Archives for January 2013

Emilie Finn

Emilie Finn is a transitional deacon from the Diocese of Arizona and a student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. She currently serves as a deacon at Christ and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Conn.

Read Emilie’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 3 Pentecost, Proper 9 (A).

Read Emilie’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 1 Lent (C).

Bible Study: 1 Lent (C)

February 17, 2013

Emilie Finn, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ (Luke 4:12)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The Book of Deuteronomy is not just a book of laws, it is a covenant. In ancient Near Eastern societies, covenants or treaties were often made between kings and their vassals. These treaties consisted of a preamble or historical prologue contextualizing the covenant, the terms of the covenant itself, an invocation of witnesses, blessings and curses, and provisions for the recording and periodic reading of the covenant to remind the people of their agreement.

The Book of Deuteronomy follows this ancient Near Eastern treaty form, but it is unique in that it is not a covenant between the people and a human king, but between the people and God. This is the beginning of a long tradition in which the people of Israel see themselves as primarily or even solely obligated to God, rather than to any human ruler, native or foreign.

The passage we read today is from the section of this covenant that outlines the terms under which the Israelites pay “tribute” to God. In a human king/vassal relationship, a portion of the goods and resources of the subject people were owed to, or even seized by, the king. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites owe the first fruits of their land to God. They “pay” this tribute by bringing these fruits to the temple and participating in a liturgical ritual that ends in a feast in which they, along with the priests and any others with them, enjoy the fruits of their harvest. This is very different from having a portion of one’s harvest taken away by a distant king!

Offering the first fruits of each harvest to God served to remind the ancient Israelites to whom they owed their primary loyalty and allegiance. As we enter the season of Lent, it is worth reflecting on this. To what or to whom do you believe you owe your ultimate loyalty and allegiance? Who or what receives your “first fruits,” the first or best part of your time, your skills, and your material goods? Does your answer to the second question follow from the first, or are they at odds?

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

The reading from Deuteronomy includes an affirmation of Israel’s history with God that is almost like a creed (“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor”). In Deuteronomy, it is because of the things God has done for Israel in the past that the people continue their relationship with God in the present. Psalm 91 is another confession of faith, but instead of remembering God’s past care for God’s people, the psalmist expresses trust in God’s care in the present. The faithful person characterized in this psalm confesses, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust,” and this trust forms the basis for the rest of the psalm. In what or in whom do you put your trust? Another way of asking this question is to ask yourself, what in your life provides you solid ground to stand on, without which you would not feel safe or whole?

Romans 10:8b-13

In Romans, confession of faith is in the future tense. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that god raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

When Paul defines salvation this way, it is important to remember that “confessing” had a meaning for early Christians (such as those Paul was writing to in Rome) that is quite different from the meaning we generally assign to it today. Early Christian martyrs were called “confessors” because they publicly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ even when doing so meant risking death; even when all they would have had to do to save themselves was remain silent. Confessing that Jesus is Lord was for them a real act that could lead to persecution and death, and early Christians were able to face death because their faith in Jesus’ resurrection was so deeply ingrained in their hearts that it had become the whole basis for their actions, superseding even their natural instinct for self-preservation.

Confession of faith, then, is not an abstract assent to a theoretical principle, but the articulation of that which we believe so deeply that it is the basis for the entire way we live our life.

If you had only a few words in which to articulate the basis out of which you live your life, what would you say? Do your actions match up with this articulation? Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt you had to speak the truth, when remaining silent might have been easier or safer?

Luke 4:1-13

Although all the readings for today deal in some way with a confession of faith, the gospel account is perhaps the most striking, since it portrays Jesus confessing his faith as a response to temptation. Jesus has just been baptized and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness with the words of God still ringing in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22b).

The devil picks up on this immediately. “If you are the Son of God,” he suggests, “command these stones to become loaves of bread and feed yourself … worship me and receive all the kingdoms of the world … throw yourself down from here and see if the angels catch you.” The temptation the Son of God experiences, upon the revelation of his divinity, is a very human temptation: to use his power not for others, but for his own gain and glory. Jesus resists this temptation also in a very human way: grounding himself in the scriptures he has known since childhood, he confesses through them the nature of the God who is the core of his entire being, and says no to the temptation to be false to his own nature.

How and to whom do you confess your faith? Is it important to speak, as well as to live, your faith? Is there a way in which confessing your faith can change the way you live? Can confessing your faith can help you to resist “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 302)?

Sin, like ashes in our eyes, 1 Lent (C) – 2013

February 17, 2013

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

The ashes are gone – washed off our foreheads – but their darkness still stains our thoughts and spirits as we begin Lent once again. Tiny grains of ash, like the darkness of sin, may have fallen in our eyes or down our faces. Annoyed, we may have rubbed our eyes or brushed our cheeks. Maybe the ash was wet – a big stain on our heads, right between our eyes. How can we get it off, without looking insincere, before we get in our cars and go to work out in the real world where most people don’t even know it’s Ash Wednesday, where most people no longer remember the word “Lent” or what it means?

Sin is like that most days, a bit of an annoyance, a speck in our eyes that must be rubbed away. For heaven’s sake, we don’t want to talk about it – it’s annoying – oh my, that word again. Being reminded that sin still exists in each one of us can be just plain annoying, not earth-shattering, nothing really to worry about, it’s just there hovering around the edges, picking at us, especially during Lent.

We have 40 long days to think about it, though. Forty long days when we’re reminded to repent and be saved. Our hymns are melancholy. In many churches, they hide a banner with the word “Alleluia” on it until Easter Day.

Is that what Lent is all about? A surface look at it, a few memories from Sunday school in our youth, a desire to get it over with and get back to the real world, might make it so. But look at our readings today. If we really pay attention to what we’re hearing, there is a whole lot more light than darkness – a whole lot more graciousness poured on us by our God, than punishment. Yes, we’re reminded about the temptations of sin, but we’re offered the unstopping gift of forgiveness and a chance to model Jesus. Lent can help us go deep into ourselves.

Moses’ story today is full of light. God has given the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. All they have to do is show gratitude through their offerings. “A land flowing with milk and honey” is an image of peace and beauty. The people acknowledged their rescue from the Egyptians by the God who heard their cries of affliction.

Today’s psalm says, “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor.” This is another image that should remind us that God continues to hear our cries, even when they’re moaned from the depths of our sinfulness. At the beginning of Lent, we’re reminded that we are not alone. God not only has not abandoned us, God is “so bound to us in love” the psalm says, that even when we are focused only on ourselves to the point of sin, God is with us, ready to bring us back to the light. God is ready to brush the ash from our faces.

Paul says the same thing to the Romans. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” That is not only the word of faith, but the capital W “Word” of God. “You will be saved,” he says, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Is there any better news than that?

Paul does put in front of us, however, one type of sin we may need to think about during Lent – because after all, this good news of salvation is reliant on the fact that we actually want to repent and return to the Lord. Paul drops in a very salient fact: There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. This speaks to us of God’s inclusion of all people – no exceptions. We might need to examine ourselves to determine how much we really want to include all others.

Is that part of the ash that has fallen in our eyes? We might need help getting that out. We might need to read over and over again Jesus’ words all through the gospels that call us to love even our enemies. “Our enemies?” we might want to ask. It’s hard enough to love our own families sometimes.

But if that ash is left in our eye, it could fester and make us blind – blind to our responsibility to share God’s love with everyone. This is a good time to remember that for the Jews, “love” doesn’t mean the Valentine’s-Day-card emotional kind of love. Love, when Jesus talks about it, also means “loyalty.” We don’t have to agree with everyone to love them. We don’t have to have emotional love for the person or group doing evil. “Loyalty” means we acknowledge that these too are children of God and need our prayers. They need us to want them to see the light, not for us to judge them as worthy only for hell.

Even Jesus didn’t send his tempter immediately to hell in our gospel story. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus only responds to the temptations by reminding his tempter that God alone is worthy of our worship and service? There was no argument, no discussion: God alone is our refuge and our stronghold in times of trial.

The three temptations are interesting in themselves. Would it have been so wrong if Jesus just turned a few stones to bread? Certainly, there’s no sin in that. What is Luke really telling us? Perhaps, that we might be tempted to want to manipulate the world to our liking. That can grow into the serious sin, for example, of not caring where our food comes from, or the environment from which it grew. Do we care enough about those who grow the food we eventually buy in our stores to make deliberate choices about where we shop?

Jesus’ second temptation might make us think about what we feel we must own. What in our lifestyles comes before our consideration of God? If we’re honest, many things can draw our eyes away from God – things that, in and of themselves, are not bad, but things, such as that annoying speck of ash that fell in our eyes, that might fester in us until we can see nothing else.

The gospel reminds us that Jesus, too, was faced with temptations. He was, after all, fully human as well as fully divine. He knows what we face. He knows the power that tries to turn our hearts from God. Our ashes remind us of the same thing, but today we hear about God’s great love for us. We’re reminded even more about the fact that we abide under the shadow of the Almighty. We, too, have been promised a land flowing with milk and honey.

There is a lot to be joyful about in Lent. After all, Paul tells us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Letting the mask fall, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2013

February 13, 2013

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Christians are hypocrites. That is the word on the street about us, demonstrated in survey after survey. A prime example is a landmark study by the Barna Group, which found 85 percent of young people outside the church surveyed agree that Christianity is hypocritical. Even when they asked only youth who attend church, 47 percent still agreed that Christians are hypocritical.

Jesus’ clear words of warning on this Ash Wednesday, repeated three times, are that we are not to be like the hypocrites with regards our almsgiving, prayer and fasting. When Jesus says “hypocrite,” this was the common term for an actor. In the theatre, actors pretend to be someone they are not, and so it is a natural extension to describe as an actor anyone whose outward actions don’t match the content of their heart.

In classical Greek theater, actors wore masks to portray characters. And it was in this dramatic tradition of Aristophanes and Xenophon that the word “hypocrite” came to be the word for an actor. Actors spoke behind a mask, and the audience could not read the emotions of the actor on his face. In time, as all realized that we can wear masks figuratively as well as literally, the term “hypocrite” came to be used, as Jesus does here, for someone who says one thing and does another. The inner character does not match the mask.

We all wear masks, and it should be noted that this is not always bad. Bank tellers and grocery store clerks and even priests don’t always need to reveal every inner thought on their faces as they work. Putting on a brave face to visit someone in the hospital for whom you have grave concerns is a good thing. And who would want a doctor whose uncertainties over a diagnosis came through at the bedside? Better to put on the mask of professional confidence with a patient and then go consult colleagues and revisit research to make sure you’ve got it right. Wearing a mask is not all bad in and of itself. Perhaps the problem with a mask depends more on who you are trying to fool and why.

The mask to which Jesus takes exception in our gospel reading is a mask turned toward God. And there is no sense pretending with God. God knows that you don’t have your act together. God knows the bad thoughts behind the pleasant persona. God knows the confused motives behind the seemingly innocent remark or gesture. God not only knows the real you, God loves the you that lives behind the mask.

So Jesus warns that there is simply no point in going out in public to show others your faith. Do not blow trumpets announcing your gift to the synagogue or pray out loud standing on a street corner or make yourself look dismal so that everyone knows that you are fasting. Jesus states clearly that his followers are to give to the needy, pray and fast, but these actions are between the disciple and God alone. Acts of piety and are not a show we put on for the benefit of others. As Jesus says three times, it is your Father who sees in secret that will reward you. This makes it clear that outward acts done to impress others don’t make one holy. Outward acts done for show can, at best, make you appear holier than thou, which is the opposite of holy, just or righteous.

The scripture reading is, of course, intended to be at odds with the liturgical actions of this day. For on Ash Wednesday, we can head to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads as an outward sign of our worship this day. Together with Good Friday, this is one of two fast days for the church. So when Jesus warns that we are not to disfigure our faces to show others we are fasting, yet we head to church to put ashes on our foreheads, there is a disconnect. The choice of reading this gospel and the lesson from Joel in which the prophet says, “Rend your hearts and not your garments” are both counseling us to pay more attention to the content of our hearts as we enter this season of preparation for Easter. Do not worry about the outward actions, so much as the you behind the mask.

It is only natural that Christians are seen as hypocrites. We say we want to live like Jesus, and yet we go around acting little different, if at all, from those who are not Christians. We have a high ideal and we fall short of that mark. The answer is not to wear a mask showing the world that we have our acts together. What Jesus says clearly is to not be like the hypocrites at all. Don’t worry about the public face you put on. Concern yourself with God’s view of you rather than other people’s.

This is the perfect place to let the mask go. Part of every Eucharist is designed to let the mask slip before approaching the altar. The confession of sin is the time when, having already considered the person you are behind the mask, you offer up all your pretensions, all your bad thoughts, wrong motives and evil desires. Confession is the time for letting go of some of the baggage you carry around, in thought word and deed, in things done and left undone. Having laid aside the mask that could separate us from God, we then approach to be nourished once more by the One who knows us fully and loves us anyway.

For the personal baggage is what leads to the unhealthy use of a mask. You never could be that daughter your father wanted you to be. You never quite measured up as a son for your mom, compared to your siblings or to her ideal. You never quite got it all together the way you hoped you might, and so you wear a mask that tries to cover the real insecurities hiding just below the surface. If people knew the real you, you think, they wouldn’t like what they saw.

All of these messages are wrong, as each of them misses the point that you are a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. Of course you have fallen short of the mark set by God. And yes, you do need to repent and return to God. But you don’t need the mask. Not with God.

In the words of the prophet Joel, God is telling us, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.” What would happen if your mask slipped to the floor? When it comes to letting go of pretensions and getting real with God, there is no time like the present.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs about Congregational Development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Caleb Tabor

Caleb Tabor is in his last year of graduate studies to complete a Master’s of Divinity from Emory University and a certificate of study from Virginia Theological Seminary. Caleb is from the Diocese of North Carolina and is currently in parish-level discernment for the priesthood.

Read Caleb’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany (C).

Bible Study: Last Sunday After the Epiphany (C)

February 10, 2013

Caleb Tabor, Virginia Theological Seminary

“And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Luke 9:29-30)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

Exodus 34: 29-35

This may seem to be an odd bit of scripture. It is not very often that a person’s face actually glows before us. Still, the importance here is that Moses’ closeness with God changed him. Before this moment, the Book of Exodus tells us of Moses’ whole life and how an encounter with God in an unexpected place changed him, and later the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt. Here, we see Moses’ closeness with God literally shining out from his face as he goes to tell the people what he heard. A prophet is someone who listens for God and then tells others what he hears. In this instance, Moses was a prophet, when he came to speak to the people. Further, his glowing face was an outward and visible sign of his change as he encountered the Divine. It scared people somewhat, so Moses placed a veil over his face. This helped the Israelites listen for God as well without being distracted by Moses. Still, today, sometimes people are uncomfortable with us when our lives reflect our encounters with God. It is important to be understanding, as Moses was when he placed the veil over his face, as well as true to who we are, which Moses did by still speaking to the Israelites about God.

How has an encounter with God changed your life? Did people notice?

Have you ever been made uncomfortable by someone speaking of their experience with the Divine? Why? Is that discomfort warranted?

Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation were the first to come to Moses after he called to them, the rest followed. How are you helping lead people to understand how God is working in the world?

Psalm 99

Psalms are poems or songs. Like most poems and songs, the Psalms like to use metaphorical imagery to communicate a point which might be otherwise difficult to say. Here, we find that the major points of Psalm 99 are God’s power and majesty. There is something about God which is great and powerful beyond any human ability. In the days when this might have been written, images like a king, of people trembling before a throne, and so on communicate just this. God is a majesty and power to be stood in awe of. Still, the Psalm assures us that God does not misuse divine power. Rather, God is justice and mercy at the same time, in their most perfect sense. For that, we ought to be glad and proclaim the greatness of our God, who is the perfection of power rightly used.

How do you see justice in relation to God?

What does God’s perfect justice mean for situations of injustice in the world?

How is justice work a part of participating in not only the justice but the power and majesty of God? Are we, when we are working for justice, showing the beauty of God to a world which is hurting?

Moses, Aaron, and Samuel are examples of people who had a relationship with God. What is your relationship with the Divine? What does it mean for you to “call upon the LORD”?

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

During St. Paul’s time there was a great amount of tension between Christian and Jewish communities. Neither was particularly generous or kind to the other. This tension is reflected in St. Paul’s writing here when he speaks of the Jewish community of his day. Still, that tension aside, there is something very important and beautiful to be gleaned from this passage of Scripture. Paul wants us to understand our vision of Jesus Christ as an image of God without a veil. The love, redemption, forgiveness, and oneness with God we find in Jesus are God unfiltered, unfettered, unhidden. As such, our lives ought to reflect this beautiful Light as we go into the world. Part of doing that is being aware that others understand Christ by how we represent ourselves. It is important for us to consider the negative aspects of who we are and try to understand how that might be veiling the Light of Christ within us. Then, it would be appropriate to work on improving those aspects of ourselves, knowing that we can do so because of the Spirit present with and within us.

How do you feel you are exemplifying Christian values in your life?

What are things on which you need to do a little more work?

Are you generally conscious that others may be judging the Christian faith and even Christ himself by the actions you take when going about your daily living?

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

There are two things going on in this reading from Luke. The first is an encounter with holy people. This incident where Jesus appears with Elijah and Moses is known in the Church as the Transfiguration. Here, we see that Jesus is being elevated to the status of the greats in Jewish history. Peter immediately wants to make little houses for them to live in. It is important to understand that it was commonplace at the time to construct shrines for deities so that they would live there and you could visit them whenever you wanted. While Peter’s intentions were noble, it is clear the Christ will not be put in a box. The second thing going on here is a healing. While they may seem unrelated, we must consider that if the first segment here is about not putting God in a box, the second shows why we mustn’t. Jesus, because of the free-flowing power of God, heals a child and saves a family from their torment. He also shows the world the greatness and compassion of God. Jesus is frustrated with the disciples as they ought to have been able to heal the boy themselves, had they been faithful enough to the free-flowing power of God. Still, Jesus uses this moment for teaching and healing and showing the world Divine Compassion.

How do you try to put God in a box?

How does your life reflect Divine Compassion as seen in the healing of the troubled child?

Do you ever let doubt hold you back from bold action that might help others and yourself? Why? What does this passage have to say about taking a bold step of faith in an uncertain world?

To be sent out, Last Sunday After the Epiphany / World Mission Sunday (C) – 2013

February 10, 2013

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

Today, the last Sunday of Epiphany, is recognized every year as World Mission Sunday around the Episcopal Church.

The word “mission” comes from the Latin verb mittere “to be sent out”; mission is about being sent out. But what are we being sent out to do, and where are we expected to go?

The mission that we are all called into as Christians is the mission of God. This mission is most succinctly articulated in our Baptismal Covenant and in particular the last two questions of the covenant:

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

To which we declare, “I will, with God’s help.”

These two simple promises are excellent guides as we reflect upon what God is calling us to do, and how we should faithfully respond.

We are an incarnational church. When we internalize the understanding that God has created all humanity in God’s image and that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ, it is impossible to pass by somebody in need without feeling the call to respond. It is much easier to ignore suffering around the world when it is happening far away and when we do not feel connected to the people who are suffering. But when we sense a connection, when we realize that the person who is suffering is part of who we are, flesh of our own flesh, bone of our own bone, then the visceral desire to respond is much greater.

And yet we are all connected. At the beginning of time and from the beginning of scripture, we were all created from the same single point, which is God’s love. We are all children of God, and we are all created in God’s image.

Within all of scripture, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, there is a thread that describes how humanity has separated itself from God and from one another, and at various times in our history how humanity has moved back toward God and to one another through the witness of prophets and later through the incarnation of the Son of God into this world. The mission of God is fundamentally about this journey of reconciliation; the mission into which we are called to participate is God’s mission of reconciliation, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another. This is the essence of God’s call for us.

In the book “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo writes, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” One could add that when we look into the eyes of another, especially one who is suffering, we also see the face of God. When we interact with others, when we honesty desire to nurture a relationship with another, then we feel an imperative to respond to their needs as they are drawn to respond to our needs. An important aspect in our response to God’s mission is that we are called to be in a mutual relationship with one another. Remember that in our baptismal vows we declare that we will strive to respect the dignity of every human being. We cannot respect the dignity of another if the relationship is one sided.

Since the beginning of time, people have responded to God’s love in different ways. Missionaries have travelled to all corners of the earth sharing the Good News of Christ to those who had not heard. Missionaries brought education and healthcare, they have healed the sick, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, fed the hungry and built homes for those without shelter.

There have been those throughout history who have sacrificed good-paying jobs, a comfortable lifestyle and even their lives as they respond to God’s call to seek and serve Christ in all people. There still continues to be people who respond to God’s call by living across cultural, linguistic and economic boundaries as missionaries of the church.

We have young adults who give a year of their lives to work around the world in service. They work in the mountain province of the Philippines; they work with migrant workers in Hong Kong; they support a mission hospital in rural Lesotho, Africa; they are teaching music in Haiti; they are providing support for the social outreach of the Church of Southern Africa. Our missionaries in the Young Adult Service Corps program are making a real difference in the regions where they work.

We also have missionaries that serve for longer periods of time, developing programs and gaining a deep understanding of the language and culture as they share their gifts and skills to support our partners in the Anglican Communion around the world as doctors and nurses, as educators, as accountants and web designers, as administrators and advocates.

In more recent years we have seen the growth of short-term mission, with parishes and dioceses across the Episcopal Church engaging in mission and developing and nurturing relationships with sisters and brothers around the Anglican Communion. This development has provided an opportunity for many people to learn more about our neighbors far away, to learn how God is working in their lives and to respond to human need in a meaningful way.

Responding to people’s physical needs is very natural, and Jesus calls us to do it. But we should never forget that our first call is to be in relationship with others and to respond to God’s call for reconciliation. We are called to listen to one another’s stories.

After the terrible devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in the New York area at the end of October 2012, many church groups sent teams to help clean up. One particular group worked hard all day, cleaning houses, washing down fungus-encrusted walls and throwing out trash. An elderly woman who was helped was so proud of her neighborhood that she insisted the mission team should come and see the local park. Perhaps one of the most meaningful encounters of the day was when one of the group, a young teenager, went with this woman to visit the park and to listen to her story. For 15 minutes he gave her his full attention, a time for her to share her joy amidst the sadness of the loss of her home, and time for both of them to see Christ in the other.

We are not all called to travel across continents or to visit prisoners, but we are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Having faith in our own faith, trusting in God, as Paul states in Corinthians, “We have such a hope, we act with great boldness.” We should have that boldness that comes from the realization that we are all children of God and that God loves us all more than we can ask or imagine. Whatever we do, God will always be there with us, God will always love us and God’s arms are wrapped tightly around us.

“Doing” is important, but “being” is the very essence of mission. We are called to share the physical gifts that we have with others, and the disparity of wealth in this country and around the world is a tragedy that we should be addressing unceasingly. However, reminding others that they are loved and that they are not forgotten is also important and reaches to the very core of what God is calling us to do.

Whether we are helping in a food pantry in our local community, participating in mission trips across the world, or living amongst another culture for many years, it is the love for the other that is at the very core mission.

One missionary said that the best advice he ever received as a young priest was that he should always “love the people”; and that is what we are all called to do.

What are we sent out to do, and where do we go?

As Christians we are sent out to love God and to love one another, and we are sent out to the whole world. We are sent out to be with our neighbor down the street and our neighbor around the world.

 

— The Rev. David Copley is the Episcopal Church’s officer for Mission Personnel and team leader for the Global Partnerships Office. He was a missionary in Liberia and Bolivia and priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia before accepting his current position.

Will Stanley

Will Stanley is a first-year seminarian at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, as well as the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. A postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Atlanta, Will recently graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he majored in religion, minored in music and was captain of the golf team.

Read Will’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 4 Epiphany (C).

Bible Study: 4 Epiphany (C)

February 3, 2013

Will Stanley, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“And Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.’” (Luke 4:24)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Here in the first words of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear God calling and commissioning the young boy into his prophetic vocation. Like Moses (and others) before him, Jeremiah’s first response to God’s call is one of trepidation. He fears he is not up to the task, due in large part to the fact that he is “only a boy.” And notice that God does not deny the fact that Jeremiah is “only a boy.” But with this, God seems to delight in this young age and assures Jeremiah that as he grows and matures, God “will be with him.” God assures Jeremiah of this by reminding him that God has, in fact, known him and formed him from the very beginning.

In this season of Epiphany, when we walk with Jesus as he too grows into his public ministry, what are places in our own lives that are in need of some growth?

How are we like Jeremiah, at times, initially resistant to growth with God? And how does seeing God as forming us in our mothers’ wombs possibly change how we look at God’s interaction with us on a daily basis?

Psalm 71:1-6

These words remind me of that peaceful bedtime service called Compline. Having been formed in communities that said this office on a regular basis, the words seem for me to instantly conjure up notions of rest and quietness at the end of the day. Here the psalmist is also honest about the reality of the “wicked” and the “evildoer.” However we may articulate what that exactly means in our own day, nonetheless, I think we all can acknowledge that daily we are confronted with powers that seek to disrupt the life God yearns for us to live. Each day we awake, pledging to take refuge in God, and each night we give thanks to God for all that has been done and all that has not been done. Our hope, our confidence, rests in that sustaining presence of God. For it is God who knew us in our mother’s womb, alluding to our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. And this same God continues to be our strength each day.

In this season of manifesting growth that is Epiphany, what are some daily practices that you could continue or begin afresh in order to live deeper into the mystery of God as refuge, as protector, as sustainer?

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This powerful and rich passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians may be familiar to many from the context of weddings. Here Paul is reflecting upon what he sees as the three great virtues of faith, hope and love, with love as the greatest. Obviously important for a budding marital couple, it is also wise to recall the audience Paul first meant to heed these words. The church community in Corinth is rather infamous among Paul’s letters as one particularly adept at not getting along very well! Here Paul implores the community – as well as each of us today – toward a sense of humility and empathy in all our doings. For in this life we all “see in a mirror, dimly,” only in part, and as such we are wise to head Paul’s plea that we ground our daily decisions in the enduring love of God and neighbor.

What are the “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” that each of us tends to boast these days? How could the abiding and humble love to which Paul speaks be a healthy alternative to these actions?

Luke 4:21-30

The lectionary texts for this Sunday come to their climatic end with this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Our reading comes just after Jesus has begun his public ministry. He has returned first to Nazareth, to the place where he was brought up. After reading a portion from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He points to himself as the fulfillment of the prophetic vision first outlined by Isaiah. The puzzled and contentious reactions of the crowd foretell many of those that will soon meet Jesus along his road to the cross. For here he is driven out of the town and narrowly escapes death.

Each of us, like Jesus, has a hometown. Each of us has a specific place where we were nurtured and formed. Even if we were lucky enough to grow up in a loving and supportive home community, oftentimes it is difficult to return later in life to these places. Through no fault of their own, it is often difficult for people who knew us at an early and formative age to appreciate the growth and maturity we have undergone through the simple process of growing up.

How could your relationship with Jesus grow closer and deeper through the shared difficulty of being fully understood upon returning home? In this season of Epiphany, how is God calling you to be a prophetic witness in your current community?

Putting God’s expectations above our own, 4 Epiphany (C) – 2013

February 3, 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Lottery winners. Have you ever met one? It is quite an exciting thing when a lottery winner is from your hometown, bought his ticket from your favorite corner store, or is a member of your family. It’s as if you get to share in their good fortune just by being near them. Of course they would want to give away some of their substantial blessing to you because you went to high school together or opened the door of a restaurant for them once or are their cousin. You are proud of this person until you find out that they aren’t planning on sharing anything with you. Or maybe they are sharing a little bit, but are giving more to another person or charity. Then what?

A March 30, 2012 online article from the publication International Business Times provides two cautionary tales about people who struck it rich: Jack Whittaker of West Virginia won the lottery and then had two relatives and his daughter’s boyfriend die. He also had a number of lawsuits filed against him and blames it all on the win. Another winner, Jeffrey Dampier, was 26 years old when he won the Illinois lottery. He was then kidnapped and murdered by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend in hopes that they would receive the winnings after his death.

One person’s fortune can turn another into a jealous, scheming, sometimes tortured mess. This doesn’t just go for lottery winners, but also for any kind of joy that another has. Your co-worker gets the promotion you’ve been striving for. The couple next door has no trouble getting pregnant while you and your spouse have been trying for years. Your friend gets on the varsity team that you desperately wanted to be on to and you didn’t. We can’t help but berate the other person in our minds and close our hearts off to shared joy or a widened vision of blessing. It’s human nature and it is difficult to combat.

When Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth and began to teach, the local Jewish community was quite proud of him. After all, they had heard of the things that he had done at Capernaum and were convinced that he was some sort of prophet from God. They believed that Jesus had just won the lottery, so to speak, and was about to shower them with God’s favor because, after all, he was one of them, so of course that is what he would do. Besides, they agreed with what he was saying – at least at first. But as long as they were pleased, they were proud and they wanted to preen in the light of special favor from God.

Then Jesus starts talking about the blessing going not to those in his midst, but further abroad, to gentiles. He uses stories of Elijah and Elisha where God healed and included people that were not part of the usual fold. He teaches that God’s liberation is more inclusive and abundant than the exclusive covenant that the people in the synagogue believed God had with them. With this, everything changes.

It is interesting how the mind can turn quickly when we do not agree with someone. We may feel that a priest, a CEO, a political leader, a teacher or a friend is wonderful until they say or do something that isn’t exactly what we believe. Then we are shocked or angry. After all, we like to congregate with like-minded people because it feels good to be part of a group that we understand and that we think understands us as well. When someone who we feel belongs to us says something contrary or challenges the current status, we are often quick to turn on him or her. It is one thing for an outsider to say or do something divergent, but a whole other game when it is one of our own.

This is where we find Jesus in our gospel story today. When the unheard-of inclusiveness of Jesus’ message became clear to those in his home congregation, their commitment to their own community and the boundaries they erected overtook the joy that they initially had in receiving a prophet of God in their midst. They were blinded by indignation and did not want to believe that God’s grace is not subject to our lists of who is in and who is out. It cannot be tamed by our human desire to be special. Often, this very grace scandalizes us so much that we are simply unable to receive it for ourselves. Thus begins a vicious cycle: if we are unable to receive such grace, how, then, can we share it with others? We cannot.

This is the cautionary tale that we receive from those at Jesus’ hometown synagogue. They were so focused on what they believed God’s blessing should look like – just for them – that they missed the opportunity of grace that Jesus was bearing. The gospel says that they “were filled with rage” and “drove him out of town.” How dare Jesus tell them who should be included? How dare Jesus tell us?

Part of becoming a maturing Christian is learning how to put our boundaries and expectations aside in order to listen to what God’s are. This is difficult work and it is lifelong. In our epistle reading today, the Apostle Paul is encouraging the churches in Corinth to love in the radical way that Jesus teaches. They are enmeshed in conflict around what spiritual gifts are the greatest. To help them understand, Paul writes to them of love and spiritual maturity. He likens the growth of our hearts to the growth in our life cycle, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” We know that when we are children, we have a narrow view of the world. It is always about us and what is in our immediate vicinity. As we grow into adulthood and experience more of life, we understand how big the world is. As we mature as Christians, we understand more fully what grace is, and it continues to widen our hearts through love.

Being a Christian isn’t easy. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever tell us that it is. It requires things of us, as it says in our Book of Common Prayer’s Catechism: “The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.” This is a full-time job that shapes our lives. It calls us to live, to die to ourselves and be resurrected with Jesus over and over and over again. With each time, our hearts get a little wider, we know grace that much more deeply, and we are able to follow Jesus a little bit more down the road of love.

When Jesus speaks to his hometown synagogue, he’s speaking to our hometown church, too. Paul echoes Jesus’ message, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” What does God’s love look like in your church? Open the ears of your heart to listen for it, and walk in grace to find out.

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is priest-in-charge of St. Edward the Confessor Episcopal Church in Wayzata, Minn.