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

 

JULY 29, 2020

The 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon preached by Fr. Tom Momberg

The Lord of the Dance                          

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52                                                                                      

 

 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be / I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be / and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

 

         Have you ever had one of those nights when you just could not go back to sleep? When you wake up in the middle of the night - whether it’s to turn off your smart device, so it stops making noise when someone sends you a text message; or it’s to use the bathroom; or some other reason - how easy is it for you to close your eyes and dream a little dream again? What do you do when you’re having a sleepless night?

 

         When I woke up Thursday morning for a middle-of-the-night trip down the hall, I did not go back to sleep. The coming day held a couple of significant calendar items, including an important Board meeting via Zoom. I really could have used a good night’s sleep. But I did not go back to bed and rest. Sometimes, there is no rest for the weary.

 

         Instead, I picked up my smartphone and read something another Episcopal priest had posted. Mike Kinman serves as the rector of a church in California, a congregation known for social justice. I’ll say more about what he wrote later on. For now, I want to tell you how his words led me, in the wee hours before sunrise, to that song’s refrain:

 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be / I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be / and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

         You may recognize the tune more easily, when you hear these words:

 

I danced for the scribe and Pharisee

but they would not dance, and they wouldn’t follow me

I danced for the fisherfolk, for James and John

They came with me, and the Dance went on.

 

         The tune, named “Simple Gifts,” is #554 in our 1982 Hymnal. ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.... Over the years I’ve learned that, even in the middle of the night, especially then, God may have a gift for me. God may be saying: Tom, come down, where you ought to be.

 

         This time, God seemed to be saying: Tom, come sit down - and start writing that sermon that’s been bugging you. Come now, sit down now, in the place where you write your sermons, the place you ought to be. My wife Eyleen, another writer and preacher of sermons, puts it this way: “Butt. In. Chair.” So, that’s what I did. I sat down in my favorite chair, and I began to write. Suddenly, that song came to me.

 

         Dance, dance...

         Right now, you may be asking yourself: Where is he going? What in heaven’s name does dancing have to do with our Gospel text today? What do all those little parables - six of them, but who’s counting? - have to do with the Lord of the Dance? For me, it all starts with what one professor of theology calls the subversion of Jesus.

 

         The first four parables are about subversion. The ones about a mustard seed, some yeast, hidden treasure, and a pearl of great price - they each create, on the surface, a lovely image. But the theology professor made me dig deeper:

 

         “Mustard is a weed a farmer would pull from his field....Yeast (or leaven)...is what a woman cleans from her house in preparation for Passover....” As for the pearl, he says, “What was the man doing digging around in someone else’s field in the first place? His action is a theft.” And “merchants were held in the public esteem about as highly as our culture values used-car salespersons. Their motives and scruples were suspect.”

 

         Weeds do need to be pulled up, right? But wait a minute: didn’t we hear Jesus say something about weeds and wheat LAST Sunday, how they should “grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30)? And today, Jesus is saying a mustard seed, the smallest of all, can grow into the greatest of trees. God seems to have a heavenly plan for weeds.

 

         Yeast is something we do not need to make the kind of unleavened bread we say becomes the body of Christ in Holy Communion. Today, Jesus says that yeast - mixed by a woman into flour to make leavened bread, which would spoil it for the purposes of worship - that yeast also ferments, stirring things up in God’s larger kingdom of heaven.

 

         Even though that man takes treasure from someone else’s field without telling the owner about it, he is essentially putting himself out of business, by selling everything he has to make an ultimate purchase. So is the merchant searching for pearls. Once these men sacrifice everything, Jesus says, they step into a new dimension, a heavenly realm.

 

         The professor concludes, “These parables elevate the convention-subverting people in them....Whatever else they mean, these parables hint that God’s empire - and therefore good citizenship in God’s realm - is fundamentally different from Rome’s....” He even dares suggest that the church’s work needs to be subversive, so we can “form disciples who value the contemporary equivalents of weeds, yeast, thieves, and (used-car salespeople)” (Gary Peluso-Verdend, Feasting on the Word, pp. 282-286).

 

         Now, this is not “subversion” in the way you and I likely think of it. Like when a government is violently overthrown. Or like parts of Europe during World War II, when guerilla warfare, escape networks, and newspapers emerged from the underground.   It’s more like a non-violent protest, a “turning under” (that’s what “sub-vert” literally means). More like a turning under, over, upside down, so a con-version might happen.  

 

         We’ve seen all kinds of protests and even some conversions since George Floyd was killed, just two months ago. Jesus was all about conversion, and often, subversion.   It would be helpful if we could ask him just how far subversion can go and still lead to conversion. Here’s one way I think about what Jesus might say. I think he might say that nothing is more authentically subversive and leading to conversion than the arts - like painting three words on the surface of a street or renaming it: “Black Lives Matter.”

 

         Which brings me back to what I read in the middle of that sleepless night and how it led me to the kind of arts we call music, to that song. Here’s what Mike Kinman wrote about some very subversive behavior, acted out by a very famous follower of Jesus:

 

         When troops lined the inside of Desmond Tutu's church in Capetown, he said to them: "You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods. I serve a God who cannot be mocked.” And then that wonderful, mischievous smile began to creep across his face, and he said to those troops: So, since you have already lost, since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side.”

 

         And then, he began to dance. And the whole congregation began to dance. And the troops could do nothing in the face of such love and joy.

 

     After twenty-seven years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was released in 1990. Here’s what Desmond Tutu and his fellow South Africans did about that:

 

         https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/video/desmond-tutu-and-others-dance-and-celebrate-nelson-news-footage/456487343

 

 

~   ~   ~

 

           At age 88, I’ll bet the Archbishop still has a bit of dance left in him. And you?

 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be / I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be / and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Ave.

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com





JULY 19, 2020

The 7th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon preached by Fr. Tom Momberg

The Darkness of the Tomb and the Womb     Romans 8:12-25                                                                                                         

         Thanks be to God. And thanks be to Ty Legge for choosing that hymn (#424)! As I grow older, I give thanks to God for many of the simpler things in life. A delicious meal. A good night’s sleep. A moment of real connection with another human being.

 

     I’m also grateful for things that are not so simple, the more difficult things I have learned along the way. I wonder: In your life, what would you say are the most important lessons you have learned? Who are the teachers for whom you are truly grateful, the ones who have taught you life’s most important lessons?

 

         Today, I want to say thanks be to God for the life and work of Parker Palmer. A respected writer, teacher, activist and spiritual guide, Parker is the founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal. I believe his work speaks deeply to people in all walks of life, including education, law, medicine, politics, and religion. Author of ten books, recipient of more than a dozen honorary doctorates, Parker Palmer is best known for a little book about vocation, called Let Your Life Speak.

 

         Parker’s first book, however, is the one I want to quote from today. It’s called The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life. In a way, he’s been writing about celebrating contradictions ever since The Promise of Paradox was first published forty years ago. With Parker’s help, there is one life lesson I have learned and keep learning, over and over again. In his words:

 

         The promise of paradox is the promise that apparent opposites - like order and disorder - can cohere in our lives, the promise that if we replace either-or with both-and, our lives will become larger and more filled with light. It is a promise at the heart of every wisdom tradition...not least the Christian faith.

 

         He goes on to quote Neils Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who once said, “The opposite of a correct (or true) statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.” Parker concludes, “The capacity to embrace true paradox is more than an intellectual skill for holding complex thoughts. It is a life skill for holding complex experiences” (pp. xxix-xxx).

 

         A life skill for holding complex experiences. Considering the triple pandemics we are all facing these days - the complex challenges of biological, social, and economic upheaval - we need all the life skills we can muster.

 

         Today we’ve been given two New Testament passages that describe paradox. The Gospel account is about weeds and wheat, which Jesus uses to represent good and evil. He says, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30). Really? Any gardeners want to weigh in on that paradox? And yet, we know the truth, hidden in plain sight: weeds exist, as does wheat. No matter what, both do grow together.

         I want to focus today on the second paradox, the one in the Epistle from Romans. Full disclosure: in seminary, one of my professors had us write a paper on this passage. Romans 8:12-25 still speaks to me. As person and priest, the paradox in the last eight verses of this passage still provoke me profoundly.

 

           Parker Palmer is right. The power of paradox prevails throughout our Christian lives. Both darkness and light. Both death and resurrection.   The perpetual paradox in Romans 8? Both suffering and glory. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18). Present suffering and future glory. For those who seek to follow Jesus, both are profoundly true.

 

         The sufferings of this present time. What are those present sufferings? Historic levels of unemployment, with businesses failing right and left. Continued outbreaks of state-sanctioned violence against and murder of black and brown bodies. And a 21st century version of infection and disease that historians and journalists are comparing to the 14th century pandemic called the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death.

 

       All this suffering, heaped on top of our pre-COVID-19 realities - scandalous abuse, pervasive chronic illness, real loneliness and despair - it all gives us more than enough reason to “groan inwardly,” borrowing St. Paul’s phrase (8:23). The primary paradox Paul lays out in the book of Romans is Jesus’ death and resurrection, the dying and rising of Christ. We who claim faith in Jesus will inherit the kingdom of God - “if, in fact,” Paul says in our passage today, “we suffer with (Christ) so that we may also be glorified by him” (8:17). Weeds and wheat coexist. Paradoxically, so do suffering and glory - in the life story of Jesus, a story that changed the world, and in our own story.

 

         But how is that? How is it that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the history of the world took a new direction? Is that still true? Is the world still changing? Where, then, is that fabled glory in all the suffering of this, our own, present time?

 

         There is a way in which only time will tell how our current story, the story that ushered in the year 2020, actually ends. Will it become a story of glory like the one Paul promises in our lesson today? We don’t know, because we cannot yet read to the story’s end. Our story is still being written. Here, however, is what we do know.

 

         We know the Black Death marked the end of the Middle Ages and sparked the beginning of something new, called the Renaissance, a worldwide rebirth. “After the Black Death, nothing was the same,” says Gianna Pomata, a professor of medicine now retired from Johns Hopkins. What she expects is that “something (just) as dramatic is going to happen, not so much in medicine,” she says, “but in economy and culture.” In so much danger, Professor Pomata says, “there’s this wonderful human response...to think in a new way” (Lawrence Wright, “Crossroads,” The New Yorker, 7/20/20).

 

         To use a medical image, our present plural pandemic suffering offers us an x-ray of our society. We have a new picture of all the broken places in our world. This picture can allow us us to see, and then, to think in new ways - if we choose to do so. And that new way of seeing and thinking and ultimately doing will probably be...paradoxical.

 

         The new way of thinking and seeing our world is actually an old way for women. It is the paradox of giving birth. It is like a woman in labor pains, to borrow Paul’s image, who cannot wait for the pain to be over, but, even more, cannot wait to meet the long-awaited child about to be born. In that most human experience, suffering and glory are not contradictory. They are like the threads of a beautiful quilt, interwoven, inseparable.

 

     In my sermon two Sundays ago I told a story about Valerie Kaur, the founder of the Revolutionary Love Project. The introduction of her new book See No Stranger begins with a story that has made Valerie famous. The talk she gave in this story was recorded and has been viewed more than 40 million times. Here’s what she says about that talk:

 

         It was New Year’s Eve 2016. My friends Rev. William Barber II (you may know him as one of the founders of the new Poor People’s Campaign) had invited me to speak at the Metropolitan AME Church...in Washington D.C. Like millions of Americans, I was still in shock over the results of our Presidential election. I looked out at that crowded church and saw grief and anticipation in people’s eyes.

 

         “The future is dark,” I said. “But what if - what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now, those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detentions and political assault (and, she would probably now add, the great Flu Epidemic of a century ago)?

 

         What if, says Valerie Kaur, a young, 21st century teacher of life experience, what if (our ancestors) are whispering in our ear, ‘You are brave’? What if this is our nation’s greatest transition? Valerie, of course, had no idea how prophetic, how true her words could and would be, now, three years later.

 

           If we can take the long view, for the long haul, I think Valerie’s wisdom can also be a paradox. This is BOTH the darkness of the tomb AND the darkness of the womb.   And this darkness is not about you OR about me. It’s about BOTH you AND me AND the human race, BOTH present tense AND in the future. Parker Palmer described that life lesson, the paradox of present and future, more than a decade ago, in this way:

 

       “To live in this world, we must learn how to stand in the tragic gap...the gap between what is and what could and should be, the gap between the reality of a given situation and an alternative reality we know to be possible, because we have experienced it” (“The Broken-Open Heart,” Weavings, March/April 2009, p. 13).

 

         Today and tomorrow, may we learn the lessons life wants to teach us. May we step out in faith, into the darkness, trusting in our own experiences of suffering and glory. May we trust in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, who lived and died and keeps on rising.



JULY 12, 2020

The 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon preached by Debbie McCanless


Good morning. I am grateful that Fr. Tom has invited me to preach again.

So… three of our readings mention the earth – soil, sowing, grain, growth. It shows how God is active in our world in a language grounded in earthiness that is not particularly theological or sacred.


Earlier this week Fr. Tom sent me an essay written by Debie Thomas on today’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. What caught my eye was “JOY!”. She says and I quote, “Thank God! These texts are bursting with Joy!” end quote. I was thinking like she was – I sure could use some joy, what with the rising numbers of our local COVID cases, not to mention the national cases, the increase in deaths, being isolated from loved ones, and the disease of racism and hatred that is way too prevalent. I, we could use some Joy! And then I re-read the scriptures: Isaiah gives us rain and snow… and in v 12 “You shall go out in joy and be led back in peace;”. The Psalmist gives us water, grain, blessings of growth…. “they shout and sing together for joy.” These all speak of hope, life and joy.


In Matthew we get the first of Jesus’s parables – The Sower and the Seed. I think we are all familiar with this parable. It is about the different kinds of ground. The sower sets out to sow and some fell on the path. Imagine a well-worn path where the earth is packed down and seeds lie on top and the birds come to eat. Next we are told some seeds fall on the rocky ground, imagine ground with a shallow layer of dirt and some seeds sprouted but without deep roots perished in the sun. Still other seed fell among thorns. If you have ever gardened, even a little, you know the tenacity of weeds and thorns and they will choke out whatever is planted. Then finally, seeds fall on the good soil and bring grain, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen.!” According to William Barclay in And Jesus Said, there are two main interpretations of this parable. One he calls the traditional interpretation which is what I have always tended to gravitate to. This focuses on the different types of ground and how it is representative of us. We may be the hard-packed ground where we are closed off to God and Jesus’s teachings. We can’t be bothered, or we think we know it all already and have nothing to learn or heaven forbid, we just don’t care. Then there is the rocky, shallow ground which represents our shallow faithfulness. We want to follow Jesus and if all is well, we are content to follow Christ – it’s easy. But once we are faced with the difficulties that will inevitably come our way, our faith is likely to wither. Matthew chapter 10 lets us know the challenges of discipleship. Third there is the thorny ground. This can be a life so busy we crowd out Jesus. I know I can get so caught up in the everyday business of life that my prayer life suffers. There are many things that can and do command our attention, and these are not inherently bad. But if we neglect prayer and devotional time, how can we be bearers of God’s love and faithfulness?


Finally, if we become like the good soil and are open and receptive to receive God’s love and not only hear and accept Christ and his teachings, but to put them into action; our lives can bear wonderful fruit.


The other interpretation that Barclay mentions is a more modern interpretation (even though his book was published in 1970). He suggests it hinges on one verse, Matthew 13: 8; “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” A farmer will sow knowing not all seed will bear fruit.


It doesn’t really matter the final amount, God will provide, whether a hundredfold or thirty. Sometimes we may not even know what the fruit of our labor will bear. But we must not be afraid to take risks and sow anyway.


Debi Thomas, who I mentioned earlier, takes a similar approach. She describes the sower as sowing seeds everywhere, not being too concerned where they may fall. An extravagant sower she says. And she questions her own stinginess. I can relate to that. What if there isn’t enough? Enough Good News to go around she says. Enough joy, love, generosity to go around I wonder. But there is and I know it. Jesus Christ IS the extravagant love of God. Jesus is evidence God’s extravagant love.


I will not close my eyes to the pain and injustices of this world. But I invite you to join me and look for the joy. One example is Jason Zgonc, a 12-year-old trumpet player. Every evening for more than two months, he stands outside the Emory Decatur Hospital in Georgia performing songs for the staff during shift change. He was inspired by a New York Philharmonic trumpeter who stands on his balcony and plays in honor of healthcare workers. The first time nurse Natalie Schmidts heard the sounds of Zgonc’s trumpet, she was coming off a rough shift, and he helped change her perspective. “It gives you a sense of community,” she said.


As I said earlier, the language regarding our readings – those of earthiness – may not necessarily be theological or sacred. But we are scared, each one of us. Our world is sacred and our place in it. A place where everyone belongs, Black, Brown, Asian, White. We are community.


My closing prayer for humankind: May we tend our soul, remove the rocky, hard places and not let the thorns take hold. May Love, not fear, be sown on the fertile soil of our souls.

Amen.



JULY 5, 2020

The 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Zoom Worship Sermon-Fr. Momberg

All You Need Is Love                                                                                                          A Sermon for Independence Day

Deut. 10:17-21, Hebrews 11:8-16, Matthew 5:43-48                                                      

 

 

         The strangest exam I ever took in seminary came to mind this week. Our professor of Christian Ethics did not ask us to reflect on a passage from Holy Scripture. Instead, he gave us the title of a Beatles’ song, with a single question. Here’s the song title and the question: “All You Need Is Love. True or false?” What would your answer be?

 

         If I had not been a lowly seminarian; if I had not been a young man (i.e., under the age of forty); if I had only known way back then what I know today...well, maybe I would have gotten a better grade! What I really want to say is this: If, before that final exam, I had looked at today’s lessons, appointed for Independence Day, my answer would have been better informed. I would have been able to say, without a shadow of a doubt...YES: All we need is love, love / Love is all we need.

 

         In our lessons from Deuteronomy and Hebrews, we hear about an ancient kind of love: loving the stranger, the foreigner. This ancient, Biblical kind of love is challenging. For some, it seems impossible, heretical, un-American. Yet when we dare love strangers and foreigners, Scripture says, they can become neighbors. And then, somewhere along the way, we come to see, to realize that, we, too, have been strangers. We, too, have been strangers in a strange land, where people, places, and things seemed foreign to us.

 

         Allow me state the obvious. While feeling like a stranger can be true for all people, it is especially true for people of color. Valerie Kaur is a civil rights activist, lawyer, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project. In her new book See No Stranger, she writes, “It is easy to wonder about the...life of the people closest to us. It is harder to wonder about people who seem like strangers...But when we choose to wonder about people we don’t know, when we imagine their lives and listen for their stories, we begin to expand the circle...We prepare ourselves to love...” (pp. 10-11)

 

         When we stop wondering about someone who is different from us, that expanding circle is broken. Valerie Kaur tells the story of her eighth-grade evangelical friend, Lisa, who discovered that Valerie was a member of the Sikh faith and not a Christian. (Sikhism was founded in India during the 16th century.) White-skinned Lisa told brown-skinned Valerie that, unless she accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior, she was going to hell. Their friendship ended. Lisa could no longer love Valerie the way she had. Valerie writes, “Wonder is an admission that you don’t know everything about another person. Lisa stopped wondering about me” (ibid., p. 19).

 

         Once upon a time, we were strangers in a strange land. Once upon a time, we, too, looked for a homeland. We, too, once sought - or perhaps we are still seeking - a city, a community, a church, a family to call home. For some, once-upon-a-time is today. I know people who, in their retirement years, still do not know exactly where they want to live out their final days, still don’t know where they will finally find home. Looking back now, I believe that serving churches in more than a dozen cities was, in some ways, my own searching for and seeking out a place to call home.

 

         When we are foreigners, when we are strangers, we especially need to be loved.   And once we are loved, once we become not just strangers, but someone’s neighbor, even someone’s friend, it is usually easier to reciprocate. Once we know we are loved, we can more easily begin to love the previous stranger, the former foreigner, the new neighbor - because we ourselves have walked that kind of walk.

 

         In our Gospel lesson from Matthew, we hear what is the last of six antitheses. An antithesis - anti-thesis - is the opposite of a thesis. We might say Jesus was “into” antitheses, at least in Matthew’s telling. Toward the end of Matthew’s fifth chapter, Jesus begins each teaching with, “You have heard it said...” adding, “but I say....”.

 

         Let’s practice some antithesizing. First, let’s say together, “We have heard it said...” We will be the “you” in Matthew. I’ll respond, paraphrasing Jesus’ words. Ready?

 

“We have heard it said...”

     You shall not murder (5:21)...but I say love shows no hostility.

“We have heard it said...”

     You shall not commit adultery (5:27)...but I say love is not predatory.

“We have heard it said...”

     You shall not divorce (5:31)...but I say love is found in marriage.

“We have heard it said...”

     You shall not swear falsely (5:33)...I say love is unconditionally truthful.

“We have heard it said...”

     An eye for an eye (5:38)...but I say love does not retaliate.

“We have heard it said...”

     You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy (5:43).

 

         The last “But I say” is the hardest to hear of all: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:43).   Jesus’ context is the Roman Empire, the national enemy of the Jewish people. Of course, any other religious groups or individuals were eligible to be enemies. The community Jesus walked with and ministered to were a persecuted people. They had some real, honest-to-God enemies. Do we?

 

         When Jesus, like Moses, went up a mountain and exhorted his disciples and the crowds to sit down and listen, he wasn’t about to give a speech on human rights. Jesus was preaching and teaching about the nature of love, the love of God, the God who loves all people, foreigners and friends, neighbors and strangers, without distinction, without fail. Do not love just the neighbor, ancient texts teach, but also the stranger. Jesus teaches, even commands: Do not love just the friend, but also the enemy.

 

         Which brings us back to the Beatles. Love, love, love. Love is all you need. Love the stranger...love your enemy...and love yourself. “Be perfect,” Jesus says. The word translated “perfect” - in Greek teleios - is about a lifelong journey toward a goal. We are called by Jesus to strive to be more and more like God, to be more and more like love. And we are to love our neighbors, Jesus also says, keeping with Biblical teaching, as if we were loving ourselves. For how can we love others, if we do not first love ourselves?

 

       And yet, how do we love ourselves? How’s that working for us? Sometimes we love ourselves without any help at all. But it’s the other times, times when we just do not feel like loving ourselves - not to mention our neighbors or people who feel like strangers, let alone enemies. Sometimes - and maybe “sometime” is right now - sometimes, we are in such a tough, even terrible place, we realize our love can only really, truly come from a power that is greater than ourselves - from a higher power we call God, who loves us first, last and always. The God in whom we trust, say “we the people,” we Americans.

 

         Of all the political writers I read these days, I always try to make time for my favorite conservative: David Brooks. This week he published these words: “In the days leading up to this July 4th weekend, I’ve been thinking about a scene in (the movie) ‘Good Will Hunting.’ Will performs all those mathematical feats and flights of verbal brilliance, but the Robin Williams character sits him down on a park bench and confronts him (at)...the core of his character. (He says,) ‘I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared’ kid.

 

         Brooks concludes with these words: “The last three years have been like that Robin Williams speech, for (our) whole nation — an intervention, a truth-telling. I had hopes the crisis would bring us together, but it’s made everything harder and worse....What’s lurking, I hope, somewhere deep down inside is our shared ferocious love for our...country and a vision for the role America could play as the great pluralist beacon of the 21st century” (“The National Humiliation We Need,” New York Times, 7/2/20).

 

       The poet Langston Hughes described the vision in a speech he gave during this Fourth of July holiday weekend in 1952: “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed -/ Let it be that great strong land of love / Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme / That any(one) be crushed by one above.”

 

         Amidst what is the hardest final exam of our lives; amidst what one journalist (Marc Fisher, “America on its 244th Birthday,” Washington Post, 6/4/20) calls “a triple whammy of deadly disease, wholesale economic paralysis, and a searing reckoning with racial inequality (which...) largely canceled the nation’s birthday bash”; amidst all our inabilities to love as God loves us, as Jesus calls us to love - my prayer is this:

 

         May we remember and never forget: God loves us - first, last, and always - with a love that is so strong, so ferocious, we just might sing about it. All you need is love / all you need is love / all you need is love, love / (God’s) love is all you need.

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Avenue, Memphis, TN 38111

fathermom1949@gmail.com






JUNE 28, 2020

The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Zoom Worship

The Rev. Tom Momberg, Preacher


Welcoming Prophets                                              Jeremiah 28:5-9, Matthew 10:40-42

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost                                                           June 28, 2020

 

 

         Last weekend, for the first time, my children gave me the same kind of gift for Father’s Day. They each made a contribution, in my honor, to a charitable organization that does social justice work. My daughter Hannah, who lives in San Francisco, asked me to choose an organization. That made me happy!

 

         I said, “The MOMS group.” That’s MOMS Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I first learned about MOMS when I served a church in Maryland and my Bishop, Eugene Sutton, went to the state capitol in Annapolis, invited us clergy to join him, and I met some of the very first “MOMS” there. By the way, Bishop Sutton helped found the Episcopal Bishops United Against Gun Violence, of which our Bishop, Phoebe Roaf, is a member (bishopsagainstgunviolence.org).

 

         My son John lives in Tulsa. He was on the streets last weekend, all masked up, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” He didn’t ask me to choose an organization. He made his own, wise choice for me: the Equal Justice Initiative (eji.org).

 

         John also spent time last weekend on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. He bought a T-shirt for me, with a quote from James Baldwin: “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” A former graffiti artist, John knows a bit about truth-telling. He understands the connection between the arts and justice, poetry and prophecy.

 

         Today, our Lectionary pairs our short Gospel text with what is part of a complex story from the book of Jeremiah. Both lessons have to do with welcoming prophets. Today I want to explore how people extend welcome and hospitality to those whom one Christian educator calls “God’s provocative, discomforting, truth-telling messengers” (Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus.org).

 

         First, we have the prophet Jeremiah. Actually, we have two prophets, Jeremiah and Hananiah. They’re having something of a showdown. If we read the first four verses of the 28th chapter of Jeremiah, we get some context. Even before that context, it helps to know that, six hundred years before Jesus, armies from Babylon took the city of Jerusalem and forced the Hebrew people into exile. Hananiah represented one point of view about the future of their exiled people, but Jeremiah came to a different conclusion. Jeremiah knew prophets don’t foretell the truth in any kind of exact way. Prophets tell forth the truth.    

 

         In the first four verses of chapter 28, Hananiah tries to foretell God’s plan, God’s truth: “The prophet Hananiah spoke...saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house...I will also bring back to this place...all the exiles...who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”

 

         This “foretelling” sounds like good news to those who are bone-weary of Babylonian exile. They had been “sheltering in place” for a long time. Jeremiah, however, has a different truth to tell. He says God is using the King of Babylon and his army to change the hearts and the wills of God’s defeated people. Each day, Jeremiah has been urging the Hebrew people of God to repent.

 

         Here’s a paraphrase of the prophet Jeremiah’s response to Hananiah: We have a long heritage of prophets who addressed the terrifying realities of war. They have prayed unceasingly for the peace of Jerusalem. If a prophet of peace proclaims God’s bona fide truth, then you will see it come to pass.

 

     And here comes the whole truth, as Jeremiah sees it and tells it forth: However, if it is not God’s truth, beware of comforting words from a prophet who announces popular news which the crowds love to hear (D. Bailey, FOTW).

 

         The Babylonian exile will not end quickly, Jeremiah says.  God’s people will have to wait and pray. They will have to give up their unreflective, unrepentant ways.  Jeremiah does not offer them a pleasant or popular message.  He offers them the truth.   In contrast, Hananiah’s words offer cheap comfort, false hope. By the way, Jeremiah’s words infuriate Hananiah, who dies two months later.

 

         Two things come to my mind when I begin to try and understand this story. The first thing is: Am I the only one who hears a parallel to our own day? I’d say Anthony Fauci is no Jeremiah, but.... What about the so-called comforting words that are being spoken to us about the COVID situation, words that are “popular news which the crowds love to hear”?

 

         The other thing that comes to mind are the words from the first verse of one of my favorite hymns: “We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind, to notions of our day and place, crude, partial, and confined; no, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred; the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word” (George Rawson, #629, Hymnal 1982).

 

         Here’s some light and truth about prophets. They come in all kinds of religious and non-religious garb. Jews, Muslims, Christians - people of all faiths and none - all people can rightfully claim their own prophets. Here’s more truth about prophets: some of them are false. “Beware of false prophets,” Jesus says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. They “come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). When it comes to those who claim to be prophetic tellers of truth, we need the Serenity Prayer’s “wisdom to know the difference.”

 

         I believe Debie Thomas, the educator I mentioned earlier, is something of a prophet. She writes, “I hear a lot of lament these days about the declining influence and authority of the Church in Western culture.  Certainly, there are legitimate reasons to worry and to grieve. But what if (declining) is a good thing for Christianity?  What if we need to learn the art of receiving welcome before we can extend it honestly in Christ’s name?  What if the people we sideline as recipients of our charity are actually meant to be our teachers?”

 

         The first Inquirers’ Class I ever offered as a priest consisted of adults and a young, barely teenaged boy. That young ‘un challenged us grownups more than once, in ways we could never expect. One day, the adults were all assembled for class. The boy walked in a few minutes late, carrying a tray of paper cups, each filled with water by him, so he could give a cup to each of us.

 

       As that young man walked around the room, handing each of us a water cup, someone remembered we had heard today’s Gospel text in church the Sunday before. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (10:42).

 

       That young man heard the Gospel message. Either he was confused about it - we were supposed to give him a cup of cold water, not the other way around! - or he knew how to tell that Gospel truth slant, as the poet Emily Dickinson put it. Either way, when he gave all our members of the Inquirers Class a cup of cold water, he, a young prophet, welcomed us - and he reminded us to do the same.

 

           What if the prophets of our own day are the ones who are coming to us now, on a hot summer day, with a cup of living, spiritual water that wakes us up, because it’s so cool and refreshing - and it’s just what we need? I wonder: Who do you think the real, true prophets are, right now? Who are the ones who are trying to tell the truth, the whole truth, speaking truth to power, in our own day?

 

         This week I’m thinking of some people in the news lately. For example, there are the three prophetic founders - Patrice Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi - and all the active members of the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s also someone who may be a 21st century Martin Luther King - the Rev. Dr. William Barber - and all those involved in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign. Let us listen, learn, and love to welcome today’s truth-telling prophets.

 

         I’m also thinking of the people in my life who, for me, have told forth some of God’s honest truth. What about you? What prophet might you welcome today?

 

 

 

 

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Ave.

Memphis, TN 38111

holytrinityec.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com

















JUNE 14, 2020

The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

A Service of Morning Prayer

Cian Carson, Officiant

The Rev. Tom Momberg, Preacher


Click on this YouTube to view the service.


https://youtu.be/0O1GWumg27Y


JUNE 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday

A Service of Morning Prayer

Holy Trinity at All Saints' Church

The Rev. Momberg, Officiant

Tommy SHeppard, Preacher


Click on this YouTube which is a recording of the entire service.


https://youtu.be/y7aZkF0wG4o













     


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

 

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

        

 

What a difference a day makes...twenty-four little hours.

 

         Do you remember that song?   Wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous’ suggests we live life “one day at a time.” One day quickly becomes one week...one month...one year.

 

         On June 1st, I began my second year, with gratitude, as Vicar, with you, the people of God called Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. It was also the day Bishop Phoebe Roaf authorized in-person worship for congregations in our diocese. So much has happened in twelve months - those fifty-two weeks, those three-hundred sixty-five 24-hour days!

 

             So much can happen in a short period of time. Five weeks ago, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, which caused protesting for racial justice to break out all over the world. Five months ago I was visiting my children in California. When I returned, I saw a handful of people wearing masks. Now, mask wearing is mandatory in Memphis.

 

           Five years ago, our country experienced two life-changing events within a few days of each other First, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality, regardless of sexual orientation, was the law of the land for everyone. Two days later, a funeral was held for eight people brutally murdered at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charlottesville, South Carolina. President Obama wasn’t alone in riding an emotional roller coaster that week.

 

         Who knows what will happen in our second year together? What would you like to see happen in, for, or by your church during the next 8,760 hours? Send me an e-mail, a text message, or call me with your thoughts about our future together. Meanwhile, let’s all take life one day - one hour? - at a time. Be assured of my prayers. Thanks for yours!

 

We’re back to “Zoom”-ing at 10 am on Sunday mornings!

 

         Recently we began conversations with the people at All Saints’ Episcopal Church about the possibility of worshiping with them in person. On June 7th, we began that experiment. After a trial run, it became clear we needed to return to what had been a better solution for more of our members and friends. Therefore, we have just begun to return to Sunday morning online worship, using the platform called Zoom, at 10 am.

 

           We hope you will join us! You can call in, using any phone, to listen and to share in worship. You can also use a computer or any “smart” device, which lets you both watch and listen. No matter how you connect, you can speak - and you can be heard!

 

         If you are on our e-mail list, you’ll receive a bulletin for this Zoom service every Saturday morning. Early Sunday morning you will also receive an e-mail invitation to join our worship on Zoom, along with a weblink for you to connect. We start shortly after 10 am, and, for those who are able, we stay to share in online fellowship afterward.  

 

~ In Christ, Tom+        

 

The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar

fathermom1949@gmail.com

 

 

P.S. Do make time to reach out to at least one person, especially if they live alone.