Recent Thoughts & Reflections Blog Posts
Susan Maske of St. Matthew’s was one of 36 honorees from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the Potomac Convocation of United Churches of Christ for lifelong service to church and community at a gala celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
In the portion of the story of Exodus which we hear on the third Sunday of Lent, Moses is a fugitive from the law. Having murdered a man in Egypt, he has crossed into the Sinai desert and is putting as many miles behind him as he can when suddenly his eye is drawn to something burning at the side of the road. He slows enough to see it and then stops in his tracks when he realizes that the burning bush he sees right before his eyes is aflame without being consumed. Now it’s no rare sight to see something on fire out in the desert. Those who have journeyed in dry lands and desert places know well how easily the dry brush can catch fire, seemingly spontaneously. But what catches on fire on a hot and dry day doesn’t burn very long before it burns up, and is no more. The bush Moses saw…it burned, and it burned, and it kept on burning without being consumed. And as Moses realized that he must be standing in the presence of God, he heard a voice telling him “Take off your shoes, for the ground you are standing on is holy.” And to this day, my sisters in religious life who come from Ghana take off their shoes when they come forward to receive communion, for the ground on which they are standing is holy. Holy ground, because it marks the point of the union of heaven and earth, the encounter of the human — the encounter of a human being — with the divine.
It is holy ground also, this burning bush, because it marks a turning point. For Moses that is the point in his journey at which he knows he is going the wrong direction. We’ve all been there; whether or not we have GPS, we have passed by a turn or diverted in the wrong direction, and even though doubting our own judgment we have continued to travel on what we increasingly become convinced must be the wrong road. For Moses, the right road is the road back to Egypt. He cannot run from his problems and he cannot run from his destiny. He must return to the place from which he just fled, gather up his people, and bring them with him back into the desert. He cannot do this alone. Nor can we. “Turn back, O man,” goes the old Lenten hymn, “forswear thy foolish ways.” The burning bush marks the point of Moses turning back, upon which the entire further history of Israel depends.
In our time the burning bush has come to symbolize even more: the burnt offering, or Holocaust, of God’s people Israel who have entered the flame and miraculously have survived to make the desert bloom through their industry, their sacrifice and their sheer determination. By extension the burning bush shows us the light of other modern martyrs, those whose lives have been taken from us but whose light and power will never be diminished by the evil powers of this world. Today in this parish and throughout the world we remember and honor one such burning and shining light on the 39th anniversary of his martyrdom, Oscar Romero of El Salvador, an ordinary parish priest who rose through the ranks to become the archbishop killed by gunmen in his own cathedral in 1980, one who said, ”If they kill me, I will rise again in my people. Si me matan, resuscitare en mi pueblo.” His people are here today, here at Saint Matthew’s/San Mateo, and through them and through us Oscar Romero remains a burning and a shining light in the deserts of Chihuahua and Coahuila and Sonora and Arizona. We take time this day with Moses to turn aside, and to see this great sight, and to embrace the people in whom the light of God’s presence continues to burn, right here and right now.
The Saint Matthew’s/San Mateo congregation today join others around the world, with Christians in Charleston, Jews in Pittsburgh and Muslims in New Zealand as we raise our voice together to the heavens:
Oh people of conscience, cry out.
Cry out against arrogance. Cry out against hatred and anger. Cry out against violence and oppression.
For God requires us to stand in the name of justice and freedom,
For God requires us to oppose terror, to muster our power and energy against racist aggression
And to protect all houses of prayer.
Oh God, we implore you, look down upon the suffering perpetrated against churches, mosques and synagogues, against house of worship in so many lands,
by the hand of wickedness, by the hand of malevolence, by the hand of ignorance and sin.
Today we remember, with sadness, the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the loss of precious life.
With you gentle and loving hand, God of Sanctuary,
Unite all of your children under your canopy of love and hope.
Bring the light of salvation and healing to the four corners of the earth.
(shared by Molly Blythe Teichert, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church)
Saint Benedict, in his famous Rule for monastics, writes "they shall each receive a book from the library during Lent, which they shall read straight through, nothing missed." From this derives the longstanding tradition of selecting a Lent book to read. The book choice might be anything from a recent novel to poetry to a spiritual classic. Here are several books which you might want to consider this year, though of course we are not limited to these suggestions! Please do let Sister Elena know what your choice is so that once we have three or more people on the same book, we can organize some form of reflective conversation at a convenient time.
Jim Crace, Quarantine. This 1997 novel which won the Whitbread Award and was shortlisted for the Booker prize is a perennial favorite among parishioners. It is a fictionalized account of what happened during the forty days which Jesus spent in the wilderness. It was later made into a film. The author has subsequently published several more novels and has a new one coming out in fall 2019.
Jose Saramago, Blindness. What happens when the individual goes blind in a society which is itself going blind? A long parable on the meaning of sight, by the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature who also wrote The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give/El Odio Que Tu Das. This wildly popular YA novel transcends its age group to speak to the universal need for overcoming alienation and promoting reconciliation across socioeconomic lines. Saint Matthew's/San Mateo will be holding a movie night shortly before school opens in the fall to show the film based on this book to our parish youth and their friends.
Maria Shriver, I've Been Thinking. Reflections and prayers strongly rooted in Catholic faith and identity, by the Bethesda newscaster and former First Lady of California. Devotional writing likely to appeal more to women than to men.
Tracy K. Smith, American Journal. An anthology of fifty poems reflecting the breadth of today's American reality, selected by the Poet Laureate and already slated for discussion by many area book clubs.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy. This was a Diocesan reading choice a couple of years ago, still pertinent. The author is the principal behind the just opened civil rights museum and memorial to lynching victims in Alabama. He is a frequent speaker at National Cathedral programs. The book advocates effectively for criminal justice reform, setting at liberty those who are captive.
A finalist for the 2019 One Maryland One Book selection and Washington Post book of the year is Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift, a gently written farewell to the life of the Tangier Island watermen.
This year's big book and the 2018 Wolfson Prize winner, coming in at a hefty 672 pages, is Heretics and Believers, a study of the English Reformation by Peter Marshall. Nonfiction aficionados will wish to pick up a copy -- with both hands! Please note that the Peter Marshall who wrote the volume The Prayers of Peter Marshall which was a book club favorite years ago is a different author!
Sister Elena will be revisiting an old favorite, The Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which has recently been adapted for liturgical use on retreats by Cynthia Bourgeault.
Whatever your choice, reading is one of the great gifts of the Lenten season, so enjoy!
Here in Hyattsville we have Kermit the Frog as one of our leading citizen-mascots. Phil the Groundhog lives far away in his den near Penn State, yet we do pay attention when the Groundhog Day forecast promises an early spring. An early spring means new life, new joy, new light, happier faces as we emerge from our own hibernation and begin preparing the rituals of opening up and spring cleaning.
The Feast of the Presentation which we observe on February 2 each year shines its own new light, in this case the Light of Christ entering the House of God for the first time. The accumulations of winter clutter and bureaucratic corruption so endemic to religious institutions great and small suddenly seem ready for purging and scrubbing, the scraggly end-of-winter landscapes for plowing and reseeding. Hope reappears: hope for a better cycle than the last one, hope of overcoming old leftover griefs and resentments, hope for purging and cleaning in ourselves, body and soul.
Nothing could symbolize this better than the coming of a brand new child into our midst to light up our lives. Here at St. Matthew’s this spring we are expecting at least two: one at mid-February to a Day School family, and one in mid-May to the Jankowski family. Our new immigrant first grader from Bengladesh, Mark Gomes, will enroll in first grade this week at Felegy and join the new friends who will accompany him on their common journey to the diploma twelve years in their future. With joy we rearrange our homes and our lives and our classroom desks to make room for these new little ones. Their new beginning is ours as well.
Today we are celebrating the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron of students of the Gospel and of all seekers after God. Thomas lived about a thousand years ago. His was the task of explaining the faith of the Church to the second millennium of Christians, putting together the insights of a thousand years into a still unequalled compendium called the Summa Theologiae. This magnum opus begins with five ways of knowing God and continues through the meaning of the sacraments and their practice, especially of the practice of Holy Communion, after a thousand years of collective experience.
We are now explaining our collective experience with God, and particularly our experience of knowing God’s presence through the sacraments, to a third millennium. With the Bible and the Summa as foundational guides, and epochs named Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment behind us, we share our words and images via an internet rather than in a Summa or an Encyclopedia. We share new languages and new technologies, and we also share the same seeking after God. Thomas wanted above all to know God present, to seek, to learn, and to find. We can relate to that. We still find meaning and beauty in his hymns for the Eucharist and for Holy Week. We are grateful for his work, and that of others of his time, to preserve the intellectual achievements of church and society.
Chances are good that you recognized the two men joined arm in arm in the photo above without needing any caption or explanation. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. were fast friends by the time this photo was snapped at Arlington cemetery in 1968. They had walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma three years before, arm in arm. One had been rescued from the rising tide of state-sponsored murder in Poland during the early Holocaust years. The other had headlined a movement to and through the passage of the monumental civil rights victories, and tragedies, of the 1960s. Together they stood for unity and against war.
In honor of both, here’s an excerpt from Rabbi Heschel’s meditation “No Religion is an Island,” a midrash on the much earlier elegy of a similar title by the Anglican poet John Donne:
What is the purpose of interreligious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level and, what is even more important, to search in the wilderness for wellsprings of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one another in the terrible predicament of here and now by the courage to believe that the word of the Lord endures forever as well as here and now; to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and faithfulness to the Living God.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and even beyond that to the ampler goal of the unity of all God’s children, we here at St. Matthew’s/San Mateo stand forth in the presence of that Living God who calls us to no less: to a manifestation of word and sign and action in solidarity with all; to a rejection of false narratives and imaginary walls which separate us one from another; and to effective embodiment of that love of God and love of neighbor which is the fulfillment of the Law.
Several years back, the city of Hyattsville hosted an exhibit of 74 outdoor sculptures, collectively titled “Birds-I-View”. Larger than life versions of the songbirds of the Eastern United States filled our parks and public spaces. The headline sculpture was The Bluebird of Happiness. When I arrived here and heard that The Bluebird of Happiness was to be found in my local park, I went out seeking it, camera in hand. I sought in vain. So I mentioned my quest to a wonderful group of neighbors online, the Old Hyattsville facebook network, and almost immediately someone responded. The Bluebird of Happiness had flown the coop and migrated north to Baltimore. She/he can now be seen roosting right in front of the American Visionary Art Museum!
We are still blest, though. The neighborly feeling which comes through whenever I engage with people in town is just as strong now as in the experience my online colleagues recall from their growing-up years. Our caring for long time neighbors and for our new neighbors who arrive from literally all over the globe is just a sign of who we are.
At Epiphany it is the tradition that we bless our homes by chalking over the door or on the gate this formula: 20 + C + M + B +19. The C and M and B are the initials of the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They confer for the year 2019 the gifts of wealth, health and happiness upon the door that is blessed and upon all who enter there. A later interpretation adds the Latin Christus Mansionem Bendicat, Christ bless this House. On January 6 we blessed St. Matthew’s parish hall with that blessing. I hope by extension we bless all of Hyattsville, bringing not only health and wealth but also looking for the Bluebird of Happiness to nest among us anew as winter turns to spring.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I Peter 2: 4-5
Isn’t this an amazing text? “Living stones”, what an image! What the author is saying here is that we are called to be living stones, solid and vital people, full of spirit.
We are familiar with the idea that the church is a living organism, a community built upon the strength and the reliability of Christ, our cornerstone. But what if we stress another aspect? What if we stress that the church is also a place? Our church has an address. It is a very specific “space.” This is brought out every time the church celebrates an important anniversary. Then we hear our members speak quite movingly about how this church has been a special place, a sacred space for them, filled with memories of prayer, faith, and commitment.
The Rev. Shell Kimble will join us as our guest priest on Sunday, May 27, 2018. Please join us. Rev. Ana will be in Costa Rica until Thursday, May 31st.