Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
3745 Kimball Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38111
901 743 6421
holytrinitymemphis@yahoo.com

SERMONS & SERVICES

______________SERMONSA NEW/OLD NORMAL
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.
AMEN.
~ 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:
PANDEMIC
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

 

NOVEMBER 22, 2020

Last Sunday after Pentecost

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY

Preacher - Tommy Sheppard

There is something a little sad in today’s gospel reading, something so easy to

miss that it most of us miss it.

That’s probably because this is such a tempting story.

It is one of the most straightforward of all the New Testament’s accounts of

judgment;

and one of the most fun.

Here, judgment is connected to actively reaching out to those in need,

specifically to “the least of these,”

to those who are at the bottom,

those who are the most helpless and who have no other champions –

to those with no one else to care for them.

These are God’s favorites,

the ones God sees in a special way.

And it’s really clear that those who are condemned are not condemned for

doing bad things,

or for acting unjustly or cruelly.

Instead, they are condemned for the good they did not do.

You can’t sit out of the Christian moral life.

There’s just no way, by avoiding engagement,

to avoid judgment.

“Well, I never intentionally hurt anybody”

cuts no mustard at the Great Throne Judgment.

All of which can tempt just about any preacher to shout,

“So get out there and serve Jesus in your neighbor.

Do good and save your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same

time.”

Which can make a heck of a sermon,

and one most church leaders aren’t opposed to preaching from time to time.

It’s good stuff.

But today let’s talk about what’s so sad in this story.

Notice that those who have been gathered up at the right hand of the Lord –

those who are called blessed of the father,

the ones we want to be –

have only one thing to say to Jesus.

They say,

“Lord, when?”

“When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,

or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”

“When?”

That’s it; that’s all they have to say.

This is really sad because of all the loss,

and all the struggle, and all the pain that question implies.

These folks, the sheep,

the saved, the good guys,

they were right,

they did all of the correct things,

but they missed the greatest joy of it.

They missed seeing the Lord.

They overlooked the hidden presence of God in the faces of those they

served.

One of the reasons we have this parable may be to help us avoid that loss,

to remind us what reaching out and caring and serving can be about at the

level of greatest depth.

Because it’s very clear:

No matter how right you are,

no matter how much you serve the presence of Christ in others,

if you don’t pay special attention,

if you simply don’t look for the Lord Jesus in those you serve,

then, like the saved people in the parable,

you won’t see him.

And most of the joy is lost.

Most of the joy of doing good and being right and saving your soul from the

judgment of eternal fire all at the same time,

most of that joy, is lost.

After all, reaching out in love to the presence of Christ in others,

especially in both “the least of these”

and in those closest to us,

this is quite often a great big pain.

It takes a lot of time, and there’s almost never any indication that anything of

lasting benefit has happened.

What’s more, “the least of these” are usually at least partially responsible for

whatever problems and needs make them the least.

And most of the time they don’t look or act **or smell** the way we imagine

Jesus should.

Frequently, they aren’t very nice, and worse yet,

they seldom seem to appreciate whatever good we do try to do for them.

So, doing good, reaching out to feed, clothe, visit, heal and otherwise

minister to “the least of these”

tends to frustrate us,

and we tend to get burned,

and to get burned out.

And much the same sort of thing can happen when the ones we reach out to

are not some distant “them,”

but are, instead,

the people we live with and around,

the people closest to us.

One would think that actually serving Christ shouldn’t be as hard,

and as disheartening, as it often is.

But there we are.

After all, just because we’re doing something for religious reasons doesn’t

mean that, all by itself, whatever we’re doing will look or feel religious

or that it will effect us in a particularly religious way.

Cleaning the kitchen in the church,

or anywhere else for that matter,

is still cleaning a kitchen.

Being nice to a difficult person because you are convinced that Jesus wants

you to,

is still being nice to a difficult person.

Spending time or money or energy out of Christian conviction still means

that you no longer have that time or that money or that energy.

The Lord calls us to serve him,

in our neighbors, in our brothers and sisters,

in the least of these, and – often the most challenging –

in those closest to us.

That call is real;

there are no excuses.

But the Lord also calls us to see him in the face of our neighbors,

and of our brother and sister,

and – we can’t forget – in the least of these.

This is a spiritual call,

a call to discernment as much as it is a call to action and to service.

There’s not a secret or mysterious way to do this.

Here are two quick ideas:

First of all, in order to see the Lord, we have to look.

At the people around us.

Deliberately.

All of the time.

We need to constantly look as we remember what we are doing,

why we are doing it,

and what we hope to come from it.

We need look on purpose.

Second, if we want Jesus to show himself to us,

it can really help if we ask him to.

Sometimes we have to ask him a lot.

That’s one reason why reaching out to others in a way that is not wrapped in

prayer,

any act of ministry that is not consciously and deliberately offered to God

with the request to be shown how the Lord is in it,

while certainly not wasted effort,

is absolutely incomplete.

If our prayers during the day and about the day do not beg the Lord for a look

at his face,

or a glimpse at his Kingdom in all that is going on around us,

then we are cheating ourselves,

and living barely on the surface of a much deeper reality.

To try to live the life Christ calls us to live, without placing all of that in the

middle of some disciplined reflection, prayer, and study,

this is to risk missing the best part of it all.

It is to risk missing the presence and Word of Jesus that can transform a

mundane task into an opportunity for insight and for joy –

that can make doing the things we are called to do a path deeper into the

mystery of God’s life, and of our own.

This story of judgment is more than a call to serve.

It’s more than a call to be good,

and to do the right thing.

Sure, **it’s that**, but it’s much more.

It’s also a call to look, to notice,

to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God

in all that we do.

It’s a call, above all, to see.

There is something a little sad in today’s gospel reading, something so easy to
miss that it most of us miss it.
That’s probably because this is such a tempting story.
It is one of the most straightforward of all the New Testament’s accounts of
judgment;
and one of the most fun.
Here, judgment is connected to actively reaching out to those in need,
specifically to “the least of these,”
to those who are at the bottom,
those who are the most helpless and who have no other champions –
to those with no one else to care for them.
These are God’s favorites,
the ones God sees in a special way.
And it’s really clear that those who are condemned are not condemned for
doing bad things,
or for acting unjustly or cruelly.
Instead, they are condemned for the good they did not do.
You can’t sit out of the Christian moral life.
There’s just no way, by avoiding engagement,
to avoid judgment.
“Well, I never intentionally hurt anybody”
cuts no mustard at the Great Throne Judgment.
All of which can tempt just about any preacher to shout,
“So get out there and serve Jesus in your neighbor.
Do good and save your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same
time.”
Which can make a heck of a sermon,
and one most church leaders aren’t opposed to preaching from time to time.
It’s good stuff.
But today let’s talk about what’s so sad in this story.
Notice that those who have been gathered up at the right hand of the Lord –
those who are called blessed of the father,
the ones we want to be –
have only one thing to say to Jesus.
They say,
“Lord, when?”
“When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
“When?”
That’s it; that’s all they have to say.
This is really sad because of all the loss,
and all the struggle, and all the pain that question implies.
These folks, the sheep,
the saved, the good guys,
they were right,
they did all of the correct things,
but they missed the greatest joy of it.
They missed seeing the Lord.
They overlooked the hidden presence of God in the faces of those they
served.
One of the reasons we have this parable may be to help us avoid that loss,
to remind us what reaching out and caring and serving can be about at the
level of greatest depth.
Because it’s very clear:
No matter how right you are,
no matter how much you serve the presence of Christ in others,
if you don’t pay special attention,
if you simply don’t look for the Lord Jesus in those you serve,
then, like the saved people in the parable,
you won’t see him.
And most of the joy is lost.
Most of the joy of doing good and being right and saving your soul from the
judgment of eternal fire all at the same time,
most of that joy, is lost.
After all, reaching out in love to the presence of Christ in others,
especially in both “the least of these”
and in those closest to us,
this is quite often a great big pain.
It takes a lot of time, and there’s almost never any indication that anything of
lasting benefit has happened.
What’s more, “the least of these” are usually at least partially responsible for
whatever problems and needs make them the least.
And most of the time they don’t look or act **or smell** the way we imagine
Jesus should.
Frequently, they aren’t very nice, and worse yet,
they seldom seem to appreciate whatever good we do try to do for them.
So, doing good, reaching out to feed, clothe, visit, heal and otherwise
minister to “the least of these”
tends to frustrate us,
and we tend to get burned,
and to get burned out.
And much the same sort of thing can happen when the ones we reach out to
are not some distant “them,”
but are, instead,
the people we live with and around,
the people closest to us.
One would think that actually serving Christ shouldn’t be as hard,
and as disheartening, as it often is.
But there we are.
After all, just because we’re doing something for religious reasons doesn’t
mean that, all by itself, whatever we’re doing will look or feel religious
or that it will effect us in a particularly religious way.
Cleaning the kitchen in the church,
or anywhere else for that matter,
is still cleaning a kitchen.
Being nice to a difficult person because you are convinced that Jesus wants
you to,
is still being nice to a difficult person.
Spending time or money or energy out of Christian conviction still means
that you no longer have that time or that money or that energy.
The Lord calls us to serve him,
in our neighbors, in our brothers and sisters,
in the least of these, and – often the most challenging –
in those closest to us.
That call is real;
there are no excuses.
But the Lord also calls us to see him in the face of our neighbors,
and of our brother and sister,
and – we can’t forget – in the least of these.
This is a spiritual call,
a call to discernment as much as it is a call to action and to service.
There’s not a secret or mysterious way to do this.
Here are two quick ideas:
First of all, in order to see the Lord, we have to look.
At the people around us.
Deliberately.
All of the time.
We need to constantly look as we remember what we are doing,
why we are doing it,
and what we hope to come from it.
We need look on purpose.
Second, if we want Jesus to show himself to us,
it can really help if we ask him to.
Sometimes we have to ask him a lot.
That’s one reason why reaching out to others in a way that is not wrapped in
prayer,
any act of ministry that is not consciously and deliberately offered to God
with the request to be shown how the Lord is in it,
while certainly not wasted effort,
is absolutely incomplete.
If our prayers during the day and about the day do not beg the Lord for a look
at his face,
or a glimpse at his Kingdom in all that is going on around us,
then we are cheating ourselves,
and living barely on the surface of a much deeper reality.
To try to live the life Christ calls us to live, without placing all of that in the
middle of some disciplined reflection, prayer, and study,
this is to risk missing the best part of it all.
It is to risk missing the presence and Word of Jesus that can transform a
mundane task into an opportunity for insight and for joy –
that can make doing the things we are called to do a path deeper into the
mystery of God’s life, and of our own.
This story of judgment is more than a call to serve.
It’s more than a call to be good,
and to do the right thing.
Sure, **it’s that**, but it’s much more.
It’s also a call to look, to notice,
to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God
in all that we do.
It’s a call, above all, to see.
There is something a little sad in today’s gospel reading, something so easy to
miss that it most of us miss it.
That’s probably because this is such a tempting story.
It is one of the most straightforward of all the New Testament’s accounts of
judgment;
and one of the most fun.
Here, judgment is connected to actively reaching out to those in need,
specifically to “the least of these,”
to those who are at the bottom,
those who are the most helpless and who have no other champions –
to those with no one else to care for them.
These are God’s favorites,
the ones God sees in a special way.
And it’s really clear that those who are condemned are not condemned for
doing bad things,
or for acting unjustly or cruelly.
Instead, they are condemned for the good they did not do.
You can’t sit out of the Christian moral life.
There’s just no way, by avoiding engagement,
to avoid judgment.
“Well, I never intentionally hurt anybody”
cuts no mustard at the Great Throne Judgment.
All of which can tempt just about any preacher to shout,
“So get out there and serve Jesus in your neighbor.
Do good and save your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same
time.”
Which can make a heck of a sermon,
and one most church leaders aren’t opposed to preaching from time to time.
It’s good stuff.
But today let’s talk about what’s so sad in this story.
Notice that those who have been gathered up at the right hand of the Lord –
those who are called blessed of the father,
the ones we want to be –
have only one thing to say to Jesus.
They say,
“Lord, when?”
“When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
“When?”
That’s it; that’s all they have to say.
This is really sad because of all the loss,
and all the struggle, and all the pain that question implies.
These folks, the sheep,
the saved, the good guys,
they were right,
they did all of the correct things,
but they missed the greatest joy of it.
They missed seeing the Lord.
They overlooked the hidden presence of God in the faces of those they
served.
One of the reasons we have this parable may be to help us avoid that loss,
to remind us what reaching out and caring and serving can be about at the
level of greatest depth.
Because it’s very clear:
No matter how right you are,
no matter how much you serve the presence of Christ in others,
if you don’t pay special attention,
if you simply don’t look for the Lord Jesus in those you serve,
then, like the saved people in the parable,
you won’t see him.
And most of the joy is lost.
Most of the joy of doing good and being right and saving your soul from the
judgment of eternal fire all at the same time,
most of that joy, is lost.
After all, reaching out in love to the presence of Christ in others,
especially in both “the least of these”
and in those closest to us,
this is quite often a great big pain.
It takes a lot of time, and there’s almost never any indication that anything of
lasting benefit has happened.
What’s more, “the least of these” are usually at least partially responsible for
whatever problems and needs make them the least.
And most of the time they don’t look or act **or smell** the way we imagine
Jesus should.
Frequently, they aren’t very nice, and worse yet,
they seldom seem to appreciate whatever good we do try to do for them.
So, doing good, reaching out to feed, clothe, visit, heal and otherwise
minister to “the least of these”
tends to frustrate us,
and we tend to get burned,
and to get burned out.
And much the same sort of thing can happen when the ones we reach out to
are not some distant “them,”
but are, instead,
the people we live with and around,
the people closest to us.
One would think that actually serving Christ shouldn’t be as hard,
and as disheartening, as it often is.
But there we are.
After all, just because we’re doing something for religious reasons doesn’t
mean that, all by itself, whatever we’re doing will look or feel religious
or that it will effect us in a particularly religious way.
Cleaning the kitchen in the church,
or anywhere else for that matter,
is still cleaning a kitchen.
Being nice to a difficult person because you are convinced that Jesus wants
you to,
is still being nice to a difficult person.
Spending time or money or energy out of Christian conviction still means
that you no longer have that time or that money or that energy.
The Lord calls us to serve him,
in our neighbors, in our brothers and sisters,
in the least of these, and – often the most challenging –
in those closest to us.
That call is real;
there are no excuses.
But the Lord also calls us to see him in the face of our neighbors,
and of our brother and sister,
and – we can’t forget – in the least of these.
This is a spiritual call,
a call to discernment as much as it is a call to action and to service.
There’s not a secret or mysterious way to do this.
Here are two quick ideas:
First of all, in order to see the Lord, we have to look.
At the people around us.
Deliberately.
All of the time.
We need to constantly look as we remember what we are doing,
why we are doing it,
and what we hope to come from it.
We need look on purpose.
Second, if we want Jesus to show himself to us,
it can really help if we ask him to.
Sometimes we have to ask him a lot.
That’s one reason why reaching out to others in a way that is not wrapped in
prayer,
any act of ministry that is not consciously and deliberately offered to God
with the request to be shown how the Lord is in it,
while certainly not wasted effort,
is absolutely incomplete.
If our prayers during the day and about the day do not beg the Lord for a look
at his face,
or a glimpse at his Kingdom in all that is going on around us,
then we are cheating ourselves,
and living barely on the surface of a much deeper reality.
To try to live the life Christ calls us to live, without placing all of that in the
middle of some disciplined reflection, prayer, and study,
this is to risk missing the best part of it all.
It is to risk missing the presence and Word of Jesus that can transform a
mundane task into an opportunity for insight and for joy –
that can make doing the things we are called to do a path deeper into the
mystery of God’s life, and of our own.
This story of judgment is more than a call to serve.
It’s more than a call to be good,
and to do the right thing.
Sure, **it’s that**, but it’s much more.
It’s also a call to look, to notice,
to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God
in all that we do.
It’s a call, above all, to see.




NOVEMBER 15, 2020

24th Sunday after Pentecost

Father Thomas Momberg, Preacher

Numbering Our Days                                                     

Psalm 90:1-12                                                                                                  

 

 

             If you were a castaway on a desert island, what would you want to have with you, to keep you company? This question is asked on a radio program created by the BBC. More than 3,000 episodes have been broadcast since this program began in 1942. It’s called Desert Island Discs.

 

               Week by week, notable people are interviewed about their lives. They are asked to choose recordings - spoken word or music - that they would be sure to take along with them to that desert island. The challenge the BBC lays down? Pick just eight.

 

               I had forgotten about this radio program until I looked last week for one of my books on the Psalms. It was published twenty years ago by an English priest named Jim Cotter.   Psalms for a Pilgrim People contains that priest’s own version of all 150 Psalms, in which he re-writes them to be more “prayable.” He tries to take into account some contemporary realities and issues, while retaining the poetry and beauty of the originals.

 

         In the book’s introduction, Jim Cotter describes Desert Island Discs and invites the reader to do the same kind of exercise with the Psalms. Which are your “desert island Psalms”? Which eight Psalms would you take with you?

 

         Over the years he asked members of a number of church study groups to choose their desert island Psalms. “Again and again, the same psalms were chosen,” he says, “from among a group of thirty-seven....No one person’s list (of eight) ever included more than one psalm from outside that range of thirty-seven” (p. xiii). Today, we have prayed one of those thirty-seven: Psalm 91.

 

               I want to take some time with you this morning to look at the last verse. Actually, there are five more verses, but our lectionary stops at verse 12. Perhaps that’s because Psalm 90, verse 12, which was today’s Refrain, is a longtime favorite. It’s the desert island verse in this desert island Psalm. Here it is again: So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

 

               As I looked at our other lessons, I saw several references to the end times, what our Scriptures call “the day of the Lord.” “The day of the Lord is at hand,” proclaims the prophet Zephaniah. “The great day of the Lord is near...a full, terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth (1:7, 18).

 

               Today’s Epistle picks up that end-times theme: “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2). And while our Gospel text doesn’t use the actual phrase “the day of the Lord,” the story St. Matthew has Jesus tell ends with: “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30).

 

               You don’t need me to tell you that we live in times that can seem like, feel like, act like the end of the world, the day of the Lord. It’s hard to know what seems greater: all those deaths of so many people, or the denial of death by more than a few. There is darkness out there, and there is, if we are honest, darkness that wants to creep deep in here (hand on my heart).

 

               That’s why this verse - Psalm 90, verse 12 - speaks so deeply to me. With all the places to hear or see something of “the day of the Lord,” I now know, even more than before, that today is the only day I can count on being given to me. The words of poet Mary Oliver come to mind: Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? (“The Summer Day”).

         I want to do what is life-giving, today, this day, November 15th, 2020. If I am given another day to live, I want to do the same with the next one: tomorrow, November 16th. I want, I need to pay attention to my one wild and precious life. I need to number my days, and I need help doing that. That’s why the Psalmist, writing centuries before Jesus or you or I walked this earth, says we need to be taught. The Psalmist prays, Teach us to number our days. We will, our Prayer Boom reminds us, with God’s help.

 

               But how? How exactly do we number, count, or take stock of our days, this day, with God’s help? The second half of verse 12 gives us a clue: that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. For each Psalm, Jim Cotter wrote a new refrain. The refrain he wrote for Psalm 90 is: Amidst the confusions of time, may we hear eternity’s heartbeat.

 

             Friends, in our heart of hearts, there is wisdom, planted there by God. We just need to apply our hearts to the wisdom in our hearts, to listen to eternity’s heartbeat. Still, we need God’s help and all the other help we can find to get quiet enough to listen to the heartbeat of God within us.  

 

           Ira Progoff was a psychologist who created the Intensive Journal Method. He once suggested a way that might help us quietly consider how to number our days by applying the wisdom of our hearts. Whether or not you keep a journal, we can write these words: “This is a time in my life when....”. Then, we can fill in the blanks.

 

               Here are some blank-fillers that come to mind:

 

               This is a time in my life when...I need to pay more attention to my diet and to exercise more, so I can live as many days in as healthy a way as I possibly can.

 

               This is a time in my life when...I want to spend a little more time on the phone or in other physically distant ways with my friends and family.

 

               Here’s one of my personal favorites: This is a time in my life when...I’m just too old and cranky to put up with this crap! My friend who came up with this respons didn’t use the word crap, but you get my meaning.

 

               The children of Israel probably felt old and cranky when they first prayed Psalm 90. It was nearly a century since they had survived the destruction of their temple and their exile to Babylon. They had no ruler, they were short on food, and they worshiped in a makeshift way. And they had not even wandered yet, for decades, in the wilderness.

 

         Even their faithful leader, Moses, who may well have written this Psalm, did not live along enough to see the Promised Land. His life and witness helps us understand that, no matter how long we wander in our own wilderness, no matter how long we may feel exiled on some desert island, these songs about God, the Psalms can be of help.

 

               Psalm 90 tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the ancient Israelites could not possibly be as old as God is or as cranky as God sometimes seems to be. God was for them, God still is for us “from everlasting to everlasting” and for whom a “thousand years...are like a watch in the night.” God is God, and we are not. We are “like a dream...(whose) years come to an end like a sigh.”

 

               Indeed, the Psalmist prays, and, if we are honest, we will join that prayer, “the days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty” - or even a hundred and three! - “if we are strong.” Our prayer, along with the ancients and others who lived and died before us, is to admit just how short, compared to God, our life actually is, and then to count our days, starting with today.

 

               When a clergy friend told me about Ira Progoff’s sentence starter, the words that filled in the blank for me were these: This is a time in my life when...I need to remember to say “I love you” to all the beloveds in my life...and to God. The congregation of Holy Trinity is one of my beloveds. Today, the wisdom of my heart tells me I need to say “I love you” to all of you present for this service of worship and to those who are not with us but who read these words. I want, I need to say”I love you” before it’s too late.

 

               In Psalms for a Pilgrim People, Jim Cotter reimagines the word of Psalm 90, along with all the other, one hundred forty-nine Psalms. He renders the final verses of this desert island Psalm in these song-like words:

 

               (God), satisfy us in the morning with your lovingkindness,

               So we shall rejoice and be glad all the days of our life....

               (And) fill us with the Spirit of love.

               For in the evening of our days, when we come to be judged,

               we shall be known only by love, delivered only by love.

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Vicar

fathermom1949@gmail.com

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Avenue

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org




NOVEMBER 1, 2020

All Saints' Day

Father Thomas Momberg, Preacher

Praying Our Goodbyes                                                               The Feast of All Saints

Matthew 5:1-12                                                                                                   

 

 

         Every Wednesday at noon, a few of us gather for our weekly Bible study via Zoom. Bible study was going on long before I came to be with y’all at Holy Trinity, but now, since March, it looks and feels different.

 

         We can’t give each other a handshake or a hug.   We can’t pass around treats or birthday cards to sign, like we used to do. We can’t greet our friends when they arrive or leave, at least not in the old, familiar ways.

 

         But we can still see each other and talk to each other. We can still choose some part of Holy Scripture and read it out loud and reflect on it. We can still say “hello” and greet one another when our friends enter our virtual time together. We can still pray with each other before we go. We can still say our goodbyes.

 

               Jesus was saying “hello” to his friends and the crowds in our reading today from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. He had just begun his public ministry, picking up where John the Baptist had left off. The first four disciples - Peter, Andrew, James, and John - had just left their lives as fishermen to follow him.

 

         Then, as we just heard, Jesus sees the crowds, goes up on a mountain and begins to preach. According to Matthew his sermon will take up all of chapters five, six, and seven and will cover all his most difficult teachings. But before any of that Jesus talks about who God is. Not just a God who judges, Jesus preaches, but a God who blesses.

 

         On Wednesday I invited my fellow students of the Bible this question for reflection: Whether because of its presence or its absence in your life, which one of these blessings speaks most deeply to you today?

 

           Pick one, I said. I knew it might be hard to choose just one of those blessings to consider, when all of them can certainly speak to us. Blessed are the poor in spirit...the merciful...the persecuted. I wonder: which one would you choose? Honestly, how can you or I possibly choose just one blessing, one single blessing which we feel is so close to us or so very far away?

 

         I was asking my fellow students of the Scriptures to do something people have done for centuries. It’s called lectio divina, which means divine lesson. In this ancient practice, it is - or can be - the lesson God wants you to learn more about.

 

         Here’s how it works: choose a word, a phrase, or something else in the reading that speaks personally to you. That lectio is a lesson for today - perhaps even a lesson for a lifetime. That lesson may be one you choose because it’s very present in your life these days - or so absent, you long for it. Where, oh, where is the mercy I need? That lectio, that lesson may also be one that, somehow, chooses you, whether you like it or not.

         The day after I was ordained priest, I did not preach at my first Eucharist. Presiding at the altar, offering God’s blessing over the bread and wine, was enough for me, and so I asked another priest, who was my spiritual guide, to preach.

 

         In her sermon Elizabeth mentioned a popular commercial that had borrowed Carly Simon’s song, “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain.” When you don’t have time for pain, the announcer said in that commercial, take Excedrin. “Tom,” Elizabeth proclaimed, “as a priest, you must make time for the pain.”

 

         Her advice has stayed with me through the years, so much so that even now, 34 years later, the Beatitude that speaks to me most deeply, the one I choose because it keeps choosing me, is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” When it hurts, when there is pain, it almost always has something to do with a loss or losses, a grief, maybe even a death, whether it be the literal death of someone you loved, or a symbolic death—like the death of a cherished dream. When life hurts like hell, there is some kind of mourning I need to do, some kind of comfort I need.

 

         But these days, who wants to make time for the pain, the loss, the grief, let alone the death? In the age of COVID-19, with so many dying from this dread disease; at a time when family and friends cannot be certain they will be able even to greet their suffering beloved ones in person with “hello” or “goodbye”; in a global season of what some ancient spiritual guides named a “dark night of the soul,” a time when we can’t even sing together! - who can possibly bear to make time for the mourning? Where’s the comfort, the blessing in that?

 

               Of all the spiritual guides in my life since my ordination, no one has been more helpful than Catholic nun, Joyce Rupp, known globally for her work as a writer, retreat leader and speaker. She also served as a hospice volunteer. Years ago I discovered her book Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion Through Life’s Losses and Sorrows. I have returned to it time and again for insight and wisdom - and for comfort. In that book she helps me remember and reflect on the life of Jesus, who, as Isaiah put it, was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (53:3).

 

               Joyce Rupp’s own journey with life’s losses began with the drowning death of her younger brother, Dave. She was only 25 years old. That was when the painful truth of how hard it is to say goodbye, she says, “started to take root...and take hold in my (her) heart” (p. xii). Praying Our Goodbyes is the book that grew out of that tragedy. For more than thirty years it has comforted people in grief who are mourning all kinds of events or experiences in which a deep sense of loss is felt. Instead of running from our goodbyes, instead of just saying them, says this wise nun, we need to pray them. We need to pray our goodbyes. After all, “goodbye” is short for “God be with ye.”

 

               In the chapter called “The Ache of Autumn in Us,” Joyce Rupp writes: “There is an existential loneliness that permeates every human spirit, a kind of unnamed pain inside, deep within us, a restlessness, an anxiety, a sense of ‘all aloneness’ that calls out to us....a persistent (ache, a) longing in us...It happens because we are human. It is as strongly present in us as autumn is present in the cycle of the seasons.” She continues:

 

               “I believe this ache is within us because we are composed of both physical and spiritual dimensions. Our body belongs to the earth but our spirit does not....No matter how good the ‘good earth’ is, there is always a part of us that is yearning, longing, quietly crying out for the true homeland where life is no longer difficult or unfair” (pp. 7-8).

 

             I do not need to tell you this, but sometimes it helps to state the obvious: Life in this way-too-long season of coronavirus is difficult, even dangerous and deadly. It is unpredictable, unrelenting, unfair. And exhausting. We are all well acquainted with “pandemic fatigue.” (Not to mention our election fatigue!) No wonder the phrase from the Psalms “How long, O Lord?” comes to mind. “How long,” the Psalmist prayed, “shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day?” (13:2)

 

               Today is All Saints’ Day, when we remember all the saints who now rest from their labors, those who are now in the eternal care of God, including all those especially dear to us. We claim they are not just reminders of a faithful life well lived. They, along with us, are part of a “mystic, sweet communion,” as one hymn puts it. We Christians say we have come to believe there is, in that mystical body of Christ, an intercommunion of the living and the dead.

 

             Let us be certain to pray on this Feast of All Saints for all the saints of our lives, especially those who have died since last All Saints Day. Let us also remember those who have gone to God since COVID-19 came upon us. In our prayers for them and for their loved ones, in our prayers for those we love but see no longer, may we be comforted in our mourning.

 

             And when we simply cannot pray; when we just cannot make time for the pain, the grief, the loss; when we cannot seem to stand to live in a house of sadness or trauma or brokenness, not even for one more minute - we can be comforted.   In the midst of our mourning, we can ask and allow others to pray for us and on our behalf. Sometimes we can pray our goodbyes. Other times, we can ask others to pray them for us, certain that, as Joyce Rupp puts it, “God never leaves us during our winters of the heart” (p. 64).

 

         On this Feast of All Saints, while we mourn, let us make time to pray our goodbyes. And if, and when we cannot pray, let us allow others to pray our goodbyes for us.

 

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Vicar

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Avenue

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com




OCTOBER 25, 2020

The 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Father Momberg, Preacher


Love Your Neighbor? Mask, then Unmask, Yourself               Matthew 22:34-46

 

           Monday morning I drove downtown, along Union Avenue, on my way to an in-person follow-up to the “telemedicine” version of my annual physical. It was time for my primary care physician and her healthcare team to check me out more thoroughly. I was glad to go, because I live with pre-existing conditions in a time of life and in the life of this world when I need to pay even more attention to my health, both body and soul.

 

         While driving there, I noticed, as I often do, the grand, old edifice of a church. Idlewild Presbyterian Church has long been a beacon of light, love, and life in Memphis, and I have spent some deeply meaningful time there over the years. So, I looked again fondly at their buildings. Then , I noticed a new banner. Idlewild’s banner said: Love thy neighbor, wear a mask.

 

         Usually I take Monday off. I try not to do any work on Mondays, including sermon preparation. This Monday, however, I peeked at the lessons for today. Both our Lesson from Leviticus and our Gospel text from Matthew have these exact same seven words: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Idlewild’s banner was and is right on time, for this preacher and for this time we all inhabit.

 

         In the midst of what may be the most challenging season of our lifetimes, Idlewild dares fly a banner that, for some, will cross the line from preaching the Gospel to meddling in partisan politics. But I’m with Idlewild. I believe today’s simple, ageless message - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” - can take on a brand, new meaning for us - if we let it. If we are truly paying attention, “Love thy neighbor, wear a mask” can change our Christian lives.

 

         Let me say more. Perhaps you know that old expression: “Put your money where your mouth is.” I suggest that, all politics aside, loving our neighbor as ourself these days includes putting our mask where our mouth is.

 

         If we love our neighbors as much as we say and try to do, we will cover both our nose and our mouth when we come anywhere close to someone who is not in our immediate family or our “pod,” as they say these days. Otherwise, we may expose our neighbors to a deadly virus that wants to control way too much of our daily lives. We live in the midst of COVID-19, even if we don’t actually “have” it.

 

         “Mask up, Memphis!” proclaims a public service announcement. Of course, wearing a mask is not just a Memphis thing. Even national politicians need to put their mask where their mouth is. Take Chris Christie, for example. The former governor of New Jersey and one-time presidential candidate was infected with COVID-19 at a recent super-spreader event. In an article titled “I Should Have Worn a Mask,” he writes:

 

         “For seven months I was very careful about mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. As someone with asthma, I knew I faced heightened risk. Then, at the Rose Garden nomination event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and during debate preparations with President Trump, I let my guard down and left my mask off. I mistook the bubble of security around the president for a viral safe zone. I was wrong. There is no safe zone from this virus.” Christie ended up in the ICU and is now recovering. He goes on to say:

 

         “These minor inconveniences (like wearing masks) can save your life, your neighbors, and the economy. Seldom has so little been asked for so much benefit. Yet the message will be broadly heeded only if it is consistently and honestly delivered by the media, religious leaders, sports figures and public servants. Those in positions of authority have a duty to get the message out.”

 

         In that near-death experience, Governor Christie learned something more about freedom. One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In his 1859 essay “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means ‘doing as we like...as long as what we do does not harm them, even though they (may) think our conduct foolish...or wrong....” Do no harm. Right, beloved doctors in our midst? To put it more colloquially, my freedom does not include the freedom to get someone else sick.

 

         Dear friends in Christ, please forgive me and my rant. I know I really don’t have to tell you, the good people of Holy Trinity, about freedom. Neither do I need to tell you to mask up. You already do the appropriate things to stay healthy and free, in the best sense of those words. You’re already living into what is our new normal. You’ve already got that new-time religion, in a day and age when parts or all of us would love to sing, Gimme that old time religion.

 

         What I do want to talk about, for a little while longer, is what I think the rest of Jesus’ message - to love your neighbor as yourself - might be for us, in this time of trial, this season of terrible suffering and far too much death.   I don’t need to say any more about masking up. I want to talk with you for a few more minutes about taking off our masks, yours and mine. Allow me to recite once again those timeless words from today’s Gospel:

 

     A lawyer asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

 

         As yourself. Love God, and love your neighbor. But love your neighbor as yourself. What does it mean to love yourself?

 

               Last Sunday I shared a story in my sermon. It was originally told by Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He writes about that story in his new book Walking the Way of Love. This book is one of the finest I’ve read in some time. Now, I’m a company man, a thoroughbred Episcopalian. But I believe Bishop Curry has been preaching, teaching and truly trying to live the Love Command - Love God, love your neighbor - for a long, long time. And I believe what he has to say about love holds something for everyone on the planet.

 

             At the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in July, 2018, Bishop Curry preached a sermon in which he referenced the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who was arrested, imprisoned, and hanged for his association with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. His most famous book is The Cost of Discipleship.

 

               Two summers ago Bishop Curry preached at that Convention about another book of Bonhoeffer’s: Letters and Papers from Prison. In that sermon, our Presiding Bishop paraphrased something Bonhoeffer wrote in that book. Here it is: Throw yourself completely into the arms of God. Throw. Yourself. Completely into the arms of God.

 

         Bishop Curry puts it this way: “Take a deep breath and leap into intimate relationship with Jesus. Make his Way of Love...your own way of life...find a community of people who share that commitment. Then you can walk together and not grow so weary” (Walking the Way of Love, p. xi).

 

           Now, I know some people are just not ready to do that. I’ve been there! When we throw ourselves completely into God’s hands, we need to be sure that we have a safe place, a trustworthy community with whom we can do that, to be that open to love. And we need to feel brave enough to take that leap. I believe that, when it comes to love, we need to be ready, willing, and able to receive it and to give it.

 

             And yet, dear friends in Christ, today, together in our Zoom worship experience, we have an opportunity to do just that. You see, today, we are unmasked! Today, we’re a community of people who seek to share a commitment: to love God and one another. Today, we’re a weary people who walk together, virtually. And today, we are people who need the love of Jesus, who need to be in a relationship with Jesus, who need to take a leap, to throw ourselves into the arms of our living, loving, and life-giving God.

 

               When we do that, when we take that leap, we will not need our masks to love our neighbors or our God. When we take that leap, we’ll love ourselves. And when we love ourselves, we’ll be loving our neighbors and our God. May our God give us wisdom, grace, and courage to love like that, today and always. AMEN.

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Ave.

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com



SEPTEMBER 20, 2020

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Debbie McCanless, Preacher

Good morning my friends.

It has been my honor and privilege to be with you these past several months. Now, I share my final homily with you.

 

Two of our lectionary readings are about fairness. First Jonah. When I think about Jonah, I automatically go to my childhood Sunday School days and Jonah’s under sea voyage as he is swallowed into the belly of the whale, (although scripture say it is a large fish). And truthfully, this is an image of what I feel like we’re going through today, being in the belly of the whale and I am hoping to be spit back on the shore someday.

 

But there is ‘the rest of the story’ of Jonah. Our lesson is about the conversion of Nineveh and God’s mercy. In the verses preceding our reading we find that Jonah finally does what God has been telling him to do. He goes to Nineveh calling on the people to repent. And they do – the people donned sackcloth and fasted. When the king heard this, he declared that “all shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.” Jonah was not expecting this. When God saw their penitence, God changed his mind and did not bring disaster to the city.

 

And Jonah was not happy. It wasn’t fair that God just forgave these sinners. Jonah was furious, filled with self-righteous indignation, “I’m so angry, I’d rather die than live” he said. Jonah wanted retribution for the people of Nineveh. He wanted them to get what they deserved for all the sins they’ve committed. God then asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?

 

How many times have I been filled with self-righteous indignation over a wrong committed against me? I can understand Jonah’s want for retribution. How dare God offer forgiveness and grace instead? As the writer Debi Thomas says, “Isn’t it right to be angry that God’s grace is so reckless and wasteful, it challenges our most cherished assumptions about justice? Theologian Richard Rohr calls this type of forgiveness “restorative justice” as opposed to retribution and the penal system that we are so used to today.

 

The truth is that even the people of Nineveh are God’s children, they are made in the image of God just as Jonah. Just as we are, you and me as well as our enemies. Like Jonah, sometimes it is difficult for me, dare I say us, to see our sins and that we are living wholly by the mercy of God. Jonah does not understand the mystery of God’s mercy and if I’m honest, neither do I. Just as God asked Jonah, I have to ask myself, “Is it right for you, Debbie, to be angry?”

 

Speaking of anger and grumbling, we move to the New Testament reading which offers another understanding of fairness. The familiar parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

 

The landowner goes out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. There is an agreement between them for the usual daily wage, a denarius. Later, about 9:00 he goes out and finds others and tells them to go into the vineyard and he will pay them what is right, no agreement, no haggling over pay. Several more times, (about every three hours), he goes out and does the same, sending more workers into the vineyard. Finely, around 5:00 he went out and found others standing around. “Why are you standing here idle all day? They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He too sent them to the vineyard to work. Mind you, they did not say they did not want to work, but that no one has hired them.

 

At the end of the workday, the landowner has his manager bring the laborers in to pay them. Herein lies the rub. Those whom he hired last are brought forward first and paid the usual daily wage, a denarius; remember they were told they would be paid what is right, no set amount. Lastly the early laborers are brought forth and having seen what has gone on with the late comers are thinking, oh boy, I’m going to get extra, I showed up early and have been here all day. But they do not. They get the denarius that was agreed upon that morning. And they were not happy. It was not fair! But the landowner says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

 

Several scholars see this parable as the right to work and an economic truth. It was the custom for the laborer to come into the village looking for work. Notice the workers who were hired last did not say, ‘we do not want to work’, they said, “no one has hired us”. Why is that? Maybe they had to walk farther, were not as skilled, didn’t speak the language and had greater challenges that those who could arrive early. They did not haggle over the pay, they just wanted to work. I think landowner knew that. He also knew that a denarius was a just wage for a day’s work at the time. Obtaining work and earning a fair wage meant the difference between feeding your family or going home to a hungry family.

 

Remember, Jesus, the carpenter, was a working man. I imagine him going into the village of Nazareth seeking work. He had a mother and younger siblings to support. He knew the difficulties and realities of making a living.

 

 

The writer, William Barclay, offers another point; it could also be a lesson about timing. It could be that those who come to God early in their life are no more loved than those who become a Christian “till the shadows are falling on his life.” God’s love makes no distinction, whether you come at the beginning of your life, or the end, or somewhere in between. The unbounding and unmerited gift of God’s generous love is there.

 

Unfortunately, I can see a little of myself in this vineyard story. I follow the rules, show up on time and do my work. It is fair that I get my full share. But as I have gotten older, I know there is more to the story and things are not always as they appear. Not everyone has the same privilege as I have had and continue to have in order to have make a decent living.

 

As Debi Thomas states, “I’ll be blunt: these two stories about fairness and justice are for us. Stories for right now. Stories for the times we live in.” and I agree. I am, we are, the beneficiary of God’s abundant justice – of God’s generous love and grace. Why are some of us, especially those in power and power comes in many forms, so willing to deny it to others; the “other” that we want to ostracize, those different from us whether based on skin color, ethnicity or nationality; to vilify and lock up instead of rehabilitate; to mock and scorn anyone who is different; unwilling to care for our earth and her resources; unwilling to care for each other in this pandemic?

 

We are on this planet together. We need each other. We are dependent on each other. But what if what is “fair” for me is not good for you or others? We must re-examine our narrow notion of fairness and realize everyone - everyone has worth and is worthy of dignity and has a place at the table. We need to be building longer tables, not higher walls. How will I, how will we, work to create a more just and fair society for all. How will we show God’s generosity to others?

 

We cannot talk about justice without remembering Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I leave you with the Facebook post by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry

11 hrs  · 

He starts with a quote, “The late John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “while on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

 

The he goes on to say “The sacred cause of liberty and justice, dignity and equality decreed by God and meant for all has been advanced because while on earth Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made God’s work her own. Because of her the ancient words of the prophet Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God have found fulfillment. May we follow in her footprints. May she rest in the arms of the God who is love and the author of true justice.

 

Rest In Peace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Shalom.”

 

I reiterate how will we advance the cause of liberty and justice, dignity and equality for all?

 

Amen.









SEPTEMBER 6, 2020

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Father Thomas Momberg, Preacher

Church Sins                                                                          

Matthew 18:15-20                                                                                            

 

           “If another member of the church sins against you...” Nearly twenty-five years ago I spent time with today’s Gospel text from Matthew. This week, while reflecting on this Biblical process for restoring broken church relationships, I remembered what a New Testament professor called “joining the conversation.” She invited us to talk with Jesus, asking questions. So, I invite you to join a conversation with Jesus and me today.

 

             Let’s begin. My first question: Jesus, did you really say this about your church? It sounds like you, but it’s only found in Matthew’s version of your Gospel. In fact, the word “church” is found just twice in the Gospels, both in Matthew. Did you say this?

 

               Holy Trinity sisters and brothers, let me bring you into the loop. A large church I served as Rector had experienced problems for many, many years. Today we’d say they were in “generational conflict.” When I joined them, I became a participant in that church’s conflict, simply because of who I am and what I did. Eventually, we decided to get some professional help to work through things, and we hired a consultant.   In other words, we were a church family that needed counseling - and went and got it.

 

             At one session, the consultant, an Episcopal priest trained in conflict resolution, printed something for us to sign. It was a very large copy of today’s Gospel text, those six verses from Matthew 18. He said that, if we were truly serious about resolving our issues and moving forward together, we could use Matthew 18:15-20, sign that big copy of it, and post it in the parish hall. He also suggested we reduce and reprint the signed copy in every Sunday bulletin. I still have one of those Bulletin inserts.

 

               Now, as you know, it’s one thing to agree and sign on to some kind of a pledge, an oath, a covenant of behavior, whether it’s for Christians or for some other group. It’s another thing to live it out, day by day. Matthew 18 says the church member who has been offended or hurt by another church member is the one to take the first step in resolving things. In other words, the one who was offended confronts the offender.

 

               But Jesus, in Matthew’s day, only men were real members of a church. What was healing supposed to be like back then for women against whom men sinned?

                              

               If someone hurts you, this code of conduct says, you are to go to them and tell them so, privately. The problem, as you know, is that the one who hurts may end up hurting the one who hurt them - or someone else. Hurt people hurt people.   Jesus, sometimes someone is so hurt, so victimized, so oppressed, they just can’t see how to confront their oppressor. Sometimes, the one oppressed rises up in anger against their oppressor. What should they do then?

 

         My sisters and brothers in Christ, we say we believe sin hurts people. “If another member of the church sins against you....” The question here, if we are willing to answer it, is: What is sin? Sin, our Prayer Book Catechism tells us, is “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God”   (BCP, p. 848). That means when we sin, we are essentially saying, “MY will, not Thy will, be done.”

 

         And what are the consequences of sinful behavior? Our Catechism says it “distort(s) our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” In other words, when I try to get MY way, to do MY will, it messes up all my relationships, even those relationships I’m not even thinking about.

 

             There are many ways to sin, ways to make a mess with the people, places, and things in our lives, not to mention with God. But this Gospel text is about a particular kind of sin. In chapter 18, Matthew has Jesus talking about the kind of sin that happens in church. If one church member sins against another church member - actually, it’s “if a church member sins against YOU....” if and when that happens, what do you do?

 

               I’d probably ask myself, “How well do I know this person who sinned against me, who hurt me?” Then, I might wonder, “What’s really going on? What happened to this person?” And then, “How big is this sin, really? How much does it hurt?” I wouldn’t automatically go and “point out that fault” directly to the church member. I might go and talk to them privately, speaking my truth in love. I might not. It depends.

 

             Jesus, is “it depends” an acceptable response?   Friends, this is the first big problem I have with this conflict resolution process. Steps two three, and four - take one or two others along, then tell the whole church, and then, if nothing else works, let them go - all those make sense to me. But I think confronting sin and sinners, including the sin in ourselves, is a whole lot more complicated than we hear about in this kind of “if this, then that” process. If it were simple, why would we be in the messes we’ve been in?

 

             Here’s what I think is simple. When people get hurt in the Episcopal Church, when one Episcopalian gets hurt by another one, and then, gets angry, here’s what usually happens. They leave. They leave and do one of two things. One thing Episcopalians do is: stay home, for months, years, even decades. Of course, in COVID-19 days, staying home is what we do to stay well. However, it may be that staying home can become a good excuse for losing contact with sisters and brothers.

 

         In any event, when a hurt, angry Episcopalian stays home, they will, hopefully, some day, find their way back to their church home or a new one. Hopefully, when they return to church, it’s because enough time has passed for their wounds to heal, at least heal enough to come home.   It all depends. Right, Jesus?

 

           And yet there will always be folks who get so hurt and angry with their church - their priest, or their vestry, or their fellow member - they just stay home and never come back. Until, perhaps, their own funeral. It is a great sadness for me when I, the current priest, have never heard of a person or of their family’s woes, until the word comes of their loved one’s death and a desire to bury them from their church home. This is just a reminder: if you know of someone who needs pastoral care, please let me or one of your Vestry members know, before it’s too late for us to offer it.

             There’s another question that emerges when we consider sins in the church: What is the mission of the church? It should go without saying that the church is in the forgiveness business. We’ll hear what Jesus has to say about forgiveness next Sunday. Churches, like all organizations, spend time crafting mission statements. Episcopalians already have one. “The mission of the church,” our Prayer Book Catechism says, “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (p. 855).

 

         The word we hear more often in the church than “restore” or “restoration” is reconciliation. As Episcopal Christians, our mission, should we wish to accept it, is to be reconciled with those who sin against us. That sounds lovely, doesn’t it, Jesus? I just love our Prayer Book! What some people now say is that, before we can have any kind of reconciliation, we need to start with conciliation. Especially when there may be no real relationship to begin with. Especially when it comes to things like...race.

 

         The other problem I now have with this method in Matthew of resolving church conflicts is far larger than “it depends.” It has to do with a much bigger sin than one member might commit against another, even if that individual sinner is someone like a bishop or a priest. The bigger sin is the sin a church commits. In other words, what if Jesus took this teaching to the next level? What if the Gospel text went on to say, “If the church sins against you...”? Jesus, what would you like to say to us about church sins?

 

           There’s a new book about church sin that’s getting a lot of positive press lately. It’s called White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. Robert P. Jones, the author, who grew up Southern Baptist and now runs the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), uses all kinds of data to suggest that, over time, deeply racist attitudes have become embedded in the DNA of White Christian identity.

 

               Jones writes: It is time - indeed well beyond time - for white Christians in the United States to reckon with the racism of our past and the willful amnesia of our present....White Christians churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, (White churches) have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality....Christian theology and institutions have been the central tent pole holding up the very idea of white supremacy (p. 6).

 

             If this is true, and you are an American Christian who is not White, and a White American Christian sins against you, what do you do? If the predominantly White Christian Church sins against you, a Christian of Color, what do you do? What about if you are a woman or an LGBTQ Christian, and a mostly straight White male church sins against you? Might all of this have something to do with the fact that more and more younger adults who would or could be Christians say they are done with the Church?

 

               Dear friends in Christ, I’m not done with the church. I may be wrong, but I think that today, the church as I know it and love it, the church where, as a Christian song from the 60’s put it, you’ll know they are Christians by their love - these days, I think we Episcopal Christians, imperfect as we are - we are trying to live and love more and more like Jesus would have us do - together. I’m talking about that relatively big denomination of American churches called Episcopal, and our smaller collection of churches called the Diocese of West Tennessee, and this little church called Holy Trinity, where two or three, or twelve or thirteen, or even more gather in Jesus’ name.

 

       Whether it’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s initiative called “Becoming Beloved Community,” or the efforts our own Bishop Phoebe Roaf is making to create, encourage, and restore healthy community among us, or our own Wednesday Bible study or Sunday worship - I do not see church sins happening the way I have in the past. I see us taking steps toward healing hurts, resolving conflicts, and restoring unity along dividing lines.

 

               Today, my sisters and brothers, I see the church as I suspect Jesus envisioned it - all things considered, we are alive, well, and preparing to go where Jesus calls us next. The question on this 2020 Labor Day weekend is: What does the work of healing, the work of restoration, the work of reconciliation look like for Holy Trinity, for the Diocese of West Tennessee, for the Episcopal Church in the days ahead?

 

             So, Jesus, what do you have to say about all that? What would you have us do next, in your name? What would you do - through us?

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Ave.

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com





FROM THE DESK OF FATHER MOMBERG-VICAR OF HTEC
        This article is taken from THE TRACT
OCTOBER 2020

 

 

And now for something completely different.
~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Back in the 1970s, a ragtag group of young Englishmen created a surreal series of TV sketches. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam, dubbed Monty Python’s Flying Circus - or simply, "The Pythons” - totally changed the way comedy was done. Their work included absurd situations, outrageous innuendoes and sight gags, alternating with animation that merged with live action. Something completely different, indeed.
That comical phrase came to mind as I continue to reflect on what God might be up to in these, our own “completely different” days. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing requirements have forced all of us to engage in other kinds of meeting, newer ways of connecting, such as telecommuting, learning through distance education, and videoconferencing - not to mention making a good, old-fashioned telephone call!
When the coronavirus became a reality in this country, it was time for something completely different. Zoom, a communications technology company founded less than a decade ago, is now a leader with their own version of “something different.” Countless companies, all kinds of educational institutions - even churches have switched, at least for now, to online classes and “virtual” worship, using platforms like Zoom.
On Palm Sunday we began to offer online Zoom worship. Now, using your telephone or computer, you can go to a website link and join Holy Trinity friends on Sunday mornings at 10 am. Anyone can worship with us...from anywhere on the planet!
And starting May 6th, we’ll begin offering a new Zoom (audio-video) class called Praying the Bible. I will host this one-hour class at Noon on Wednesdays. If you prefer, you can participate simply using audio (just call in with any kind of phone). Or you can use a “smart” phone or any other kind of computer (desktop, laptop, or tablet) and join us in both audio and video. Each week, you choose how you want to connect.
As with our current Sunday morning worship at 10 am, anyone will be able to study the Bible and pray with us on Wednesdays, from wherever they - or you - may be. Anywhere in the world, that is. Talk about something completely different!
Changes can be hard. Differences may be challenging. I believe I am called to face into these hard, challenging times with you. I pray you will let me be your companion and guide on this spiritual journey. Of course, Jesus, our chief guide, is also with us.
In the merry month of May, I invite you to join us in this completely different way of praying, studying, and worshiping. Let us keep coming together, while we are apart.
In the peace of Christ,
Tom+
fathermom1949@gmail.com / 301.825.2846

 

The Fire THIS Time

 

Dan was the first person to ask me the question

I knew so many others had wanted to ask:

Why are you throwing yourself on this fire?...

Instead of an intellectual argument,

all I had to give was what my heart wanted to scream:

Because my friends are on that fire.

~ Mike Kinman, Preaching Black Lives (Matter)

 

 

           What a long, hot summer this has been. And, officially, it’s not quite over.

 

         On Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. His death was, in a word, unconscionable. Who, being conscious, would not only put a knee to another human being’s neck long enough to kill him, but also look into the cameras, communicating his total, inhuman disdain for another human being? In that moment, a movement was reborn.

 

       In June, the Shelby County Commission declared racism a pandemic. In July, the Memphis City Council declared racism a public health crisis. At the end of July, a transgender Lakota pastor suggested that, in order for us to become what Dr. King named “the beloved community,” truth needs to be seen as the diagnosis, justice the prescription, and healing the cure.

 

         I’m remembering three August moments in the movement toward racial truth, justice, and healing. On August 28th, 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, accused of whistling at a white woman, was brutally murdered and horribly disfigured. Justice for Emmett has been delayed to this day. And yet, Emmett’s story was part of the birth of the Civil Rights movement.

 

         On August 14th, 1965, a White seminarian named Jonathan Daniels, who was on study leave to work on voter registration in Selma, Alabama, was killed by a White man’s shotgun blast aimed for a Black teen-ager named Ruby Sales. (Ruby and her racial justice work are found at http://www.spirithouseproject.org). Jonathan, honored annually by a memorial pilgrimage, once wrote, “We are indelibly, unspeakably one.”

 

         And on August 9th we observed the sixth anniversary of the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. For me, the memory of this particular moment in time, has deep meaning. Having finished my full-time working life, then returning to Memphis in late July, I became a pensioner on August 1, 2014, eight days before Mike Brown’s murder. Soon afterward, I became aware of the ministry of Mike Kinman, then Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis, who had thrown himself on that fire. Six years later, I have several new friends who live in that fire.

 

         In the short course of those eight days, I had barely begun to consider what life as a “retiree” might look like. I had no part-time obligations, in ministry or otherwise, on the horizon. Borrowing a line from the refrain of the song Sixteen Tons, I was clear: I would no longer live a life where I would “owe my soul to (any one) company store.”

 

         I will, however, always owe my soul to the One who keeps setting me on fire and refining me. That happened to me again, as it had several times before, in the late, summer heat, six years ago. That’s also what has been happening to me again THIS summer. To borrow and update the title of that groundbreaking 1962 book by James Baldwin, it’s the fire THIS time. Again. And THIS time matters, big time.

 

~ Peace,

Tom+

And now for something completely different. 
~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus 

Back in the 1970s, a ragtag group of young Englishmen created a surreal series of TV sketches. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam, dubbed Monty Python’s Flying Circus - or simply, "The Pythons” - totally changed the way comedy was done. Their work included absurd situations, outrageous innuendoes and sight gags, alternating with animation that merged with live action. Something completely different, indeed. 

That comical phrase came to mind as I continue to reflect on what God might be up to in these, our own “completely different” days. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing requirements have forced all of us to engage in other kinds of meeting, newer ways of connecting, such as telecommuting, learning through distance education, and videoconferencing - not to mention making a good, old-fashioned telephone call! 

When the coronavirus became a reality in this country, it was time for something completely different. Zoom, a communications technology company founded less than a decade ago, is now a leader with their own version of “something different.” Countless companies, all kinds of educational institutions - even churches have switched, at least for now, to online classes and “virtual” worship, using platforms like Zoom. 

On Palm Sunday we began to offer online Zoom worship. Now, using your telephone or computer, you can go to a website link and join Holy Trinity friends on Sunday mornings at 10 am. Anyone can worship with us...from anywhere on the planet! 
And starting May 6th, we’ll begin offering a new Zoom (audio-video) class called Praying the Bible. I will host this one-hour class at Noon on Wednesdays. If you prefer, you can participate simply using audio (just call in with any kind of phone). Or you can use a “smart” phone or any other kind of computer (desktop, laptop, or tablet) and join us in both audio and video. Each week, you choose how you want to connect. 

As with our current Sunday morning worship at 10 am, anyone will be able to study the Bible and pray with us on Wednesdays, from wherever they - or you - may be. Anywhere in the world, that is. Talk about something completely different! 
Changes can be hard. Differences may be challenging. I believe I am called to face into these hard, challenging times with you. I pray you will let me be your companion and guide on this spiritual journey. Of course, Jesus, our chief guide, is also with us. 

In the merry month of May, I invite you to join us in this completely different way of praying, studying, and worshiping. Let us keep coming together, while we are apart. 

In the peace of Christ, 
Tom+ 
fathermom1949@gmail.com / 301.825.2846