Archives for May 2013

Bible Study: 5 Pentecost, Proper 7 (C)

June 23, 2013

Sharron Cox, Sewanee

“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” (Luke 8:30-33)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and Psalm 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Poor Elijah! Before this particular passage, Elijah has just experienced a spectacular victory in the “Whose God Is the Best?” competition against 450 prophets of Baal. But his “reward” is receipt of Jezebel’s murderous vow, and Elijah quickly shifts from God’s über-prophet to just a common fugitive, running for his life. After traveling some distance, he ultimately dismisses his servant and walks into the wilderness to die alone.

But God does not let go of Elijah. God sees to it that Elijah is fed and well-rested. When he reaches Mount Horeb/Sinai, where Moses too spoke with and saw God’s glory, God asks Elijah twice what he is doing there. To both inquiries, Elijah supplies identical responses, unimpressed by neither the traditional means of God’s manifestation – wind, earthquake, fire – nor by the “sound of sheer silence” (v.12), and his replies sound very much like a truculent child! You can almost hear God sigh after listening to Elijah’s complaint for the second time before ignoring Elijah’s whining and instead giving him a new assignment, a new purpose. Probably the most miraculous part of this story is that Elijah accepts God’s charge and continues in God’s service.

How do you handle spiritual discouragement?

How has God not let go of you in the past, even when you might wish to be rid of God’s call on your life?

Psalm 42 and Psalm 43

While these are psalms of deep longing for God, they are also psalms of deep faith. People mock the psalmist for this faith, faith in a God who, from all outward appearances, has abandoned him. The psalmist recalls God’s faithfulness through both day and night, biblical code for “at all times.” Yet, his soul is “athirst for God,” so while the psalmist may not feel abandoned by God, he surely feels God’s absence.

Three times through these two psalms (42:6-7, 14-15, and 43:5-6) the psalmist repeats what seems to be a conversation with himself, asking what is the reason for this distress. No answer is provided. However, each time he asks these questions of himself, the psalmist responds with quiet confidence, knowing that there will be a time when he will again give praise and thanks to God. This is a faithful follower, one who will not let go of God.

How does your longing for God manifest itself?

How are you able to live out faithfulness when God seems to be absent in your life?

Galatians 3:23-29

These six verses are probably some of the most revolutionary words in the entire Bible. Through them, Paul overturns the world order, the worldview, of both Jew and gentile, and consequently, all of us. Paul proclaims that through faith in Jesus Christ, the law is obsolete. For the first-century Jew, these would be outrageous words. And then Paul tears away the strict social stratification of the first-century gentile by claiming such a radical inclusiveness that all social distinctions are washed away in the baptismal waters. Through union with Christ, through being “clothed” with Christ in our baptism, ethnic differences, class distinctions, and gender-based roles no longer exist. How could the Church have missed this radical message of inclusiveness for much of its 2,000 years?

What does “being clothed in Christ” look like in your life?

How can you live more deeply into this radical vision of life in Christ?

Luke 8:26-39

It seems that Jesus has sailed across the Galilean Sea for the sole purpose to drive demons out of this man, this man who has no name other than that to which the demons have reduced him, “Thousands.” With those legions of demons vying for control over him, the cacophony of this man’s interior life was probably far worse than his exterior life of living in the wild, naked among the tombs. But Jesus asks him his name, already exercising his authority over the demons by forcing them respond to him.

Jesus frees this man from the spiritual chains that have shackled him for years. As Jesus turns to leave, the man begs to accompany Jesus, the one person who could see beyond the horror that had become his life, to the person he was created to be.

Rather than allow the man to join him, Jesus instead gives the man, much like God does with Elijah in our Old Testament reading, a purpose, a mission: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And so he does, spreading the good news of Jesus.

From what “chains” has Jesus freed you?

How have you spread the good news of Jesus and his life-transforming power?

Bible Study: 4 Pentecost, Proper 6 (C)

June 16, 2013

Ben Garren, Bexley Hall

“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a

My great aunt had a small vineyard, just a few vines on trestles, and I played under them with my cousins growing up. I heard stories of how my aunts and uncles had played under them, and later watched the next generation play under them as well. My great aunt also had vegetable gardens, but my memories of them are only about hard work. Now I have memories of the work days in the vineyard, not easy days by any account, but also of fun days and heritage.

The injustice of Ahab and Jezebel against Naboth is resplendent in this lesson. The injustice, however, is not only personal against Naboth but also cultural. The working of vegetable gardens for the seasonal palace of the royal family is a thing for slaves. The maintaining of vineyards for one’s family heritage is a thing for the People of God.

Ahab’s goal is not simply the expanding of his control in the land, but stripping away the very use of the land that allows the Chosen of God to name and know themselves as God’s Children.

Psalm 5:1-8

The psalmist is beset with injustice. Our poet is sighing, longing for justice, and so the poet falls to the ground in prayer facing toward God’s temple. The poet seeks a straight path to the way of God.

The psalmist, in the midst of being so beset, knows all the sidetracks that can catch a person up. How easy it is for anyone who is faced with injustice to become bloodthirsty, wanting only revenge, or to delight if pain comes to those who have caused pain, or to do any number of things that have nothing to do with reliance on God.

How much harder it is to fully bring our anger and pain before God in the midst of our prayers and seek a straight path before us.

Galatians 2:15-21

The key for Paul, in almost every instance, is the proclamation of Christ crucified. The proclamation of Christ crucified is the card that trumps all other plays, the crucial reality no matter the context. If we can proclaim Christ crucified and recognize a new life on account of that act by Christ, then we are justified by faith. The life events, the ethnic culture, the rule of life that brought us to that point of proclaiming Christ Crucified are not what saves us, but Christ’s actions on the cross.

Paul realizes that the Grace of God, through Christ, is not bound to any specific group but can be proclaimed in the midst of any group. This has brought him to break down the divisions he once saw between Jews and gentiles, and he cannot in good conscience attempt to build back those divisions.

It is not our set forms of liturgy, our social class, or cultural norms that save us; we are saved by the Grace of God.

This is not a difficult idea for us to grasp. It can be, however, a very challenging way to live. Paul has begun to live that way and is now challenging others to do the same. It is a challenge that we continue to wrestle with to this very day.

Luke 7:36-8:3

What is the gauge of forgiveness? Can we calculate who has forgiven more? Can we calculate whose sin is greatest? These are rather puzzling questions; indeed, the very riddle that is presented to Jesus by his host.

The host, Simon the Pharisee, views sin and forgiveness in the sense of a tally sheet, much like the creditor in Jesus’ story. In his reckoning, he stands with little debt, little sin, and the woman on the floor has much debt, much sin. Her lascivious actions, unbinding her hair and rubbing Jesus’ feet, do nothing to raise her in the Pharisee’s eyes.

The woman is showing overwhelming love for Jesus by her unorthodox actions. Truly, a much greater love than Simon has shown, who has, in fact, failed to show the basic requirements of being a good host. Is it her greater love that brings her to receive greater forgiveness while Simon’s lesser love brings him to acquire little, if any, forgiveness?

The key is that the woman loves Jesus before she is forgiven. She loves Jesus out of her need to be forgiven, out of her recognizing her need to be in a relationship with Jesus. Simon has yet to recognize his need to be forgiven, has not recognized his need to be in a deep relationship of love with Jesus. Thus unable to recognize his debt, he surely shall not venture to the feet of his creditor.

All of us part Pharisee and part sinful woman, 4 Pentecost, Proper 6 (C) – 2013

June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14), 15-21a and Psalm 5:1-8 (or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 and Psalm 32); Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Jesus had a marvelous way of confronting people who held worldly beliefs, by turning their views upside down, shaking them out, so his listeners could understand the deeper realities of God. He was a genius at bringing his message down to a common-sense level – often by telling stories, sharply driving home a point leading to the unmistakable values of God.

In today’s gospel account, we see an excellent example of this aspect of his ministry. A social event, at which Jesus was invited as the rabbi, allowed him to provide a powerful lesson. He turned around the circumstances of the moment by telling a story as an example. Then he issued a judgment that brought the meaning of the story back to present reality and further challenged conventional wisdom that flew in the face of Godly truth.

It is Luke’s unique version of a famous, popular story – the sinful woman with the alabaster jar who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

Perhaps a retelling of this first-century illustration in a modern setting, bringing the message a little closer to home, will make it as clear to us as it was to the original followers of Jesus.

Imagine your congregation holding a major celebration, perhaps a stewardship banquet, with Jesus as the main speaker. He sits at the center of the head table with the priest and wardens surrounding him. Into the midst of the parish hall, adorned with the best accouterments the church has, enters a scraggly looking woman. Everyone recognizes her as a notorious sinner who has made no secret of her indiscretions. She is clearly very upset, and to the horror of the church members, walks toward the head table, slowly and with her head bowed low, almost crawling, until she reaches Jesus.

Obviously, she is ruining everything – all the best-laid plans – and she destroys the joy of the moment. Crying at Jesus’ feet, she offers to minister to him in her humble way. To make matters worse, Jesus does not turn her away, but allows her to continue interrupting the proceedings.

Angry and embarrassed, the priest tries to save face by telling the congregation that they made a mistake in asking Jesus to join them, because his unwillingness to reject the woman makes it clear that he is a fraud.

Now Jesus turns the tables on the priest and wardens and all who think like them. He asks, “There were two men, financially broke. One was three months behind on his mortgage, but the other faced immediate foreclosure. When the bank forgave both debts, which one appreciated it the most?” The priest replied, “I guess the one about to be foreclosed on.”

Then Jesus turned to the woman, and looking at her lovingly, said to the priest, “I am sure you and your congregation agree. So, look again at this woman and compare her actions to yours. You have been polite to me, but you haven’t really rejoiced overwhelmingly that I have come to be with you. You seem to want only to bask in the honor of my presence. You want me to say what you expect to hear. Before dinner, you sang ‘Amazing grace,’ but none of you looked particularly amazed. You think I have threatened the security of your community by accepting someone you consider an outcast.”

In contrast, he lauded the woman. “What love she has! You have done nothing of note for me, but she came with her heart in her hand and offered me all she had. She humbled herself and wept because of her sin. That is why her sins are forgiven.” To her he said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in Peace.”

In his teaching moment, Jesus used the classic method of contrasting two behaviors in order for his audience to understand the competing value of the one against the other, and thereby helped them discover the truth of God. He compared the actions of the Pharisee with those of the sinful woman.

The woman was a known sinner, not an insider, not a member of the synagogue. She was not among those whom any generation would likely consider as doing God’s will.

The Pharisee stood among those who were traditionally good and generally kind. By reputation, they clearly committed themselves to God as they understood him. The Pharisee was a leader among his community. However, he lacked genuine humility, considering himself a superior person – a wonderful example of a God-fearing believer. He seemed unaware of his own failing, his own sin, his own need for anything beyond himself.

The woman, due to the keen awareness of her sin, felt a clear sense of her failings. She did not consider herself better than others, and could only turn to Jesus, weeping, in an act of kindness and begging for mercy.

The Pharisee expressed himself mostly in terms of judgment. He set himself apart from the woman, self-righteously considering himself better than the outcast who disturbed his great moment. He expected Jesus to express the same opinion. He also thought he had all the answers, and so had no reason to be open minded. Being part of the “in group,” who were in the right, he didn’t need to learn anything more about life, because he thought God was perfectly satisfied with who and what he was.

The woman, in contrast, came to Jesus with a deep sense of humility. She was not concerned about how others acted, only about her need to change and her need for forgiveness. She had almost no resources and knew she didn’t have all the answers – maybe no answers at all, except to rely on Jesus.

The Pharisee expressed only insensitivity and lack of awareness about the least of society and his excluding approach to woman contrasts with the inclusive, loving, accepting actions of Jesus.

Obviously the Pharisee’s lack of awareness, exclusivity, self-righteousness and judgment do not measure up against the simple actions of the humble woman who was aware of her sin, knew her need for God, and was ready to serve others. The characters are there for us to choose from, and the choice is easy.

But perhaps it isn’t that simple.

Maybe the more important takeaway from this teaching comes from realizing that we human beings tend to share the characteristics of both the Pharisee and the woman. Most of us find ourselves able to identify with both characters, and we can learn from both ends of Jesus’ story and his assertion.

So, imagine the story further. Imagine seeing the woman and the Pharisee (or the priest in the modern version) meeting on the street the day after the big event. Imagine her, filled with a refreshing awareness of God’s forgiving love, now able to look at herself with confidence. She knows that she has power to change her way of living, put her sin behind her, and stand with the Pharisee as an equal in God’s view.

Imagine further, the Pharisee after a hard night of soul-searching, having seen the light Jesus cast over the shadowy nature of his beliefs. Imagine him now able to see his own sin and greet the woman no longer as an outcast but as a sister in Christ.

Wherever we find ourselves today, Jesus’ teaching through this gospel story helps us along the journey of faith – helps us know that God loves us as we are, with freely offered grace, and  enables us to renew ourselves and better take part in today’s version of the Good News of God in Christ.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

Bulletin Insert: 3 Pentecost (C)

Tornado Response Fund provides relief in Oklahoma

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Oklahoma Army National Guard conducting search and rescue operations in Moore, Okla., on May 21.  Photo by Mark Hybers via Wikimedia.

Oklahoma Army National Guard conducting search and rescue operations in Moore, Okla., on May 21.
Photo by Mark Hybers via Wikimedia.

On May 20, a 1.3-mile-wide,  EF-5 tornado tore through the town of Moore, Okla. – a suburb south of Oklahoma City – killing 24 people, including 10 children. At least 277 people were injured. Current estimates put the amount of storm damage in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

In an interview with Episcopal News Service published on May 22, the Rev. Canon José A. McLoughlin, Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, stated that the diocese is “still very much in assessment and short-term recovery response mode.” Diocesan staff are cataloging needs and offers of help in order to organize recovery work beyond the immediate phase.

Episcopal Relief & Development has been in further contact with McLoughlin, who reports: “It is clear that we will need some funding to provide assistance for food, groceries, clothing, etc., in addition to temporary housing. With each passing hour, more and more need is becoming evident.”

A man walks through the debris where his house stood in Moore, Okla., on May 21.  Photo by Mark Hybers via Wikimedia.

A man walks through the debris where his house stood in Moore, Okla., on May 21.
Photo by Mark Hybers via Wikimedia.

Emergency funding from Episcopal Relief & Development assists dioceses and congregations in reaching out to the most vulnerable members of their communities, supplying food, clothing, temporary housing, pastoral care, case management and support for unmet long-term needs. Necessary repairs to church buildings and related properties are supported by local church-based fundraising efforts.

To find out more about how you can help, please visit the Episcopal Relief & Development website, http://www.episcopalrelief.org. Or visit the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma’s website at http://www.episcopaloklahoma.org to learn more about their ongoing tornado relief efforts.

A Prayer from the Presiding Bishop

On May 21, the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, offered this prayer for Oklahoma:

“The prayers of Episcopalians are with the people of Oklahoma in the midst of this tragic event. May the spirit of God hover over the broken, lost, and grieving, and may they meet the love of God in their neighbors’ responses.”

 

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 6/9/13
half page, double-sided 6/9/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 6/9/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 6/9/13

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

Bible Study: 3 Pentecost, Proper 5 (C)

June 9, 2013

Dorian Del Priore, Virginia Theological Seminary

“When the Lord saw the widow, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:13-15)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24); Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

As Elijah comes out of the wilderness, he is a wild mess of a man. He must have been a sight to see, fearful and intimidating, for Elijah has to assure the widow of Zaraphath with the words, “Do not be afraid,” as he petitions her for sustenance in a demanding way. There is a tension between the untamed prophet of God and the widow he meets as he reenters society. What is the risk involved for each of them as the wild meets the civilized?

The vulnerability in the liminal space between them is palpable, and the widow is experiences a miraculous blessing for her hospitality towards God’s prophet. But yet, her son gets sick and dies. The crux of this passage is the response of Elijah. When the woman declares that the presence of God’s prophet may have brought about the death of her son, Elijah does not make excuses for God and the situation. Instead Elijah stands in solidarity with the widow. I imagine that Elijah lashed out with ferocity and passion towards God. How could God allow the death of the only son of the woman who had shown hospitality to God’s prophet? The restoring of life is not the most important aspect of this story; instead it is the fact that the presence of the prophetic word of God is in solidarity with the widow.

The presence of God in our lives is not about judgment. The presence of the Word of God in our lives is about wild, ferocious compassion. A compassion that is stronger than even death.

When have we felt the prophetic presence of God in our very own lives?

How can we, as Christians, be a prophetic witness and presence to those at risk in the world?

Psalm 146

This psalm proclaims (and further establishes) God as one who sides with the oppressed and subjugated. The lordship of God is put in contrast to the lordship of worldly leaders, and it is clear here that God’s work is in juxtaposition with that of worldly powers. God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free and makes the blind to see. God’s work is directed to lift up those who are victims of worldly powers in society. The God of creation is also the God who sustains life and works to bring about divine justice. But it is a simple fact that evil, suffering and oppression remain in the world. So how does the psalmist reconcile this fact? How do we reconcile this fact?

While we live in a broken world, the work of God in the world is constantly ongoing. Maybe the psalmist provides these words as comfort to the oppressed; in that God does not identify with the oppressors but that God resides in the response to the oppressors. The God who created the heaven and the earth continually works for the liberation of the oppressed and those at risk in the world.

It is important to note that this psalm is one of praise! The psalmist reminds the hearer that knowing the God of creation and justice is faithful to his people, the oppressed, is reason to praise God in adoration. Our praise is to be an outpouring of gratitude for God’s faithfulness. This life of praise is one of discipline that is grounded in community and relationship, through the ups and the downs of life.

How can we remain grounded in gratitude and praise, both individually and communally?

How can we partner with God’s work for the oppressed?

As we bear the divine image of our creator, how do we reflect the image of the Living God who cares for the oppressed and at risk of society?

Galatians 1:11-24

Paul’s account of his conversion and call is not just about recounting the event, but also about establishing the source and authenticity of his conversion and call. While it is curious that Paul so strongly distances himself from the friends and family of Jesus, he establishes that his own revelation came directly from Jesus Christ himself. Paul does not appear to see his call as having anything to do with the specifics or details of the teachings and practices of Jesus. Instead, the significant message that Paul brings to the gentiles is faith in Jesus. Faith is centered around and accomplished through the self-giving love of Christ.

This passage could easily be misused by people who want to create their own brand of Christianity or those who want to convey they possess the true version of the gospel. However, this does not appear to be what Paul intended. This is also not about condemnation of those who differ in tradition or interpretation.

Instead, Paul seems to be saying that while tradition is also important, we must never lose sight of the depth and value found in the abundance and extravagance of God’s love and mercy. This is not about doctrine or religion. This is about love. A revelation of love that is deep and wide. The love of Jesus will always burst through the walls we try to put around it.

How has Jesus been revealed to you?

How do we put walls around the love of God?

How can we proclaim the height, depth and abundance of Christ’s love?

Luke 7:11-17

This miraculous healing of a widow’s only son at Nain echoes the healing of the widow’s son at Zarephath from this week’s reading from 1 Kings. (See above.) However, instead of the prophet crying out to God for miraculous intervention, it is Jesus himself who acts and facilitates the miraculous healing. When Jesus sees the widow, he is moved and feels compassion. Compassion is not just a state of being or posture; compassion is something intense that moves Jesus to act. Divine compassion requires a response and action. In his actions, Jesus demonstrates that he is not only a prophet of God, but that he has compassion for suffering and power over life and death. Further, the actions of Jesus in this miraculous healing reveal much about Jesus, his identity, his character and his intentions. But even more amazing, the actions of Jesus also reveal the character and intentions of God. This is a continued, bold affirmation through the work of Jesus that God stands in solidarity with those who suffer and are downtrodden.

Uniquely, this is the first time in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus is referred to as “Lord.” Further, in response to the healing, the people proclaim, “A great prophet has risen among us!” Jesus is being proclaimed and identified as the prophetic Messiah. Jesus is the prophetic Messiah who proclaims through word and deeds the Good News to the poor, oppressed and suffering. Through the actions and proclaimed identity of Jesus, divine compassion and mercy are revealed as the epitome of God’s character.

When has the character of God been revealed to you?

Think of and name examples of people, in our great cloud of witnesses, who have been moved by compassion to act on behalf of those who suffer.

Have you ever been moved to compassion in such a way that you had to act? When? How so?

What are ways in which we, as Christians, can act on behalf of those who suffer and also reveal to the world the character of God?

Bible Study: 2 Pentecost, Proper 4 (C)

June 2, 2013

Joe Woodfin, Sewanee

“Only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Luke 7:7)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Kings 18:20-21,30-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

1 Kings 18:20-39

One of the threads running through the lessons for today is not so much “Who is God?” as “Who (or what) is not God?” The prophets of Baal are character actors in this story, cast to show the utter futility of calling on those beings who “by nature are no gods” (in the words of St Paul). This point is belabored by the caricature of the pagan prophets, who run around all day screaming, dancing and wounding themselves simply to get the attention of Baal. The reader, though, is privy to information that they are not – the narrator has been priming us all along for the conclusion in v. 39: “The Lord indeed is God!” Against the laws of nature itself (illustrated by the drenching of the sacrifice before the divine fire comes), Israel’s God asserts the divine prerogative as the only being worthy of worship.

This passage is, in sum, an answer to the question left to us from the passage immediately before. When King Ahab, a patron of the prophets of Baal, sees Elijah coming, he says, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” To which Elijah replies, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have … because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.”

The question is, who is right: the king or the itinerant prophet? To hear the author of Kings tell it, Israel and God have been going different directions, and Elijah is tasked with calling the nation back. The prophetic words and actions that task requires are uncomfortable, but many times God calls us away from discomfort and into conflict with prevailing power structures and social scripts.

Psalm 96

Continuing the theme, this song of thanksgiving makes abundantly clear that “the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” While this sentiment makes the psalm a challenging read in a pluralistic culture, there is something going on here deeper than shallow superiority.

There is a switch back and forth in this psalm between reference to the earth in the sense of all creation and the earth in the sense of the dwelling place of people. God is clearly the creator of both equally, but this dual picture emphasizes that the world is not all about us humans. The beautiful language at the end of the psalm – in which heavens, earth, seas, fields and trees are invoked to praise the name of the Lord – is echoed in Jesus’ Palm Sunday declaration that even if the people were silenced, the stones would cry out. The message, if we will listen, is that God doesn’t need our praise to feel appreciated: the beauty of creation is praise enough! When we begin to be full of ourselves because we believe our picture of God is clearer than that of others, we should embrace the humility that comes with this concept. After all, the reason all creation is praising God is because God “is coming to judge the earth” (v. 13). If we are found being oppressive, or prideful, or abusive of creation, that judgment will certainly bring humility, as well.

What does it mean to say that God is the king over all the earth?

Do you find it easy to praise God for judgment? What does God’s judgment mean today?

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul is defending himself all through this letter. The Galatians received and welcomed his message, and then apparently received and welcomed some people who were not so enthusiastic about Paul. In trying to sort this all out, they must have conveyed to Paul that these people were saying nasty things about his credentials. So the introduction to the letter: “Paul, an apostle – sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” He goes on to exclaim that anyone who contradicts his gospel is anathema.

We obviously have accepted Paul, and even smoothed off his rough edges quite a bit – after all, he is the most prolific of all the New Testament authors. So what might this passage be saying for us, who live almost 2,000 years later and are not in danger of being anathematized by Paul? Perhaps Paul is naming the reality that it is easy to get excited about “human approval” of our religious beliefs. The gospel is, indeed, of divine origin, but in transmission it comes through people who have different ideas and different worldviews. Instead of spending all of our time fighting among ourselves about which view is right, perhaps we ought to pray for the grace to reveal Jesus to others.

Does the gospel of Jesus demand certainty of opinion, or is there room for ambiguity?

Luke 7:1-10

This gospel text points to other candidates for things that are not God. The centurion whom we meet here is an officer in one of the most powerful armies in the world. Yet we meet him precisely because he is coming to Jesus for relief from something against which the Roman army could not defend. Illness, death, grief, loss – these confront every single person in the midst of life. The centurion is a man of means; yet rich, poor, powerful and helpless alike all cope with mortality.

The Third Gospel’s concern, at many points in the narrative, is to show Jesus as the representative on earth of Israel’s God. We are meant to see that Israel’s Messiah is none other than the universal Christ, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 1:32). The centurion coming to Jesus is a representative of all nations, because Jesus is the Savior of all the world. God’s judgment (cf. Psalm 96) comes near in Jesus, and it turns out that judgment is good news for all who are willing to hear it. The centurion was willing, and thus Jesus praised his faith as surpassing the faith of everyone in Israel.

What does the centurion’s faith mean for the church? How is the humility of realizing his own powerlessness related to his faith?

Bulletin Insert: 2 Pentecost (C)

The Feast of Ini Kopuria

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Photo of Ini Kopulia  from “Southern Cross Log” (New Zealand Edition),  June 1, 1946.

Photo of Ini Kopulia
from “Southern Cross Log” (New Zealand Edition),
June 1, 1946.

On June 6, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of Ini Kopuria. Kopuria was born in the early 20th century on the island of Guadalcanal in Melanesia, in the Southwestern Pacific.

As a boy, Kopuria attended an Anglican school, St. Barnabas, on nearby Norfolk Island. After leaving school, he became a police officer in the Native Armed Constabulary; but in 1924, as he was recovering from an injury, Kopuria realized that he felt a calling to serve Christ.

In 1925, Kopuria formed the Melanesian Brotherhood. This holy order is described by “Holy Women, Holy Men” (Church Publishing, 2010) as being “an Anglican order devoted to the spread of the Gospel among the non-Christian areas of Melanesia. The Order, characterized by its vows of simplicity, in this day continues its work of peacemaking and includes not only Melanesians, but also Polynesians, Filipinos, and Europeans.” (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 410).

In “Southern Cross Log” (New Zealand Edition) from June 1, 1946, Charles Elliot Fox, a British missionary in Melanesia, and an admirer of Kopuria’s for many years, described Kopuria’s charismatic personality:

“What things stood out in his character? First, I think his spirituality: prayer was a very real thing with Ini: he was the most reverent Melanesian I have known, and that is saying a lot. God was in all his thoughts. Second, his joyousness, he was almost always in high spirits, full of fun, full of the joy of being alive, it was good to live with him. Third, his deep understanding of the thoughts of Melanesians. At Brothers’ meetings when disputes were often hot, Ini always knew who was really in the wrong and generally got that Brother to say so. Fourth, his common sense, he always knew what was practicable and kept discussions to that reverent, joyful, sympathetic, wise, these the ‘Brothers’ knew him to be.”

Collect for the Feast of Ini Kopuria

Loving God, we bless your Name for the witness of Ini Kopuria, police officer and founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood, whose members saved many American pilots in a time of war, and who continue to minister courageously to the islanders of Melanesia. Open our eyes that we, with these Anglican brothers, may establish peace and hope in service to others, for the sake of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 411).

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full page, one-sided 6/2/13

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A people without boundaries, 3 Pentecost, Proper 5 (C) – 2013

June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24); Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

A widow is walking a dusty road. The sun is in the sky, making shadows on the mud-brick walls and simple dusty streets of Nain. The town sits on the edge of a wide and beautiful valley, but the widow doesn’t notice, because today her life has ended. She has lost her last connection to society, she is about to become a non-person.

She walks behind her dead son. He is wrapped in cloth bands and carried on a simple litter. He died that very day and had to be buried before sundown. The shock is almost too much to bear. She remembers walking this path before, following another man wrapped in cloth bands and on a litter. She remembers following her dead husband to his burial. The pain was great then, but then she could lean on her son, then she only grieved the loss of her husband. Now she can reasonably fear losing her very self as well.

The crowd who follows her knows her well; Nain is not a large town. No doubt they are compassionate. No doubt they are sad. Perhaps some were friends with her son. Perhaps some are other widows or friends. They may be very concerned for her, but a large part of the concern is for her loss of social identity, her loss of connection and power in her small part of the world.

To be a widow at the time of Christ was to have no power, no social standing. It was a world of, and for, and run by men. Women could only be represented legally by men. Women could only be defended socially by men. If her property were attacked – by thieves or greedy landowners – a woman would have little defense on her own, only her male kin could help her. The law did give her some protections. The scriptures they read were clear that widows were to receive special care and attention and were not to be exploited. But religious laws were no guarantee of a woman’s safety in a man’s world. The widow at Nain is in real social danger – she no longer has a husband, she no longer has a son. If she had moved from her kin, she is now socially alone. Each step she takes is heavy – heavy with grief, heavy with fear; each is a step into an unknown future.

Our gospel passage today can seem like a passage about a dead man coming to life. That is certainly the most dramatic part of the story. In the middle of a funeral procession a dead man sits up – no doubt shocking the dickens out of the entire procession – and begins to speak. The crowd is filled with fear, which seems pretty reasonable, anyone would experience more than a small amount of shock and awe at the sight of a dead man sitting up on his funeral bier and talking. It is hard to ignore the resurrection at the center of this tale. It is a vision of the glory of God. It is a vision of God’s triumph over death.

But the glory of God is bigger than just this resurrection. As hard as it might seem to imagine, the glory of God that was revealed that day at Nain was more than bringing a dead man to life. The widow is also brought back from death to life. The story begins with the widow. Jesus has compassion on the widow, tells her not to weep. After the man comes back to life, he gives him back to his mother. By doing so, he brings her back to life. Jesus heals more than a dead man, he heals a woman broken by a society that could not see her as fully human without a man.

The crowd may have been more afraid of this than anything else. The social order had been altered. A woman who didn’t count suddenly counted again. This may have been as awesome, as fearsome, as the resurrection itself.

The crowd would immediately have known what happened. They knew they were in the presence of a prophet because they had read their scripture. They knew God cared for widows, God insisted on the care of widows. They knew that God sent prophets like Elijah to heal widows, they remembered the widow at Zarepath who was near death and who was brought back to life by God’s gift of a jar of meal and a jug of oil that never ran out. Caring for the ones that society wants to leave behind is what God does. Having no edges, no boundaries to the scope of care, is God. God’s very being has no limits to love.

We still live in a world of social divisions. Our society, our now-global society, is full of divisions. Indeed, it feels like we have found many more ways to divide ourselves than could have been imagined by the people of Nain. We can be divided by religion, by ethnicity, by nation, by age, by the kind of music we like, by wealth and poverty. Sadly, we can still be divided by gender.

But amid all this division, God gives us life. God is the source of all being. And God doesn’t just give us biological life, God gives us a full life, a life where our divisions are healed. That is the action that Jesus undertook at Nain – he restored biological life so that a full life could be had by all. That is what Jesus showed the people of Nain, that life means more than simply existing, it means living fully within the web of life. It means being loved by all and loving all.

This is the reign of God. It is a reign of well being, a reign of justice, a reign of abundance, a reign of joyous harmony. It is a reign we recognize when we are fully in God’s presence, and when God’s presence encompasses all of creation. God’s presence has no social boundaries. The crowd at Nain rejoiced because God had looked favorably upon them with a sign of God’s reign.

This is the action of our God. Restoring to the social community, bringing people we push out of society back into love because we need each other.

This is also our action. We too are called to be healers. The mission of the church, our Book of Common Prayer says, “ is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

We do this by refusing to draw boundaries, by refusing to exclude people from the fullness of life that God promises. We do it when we welcome all people into our churches. We do it when we work to ensure that all are fed, and clothed, and housed, and cared for when sick. We do it when we work to transform unjust social structures. We do it when we fix any system or practice that treats anyone as undeserving of a full life.

We still make people of all races and genders powerless. We still try to make human souls into non-people. Our mission is to be people who draw no distinctions. Our mission is to be a people who recognize the dignity of every human being.

After Jesus left Nain, the people went back to their homes and chores, but things didn’t go back to normal. And thanks be to God for that! Normal doesn’t always mean right. Normal can be unjust. The people of Nain weren’t normal anymore. The people were transformed. They had moved beyond what they thought were limitations. They had seen a new world.

Let us open our eyes to this new world and glorify God. Let us be a people without boundaries.

 

— The Rev. Matt Seddon is vicar of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City, Utah – the most diverse city in Utah. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago, and a M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, with special training and experience in multicultural ministry, particularly Latino Ministry. He is married with one teenaged daughter, reads too much, and is fond of punk rock from the 1980s.

Bulletin Insert: 1 Pentecost (C)

Trinity Sunday

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“The Holy Trinity’ by Luca Rossetti da Orta,  fresco, 1738-1739

“The Holy Trinity’ by Luca Rossetti da Orta,
fresco, 1738-1739

The First Sunday After Pentecost is Trinity Sunday, one of the seven principal feasts of the church year. Trinity Sunday celebrates “the one and equal glory” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Being” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 380).

“An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” edited by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, (Church Publishing, 2000), explains that the term “trinity” comes from the Latin words tri  (“three”) and unitas (“unity”). The term “trinity” was first used by Tertullian, a third-century Latin theologian, to express the mystery of the unity-in-diversity of God.

The Baptism of Jesus, as recorded in all four gospel accounts in the New Testament, demonstrates the interaction of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

“When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17 NRSV).

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1: 9-11 NRSV).

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3: 21-22 NRSV).

“John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:32-34 NRSV).

 
 
 
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Bulletin Insert: Pentecost (C)

Day of Pentecost / Whitsunday

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“Riverside Icon of the Pentecost”  by Theodoulos Gregorites, 2008

“Riverside Icon of the Pentecost”
by Theodoulos Gregorites, 2008

Today the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Day. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word Pentēkostē, which means “the 50th day.”

In the Old Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the Feast of Weeks, a seven-week agricultural event that focused on the harvesting of first crops. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, also used the word “Pentecost” to refer to the 50th day after the first day of Passover.

In the New Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the coming of the Spirit shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:1-6, NRSV).

Christians came to understand the meaning of Pentecost in terms of the gift of the Spirit, and the Pentecost event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise concerning the return of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking in tongues, a manifestation of receiving the Spirit, is interpreted by some to symbolize the church’s worldwide mission, and the Day of Pentecost is thought to be the origin of sending the church out into the world.

The Day of Pentecost is identified by the Book of Common Prayer as one of the feast days “especially appropriate” for baptism (Book of Common Prayer, p. 312). Because of this, Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” (“White Sunday”), a term used to describe the white baptismal garments worn by those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost and then worn to church on the Day of Pentecost.

Two infants in Waterford, Ireland, circa 1895, in traditional white baptismal garments.  Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Two infants in Waterford, Ireland, circa 1895, in traditional white baptismal garments.
Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 5/19/13
half page, double-sided 5/19/13

black & white, full page, one-sided 5/19/13
black & white, half page, double-sided 5/19/13

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.