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14th Sunday after Pentecost

Gathering in His Name

Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved

 

You shall them warning                                                     Ezekiel 33:7

Love does no wrong to a neighbor                                       Romans 13:10

 

 The Invitatory and Psalter

V.     O Lord, open thou our lips,
R.     And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V.     Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R.     As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia

 

 Jubilate Psalm 100[1]

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *.
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

 The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

 

 Psalm 149

149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

149:2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

149:5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,

149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,

149:8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,

149:9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!

The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

 

The Old Testament Lesson:                                            Ezekiel 33:7-11

33:7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

33:8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand.

33:9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

33:10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?”

33:11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: Now that the daylight fills the sky   John M. Neale           Hymnal 1982 # 3

Now that the daylight fills the sky,
we lift our hearts to God on high,
that he, in all we do or say,
would keep us free from harm this day:

Our hearts and lips may he restrain;
keep us from causing others pain,
that we may see and serve his Son,
and grow in love for everyone.

From evil may he guard our eyes,
our ears from empty praise and lies;
from selfishness our hearts release,
that we may serve, and know his peace;

That we, when this new day is gone,
and night in turn is drawing on,
with conscience free from sin and blame,
may praise and bless his holy Name.

To God the Father, heavenly Light,
to Christ, revealed in earthly night,
to God the Holy Ghost we raise
Our equal and unceasing praise.

 

The New Testament Lesson:                                                Romans 13:8-14

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Christ is made the sure foundation                 John M. Neale            Hymnal 1982 # 518

Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious,
binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help for ever, and her confidence alone.

All that dedicated city,
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.

To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy servants as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain;
what they gain from thee, for ever
with the blesséd to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.
 

The Gospel Lesson:                                     Matthew 18:15-20

18:15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

18:16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

18:17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.

 

Sermon: I am there

If we were in St. Mark’s, seeing the sun pour through the windows, seeing the lights shine, seeing the fresh paint glow and all of us in the now-empty pews, it would be wonderful to hear this gospel. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” But we aren’t, and so we ask: what happens when two or three are not so gathered, and when they cannot gather, no matter whose name they do it in? Where is Christ then?

My words echo from the walls, and resonate – they sound, and sound again. But with none to hear, what difference do they make? One hopes that, as you hear them, the power of God still comes through, and that it came through me as I wrote and as I speak – for all of you, spoke. One hopes that it makes the difference God wants it to in our lives and in the lives of all whom we love and serve.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I wish you were here to hear me, and I to hear and listen to you. In time we will be, but that time is not this time, and when a promised or at least necessary tomorrow never seems to arrive, it can make any of us feel a bit down, even the preacher. Plus, and here I speak from the heart, the sight of an empty church always gives me something of the willies, as does the sight of a church, abbey, or cathedral, or really any building, that has become a ruin. Each stands, insofar as it does, as a silent reminder, “This happened to me. If you’re not careful, it could also happen to you.”

Of course, so does the marker on every grave or plaque set up in memoriam. Even in an earthly paradise, the Arcadia of ancient imaginings, remembrances of death and of things past were never far away. Et in Arcadia ego, goes the Latin phrase; “I, too, am in paradise.” It’s typically associated somehow, in paintings imagining that paradise, with a tomb or a skull. Nothing lasts forever, not in this world beneath the moon and stars – and yet we abide, somehow, as long as at least one person remembers us, or can have occasion to. We still, after all, read in our Bibles and in other ancient literature the words written down by people whose earthly sojourns ended some two, four, five thousand years ago, though the sea rolls on without them as it did those thousand years ago and even though there is, as one of those ancient writers reminded us, nothing new under the sun.

Yet the meaning of human life is not simply, as Philip Roth said, that it ends. The meaning of human life is also that, while it lasts, it has not yet ended. Beauty may fade, as may vigor, youth, and memory, but while life goes on, there is hope – and life does go on, persistently and apparently unstoppably. One life ends and another begins; one day ends and another dawns; the star that ceases to be creates the elements out of which we can become and, for our time, remain.

With the gift that life is, though that gift may not last forever, we can do amazing or terrible things, depending on what we choose. We can love or hate, tell truths or tell lies, bring peace or bring a sword, heal hurts or make them worse, calm or annoy, rage or be patient, build a community or further divide it. We can choose. We must – and “If you choose not to decide / you still to have made a choice,” as Neil Peart wrote, and Geddy Lee has sung so eloquently, in their 1979 song “Freewill”.[2]

The choice of which the rock band Rush sings, in that part of the song, is about whether or not to choose “a ready guide in some celestial voice,” and they were not particularly keen on it, preferring to choose “free will,” hence the title. I listened to this song as a teenager, Rush being one of the few true joys of the 1980s, long before I paid any attention to the lyrics or to the points they were making. To my English professor’s ear, they sound like intricate and exquisite variations on a theme from Hamlet, viz. “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and in so doing, end them” (Hamlet III.1)? Do we see our world and our lives as shaped by gods or forces to which we are “as flies to wanton boys. They kill us for their sport,” to quote another Shakespearean character, the Duke of Gloucester in King Lear (IV.1)? Why has what has happened, happened – and did it have to? Does anything up there or anyone outside of our little world even care?

These questions help me hear the gospel reading as something other than a series of unrealistic expectations placed upon the church, or rank self-dealing on its part. The idea that we should handle our conflicts internally – first one-on-one, then by twos and threes, then by the body of the whole – works until the exact moment it doesn’t. Charlatans have since the beginning manipulated the ethic involved here, which requires a baseline of trust, honesty, and integrity among community members, the violation of any of which may be at the root of the “sin” in question that has caused conflict and now requires confrontation. Those things in any relationship must be earned, and cannot be assumed; and mama always said never trust someone who says, “Trust me.”

For far too long church members were told, and in some places still are, to hush-hush the sins they suffer or the crimes they endure in order to keep the peace, not air our dirty laundry among others. Similarly, churches, like other small communities, can readily become places that shame that exclude those whom some portion of them does not like and won’t stop pushing away. They can also arrogate to themselves the power in Matthew 18:18 – what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven – to consider themselves laws unto themselves, generators of their own ethic and morality, and of their own methods of policing it and correcting wrongs. The abuses committed and/or tolerated by churches and by some of those who lead them have been too many and too extensive for us to have any further truck with this, not while we still live in democracy governed by laws, threatened though it (and they) be by those currently charged with guarding that democracy and enforcing those laws.

Yet restoring peace with justice, forgiving those who repent and pardoning as we would be pardoned, is well for any community to have at the core of its ethics. The insight that what we do on earth can last into the world to come is sobering and might seem like too much power to give mere mortals, until we remember the concept of karma – that is, cause and effect writ large on the universe. If you do ill in the world, that ill will one way or another redound upon you, for things are ordered in such a way that the differences between truths and lies, kindness and cruelty, cannot be washed away or wished aside forever, or ignored without consequence. Thus, we are rightly told to try to solve problems one-on-one, or by two and three, before ramping things up and enmeshing the whole group in them. For that is where Jesus also is – when two or three gather in his name but are not in amity or agreement, and might be together in conflict as well as in Christ. He is there when they are united by the strife that divided them, as T.S. Eliot wrote of the fighting each other in the English Civil War. He is in the midst when what they had most in common was that which most hurt them, and about which they couldn’t agree. Each side (as Lincoln said of those in the US Civil War) prayed to the same God; the prayers of neither were answered fully.

It is the same in every time of conflict or division, as far as I can tell. God, the universe, the powers-that-be never give any one side in any conflict everything that side wants. They cannot undo the caustic power of cruelty or the insidious acid-wash of lies – and cannot readily right the damage that they do. The powers-that-be cannot make us choose what is right or prevent us from doing right if we truly want to, just as they cannot stop us from erring just by telling us we don’t have to, that we have other choices, that it does not all have to be this way. We have to choose, and so we do – and if we choose not to choose, that’s a choice as well.

Whether from the pulpit of St. Mark’s, or here in the rector’s office, the words from this week’s portion of Romans ring out, too, and they are beautiful. Hear 13:10 again: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love fulfills the law.” Loving your neighbor as yourself is part and parcel of it. It is what the laws God wanted us to follow, Paul and Jesus say, mean at their very root: love your neighbor as yourself – and let’s do what we can to get our neighbors to love us as they love themselves, amiright? That’s also consistent with this passage from the gospel, and one of the key tasks and potentials that anything calling itself the church of Christ, or a branch on the tree of the Jesus movement trying to walk (to mix metaphors) in the way of love, is called to fulfill and live into.

In this, we do what we can. We may not be able to do much to heal the divisions in our country, at least not when certain people in power are doing all they can to keep those wounds open and even open fresh ones. We can stand against, and bear witness against, quarreling, jealousy, wickedness, and evil, as Jesus, Paul, and Ezekiel all suggest if not command, that we do. It may not make all the difference we need to, but it will make a difference. That is always well for the church to do, particularly when we can’t gather in person to draw Christ into our midst that way. When we show forth kindness, love, justice, and mercy, and stand against what denies any or all of those things, we do so together. As we do so together, we gather together, and He is there in the midst of us, just as He promised, and just as we need. Amen.

 

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)

Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.

 

 A Collect for 13th Pentecost (Proper 17)

Grant us, O Lord, we pray thee, to trust in thee with all our
heart; seeing that, as thou dost alway resist the proud who
confide in their own strength, so thou dost not forsake those
who make their boast of thy mercy; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the
night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive
far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your
law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having
done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may,
when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

 A Collect for a Need or Intention

Lord God, friend of those in need, your Son Jesus has untied our

Burdens and healed our spirits.
We lift up the prayers of our hearts for those still burdened,
those seeking healing, those in need within the church and the world.
Hear our prayers that we may love you with our whole being
and willingly share the concerns of our neighbors. Amen.

 

A Prayer after St. Alphonsus

O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.

 

Closing Hymn    Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee     Henry Van Dyke       Hymn  1982 #376

 Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee, praising thee, their sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.

All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, blooming meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living, ocean-depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother: all who live in love are thine;
teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Blessing

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

 

Hymn: Spirit of the Living God    Daniel Iverson, alt.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
 
 

About Episcopal Worship and this Service

We give thanks this morning for our reader, Creamilda Yoda, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.

 

Resources (available for free online)

These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

[1] Or Venite, Psalm 95

[2] From the song “Freewill,” by Rush, composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, lyrics by Neil Peart. From the album Permanent Waves (Mercury, 1980). We will explore in more detail the lyrics from this song in our Adult Formation session on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.