The Fourth Sunday of Lent – The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Fourth Sunday of Lent: March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13 | Ephesians 5:8-14 | John 9:1-41 | Psalm 23

Preacher: The Rev. Kyle Oliver, Assistant Priest at St. Michael’s Church

I wasn’t at the morning liturgies last week, but I have it on the sound authority that is the parish website that Mother Kate had a challenge for us: “You NEED to be praying and reading the Bible,” she said. “It is what sustains you through the dark times and the stressful times and the confusing times.”

I heartily agree, and I second another point she made: many of the rough patches in my own spiritual and emotional life have also come during periods when I’ve convinced myself that this need didn’t apply to me, not right now.

As years have gone by, I’ve noticed the change that happens when I return to my morning Bible reading after I’ve been lax for a while: the sense of relief, of familiarity, of the sure presence of Christ there within me. Having some daily or near-daily practice, however brief and however simple, is the way we invite God into our lives, and learn to see God already there.

The good news is, there are as many ways to pray as there are people who do it. Part of my job at Virginia Seminary was training others to think about a certain kind of social media use as prayer, or a certain kind of sitting with art or music. In fact, one of my favorites ways is with a podcast called Pray As You Go, which is produced by the British Jesuits and meant to be used while commuting. You can read a bit about it in today’s issue of The Messenger.

The genius of this particular prayer resource is that it makes digitally accessible a very old and very intimate form of prayer. Here’s how Jesuit Kevin O’Brien explains it in his book The Ignatian Adventure:

Ignatius was convinced that God can speak to us as surely through our imagination as through our thoughts and memories. In the Ignatian tradition, praying with the imagination is called contemplation … a very active way of praying that engages the mind and heart and stirs up thoughts and emotions.

Ignatian contemplation is suited especially for the Gospels, [O’Brien continues. W]e accompany Jesus through his life by imagining scenes from the Gospel stories … Visualize the event as if you were making a movie. Pay attention to the details: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings of the event. Lose yourself in the story; don’t worry if your imagination is running too wild. At some point, place yourself in the scene.

Now, I’m no skilled facilitator or even practitioner of Ignatian Contemplation. But in response to Mother Kate’s challenge, this week I tried “contemplating” today’s marathon gospel passage from John.

I’ll be honest, I have a lot of feelings about John’s gospel, some of which participants in our weekday morning Eucharists are probably getting tired of hearing about. But I think Fr. O’Brien would tell me, tell all of us, that our feelings—positive and negative—are a rich point of entry for the Holy Spirit to teach us something when we contemplate a biblical story.

Another entry point when it comes to this prayer practice is characters, and there’s no shortage of them in this passage. So I wonder if, as a sort of Ignatian thought experiment, we might try putting ourselves in the shoes of some of these characters. I wonder what we might learn. (You may find that  closing your eyes helps.)

Picture yourself as one of Jesus’s disciples, walking along a busy stone-paved street near the Temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps one of your sandals has worn thin and you’re favoring that foot. Perhaps you’re the one who asks Jesus if it was the blind man or his parents who sinned. Do you feel rebuked when he tells you “neither”? How do you feel when he mentions that night is coming, that his light might soon depart from the world? Do you get excited or inspired when you realize Jesus is winding up for another healing? How do make sense of the bizarre ritual that follows—saliva turned to mud, a healing touch, a dispatch to the spring fed pool outside the city walls?

Picture yourself in the crowd as word starts to spread of what’s happened. Perhaps you yourself are arriving for a more commonplace ritual cleansing, and the commotion catches your eye. Do you believe the man’s claims that he is the beggar who was born blind? If so, are you perhaps envious of his good fortune? Do you run to tell others, or jostle for a better view as the tense conversations begin, or leave to find a quiet place to ponder what you’ve seen?

Perhaps placing yourself in the narrative helps you see something about the passage that you’ve never noticed before. I’ve always sympathized with the man’s parents, assuming they simply hid their elation for their son out of fear of the authorities’ angry suspicion. I realized this time they might also feel some resentment … for bringing this unwanted attention upon their family, perhaps even for disrupting their family dynamic and forever changing their long-time roles.

Perhaps placing yourself in the narrative lets God teach you something about you. In my case, I found it a little disconcerting how I resonated with what I imagined were the Pharisees feelings of frustration, of their sense of “losing control of the narrative” in this incident. So where in my life today is that kind of desire for control at work? How can I learn from the open-mindedness of the man born blind? How can I learn from Jesus’ patience, from his apparent comfort with offending when necessary, from his utter lack of fear of being misunderstood.

Perhaps placing yourself in the narrative help you have an intimate encounter with Christ. Our imaginations are a powerful place to meet Jesus—to feel his healing touch, to study his non-judgmental gaze, to be caught up in his loving embrace. It can be a little overwhelming. And some days it will be underwhelming.

I find this advice from Father O’Brien helpful, regarding Ignatian Contemplation or any kind of prayer: “[P]ray as you are able; don’t try to force it. Rest assured that God will speak to you, whether through your memory, understanding, intellect, emotions, or imagination.”

If we trust that God will speak to us as we spend time with scripture day by day, we begin to develop what one of my mentors calls a biblical imagination, “encourag[ing] honest religious conversation rather than stopping it cold.”

Instead of thinking of Bible stories in isolation, we juxtapose them against the backdrop of our lives. We see ourselves and our situations reflected in part within the great canvas that is the mythos of our faith. Or it goes the other way, and modern-day Biblical characters or situations start to jump to our attention as we survey the world around us. A biblical imagination doesn’t try to force analogies or equivalencies, but it does take note of resonances, parallels, and departures.

I prepared most of this sermon on Thursday, against the backdrop of the impending healthcare vote that never happened. In that context, this passage about Jesus’s conflict with the authorities and a man who got stuck in the middle has increased my appreciation for the messiness of social change, of consensus building, of perhaps following or perhaps changing the rules, of doing our best to care for each other with the tools and resources we have.

Living together, to say nothing of leadership, is hard—whatever side we find ourself on in the conflicts of our day. It takes creativity and inner stillness to begin to dream a new reality into being. I think Jesus navigated his conflicts so powerfully, and started such an important movement, precisely because he had a powerful imagination.

No coincidence, then, that we can meet him in ours.

The Third Sunday of Lent – The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The Rev. Katharine Flexer Headshot

The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The Third Sunday of Lent: March 19, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7 | Romans 5:1-11 | John 4:5-42 | Psalm 95

Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church

Well, isn’t it great that Tuesday is the equinox, the first day of spring, and the weather is so, well, wintry? Getting a bit sick of this, aren’t we? So Isn’t it marvelous in these cold winter days (that should be spring) to come to church and hear these hot, dry, desert stories from the Bible – stories of the Israelites wandering and thirsty in the desert…Just stop for a moment, and imagine it, that desert story, feel that warm dry air…and the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman sitting at the well in the hot midday sun…ahhh, feel that Mediterranean sun. Sun that makes you want to sit back and put on your sunglasses and just bask, doesn’t it…sit and let the heat radiate through your whole being, warm you right through and through, air so hot that you can just sit there and be warm, so hot that you start to get a little thirsty, actually, pretty thirsty, so you reach for that tall, frosty drink of – wait, where is it? (more…)

The Second Sunday in Lent – The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Second Sunday of Lent: March 12, 2017

Genesis 12:1-4a | Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 | John 3:1-17 | Psalm 121

Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church

Last week, Jesus’ journey into the wilderness and his struggles with temptation marked the beginning of our own Lenten spiritual journeys of inward self reflection. Today, as we hear of Abram who follows God’s call to depart from kin and country to walk towards a land that God would reveal, we are reminded of God’s call in our lives to depart from our places of comfort, familiarity, and security and to wander with God in the desert until we let go of our own agendas and discover where God is leading us. (more…)

The First Sunday in Lent – The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Kate Flexer headshot

The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The First Sunday in Lent: March 5, 2017

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 | Romans 5:12-19 | Matthew 4:1-11 | Psalm 32

Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church

So whenever we get to this reading about Jesus in the desert, I find myself helplessly harking back to the very first episode of the Muppet Show, a skit of the Muppet Glee Club directed by Kermit the Frog, singing an a cappella rendition of Perry Como’s famous song, Temptation – you know, dum-da-da-da-dum-da-da-da-dum-dum – with Miss Piggy amorously attacking Kermit at the end of the song.


Ash Wednesday – The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Rev. Kyle Oliver

Ash Wednesday: March 1, 2017

Joel 2:1-2,12-17 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 | Matthew 6:1-6,16-21 | Psalm 103:8-14

Preacher: The Rev. Kyle Oliver

As on so many of our most significant holy days, on Ash Wednesday we are challenged to try to integrate a couple of at least seemingly unrelated ideas and rituals.

The first is the “Invitation to a Holy Lent,” which offers the context that this season began as a time of preparation for baptism, and a time when those who had been “separated from the body of the faithful” by “notorious sins” were “reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.” (more…)

The Last Sunday after Epiphany – The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: February 26, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9 | Psalm 99

Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Gospel of Matthew uses the image of the mountain to highlight the significant moments of Jesus’ life: the struggle with temptation in the desert; teaching the Beatitudes—the way of blessing and being blessed; taking time for prayer and retreat; healing and feeding thousands; illumination and hope; betrayal, suffering, and death; and finally a call for transformation and action. (more…)

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – The Rev. Deborah Dresser

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany: February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18 | 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23 | Matthew 5:38-48 | Psalm 119:33-40

Guest Preacher: The Rev. Deborah Dresser

Mother Dresser, the retired rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Newburgh, served as Chair of the Newburgh Interfaith Dialogue, which included the first public forum on Islam. She represented the interests of Jerusalem on the New York Diocesan Global Mission Commission and received the Bishop’s Cross in 2008, in part for her work in Jerusalem. In 2013, Mother Dresser completed a term as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem which supports and advocates for the 27 institutions of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

Kamal is now 6 years old.  Kamal Farsun lives in Gaza City with his mother, grandmother and two siblings.  His young life has been shaped by death, bombings, makeshift shelters, scarcity of clean water, food, and fuel.

Two years ago his mother desperate to keep her family warm in January sent the children out to gather scraps of wood and then  piled them in what was left of her living room.  It was an open fire and Kamal distracted, tripped and fell into the fire.  He was severely burned. (more…)

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Kate Flexer headshot

The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany: February 12, 2017

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 | 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 | Matthew 5:21-37 | Psalm 119:1-8

Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church

Our gospel readings in these weeks have been working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, his first great teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. Which puts the preacher in the awkward position of preaching a sermon on a sermon. And here’s the thing: in our Bible study we’ve been studying Matthew, as it’s the gospel we’re reading from most of this year. And part of our conversations have been around how hard it is to follow Jesus’ teachings. Does he really mean for us to do this stuff? Of course, maybe that’s what you think as you listen to any sermon, really. Do they really mean for us to do this? (more…)

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Rev. Kyle Oliver

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-12 | 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 | Matthew 5:13-20 | Psalm 112

Preacher: The Rev. Kyle Oliver, Assistant Priest at St. Michael’s Church

I can still remember the angriest I ever got in seminary. It started, I am not surprised to notice upon reflection, with me sticking my nose into someone else’s business.

Two of my international student classmates were having a heated conversation about the interpretation of scripture. One was an evangelical man from East Africa, one a high church woman from Southern Africa. They had very different approaches. (more…)

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Sunday, January 29, 2016

Micah 6:1-8 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 | Matthew 5:1-12 | Psalm 15

Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church

Jesus says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

What is truth?

This question has never seemed more relevant to our faith and our society. But this is not the first time humankind has grappled with such a question.

Over the centuries, science has tested and stretched our understanding of truth causing the constants of our lives to shift and transform. One monumental shift in our worldview has been the modern conception of space and time. (more…)

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