Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
3745 Kimball Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38111
901 743 6421

The Reverend Hester Mathes

A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
Almighty God,
you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts
which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
~ The Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent
Soon after I began to serve as the rector of an historic downtown church in
another state, the husband of one of the parish matriarchs died. He was a retired
military officer, someone well-known in those parts. The Bishop, whom I had
met during my interview process just a few months earlier, was asked to preside
and preach at his funeral. My only job was to be a pastor to his widow.
As has often been my experience, she was a pastor to me. She had come to
grips fairly quickly with the untimely death of her husband. My sense was that
she was someone from whom I, still relatively new as a priest, might learn some
lessons. Before the funeral she told me she had been considering what life
without her husband might be like. She declared, “This is my new normal.”
On that day, a grieving wife gave me some wisdom for the ages. Since then,
I’ve often heard and used the phrase “new normal.” I don’t know about you, but
I’ve had several seasons in my life during which a new normal began. I’ve also
learned there’s something my new normal moments and seasons have in
common: for me, they always seem to have something to do with grief and loss.
We may be shocked at the arrival and presence of this novel Coronavirus
called COVID-19. We may be looking forward to things getting back to “normal,”
whatever that normal was or is for us. A local columnist recently came to a
different conclusion: “Just because we’re...using sanitizer and bumping elbows
doesn’t mean we won’t be affected in the Mid-South....This is the new normal for
now” (Bruce VanWyngarden, Memphis Flyer, 3/12/20).
Whatever this season of our common life becomes, I believe it is our new
normal, at least for now. It feels hard, if not impossible - borrowing words from
the Serenity Prayer - to accept this thing we cannot change. So many of our old
behaviors have been turned into new warnings (“Don’t touch your face! Keep
your distance!”). At least for now, we have lost the ways we’ve been used to, ways
in which we have lived, moved, and had our being in the world.
I believe that as a church, a nation, a world, we are in grief, and in the days
to come, we do not know what else we may need to grieve. We do know we don’t
have to go it alone. We can and we must care for one another in our grief. (I’ll
have more to say about grief in the April Tract newsletter.)
Throughout the New Testament, people misunderstand Jesus when they
first encounter him. The story of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel (4:5-42)
is not unlike the stories about the disciples when they met Jesus. His friends had
a certain belief, a theological understanding of who their Jewish Messiah would
be and what he would do. The Samaritan woman also thought she knew how this
strange, Jewish man would behave - until he says, “Give me a drink” (4:7).
She replies, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of
Samaria?” By the way, John says that “Jews do not share things in common with
Samaritans” (4:9). But Jesus is not your normal Jew. He explains that he can
give her a new kind of water, living water, that “will become...a spring...gushing
up into eternal life” (4:14). His water is also not “normal.”
The Samaritan woman asks Jesus for that living water, and he does give it to
her. But here’s the catch: First, he tells her everything she’s ever done - including
the fact that she has been married five times. And the fact that the man she’s
with currently is not her husband. No fake news here.
Now, she knows Jesus is a prophet, and yet, once again, Jesus is not offering
normal prophecy. He is also the Christ, the One who heals in God’s name.
Suddenly, the disciples appear, astonished to find him speaking to a woman. She
returns to the city, and exclaims, “Come and see a man who told me everything I
have ever done!” Then she asks, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Once the woman’s Samaritan friends hear her share this Good News, they
start catching what she caught. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him
because of the woman’s testimony” (4:39). Jesus is not a virus. But Jesus is
definitely contagious. Fear is also contagious, but God’s highly contagious love
casts out fear. When we encounter Jesus, he invites us to let go of our losses, so
we can catch something liberating and life-giving: a new/old normal called love.
In these trying times, how does Jesus want to be caught now? How is he
inviting us to follow him into a new/old normal? What if this season of Lent is
about those old practices - prayer, fasting, and self-denial - done in a new way?
Poet and minister Lynn Ungar wrote a piece about COVID-19 last week.
Perhaps her words have some answers for us:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
March 14, 2020



    Rev. Hester was born in Memphis and raised at Calvary Episcopal Church.  She attended Idlewild Elementary School, graduated from St. Mary’s Episcopal School, and earned a BA in music at The College of William and Mary. 


    After college, she worked as a United Way Referral Agent, led youth programs at both Calvary in Memphis and St. Thomas in St. Petersburg, FL. She also taught piano and Kindermusik out of a home studio when my children were born.  


    Rev. Hester designed and taught an Integrated Fine Arts program at St. George’s Germantown Campus and entered the discernment process that led to attending Virginia Theological Seminary, where she earned a Masters of Divinity in 2014. 


     She was ordained into the transitional diaconate in June of 2014 and the priesthood in January of 2015.  She served as Curate, Associate Rector and Senior Associate Rector of Church of the Holy Communion for the past almost eight years.  Her ministry at Holy Communion focused on outreach, ecumenical and interfaith work, and overseeing the program division that included formation for children, youth and young adults, hospitality, and sports and recreation. 


    Rev. Hester is married to Andy Mathes, and they are the parents of two children; Neeley, who is a freshman at Texas Christian University, and Zander, who is a sophomore at Memphis University School. 


    Rev. Hester plans to join us officially on April17, 2021. She looks forward to getting to know everyone at Holy Trinity and building God’s Kingdom together!



    Mission Council

    Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

    Jeane P. Chapman

    Senior Warden