Thursday, August 16, 2018

Nearer My God to Thee

   Why do people attend houses of worship?
  According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 81 percent of the more than 4,700 survey participants said that they regularly attended their houses of worship “to feel close to God.” (Other reasons cited for attendance included: to provide moral education for their children; to become a better person; for comfort in time of trouble or sadness.)
   For as long as I can remember, I have attended church regularly, although I did miss some Sundays when I was in university. But after a profound religious experience during my senior year, I decided I would be in church at least weekly. I wanted to get to know God better, this God I had met in that conversion experience as overwhelming, consuming love. This verse from the Letter of James spoke for me then and now: “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
   Worship draws me near to God, and without it, I would quickly lose that sense of intimacy that I now enjoy.
   Even when I am on vacation, as I was in July, I attend church weekly. I would never think of missing, just as I would never think of not breathing, or of not eating food or not drinking water. They are necessary to my life. So is God. So is my worship of him. Worship is that act in which I acknowledge my dependence on God, thank him for his blessings, seek his forgiveness and help and receive his grace or favor in word and sacrament. Worship is part of who I am.
   I am part of that 81 percent of Pew respondents. I worship because I want to be close to God. The Sunday service is a time of holy encounter every week. Sometimes, that encounter is intense, other times more subdued. In some way, God meets me there. And I am better for it. My faith in God is stronger.
   On vacation, this summer, Penny and I and granddaughters June and Christa visited Christ Church, Summit, N.J., a United Church of Christ congregation. Our oldest friends are active members.
   There, we met warm, loving people who welcomed us. We learned about the ways the church was showing God’s love to others. In worship, we listened to that day’s Scripture readings and heard an edifying sermon. And we were inspired by the music.
   After the sermon, the choir sang an old African-American spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” Hymn 676 in the Episcopal Church Hymnal. It goes like this:


There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again. 

If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, "He died for all." 
    Soon, the whole congregation joined in singing the hymn. As I sang, I started to cry—tears not of sadness, but of deep joy. Christa, our youngest granddaughter, took my hand. I smiled. “I’m okay,” I whispered.
   I was more than okay. For in the singing of that hymn, I felt God’s presence with me in a real, even dramatic way. I knew that he loved me, that he had given himself for me and my salvation in Jesus that he was with me always. And I was thankful. That hymn reminded me that God, whom I know in Jesus, is the balm in my Gilead.
   Every Sunday, you will find God in a church near you. He will be there in liturgy, whatever your Christian tradition, as well as in fellowship, in education and formation and in service. Worshiping with other Christians weekly, you will know for yourself that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the balm of Gilead. He will make your wounds whole and will heal your sin-sick soul.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

To believe is to meet God

What does it mean to believe in God?  I once sought proof for the existence of God. At the time, I valued human reason above all other forms of knowing reality. I had to have proof before I would believe. But I discovered that reason would take me only so far in my journey to God. That journey is rather like another one I have made, this one to the Holy Isle of Iona, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. Iona, home of the 6th century St. Columba, is a favorite place of mine. It is a “thin spot,” as Celtic Christians describe places where heaven and earth meet. To get to Iona, you first have to make a commitment to the journey, because it is a demanding one. You have to take a train, bus or car; then a ferry; followed by another car or bus ride; then another ferry; and finally, once on the island, you have to walk to the medieval abbey. This journey, like the journey to God, must always begin with a commitment to make it. In the journey to (and with) God, reason will get you only part of the way, the way a train or bus or car or boat or your legs will get you only part of the way to Iona. Karen Armstrong, a scholar of religion, reflecting on what it means to believe, says that to believe means first to make a commitment to what you seek. One day, four decades ago, I finally said, “I believe in God,” and then I discovered that God was real. And still is. I experienced God at the depths of my being. And still do. It is the same for me on Iona. God is there for me in the quiet of the abbey church, in my hikes in the hills and along the rocky coast, in the sight of the gannets hovering over the blue sea. God is real to me now, wherever I am, because I believe. I commit myself to him. And I experience his loving presence. May you also believe in God and know him who is born to us on Christmas in a manger in Bethlehem.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Reflections on the Advent Season

Since the beginning this holy season of Advent, I have reflected on a word supplied each day by Virginia Theological Seminary, a seminary of the Episcopal Church. (Mine is The General Theological Seminary, New York City.) I have written short essays based on these words, which, in the words of writing teachers, are "prompts." Below is today's word and my reflection on the same. You can find my other reflections on the Facebook page of Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mo., or on my Facebook page at Kenneth L. Chumbley. May your Advent be filled with the holy God. Ken


22 December 2017 – As part of the Holy Baptism celebration, the community enthusiastically greets the newest member of Christ’s family. Have a spiritual practice of GREETING a new person for your always increasing family every day.

–  Virginia Theological Seminary

In St. Luke's Gospel, the angel Gabriel greets Mary in the name of the Most High God and announces the Good News: Dear Mary will give birth to Emmanuel, God with us to save us from our Spiritual Enemy, from our sins, from eternal death. In Jesus, the Most High God stoops low and is born to a human mother. In Jesus God shares our humanity in every way, except for our sin. He suffers in his passion, dies on the cross and rises to life eternal, destroying death forever, even our own death. These saving events begin with blessed Mary, God's highly favored lady. She welcomes Gabriel, accepts God's will for her life and gives birth to Jesus, whose name means Yahweh or God saves. Angels are among us, greeting us. Let us welcome them and their message, saying with Mother Mary, "Let it be to me according to your word." You can listen to the sounds of angels, in this case, the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, sing "The Angel Gabriel from heaven came," on YouTube. Just google it. God bless you. Ken

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Living God's love amid domestic terrorism

In the Baptismal Covenant of The Book of Common Prayer, we make promises to God based on our faith in him and in his incarnate love, Jesus Christ.

As the followers of Christ, we pledge to resist evil; to to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

To each promise, we say, "We will, with God's help."

On Sunday, August 13, church members and I gathered for worship at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mo.

Together, we reviewed and remembered our Baptismal Covenant.

And then I spoke about the violence that had occurred the day before in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists, armed and eager to incite violence, rallied for hatred.

Counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer was killed, and dozens of people were seriously injured, when a vehicle was driven into the crowd by a white supremacist.  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later said the attack was an act of "domestic terrorism."

(Two police officers, deployed as part of the law-enforcement operation, also died when their helicopter crashed.)

Here is what I said to my congregation:

"I am part of a clergy group planing a response by the faith community to the hate and violence and the death and destruction that occurred yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, where KKK, neo-Nazis and others marched for white supremacy.

"I grieve for the loss of life in Charlottesville yesterday and pray for those who died and for comfort for their families.

"I support the constitutional right to peaceful assembly and free speech, however vile that speech is.

"I deplore the evil of hate and violence and the odious ideology of white supremacy, which are hostile to Christ and to the gospel of God's love for all humankind.

"I urge us all to pray for healing in Charlottesville and throughout America, where hatred is resurgent and to work of a country where the rule of law is respected, hatred condemned, violence defeated, and all people live in love, justice and peace."

Five ways to deeper life in Christ

Five ways to deeper life in Christ
by the Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley but mostly by the monks Conception Abbey

I might have been a monk. 

During my last year of university, I was searching for God. God sent me a monk. 

I met the Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton in his autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain, a spiritual classic. 

Merton and the medieval monastic tradition, summed up in the Rule of St. Benedict, led me back to faith in Christ and to fellowship with his Church. 

God became real to me as never before.

For a time I thought of becoming a monk, because I hungered and thirsted for God. 

But prayer and discernment led me to marriage and later to priesthood. 

I still hunger and thirst for God. And I remain a student of monasticism, especially Benedictine, which forms my spiritual life, with its emphasis on prayer and worship, scripture, silence and work offered to God. 

I am grateful to the monks of Conception Abbey who share some of the basic of Benedictine monasticism. You don't have to be a monk to know the living God Jesus Christ like a monk.

If you want to know more about Benedict and his way with and to God, you might consider reading his short Rule, or talk with me.

Many you grow in Christ and Christ in you.

5 Ways to Live Like A Monk in the World
Here are five tenets of Benedictine monasticism that you can cultivate in your life
by Fr. Paul Sheller, OSB, Vocation Director, Conception Abbey
1. Cultivate Silence
St. Benedict wrote, “Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen” (RB 6:8). Silence is the environment that allows you to listen to God’s voice and the voices of those around you properly. Many people are uncomfortable with silence or they find it awkward, so they fill their days with needless noise and distractions. Turning off the music and radio, especially when you are in the car, moderating television or Internet use will challenge you to listen to the God who dwells within you and speaks in the depth of your heart. Additionally, being silent helps us to avoid the sins of gossip or detraction. St. Benedict echoed the wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs which says, “In a flood of words you will not avoid sin,” (RB 6:11). By avoiding unnecessary noise in your life, you learn to cultivate inner silence, which is the ideal setting for prayer.
2. Be Faithful to Daily Prayer
St. Benedict said, “Prayer should, therefore, be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace” (RB 20:4). This instruction is comforting for those who have a demanding workweek, hectic schedule, and are burdened with numerous responsibilities at home to the extent that they may not be able to dedicate large periods of time to prayer. Nevertheless, you should find time in the morning to praise God before your day begins, and pray in thanksgiving during the evening before going to bed. You can pray the Liturgy of the Hours to sanctify the day, specifically being faithful to Morning and Evening Prayer. Whatever your practice, you want to be concerned with developing a heartfelt attitude to God while you are praying, offering yourself and your loved ones into God’s care. Many opportunities will arise throughout the day to offer brief prayers of trust in God. The aim of monks (and all Christians) is to pray without ceasing, and you can do this by keeping the memory of God alive in your heart and mind at every moment.
3. Form Authentic Community
Monks support and encourage the brother encountering difficulties, and they celebrate with one another during joyful times. St. Benedict instructed, “No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks, they show the pure love of brothers” (RB 72:7-8). In a world of individualism, social media and superficial relationships, all people long for a deep sense of belonging and communion with one another. The spiritual life is always a journey that we undertake with others. You have to be willing to invest the time and energy to engage personally with other people and show interest in their lives, allowing your conversations to pass from surface level topics to the more meaningful areas of life. You may wish to gather with others who share your faith, values, and desire for God. Praying together, reading and discussing a spiritual book and Bible studies are all ways of coming together to grow in faith.
4. Make time for Lectio Divina
The ancient monastic practice of Lectio Divina or “sacred reading” emphasizes a slow, prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture that is intended to allow you to listen to the Word and seek peace in God’s presence. St. Benedict warned his monks, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading” (RB 48:1). Reflection on the Word of God, if done intensely and prayerfully, has the power of calling you to a continual conversion of life. Familiarize yourself with the method and take between 15-30 minutes a day in a quiet environment to practice lectio divina with Scripture or prayerfully read from the writings of the saints or other great spiritual works. Spiritual reading nourishes your mind and soul and often provides those inspired words that you needed to hear. Encountering the Word of God each day in a prayerful manner draws us into deeper communion with the One who speaks the word to us.
5. Practice Humility
Numerous parts of the Rule of St. Benedict highlight the importance of humility, most notably in Chapter 7 where St. Benedict depicts humility as a ladder with twelve rungs which the monk is to ascend. The first step is that a monk keeps the “fear of God” always before his eyes (RB 7:10). When you fear God or are in “awe” of God, you maintain a right relationship, realizing that you are a creature and not God. Humility is a virtue that needs to be developed, and it entails being down to earth, honest, and truthful, both in prayer, at work, and in everyday matters. St. Benedict wrote, “Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge” (RB 4:41-43). Being a humble person means being grateful for the blessings and opportunities that God gives you and recognizing that your gifts and talents have God as their source. Allow daily struggles, and even falling into sin, to be an invitation to humility, where you admit without hesitation that you must depend entirely on God’s grace, and not on your strength.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

With God in prayer

One of my earliest memories of my late mother is of the two of us sitting in a rocking chair in my room just before bedtime. 

I was about three or four years of age. She held me in her lap, and we prayed: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. We prayed for family and people dear to us. We prayed nightly that God would give me a sister, and he did. 

My mother and I prayed every night at bedtime, at meals, at Sunday Mass. She gave me the gift of prayer. 

Since I was a child I have prayed. Always. Even in times of doubt and disappointment and anger with God, I have prayed. I persevere in prayer. 

Jesus, a person of prayer, teaches his followers to pray always. In Luke 18. 1-18, for instance, he tells his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart and give up. 

He tells a story about a widow and an unjust judge from whom she seeks justice. As the widow who pleads with the judge without ceasing, so the followers of Jesus are to pray. The unjust judge gives the widow justice. If this is how the unjust judge acts, then will not God do even better for us?

We are to pray always, or to persevere in our prayer. We are never to give up, for to give up is to give up on God.

The widow’s pleading in the parable is analogous to intercessory prayer.  As the Prayer Book Catechism notes, intercession is one of several forms of prayer. It might be the one that followers of Jesus today pray most often. At least I do. 

God, I believe, hears all prayers and answers them in the way that is best. As I look back on my life, especially at those times when I prayed for one thing but God gave me something else, I realize now how relieved I am that God did what was best for me, not what I thought best for me at the moment of my prayer.

I know now that the greatest prayer is that of surrender to God, Thy will be done. God will always grant me justice, that which is right.

In his spiritual classic, “To Believe is to Pray,” Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey writes that prayer is “essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind and will move towards him… (p. 9).”

All prayer is essentially our being in relationship with God. 

I pray always—always,  in the sense that I persevere. I pray when I am in my car and waiting at a stop light. I pray before I enter a hospital room to pray for a patient. I pray before meetings. I pray with people who are seeking guidance. I pray before I read the Bible.  I pray at mealtimes. I pray when I swim, when I walk or cycle early in the morning, before I go to bed, when I awaken in the night, worried about something.

I pray as I sit in a comfortable chair in the bedroom and read Morning Prayer daily. And as pray there, surrounded by books, including my mother's prayer books, I drape over my shoulders a red scarf that belonged to her. Wearing it, I am close to her, just as praying, I am close to God.

In giving me the gift of prayer, my mother gave be God. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What we worship and does it matter?

What do we worship?

Early this morning, I met with Christ Church's Men's Group for breakfast, a short scripture reading and prayer.

The gospel lesson came from today's Daily Office reading, Luke 4.1-13, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness just after his baptism.

With each temptation, the Devil, in effect, asks Jesus, "Whom do you worship?"

The word translated here as worship comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon word, "woerth-ship." And the meaning of the word is that to which human beings ascribe ultimate worth. That object is that to which we devote our attention, our energy, our time, our money––every human or material thing of value.

What do we worship?

For the answer, we might go online and examine our bank and credit card statements. They will tell us where we spend our money and, thus, what we value materially.

We might look at our calendars, which tell us how we spend our time.

And, as I suggested to the men this morning, we might examine our online search histories and the ads that pop up on Facebook and on other social media, when we log in. These messages do not randomly appear but do so for a calculated reason: because Facebook and Google and other sites have profiled us and communicated our clicks and visits to advertisers. (I used to be in the PR, ad and marketing business and know something about how these businesses operate.)

Where does our cyber trail lead? What does our overall profile––gathered from social media, calendars and financial statements––tell us about who we are, whose we are and what we worship?

And will the object of our worship save us now and save us eternally?