Weekly Reflection and News: February 13, 2020

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Matthew 5:21-37

A friend told me many years ago that Jesus’ teaching drove people inward. The understanding of proper religious practice of the day was pretty external. It had to do with what you did, not what you thought or desired. Jesus, on the other hand, says stuff like what is written above. It goes inward, to thoughts and attitudes and the “why” behind choices we make. In this vein Jesus follows in the footsteps of John the Baptist before him and so many of the Old Testament prophets. Ultimately Torah, the Law of Moses, is summarized by an internal command: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

What is harder to say, and Jesus works in on it from a hundred angles in his teaching, is that the root of spiritual vitality and health is not just paying attention to one’s inner life, but cultivating a certain kind of internal life. It’s all about loving God and neighbor, and love requires that we set our egos where they ought to be and not where they want to be, and dive deeper, surrendering first to the love of God we have come to know, and then the disciplines of self-giving love for others. Surrender is scary—unless it is done for love.

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

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Weekly Reflection and News: February 6, 2020

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:13-20

My father told me once that when he was a boy he had figured out that if you could rotate a coil of wire wrapped around a shaft inside magnets spaced at the right places, and alternate the magnetic fields of the coil at the right time, the magnets would pull the shaft around. He had stumbled on the basic principle that makes an electric motor work. Unfortunately, someone else had thought of it first. Electromagnetics was not to be his field of influence. Words would. He went on in life to study a previously unwritten language of a people of western Ecuador, create a writing system for it, and translate the Bible into the language. At his funeral hundreds of people gathered to pay him tribute.

When Jesus gave the above instruction, he set the living of our spiritual lives in the context of fields of influence. Faith is not just for one’s own personal comfort or enlightenment. It must be lived as a sphere of influence. Spirituality cannot be separated from community.

How far should one’s sphere of influence extend? We’ve all run into “religious” people who believe it is their God-given duty and right to influence us in ways that are not welcome. In the passage above Jesus points out that the purpose of our good works is that others should give glory to God. Unwelcome influence hardly accomplishes that. On the other hand, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”[1] If a butterfly’s wing on this side of the ocean can cause a storm on the other, we never quite know how far our influence goes. Perhaps it is best to cast the net of our community as wide as we possibly can, and do our good works, trusting that goodness in itself is worth spreading around.

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

[1] Wallace, William Ross. “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” Poet’s Corner (1865).

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Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper

Suggested $8 donation per adult; $5 ages 4-12 — free to children 3 years old and younger

(10% of donations will be contributed to Family Promise)

Are You Ready to Get Your Shrove* On?

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon invites you to a pre-Lent tradition that involves pancakes for dinner — and what could possibly be wrong with that?

And not just pancakes, but sliced ham, bacon, fruit, a variety of toppings, and plenty of friendly neighbors. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

The Annual St. Paul’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner is open to one and all. We ask for your donation of $8 per adult and $5 for children ages 4 -12. Kids 3 years old and younger eat for free. Of course, if you really like the food or are just feeling generous, we will thankfully accept any additional donation. So bring the whole family! You won’t find food so good for so little on a Tuesday night in February in the entire Skagit Valley. We guarantee it!

10% of donations go to Family Promise to help keep the Gospel message alive and well in our community — so you’ll leave feeling satisfied in body and soul.

Popularly known in England and Commonwealth countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday is the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide, and precedes the penitential season of Lent. Indulging in foods that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days is associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations — which is why we make our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner so darn good!

Did You Know? The term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, referring to the practice of eating richer, fatty foods on the night before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. (Source: Wikipedia)

Weekly Reflection and News: January 30, 2020

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Luke 2:22-40

When we gathered to baptize our new grandson last fall, no strange old guy burst forth on rapturous and prophetic poetry, and gave no dire predictions about the trajectory of his life, and no wizened old women slipped into extasy at his presence. We did not leave the Church, as to be sure Joseph and Mary did, with ominous questions rattling in their souls about just who this little kid might be. The image of the sword must have been especially unsettling. It must have been reassuring that the next days and years were relatively uneventful (that is, if we set aside the delightful legends and traditions that fill in the 12 silent years until Jesus surfaces again on the pages of Scripture.)

But the sword did come, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—and the actions of those who followed him, have upended the world. The influence of the Christians played a hand in the fall of the Roman Empire, and shaped Western history for two millennia. In a sense, the relative normalcy of Joseph’s household was only the calm before the storm.

Simeon and Anna remind us that a domesticated faith is a pointless faith. If a sword does not from time to time pierce our own hearts the radical truths of the Gospel of Love fail to challenge us. If we shrink from passing a sword through the heart of the comfortable ways society justifies its injustices, we have forgotten the meaning of this child.

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

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Weekly Reflection and News: January 23, 2020

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Matthew 4:12-23

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” The word “repent” carries a lot of religious baggage that unfortunately is negative in character. By that, I don’t mean that we just don’t like to repent and so it comes across as negative, I mean that we see the word repent as a turning away, but we do not see it as a turning toward. We see it like turning off the lights and leaving ourselves in darkness, or turning off the TV and finding ourselves in silence. Those disciplines of self-emptying are important, but they are never the final step. We empty ourselves of our self-centeredness so that we can discover others, and in discovering others, we find God.

It is not surprising that immediately after Matthew’s record of the beginning of Jesus preaching calling us to repent, Jesus calls Fisherman away from their nets to a new kind of fishing, fishing for people. Repentance calls us away from selfishness to a new kind of humanity. It calls us out of our ego into our spirit where we can truly love one another, and in loving one another we find that we love God and are loved by God. The call of God does not call us away from ourselves, but rather into the fullest expression of ourselves in relation to one another and God.

Following Jesus means to repent, and that repentance turns us toward life.

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

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Journey of the Magi

This is the poem that Fr. Paul was referencing in today’s sermon:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

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