Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, 2001

Ten years ago and so much has changed! We all, unless we weren't born, remember where we on September 11, 2001 when we heard the horrific news about the plane crashes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and field in Shanksville, PA. At the time I worked at a non-profit organization in Southeast DC. From the front doors of the building the staff gathered to look across the Potomac River where we could see the flames and smoke rising from the Pentagon. We heard reports on the radio about a plane heading to the Capitol Building just blocks away. There were also reports that a plane was heading to the White House. Everyone struggled to comprehend what we were seeing and hearing. It was impossible to process the gravity of the attacks happening in NY, DC and PA.

When I was finally able to head home late in the afternoon it was as if Washington DC had become a ghost town. Streets were empty of cars and there were virtually no pedestrians. Everyone had fled by foot or by Metro or by car earlier in the day. When I crossed the threshold to my home I cried as I held my beloved and our dog in my arms. The pain, shock, grief and fear of the day was absorbed in our embrace, if only for a moment.

We emerged from the condo and walked to our nearby church. The silence was deafening. No air traffic, car traffic or people. We sat on a bench by the labyrinth and prayed. In the stillness we offered our questions, our fears, our grief and our pain to God.

In those first few hours there was silence. Not long after, however, National Guard troops and tanks arrived and were positioned on street corners in the city. Fighter jets routinely flew overhead. And the war began.

Stories of courageous people, parents, children, firefighters, police men and women, and loved ones began to be told. The country gathered to remember the heroes in NY, DC and PA. We tried to go on - to find a way to live each day in a new and different world.

We were suddenly vulnerable as individuals, as cities, as a country. Life would never be the same.

Since September 11, 2001, we have choices to make as individuals. Are we going to live our lives in fear or love? Are we going to seek to understand or seek to be understood? Are we going to love our neighbors as ourselves? Are we going to seek and serve the light and love of the Holy One in every person?

I pray we will choose to live our lives in love, seeking to understand, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And I pray we, with God's help, will seek and serve the light and love of the Holy One in every person. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

God' Providence and Steadfast Love

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - Romans 12:1-8, Psalm 138, Matthew 16:13-20

Psalm 138 has been described as one of the happiest psalms in the Hebrew Bible. It is a psalm of endless praise to God. Many psalms are songs of lament asking where God is amidst the pain and suffering. But Psalm 138 is a happy psalm – a psalm that begins with thanks, gratitude and praise to God.

This psalm primarily teaches us about what God does and how we should respond to God. The author of the psalm praises God for steadfast love and faithfulness, answering humans, increasing strength, speaking, regarding the lowly, preserving, reaching out, delivering, and fulfilling God’s purpose for humans.

One of the main themes flowing through this psalm is what Christian theologians refer to as the doctrine of God’s providence. God’s providence is about God’s ordering of creation and how God acts in the world. The author of this psalm has no doubt that God is the creator who intervenes in the world, the history of Israel and the lives of individuals.1

We may question or wonder whether God continues to intervene in the world today. In the Hebrew Bible we read about God’s conversations with Abraham, Moses and Saul, and to the prophets, just to name a few. God leads and guides them. But we might wonder about the intimacy of God’s communication and action with God’s people in this day and age.

Christian theologian Paul Tillich wrote insightfully about God’s active relationship with creation and described how God continually works through history in a way that preserves human freedom. “Providence is a permanent activity of God. God is never a spectator; God always directs everything toward its fulfillment…through the freedom of human beings and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures.” 2

Both Tillich and the psalmist seem to be saying the same thing about the Divine. God is holy, high, and eternal AND God is responsive, loving and intimately involved with creation and its creatures. This is a paradox of omnipotence and intimacy. God is beyond what we can comprehend and yet God is present and involved in our lives. God is so vast that all the kings of the earth will praise God, and yet God has a specific vocation for individual human beings. God is forever, and yet God will stretch out God’s hand and will strengthen the believer.

This paradox of omnipotence and intimacy is an expression of God’s loving faithfulness. In Hebrew the word hesed is translated as “steadfast love,” “amazing grace,” or “loyal love,” and in this psalm as in other places in Scripture, hesed expresses God’s passionate, faithful love for creation. The God who is beyond time intervenes in history on account of this steadfast love and amazing grace.

Like the psalmist, our response to God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love and amazing grace is our thankfulness, gratitude and praise. However, it would be a mistake if we consider that our thankfulness, gratitude and praise are enough. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we should all live lives full of thankfulness, gratitude and praise to God; however, there’s more that God requires of us.

To paraphrase St. Paul’s appeal to the Romans, ‘Because of God’s amazing grace and steadfast love, we each have unique gifts whether they be prophecy, ministry, teaching, speaking, giving, leading, welcoming, healing, and caring. Each gift is unique and necessary and valuable. And one is not more valuable than another. As the Body of Christ we need everyone’s gift in order to thrive.’

So do we wonder about the intimacy of God’s communication and action with God’s people in this day and age? I believe God continues to communicate with us through God’s word, prayer, worship, and one another. And I believe that God acts in the world today through us, through our thankfulness, gratitude and praise and – most importantly – through our use of the unique gifts God has blessed each and every one of us with.

I invite all of us to consider how we might use our gifts to the building up of God’s kingdom here at Church of the Ascension and in our daily life and work. In three weeks we will hold our annual Ministry Fair which highlights various opportunities and ministries for each of us to sign-up to use our God-given talents and gifts. Each gift is unique and necessary and valuable, and Ascension needs everyone’s gift in order to thrive.

We are God’s hands and feet and heart in the world today. Respond to God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love and amazing grace, by using the gifts God has give you with thankfulness, gratitude and praise. Then like the psalmist we will sing “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” Amen.

1. Mary Elise Lowe, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3 from Proper 16 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 369.

2. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951) 1:266-67; quoted in Peter C. Hodgson and Robert H. King, Readings in Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985) p. 146 as found in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.

3. Mary Elise Lowe, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3 from Proper 16 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 370.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak – even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a god who speaks at all anywhere. God speaks, I believe, and the words God speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our won footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, as Cailbgan, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for God. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of God.

*changed “him/he” to “God”

From Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Greatest Truth

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - July 24, 2011
Romans 8:26-39, Psalm 119:126-136
Gospel of Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, begins with these words: “Life is difficult.”

He continues, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”1

If, according to M. Scott Peck, “Life is difficult is a great truth,” than an even greater truth – in fact, the GREATEST TRUTH – is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”2

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God.

This lesson, this Greatest Truth, was taught to the children at our Vacation Bible School. They learned that “God loves us no matter what.” God loves me no matter what. God loves you no matter what. GOD LOVES US NO MATTER WHAT!
Life is difficult. God loves us no matter what.

As individuals we may have regrets, guilt, anger, fear and frustration over what we’ve done and left undone, things we’ve said, ways we’ve hurt others, relationships that have failed, disappointments over not being or doing enough. The list could go on and on.

Life is difficult. God loves us no matter what.

As Americans we are challenged by rising gas prices, high unemployment rates, poverty and hunger, and a government that
cannot seem to find a way forward to deal with the debt ceiling and the economy. It seems that the rich – corporations and people – are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Did you know that thirty-seven million Americans, one in eight, rely on food programs for meals and groceries? This includes more than 14 million children!

Life is difficult. God loves us no matter what.

Internationally, people are dying because of the drought in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Norway is mourning the senseless deaths of 85 people. Southern Sudan is struggling to become its own country independent from Northern Sudan. Japan is recovering from the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Haiti is still rebuilding from the January 2010 earthquake. And wars rage in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world.

Life is difficult. God loves us no matter what.

Three years ago, the summer before my senior year at seminary, I had the great fortune to travel to South Africa. I spent two weeks traveling through the Diocese of Christ the King, south of Johannesburg, with clergy and the Diocesan HIV and AIDS Coordinator. I visited villages that bordered main highways to and from Jo-burg where houses were built of cardboard walls and tin roofs. The water supply was a communal faucet system in the center of the village where people, often children, filled large plastic containers and used wheelbarrows to transport the water back to their homes. Extension cords were strung from the electric poles and provided some power for hot plates for cooking. Grandmothers walked everywhere with babies tied with blankets to their backs. I learned that many of the mothers had died because of AIDS so the babies were being cared for by the grandmothers. I visited orphanages where babies, toddlers and infants, often children who were infected with HIV, lived twenty to a room. And I saw churches that were bursting at the seams, even with cardboard walls and tin roofs, because in spite of all the poverty, hardships and difficulty, people still gather together every Sunday to worship and celebrate the Greatest Truth that nothing separates them from the love of God.

Jim Wallis, the head of Sojourners, reflects on the Romans passage and says:

‘Paul assumes that weakness, conflict and hardship are normal for the Christian life, and for that matter, human life’. The promise of this passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans is not that God will remove the difficulties in life, but that God will continue to love us through them. People who accept the difficulties of life and find God’s love in the midst of them become wise, healed, joyful and whole people. 3

And isn’t that what we want? To become wise, healed, joyful and whole people. I certainly want to become wise, healed, joyful and whole. But I am imperfect and I fall short and I get caught up in the difficulties of life.
When regrets, guilt, anger, fear, frustration, failed relationships and disappointments threaten to overwhelm us, remember God loves you no matter what. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can ever stop God from loving you. This is the greatest truth.

The question is do you believe it?

1. M. Scott Peck, MD, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
2. Romans 8:38-39.
3. Jim Wallis, The Unshakable Promise of God. Preaching the Word: an online resource for preparing sermons and scripture reflections based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I’m writing this on Wednesday, July 6, the first day South Summit Avenue and the high school parking lot is closed. In a way, I feel excited. After all, this is what we’ve been preparing for and waiting to happen since the end of the school year a few weeks ago. In a way, although I’ve never been pregnant, it feels like we’ve been through a first pregnancy and have finally given birth. We think we’re ready for this new, unknown experience, and while we’ve done our best to prepare we are certain that there will be challenges and missteps, and yet, there will also be exciting opportunities and joys that we can hardly imagine.

Yes, I believe there will be exciting opportunities and joys through this time of great transition and parking challenges. But like anything else, we must be attentive to the possibilities that good will come out of this time of transition. And we must be patient. The high school renovation project and our Ascension House parking lot project are going to take time. There is nothing we can do to rush either of these projects. We cannot wave a magic wand and be transported into the future when construction is completed.

No, we are going to have to adjust during this time of transition. Like having a newborn, our ways of doing things are going to be adjusted whether or not we’re ready for them or like them! We may lose some sleep and discover muscles we haven’t used in a while as we leave earlier to get to church and walk from remote parking lots on Sundays.

But we have the power within ourselves and among ourselves to use this time as an opportunity to strengthen our community. We might use this time to get to know one another on our walks to/from the parking lots to church and as we carpool together from our neighborhoods. We have a great advertisement program for Ascension in the construction that is happening! Why not invite your friends and neighbors to experience this vital and diverse parish community?

We can either look at this time as a time of growth and opportunity or a time of loss and insurmountable challenge. The choice is yours. I, for one, hope you celebrate with me this time of new birth, of exciting opportunities and of joys that we can hardly imagine.

~ Rev. Beth

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

9th Bishop

On Saturday, the Diocese of Washington elected our Ninth Bishop, The Reverend Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde. She is the first female diocesan Bishop in the Diocese of Washington. She nearly won on the first ballot, lacking only 6 lay votes. She will be installed on November 12 pending the consents from Standing Committees and Bishops throughout The Episcopal Church. What an exciting day and exciting future for the Diocese!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time Flies When You're Doing What You Love!

Two years ago, on June 13, I was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons. On July 1, 2009 I joined the ministry team at Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, MD. These two years have flown by and I am having a wonderful time serving as a priest and pastor among the people at Ascension. We are a very diverse community who are faithful to the Gospel in upper Montgomery County. As I look at the congregation from the altar on Sundays I am continually amazed at this Kingdom of God on the corner of Summit and Frederick Avenues in Gaithersburg!

My ministry areas include Christian Formation for Children which encompasses Godly Play - which we started last year, Vacation Bible School - ReNew in 2010 and PandaMania in 2011, the Epiphany Pageant and other children's activities, and Pastoral Care which includes our Pastoral Partners ministry and other pastoral care. A talented and committed corps of lay people dedicate countless hours to Christian Formation for Children and Pastoral Care. I'm fortunate to help recruit, train and lead these amazing people.

I love what I do and I can't believe it's been two years since my last post! Hopefully I'll be posting more often. It's great to be back.