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"How does God convert a person to faith?" In this series on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Fr. Paul Donison explores how, at the heart of every conversion, we find the mercy of God.
Sermons from the season of Epiphany, exploring topics from our Rector and the church calendar.
For hundreds of years, the church has read the book of Acts during the season of Easter. Chronologically this makes sense: Acts begins with the resurrection and picks up the story where gospels end. In practice however, this may seem like a strange choice. Why read the book of Acts in its entirety every year? American Christians tend to see the church as either an historical institution or a spiritual reality. Regularly reading the book of Acts helps us resist these two tendencies. The former thinks about the church as primarily a denomination, building, or tradition. The latter imagines the church as an invisible fellowship of Christians hidden with God across time and space, irrespective of tradition. Sadly, many view these perspectives as mutually exclusive, which is where the error of these two tendencies lies. The book of Acts teaches us that the church is both an invisible spiritual reality and an historical institution. Reading Acts annually reminds us of the church’s past so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus in the present and future. If you are not currently reading scriptures devotionally, consider joining with the church in our annual reading of the Acts of the Apostles in your daily prayers.
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I am thumbing through some prayer requests provided by your sweet children. You might think they would pray for toys or the next new video game console or some other trivial requests, but these kids go deeper. They are asking for prayer for their parents and grandparents, healing for those who are ill, regrets for not obeying (it's true!), praises for friendships, petitions for tests, help for friends whose parents are divorcing. One even thanked God for helping him confess his sins. Another thanked God for giving her life. Even at this young age, these children have deep concerns and real praises to bring to the Lord. As I look over their prayer needs, I am filled with gratitude that these children are turning to God. Train them young to trust in Him. Walk through the disciplines of Lent together. Help them grow in their faith by leaning on God with the troubles and joys that come their way. Some of what children learn at this age will not be important for many years to come—but growing in their faith will change their lives even today. We are blessed in Children’s Ministry to get to partner with you in training up your child in the faith.
In years past, I have found poetry a helpful companion during Lent. “Poetry asks to be savored,” says Malcolm Guite, “it requires us to slow down, it carries echoes, hints at music, summons energies that we will miss if we are simply scanning.” This is exactly the kind of reading that my restless soul desperately needs.
I invite you to reflect on Prayer (I) by George Herbert, 17th century poet and Anglican priest. His vivid images describe prayer with a clarity not found in most spiritual writings:
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
I have personally enjoyed and been challenged by the devotional portion of the Lent † Daily 2017 study. It has allowed me to reconnect with an old devotional classic, Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ. My first exposure to this book was actually from my youth pastor, Matt, when I was in high school. I remember being so impressed by not only Matt's humor, but also by his depth of knowledge of God. I remember asking him how I might get to know God the way that he did. Without missing a beat, Matt recommended The Imitation of Christ and later emailed me a PDF version which I printed out with joy. As I poured myself into the book, my wonder and enthusiasim quickly turned to puzzlement, even frustration. A Kempis' world seemed so different than mine. I was confronted with what humility and true devotion in prayer meant for perhaps the first time. I could barely read a page without having to stop, think, and pray, asking God to help me understand him in this way. Returning to this book again almost 15 years later, many of my thoughts are the same. Yes, I have grown in many ways, thanks be to God, but the challenge of following Jesus still comes to me afresh. A section from the March 5 reading has stuck with me this Lenten season. "In You alone is all that I desire and long for. Therefore let all teachers keep silence and let all creation be still before You; do You, O Lord, speak alone." This Wednesday, March 22, we'll be leading students in a small group prayer stations experience. There will be times of silence, and space to hear God speak. It is our hope that students would learn to desire and long for God more during this Lenten season.
We give thanks to God that Fr. Jeff and Cinde Rawn's son Ian is competing this week in Figure Skating at the Special Olympics in Austria. Events are live streamed by the Special Olympics and archived on YouTube. Highlight shows from the Special Olympics are broadcast on ESPN2.
Watch Ian's preliminary skating performance »
See a trailer for Ian's Olympic story on ESPN »
View photos of the US Special Olympic team »
Ian competes in finals for Men's Figure Skating Singles on Thursday afternoon, March 23. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers!
As human beings, we spend much of our time seeking to eradicate pain or suffering. We see doctors, take medication, and even try out the latest fad diet, all in the name of healthy, pain-free living. We assume that if something is painful or uncomfortable, it must be wrong and should be removed immediately! Interestingly, we often apply this same theory to our spiritual lives. We assume that the Christian life is meant to be pleasant and pain free, with God lavishing blessing after countless blessing upon us, and when it isn’t that way we assume our faith must be lacking or weak. We’ve bought into this version of Christianity because we’ve convinced ourselves that Christianity is about conforming God into our image rather than conforming ourselves into his. By nature, we are wired for selfish gain, comfortable living, and pain-free indulgence. By grace, we are invited into a radically different way of living, the way of the cross that turns us away from self-love and embraces the challenge of living fully for the sake of Jesus, even when it is painful and costs us our comfort or security. In Lent, as Jesus asks us to come after him, we must remember where his journey led. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The Christian life is an invitation into daily self-denial, putting to death our rights to pleasure or self-gain. It is an invitation to die to our old selves in order to learn what it means to be truly alive. It is the paradoxical heart of the Christian message, that through death we find life. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:8 Though it can certainly be painful to live for Christ and not ourselves, we must trust that it is the only way to find real and lasting joy, peace, and happiness. As we journey towards Easter Sunday, may we have the courage today to trust Jesus, take up our crosses, and follow him!
Following a very productive period in his disciples’ ministry Jesus says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Doing God’s work effectively requires regular rest and renewal with our Lord. In this fast paced world, how do we do that? Philip de Courcy shares that we do it spiritually by keeping God as the anchor of our lives, strategically by seeking to make God’s priorities for our lives our priorities, and simply by stripping away the distractions that tempt us to put what may be good ahead of what is best. On Saturday, April 29, the women of Christ Church have the opportunity to rest and be renewed. Come Away With Me is our annual women's retreat and it features teaching by noted speaker Erika Moore, followed by periods for silent prayer and reflection, and ending with the celebration of the Eucharist. “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” I hope you will register today to join us for a day of rest and renewal with our Lord.
Do you ever get a song in your head that you just can’t seem to make go away? The hymn, “Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven” has been rattling around in my brain for weeks now. I have been bursting into song while driving or in the shower, mostly singing the phrase “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” over and over. It seems like I have been obsessed with those words. I was starting to worry about my sanity when it finally dawned on me that maybe God was trying to tell me something.
The season of Lent, when we take a hard look at our sinfulness, is always a hard time for me. Through reading, self-denial, and prayer we are to uncover whatever it is that is getting between us and our relationship with God and then to repent of it. My problem is that I seem to have to uncover and repent of the same things over and over again! The sorrow that results from my failures leaves me feeling discouraged and hopeless.
The words of this hymn have reminded me of the fact that the King of heaven, who made me and knew me before I was born, knows very well how feeble my frame is. He loves me even in my most unlovable moments. He spares me because, as the hymn says, He is slow to chide and swift to bless.
As Lent is drawing to a close, I look forward to Easter, certain that in the wideness of his mercy and in spite of my failures, God has rescued me in my distress. I belong to Him who sent Jesus to set me free from sin and death. And so on Easter morning I will sing out loud my praise to the God who has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven me.
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; to his feet thy tribute bring; Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore his praises sing: Alleluia, alleluia! Praise the everlasting King.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, where the long, somewhat meandering days of Lent move sharply towards their climax. We have been journeying with Jesus through the desert and appear at the edge of our awaited destination, Jerusalem the Holy City. And as Jesus is met with much popular fanfare, those of us on this side of the resurrection cannot help but detect the irony of the moment.
“Palm Sunday” by poet Marie J. Post, captures the tension between Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and his shameful march on Good Friday with a haunting beauty.
Astride the colt and claimed as King
that Sunday morning in the spring,
he passed a thorn bush flowering red
that one would plait to crown his head.
He passed a vineyard where the wine
was grown for men of royal line
and where the dregs were also brewed
into a gall for Calvary’s rood.
A purple robe was cast his way,
then caught and kept until that day
when, with its use, a trial would be
profaned into a mockery.
His entourage was forced to wait
to let a timber through the gate,
a shaft that all there might have known
would be an altar and a throne.
On Palm Sunday, we also read the whole Passion narrative and are reminded that it is our sin that drives Jesus to the cross. Yet Jesus, fully knowing where this week would lead him, still suffered so that he might claim his throne. His coming death is in fact a triumph.
The King is coming to claim victory over our greatest foes, sin and death. But the journey has just begun; let us follow in the footsteps of our King Jesus this Holy Week.