your beliefs. I know it is easier to love others when nothing is going wrong. But the commandment is clear, and it doesn’t list exceptions.

Dearest Lord God, I know the answer to my earlier question, “God are you seriously asking this of me?” Sometimes I forget that every person out there is a child of God. Help me Lord to always remember that the answer is YES. You have commanded that we love them all as you have loved each of us. Sometimes that is really hard. Help us, Lord. Amen.
-Sandy McDougall

Agape: April 3, 2020

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

“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” -1 John 4:20

From ancient times, God’s people have struggled with loving our brothers and sisters. In Leviticus 19:17-18, we are told: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Again and again, we hear similar words from Jesus that we are to love one another. And it’s still hard!!!

Raised in Oklahoma, I attended a segregated school until 1960, my junior year in high school. The little town I grew up in had a white school system and a “Negro” school system and there was little or no contact between the two. When, by court order, the two systems were integrated, the blacks bore the brunt of the change, as their school was closed and they were bused to “our” school. For a while there was fear, resentment, and very little real contact between blacks and whites. However, as we began to know one another on a one to one basis, mutual respect and friendships began to develop. Looking back, the lesson for me is that, unlike our omniscient God, we can’t really love our brothers and sisters en masse. Relationships have to develop one on one.

As Fr. Peter Scholtes so beautifully wrote:

“We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Dear God, help us to show our love for you by loving our brothers and sisters. Amen.
-Cathey Frederick

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