Bp. Mark Lawrence: “Who are these birds that can sing in the dark?”

March 12, 2010

In thinking about the struggles of the Diocese of South Carolina today, and praying for Bp. Mark Lawrence, I was reminded of what was probably the first thing we posted of his reflections or sermons, back at our original blog, in Sept. 2006. During the “walkabouts” that were part of the election process for bishop in September 2006, he gave some “opening comments” about joy even in dark times and places, and they moved me deeply and stuck with me long after I first posted them at Lent & Beyond… I went hunting online today to find those “walkabout comments” from Sept. 2006. They are well worth rereading, not just in the context of praying for Bp. Lawrence and the Diocese of SC in these days, but also as a Lenten meditation as well. -Karen

We meet this morning in this lovely city of Charleston. Inside the walls of this great old historic edifice—we can only hope the wisdom of the years might seep into our minds that we might rightly appreciate the present, and more importantly imagine an even greater future for tomorrow. It is of course serious stuff we do here today.

Our beloved Episcopal Church has entered into a time of crisis quite unique in her history. And this flagship diocese of South Carolina has to negotiate right in the midst of the narrow strait and stormy seas the finding of a new helmsman. Like Magellan’s crew continuing their circumnavigation of the globe after their captain is gone. No easy task. All just a little nerve-racking. Serious business, I tell you. Serious business. A man could lose his footing; a diocese could lose its bearings. My wife suggested to me that you all might be under a lot of stress…. I told her, “Well I’m under a little stress myself!”

I have among my bookshelves in my office at the church a small book written by Michael Henshall, Bishop of Warrington, England. It’s made up of letters he wrote to his newly ordained son, Nicholas. In one of the letters the bishop mentions some counsel Archbishop Michael Ramsey gave to him at his ordination in 1956—“Always pay your bills on time. Always answer your mail on time.” Bishop Henshall said he thought at the time the advice was pretty banal. Later he grew to see how often we fail because of small procrastinations. It reminded me as I read it of my ordination to the priesthood 25 years ago. I was full of idealism; having, so I thought, a deep commitment to prayer, study, servanthood, sacrifice, and ministry in the Holy Spirit. I didn’t get to pick the preacher as many do today. I didn’t think at the time it was all that good of a sermon. I still don’t. But the preacher said something that stuck with me because it seemed to me at the time so trite. He said, “Don’t be a grumpy priest. Don’t forget to smile.” Now at 56, and two and a half decades after my ordination, it doesn’t seem so trite a charge. So facetious a warning. It is a constant with me—I have to watch out for grumpiness. It would be the gravest mistake if we who profess and call ourselves Christians allow our difficulties, struggles, and spiritual battles to cause us to lose our joy. G. K. Chesterton called joy, “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” Well why not. The Gospel begins with joy and ends with joy.

I was hiking one day on Mt. Desert Isand in Maine when I came across a Ladyslipper on the side of the trail. I knelt down to study it. I thought, “What a beautifully formed wildflower.” It brought me joy. And when I got up to hike there was a new lilt in my step. But it was a serendipitous, happenstance joy. Too many Christians seem to think that this is how our joy should be, just something we come across as we go through life. But Christian joy is a cultivated flower, planted, nurtured and water in cooperation with God’s grace. So I remind you of the joy of Christmas, even on this morning in September. “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.” Read next the resurrection appearances and you’ll see this same joy everywhere between the lines of the narrative. The Road to Emmaus disciples run back to Jerusalem and discover Peter too has seen the Lord. They all share their stories and Luke writes, “While they disbelieved for joy….”

One of the staggering things, though, about John’s Gospel is that the closer Jesus gets to the cross the more he talks to his disciples about his joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” He prays to his Father, “But I am coming to thee; and these things I spoke in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Then to his disciples again, “I will see you again and your hearts shall rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you…ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

The French spiritual writer, Louis Evely has written, “Our sadness measures exactly our attachment to ourselves. The place we give to joy is the place we give to God. We believe no more in him than in joy.”  Is our religion only a religion of the cross? Of sacrifice? Of denial? Of spiritual battles? Is there no place for the empty tomb, the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore, a charcoal fire, and the risen Christ with fish on the shoreline in the morning mist as the sun rises above the Galilean hills—and a voice calls out, “Children have you caught any fish?” “No.” “Cast the net on the right side of the boat….” (He wasn’t talking politics when he said “right side.” Nothing here about theology). No maybe I’d better put it… “starboard side of the boat and you’ll get a catch.” Joy you see runs right through the gospels from beginning to end.

The late bishop, Festo Kivengere, Anglican bishop in Uganda and well-known evangelist related how one day he was coming from the cathedral feeling very good that he had preached a fine sermon. (You can often tell how a preacher feels about the morning sermon by his gait as he goes to his car after the service when nobody is watching). Then a dear lady, 70 years old, illiterate, but a real saint, took his hand and thanked him for the message. Then, very quietly she said, “Bishop, what’s wrong? You seemed rather dry.” There was no despising or criticism, he said, just redeeming love. Before he could answer, she said, “Just take it to the Lord.” So bishop Kivengere when home and got down on his face. “I took it to Him—and it was the beginning of blessing. I’m learning we need to be in a blessable posture in our hearts in order not to hinder the stream of the Spirit.” So each of us needs to be in a blessable posture this morning so the Holy Spirit can move among and upon us.

Sure there are many concerns in the larger church. Struggles aplenty. This is serious business. So serious we dare not do it without joy of the Gospel. There’s no reason to let our concerns, ours struggles, our worries—our battles steal our joy. My grandmother used to have songbirds in her kitchen. She kept them in a cage. And they would sing to her throughout the day. Sometimes they’d make too much noise during one or her soap operas and she’d put a veil over it and they’d grow quiet. “Grandma” I asked, “why do you put that towel over their cage?” She said, “Mark, birds can’t sing in a darkened cage.” Yet you will remember Paul and Silas. Arrested in Philippi. Beaten with rods and put into stocks in the Philippian jail. Still there in the darkened prison that night they sang songs of praise to God. The jailer and prisons must have thought to themselves, “Who are these birds that can sing in a darkened cage?” May they say of this Diocese of South Carolina, in these stressful, troubling and sometimes-dark days, “Who are these birds—that can sing in a darkened cage? Surely the joy of the Lord must be their strength!”

— Taken from an internet cache from the Diocese of SC’s website, originally from Sept. 13, 2006.  Our original entry from Sept 18, 2006 from the L&B archives is here.

New Hampshire

March 12, 2010

From the state constitution:

Part 1, Article 5:
Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and reason; and no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience;

Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD.  Psalm 144:15b


We thank You for the constitutional foundation of the freedom of religion in New Hampshire.  May the people of this state continue in this covenant, honor You, and be blessed.  Amen.

God’s voice in Sudan

March 12, 2010

Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
May Your voice rise up amongst Your children in Sudan, O Lord. Let the music fill the air and each note cleanse the heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.
May Your voice rise up amongst Your children in Sudan, O Lord. Let the music fill the air and each note cleanse the heavens.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
May Your voice rise up amongst Your children in Sudan, O Lord. Let the music fill the air and each note cleanse the heavens.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Psalm 150, Isaiah 30:31-32

Psalm 91

March 12, 2010

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
      LORD, please help us come into that secret place with you day by day. Day by day and little by little lead us into your presence. Thank you. (See Deuteronomy 7:22)

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in him I will trust.” (Psalm 91:2)
      Father, you are eternal and you are our refuge, and underneath are your everlasting arms. (See Deuteronomy 33:27)

Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. (Psalm 91:3)
      Jesus, as our days are, so let our strength be. (See Deuteronomy 33:25)

He shall cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you shall take refuge; his truth shall be your shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)
      We have not dealt uprightly with you, LORD; we have been a foolish and unwise people. You are our Father who has bought us with the blood of your son Jesus. You have made us and we ask you to establish us in your love forever. (See Deuteronomy 32:26)

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, (Psalm 91:5)
      Holy Spirit, you will help us to be strong and of good courage as we go forward to the work you have called us to. (See Deuteronomy 31:7)

Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. (Psalm 91:6)
      Jesus, you are Lord, and you are with us and go before us. You will not leave us nor forsake us; we need not fear nor be dismayed. (See Deuteronomy 31:8 )

A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. (Psalm 91:7-8 )
      Father, you have set before us the choice between life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore help us choose life so that we and our children and our children’s children may live. (See Deuteronomy 30:19)

Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; (Psalm 91:9-10)
      LORD, you have not done this because we are good, but because you are good and you have chosen to fulfill your oaths to your people. (See Deuteronomy 9:4-5)

For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot. (Psalm 91:11-13)
      Lord, please help us remember all the ways you have led us and tested us in the wilderness times so that you would know whether we would keep your commandments. (See Deuteronomy 8:2)

“Because he has set his love upon me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:14-15)
      You have humbled us and allowed us to hunger so that we would know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from your mouth. Thank you for leading us and guiding us and feeding us with you word. (See Deuteronomy 8:3)

“With long life i will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:16)
      Father, you daily show your love for us: you chasten us as a man chastens his son to deliver us from evil. Thank you. (See Deuteronomy 8:5)

Friday: 91, 92; Genesis 47:1-26; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 6:47-56
Saturday: 136; Genesis 47:27-48:7; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Mark 7:1-23
      Week of 4 Lent
Sunday: 19, 46; Genesis 48:8-22; Romans 8:11-25; John 6:27-40
Monday: 89:19-52; Genesis 49:1-28; 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1; Mark 7:24-37
Tuesday: 94, [95]; Genesis 49:29-50:14; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Mark 8:1-10
Wednesday: 119:121-144; Genesis 50:15-26; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Mark 8:11-26
Thursday: 73; Exodus 1:6-22; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Mark 8:27-9:1
Friday: 107:1-32; Exodus 2:1-22; 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3; Mark 9:2-13
Saturday: 33; Exodus 2:23-3:15; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Mark 9:14-29

Albany Intercessor

A Lenten Prayer: Prepare my soul with holiness

March 12, 2010

The Rev. Kendall Harmon has been posting a series of short Lent prayers at TitusOneNine recently. Here’s one that particularly struck me.

O Thou who hast prepared a place for my soul, prepare my soul for that place. Prepare it with holiness; prepare it with desire; and even while it sojourneth upon earth, let it dwell in heaven with thee, beholding the beauty of thy countenance and the glory of thy saints, now and for evermore.

You can find all of Kendall’s Lent-themed blog posts here.

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