New Year, Same Prayer | Jan 8, 2021

Weekend Digest 2021:1
January 8
Friday in the Octave of Epiphany

Dear St. B’s family —

Greetings and Happy New Year! 

In this first Digest for 2021, I’d wanted to start on an upbeat note, but like many of you, I was dismayed at the violence at the Capitol this week. Still thinking about it as I type today, and I don’t feel very upbeat. On New Year’s Day, the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop, had given an interview to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour calling the time we’re living through a “perfect storm of a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and a polarized American society.” Read the full article >>> here. This week’s events certainly seemed to confirm his observation.

My family lived in Washington, DC, for a time, and I recall the days surrounding the inauguration of a new president as being exciting and optimistic ones, and feeling that our tradition of a peaceful transfer of power was something to be legitimately proud of in a world where revolutions and coups d’etat were often the norm. But I didn’t feel optimistic watching my TV this week. I was moved by what my friend and Dean of our cathedral church, Fr. Timothy Kimbrough, wrote on Wednesday:

It is the vocation of Christians and the Church at large to work for peace by way of peace-making. As disciples of Christ, you and I must eschew civil violence of every kind. Now is the time to condemn today’s barbarity in Washington, D.C. in no uncertain terms and in the name of Jesus Christ. Read the full email >>>here.

Timothy Kimbrough

So we begin 2021 as we ended 2020 — praying for peace in a divided world. But we aren’t called just to passively intercede for the world; we’re called to actively love it. Yesterday’s epistle at mass was 1 John 3, which says “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.” It’s all the more providential, then, that 2021 started with that interview with Bishop Curry because his is a clarion call not just to prayer but to love. And not a sentimental kind of love, either — he advocates a vigorous, sinewy love that’s absolutely committed to the good of the other. It’s what you’ve heard me call a “my life for yours” kind of love, the kind of love Jesus embodied. Bishop Curry again: 

When we live like that, then Congress can work. When we live like that, then the economy can work. When we live like that, then there is equal opportunity for all. You see what I’m getting at? Love is not a sentiment. It’s a commitment to the common good. (Emphasis mine)

Bishop Michael Curry

And that’s what I want St. B’s to be about. Let that kind of love fill the sails of our Barque — sharing the good news of the reign of God with the world; worshiping with reckless abandon; and serving the poor, the other, the one without position or power or privilege. May this year find us wholly committed to the common good, and see where that takes us.

Speaking of the Barque — this year I hope to talk about “stewardship” more expansively than I have before. The word actually doesn’t originate from the financial sphere, you know. It emerges from many passages of Sacred Scripture, from Genesis and the NT epistles, and most of all from the teachings of Jesus, specifically the Parable of the Talents. Stewardship is faithfully asking how we can “manage or look after” the gifts God’s entrusted to our care — not just our financial resources. So in Epiphany we begin “Seasons of Stewardship,” a series of windows of time throughout the calendar year when we’ll ask how we’ll we’re stewarding everything from the earth, our time/talent/treasure, even our own bodies. The question I want us asking in this first season is about stewarding our spheres of influence. Our networks of relationships. Epiphany is a season of light, so how are we taking light into the dark places we inhabit? How can we love our friends, neighbors, relatives, associates who may be in a dark place at the moment? The vestry and I are thinking about how we’re doing that as a church (you’ll hear more at the Annual Meeting in a couple weeks about how we’re striving toward a “tithe” of our budget going to outreach), and I invite you to ask it about your own life, specifically where you might be able to take the light of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in this new year. 

A way I consider my network of relationships is to think of an oikos,a Greek word that means “household,” but in this context it means my primary base of relationships and sphere of influence — my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. I was introduced to “oikos evangelism” in seminary through a classic book by Michael Green called Evangelism in the Early Church. This article >>> here says: “In our COVID-19 world, these are people “inside the bubble,” quoting Green as saying:“Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness.” I’m not saying we keep our head on a swivel looking for folks to “witness” to so we can “win more souls” to Christ, but that we trust God is leading us to people to bless in his name and for his sake. As the Prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel (click >>> here), which Flannery O’Connor prayed every day, asks:

Lead us toward those we are waiting for,
those who are waiting for us.

In this season of stewarding our spheres of influence, Read more about “oikos evangelism” >>> here.

In the meantime . . . I hope you’re still finding some time to rest, read, reflect, and even listen to some great music during the remaining winter months. Here’s what I’m consuming:

  • If you’re looking for choral music for Christmas and Epiphany, my go-to is a Soundcloud playlist from the Choir of the Church of the Advent where I served in Boston: click >>> here. The staff have also put together an Epiphany playlist that I give a thumbs up to. Find it on Spotify >>> here and on Apple Music >>> here
  • My Flannery and I subscribed to Peacock ( click >>> here — it’s free, for now) just so we could keep watching episodes of “the Office” at the end of the day — it’s my current favorite elixir to soothe a troubled spirit.
  • And I’m enjoying the photography of Coco Liu, a Chicago-based iPhone photographer who chronicles the urban landscape around him. I love cities — the bigger the better — but I’m also fascinated with ways the built environment can abut the natural world, like this shot from Liu’s Instagram account >>> here. More about cities and the built environment in future Digests, I assure you!

That’s it for this week. I leave you with the same prayer the Presiding Bishop shared on social media and via the Living Church earlier this week:

For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen. 

God bless you and guide our nation in the way of justice and peace —

Fr. Sammy

Published by Fr. Sammy Wood

Interim Rector of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Times Square

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