Deep Well

This week a lovely lady from an adult Sunday school class at our church invited me to fill in for their teacher, who was away. He’s been teaching them a little about the seasons of the church, and she’d heard I have some material on that.  Indeed I do!  So I accepted with pleasure, rounded up my own class for support, and appeared in the church parlor this morning, where I delivered a lesson which they were kind to receive with keen attention.  My sister suggested I post the lesson on my website.  So here goes…with illustrations!

 

HAMACO Sunday school lesson

February 24, 2019

“Seasons of the Church:  A Deep Well of Resources for Pious Living”

 

Did you know that according to our United Methodist liturgical calendar,

there are six seasons of the church year?

 

Before we name them, let’s explore the reason for the seasons!

 

I was raised in this very church,

attended confirmation class as a girl in this very room.

But as to the seasons of the church, until the past few years, I had little idea. Beyond Christmas and Easter, they just weren’t on my radar.

 

Now they are.

 

And what a treasure, right here for us to bring forth, and make known!

One might call the seasons a pearl, a pearl of great price!

 

But maybe you’ve heard this question or even thought it yourself:

Aren’t the seasons of the church ‘a Catholic thing’? Not for us?

 

I think it’s very important for the people called Methodist to remember

that our own John Wesley was an Anglican priest, and remained so till he died.

The Anglican—that is, Church of England—way of being religious

was very close in some ways to Catholicism, from which it sprang.

And no, neither Catholicism nor Anglicanism was perfect.

John Wesley saw that quite clearly.

But John was about reviving and reforming. Not repudiating.

Differences are important. So is treasure.

In Wesley, even at the height of his free-form evangelical ministry,

we have both a breaking free from his Anglo-Catholic heritage

and a high resolve to stay close to the high church’s ordering of time.

The founder of Methodism embraced the seasons of the church year.

And so we see two streams of thinking in John Wesley.

“He was first of all a man of the Church. The world may have been his parish,

but the Anglican church was still his church and the Book of Common Prayer still his liturgy….And his estimation is that the church never did stand in the way,

but was rather a deep well of resources for pious living.”

[John Drury’s paper “John Wesley and the Shaping of Liturgical Time”]

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Would you agree we still need a deep well of resources for pious living

from which to drink?

I say we need the church year more than ever.

 

For just one example, I’m sure it’s on all our hearts

that the future of Methodism is in play, this very day, in St. Louis,

at a special called gathering of General Conference.

By the decision reached by these delegates from around the world,

the unity of the Methodist church as we know it could shatter. Or not.

In anxious times, we need something to steady us.

 

Our own bishop Scott Jones wrote in the Houston Chronicle this week:

“There have been public discussions about the possibilities of one part of the church leaving to form a new denomination. We have been distracted from our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, and we long for a new focus…I am confident God will lead us…However uncertain, scary and difficult our current situation appears to be, we must know that God is the ground of our hope and the promise of our deliverance. America has come through difficulties in the past, and so have various parts of the Christian church…uncertain times call for an extra dose of hope.”

 

Uncertain times. I think the seasons of the church can steady us by

offering a proven container where we can recover our hope, our focus, our resolve.

 

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.

Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water

welling up to eternal life.”

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Eternal life.

God, so says the writer of Ecclesiastes, planted Eternity in our hearts.

Why? So we can understand and accept our essential place in the flow of time.

 

As humans we are of course time-bound, limited.

We cannot know how it all began, how it will all turn out.

But as for our own particular measure of days

we can drink deeply of the wisdom of Jesus,

trusting that the sweet by and by will take care of itself.

 

And so, with Eternity planted in our hearts,

with this divine thirst in us to make each day count,

behold,

the stories of our faith tradition,

contained in the seasons of the church year!

 

You should know about me that I’m serving my second year

as Historical Chairman of this church.

 

A large part of my assignment is tending our faith tradition,

specifically,

the seasons of the church year!

 

When I heard this was part of the package, I was very excited. I still am.

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Here’s a little poem I wrote for last month’s meeting of our Church Council:

 

A happy hat at Trinity

Is mine again to wear

Curator of church seasons

Also known as historical chair

 

It’s clear historically speaking

That there are several reasons

The church should organize itself

According to the seasons

 

The seasons teach our story

Repetition works it in

The colors and the images

Touch us deep within

 

Advent and then Christmastide

Epiphany and Lent

Eastertide and Pentecost

And now the year’s half spent

 

Then here comes Ordinary Time

Another half a year

Leads us up to Advent

Again to Christmas cheer

 

And then it’s January

Wise men from afar

And then a dove and a blessing

Epiphany—here we are

 

There is of course an exhibit

In the cases in the West Wing

We hope it brings a smile

We hope it makes you sing

 

Star of wonder star so bright

Star with royal beauty bright

West Wing leading still proceeding

Help us shine the holy light

 

Epiphany’s ours for another month

Ash Wednesday marks its end

And then we’ll curate Lent

On that you can depend

 

And all to fortify

And all to open our eyes

And all to impart a grateful heart

Grounded and growing and wise

 

I can’t help it.  My particular brain just likes to rhyme.

 

Whether our reports to each other rhyme or they don’t rhyme,

I think it’s very important for all of us in church life

to constantly think and talk  about how our work fits together

and what it’s all about, in the eternal scheme of things.

That is, Divine Purpose.

 

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians [4:16]:

 

From Christ the whole body,

joined and held together by every supporting ligament,

grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

Growing and building.

Each part of the body doing its work.

 

 

And so, to reiterate:

 

It’s clear historically speaking

That there are several reasons

The church should organize itself

According to the seasons

 

The seasons teach our story

Repetition works it in

The colors and the images

Touch us deep within

 

And all to fortify

And all to open our eyes

And all to impart a grateful heart

Grounded and growing and wise

 

Grounded and growing and wise.

That’s what we want to be.

That’s what the universe is counting on.

 

Growing requires of us our utmost attention and perseverance.

It’s not easy.

 

As Jesus explained [Luke 8:14-15]:

 

The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear,

but as they go on their way

they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart,

who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

 

They do not mature. Ouch.

We all know that maturing, that is, growing a noble and good heart,

requires more than noble and good intentions.

If we want, really want to mature such as to produce a good crop,

we must find ways and means

to persevere in spite of the tyranny of our busy-ness.

 

I would submit that the seasons of the church is a ways and means,

a very good container for growing.

 

Ardent perseverance in personal development.

Sincerity and commitment of our conscious work.

 

That is what we owe

not just for the gift of our own life

but to the ongoing life and wellbeing of everyone and everything.

 

I don’t think taking up our obligations as human beings can be legislated,

imposed from the top down by imposed morality or fear of punishment.

These have their place, perhaps.

But taking up our obligations has to start from within.

We have to feel it, feel the urgency in our bones.

And, if our bones have grown dry, we need to drink from the well.

 

Urgency in our bones:

 

“We human beings exist…as pivotal transformers of meaning—either upward or downward.  We can, if we choose, bathe this planet in a suffusion of angelic energies: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”… Or, we can “simply use our brains and cleverness to live as successful apex predators.”  [Cynthia Bourgeault]

 

The universe is waiting for us to choose.

People set free, which will it be?

 

As Paul said to Timothy:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them,

so that everyone may see your progress.

 

Give yourself wholly to your personal progress

so you can bless your circles of care.

 

You see?

It’s not about holding on to something that never changes.

It’s about progress.

It’s about our obligation to the flow of time that brought us here.

It’s about cultivating Eternity, as responsible human beings.

 

Back to the seasons …

 

In the flow of Eternity, today is the seventh Sunday after Epiphany.

Some call the season we’re in the season of Epiphanytide,

or, as one of my classmates prefers,

the Season After Epiphany.

 

Wait, what?  I thought Epiphany was just one day??

 

It’s true that Epiphany Sunday this year was January 6,

now receding fast in our rear view mirror.

 

But wait, there’s more. First, more to know about Epiphany itself:

 

Epiphany is one of the oldest feast days in the Christian tradition.

Long before we came up with December 25, that is, Christ-mass,

we celebrated Epiphany.

Why Epiphany? Because something monumental has happened.

God has shown up, and shined forth, in the person of Jesus.

And wise ones from the east showed up with baby presents.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh.

As the old joke goes, women would have brought casseroles and diapers.

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Be that as it may…

 

In our worship January 6 we sang “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

 

You would be amazed at other Epiphany customs around the world:

 

For instance, the blessing of water.

This generally entails a procession to an actual outdoor body of water,

that is, a river or lake.

In Mother Russia, at midnight,

thousands of Christians throw themselves into the Black Sea,

and swim about, so as to partake of water made holy by the arrival of January 6.

 

In even colder parts of the globe,

they chop a hole in the ice, and dip the Cross, three times.

 

In central Europe the priest takes the water made holy on Epiphany

and goes from house to house of the parish,

blessing each dwelling.

 

In Germany,

children called star-singers go singing through the streets.

 

In Latvia they go on sleigh rides,

with special star-quilts, to keep them warm.

 

In Romania, if a girl slips on ice

or better yet falls into water on Epiphany,

she’s sure to get married that year.  After she thaws out.

 

In Ireland Epiphany is called “Women’s Christmas,”

in which the ladies who’ve worked so hard (as ladies will)

to put on Christmas for their families

finally get to go out to supper together and have a glass of wine.

 

In still other countries, children leave their shoes by the door,

to be filled with treats.

 

Under their beds they leave fresh grass, for the Wise Men’s camels.

 

In many places, Christians chalk their doors

with the numbers of the upcoming calendar year,

crosses that stand for Christ, and the initials C, M, B—

initials for the traditional names of the wise ones (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar)

but also an abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat

May Christ bless this house.

 

Customs abound.

My favorite by far is this,

and it’s a direct quote from Wikipedia, so it must be true:

 

“In Manitou Springs, Colorado, Epiphany is marked by the Great Fruitcake Toss. Fruitcakes are thrown, participants dress as kings [and] fools…

and competitions are held for the farthest throw,

the most creative projectile device, etc.”

 

Who knew?

 

And who would not want to celebrate Epiphany for several weeks at least?

 

What’s the big deal about epiphanies?

I think we all know.

The word epiphany means a revelation, a shining forth, a breaking through.

 

We who sit so often in darkness and thick clouds

are not going to rise and shine

and live and give

as we could and should

without a revelation, a shining forth.

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Oh we must pray and pray and pray without ceasing

for epiphany.

We should be praying right now

for the General Conference deliberating right now in St. Louis.

May there be a softening of sides,

a healing of anger,

an epiphany,

a breaking through of the Divine Presence.

An amicable way forward.

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The poet Mary Oliver found epiphanies everywhere.

She showed us how the sacred and the everyday are one and the same.

 

She died last month, which calls to mind one of her poems:

 

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

 

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth

tending as all music does, toward silence,

 

and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth. 

 

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 

Thank you, Mary Oliver, 1935 – 2019.  Rest in peace.

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All her life, a bride married to amazement.

All her life, every day, a bridegroom, taking the world into his arms.

 

I hear in her poem that the Christ—that is, all that exists—has no gender,

excludes no one from the enfolding love of God.

You may have heard it said that Jesus was a feminine soul in a masculine body.

This is hard for us, yes? But worth thinking about.

 

A friend of mine once defined epiphany

as a flash of understanding in a prepared mind.

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That got my attention!

 

Do you see?

It is our work as faith community to prepare our minds.

To repent, that is to change our minds.

Change our minds to what? To the mindset of Christ, that’s what!

 

This is how we cultivate our ground so that epiphanies when they happen

have a better chance of sticking around long enough to change our lives.

 

Part of our mind-preparing mind-transforming work

can be to situate ourselves in the orderly unfolding, the richness of ritual,

the colors and images we call the seasons of the church year.

Ordinary life, deepened, and some of the music and magic recovered.

 

At any rate Epiphanytide is drawing to a close.

 

It will wrap up next week with Transfiguration Sunday,

and it will conclude the day before Ash Wednesday, March 6.

 

Time flows on, and now we’re sent

Ready or not to the season of Lent!

 

Lent comes from the Old English word lencten,

which simply means, spring.

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Spring has come.  The grass is riz..

I wonder where…the flowers is!

 

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, this year March 6,

and ends on Holy Saturday, this year April 21.

 

The idea is, a season of forty days in which we prepare ourselves

for Resurrection Sunday.

 

Just as spring comes again and again, bringing new life,

so does God breathe new life, again and again, into us.

 

Not once and done, but over and over. As the seasons unfold.

As we mature.  As we grow good and noble hearts.

 

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

 

So says the writer of Ecclesiastes.

 

And so we cultivate eternity.

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Do you see? The church year is one aspect of our cultivation of eternity.

The emerging church year is our liturgy.

Liturgy means, the work of the people.

Our work.

There is something for us to do.

 

We can’t do it ourselves.

But we must do it ourselves!

 

At least, by discipline place ourselves where we can be changed.

From glory to glory, from strength to strength, changed.

Cleared out. De-cluttered. Unlearning things that no longer serve us.

 

For this evolution,

this development of the mindset of Jesus,

this emerging shalom

is the will of our Father in heaven.

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As you’ve heard so far, I’ve got cultivation on my mind.

 

Which is why Sunday after next, if you should wander down to the West Wing, which I sincerely invite you to do,

you’ll see a glass display case full of gardening tools.

 

As curator of the case,

it’s my opinion that the earthier and more concrete the images,

the more likely they are to stick.

 

I got that idea from Jesus, who told about a good-for-nothing fig tree,

which for three years refused to bear fruit.

The orchard owner wanted to cut it down.

To which the kindly but practical gardener replied,

“Hold on.  Let me dig around the roots, aerate it a little, work in some manure.

If that doesn’t work, then we cut it down!”

 

Don’t you love it? Another outrageous story by a master storyteller.

We don’t even get to know what happened next.  This is hard for us.

 

Which is exactly Jesus’ point.

We try to domesticate Jesus, but we can’t.

No one owns him. And no one ever will!

 

Another way I work with the seasons, for myself and for you, is the prayer calendar.

 

I’ve been working with the prayer calendar for, oh, twenty years.

There’s something about sourcing and selecting 28 or 30 or 31 meditations,

month after month, year after year, and getting them turned in on time

that keeps me honest as to how and whether my faith is growing.

Which, I trust it is.

 

One clue is that to this day it’s one of the most fun and fulfilling ministries I do.

Next to serving as Keeper of the Display Cases.

So look for the March prayer calendar, coming soon.

The title for March?

“Cultivating Eternity.”

 

So…I hope I’ve given you something to work with.

 

To review, the seasons are:

 

  • Advent

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  • Christmastide

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  • Epiphanytide

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  • Lent

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  • Eastertidegiant swallowtail 3.jpg

 

  • then six months of Ordinary Time.

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Ordinary Time, ordinary only in the sense

that it’s a way to order our everyday lives

after the example of Christ

so we can keep drinking from that deep well of resources

so as to be refreshed and equipped

for planting and cultivating seeds of holiness,

that is, wholeness,

for the healing of the nations.

 

Thy kingdom come.

 

Thy will be done.

 

On earth, as it is in heaven.

 

 

Questions?

 

2 thoughts on “Deep Well”

  1. Such a treasure trove of information, P! I did not realize you have attended your church your entire life. What a comfort. And whose pert little head was that by your book? Wesley’ s? I still remember most of the seasons of the Catholic church, even though I no longer attend. I am longing for the austerity of Lent just about now… love, M

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