Archives for July 2013

Bible Study: 13 Pentecost, Proper 15 (C)

August 18, 2013

Colin Mathewson, Sewanee

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah 5:1-7

First Isaiah Chapters 1-39 are generally attributed to the mid eighth-century prophet Isaiah, who witnessed a rise in Assyrian aggression toward Syria, Israel and Judah that resulted in military invasions through the end of the century and the downfall of Israel (the northern kingdom). In this text, Isaiah is asserting that Israel’s disobedience will lead to a divine rebuke in the form of the Assyrian army. The words “justice” and “bloodshed,” as well as the words “righteousness” and “cry,” sound similar in Hebrew. See Isaiah 27:2-6 for an intertextual response that anticipates the Lord’s restoration of care for the beloved’s vineyard.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

The psalmist’s words immediately call to mind Isaiah’s vineyard imagery, while referring to a current state of desolation. The destruction the prophet promised has occurred, most likely by the hand of the Babylonians in the early sixth century. Now many of Jerusalem’s elite – royal officials, priests, scribes and the wealthy – are in exile and trying to make sense of their new lives in Babylon. They struggle to understand what the purpose was of the Lord’s deliverance of their people from Egyptian slavery and their possession of the promised land if the story would suddenly end in divine abandonment and foreign misery. Their call for restoration includes a plea to return to their homeland as well as a renewed spirit so that they “may never turn away” from the Lord again.

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

This is an astonishing, and even horrific, listing of the trials endured by Israel’s judges, kings and prophets, made possible by their faith in God. And “yet all these … did not receive what was promised.” What a breathtaking remark! It recalls the show-stopping ending of Moses’ life on a peak in view of the promised land after all his travails to lead his people home.

Surely our faith and actions wilt in comparison to these saintly figures – so where does that leave us? For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, it leaves Christians in sore need of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

The Greek word for “witness” is the origin of the English word “martyr.” Christians’ cloud of saints crowds around us to support our often-feeble attempts to continue along the road before us. The Christian life is a marathon that cannot be sprinted for long, nor even run constantly by most. God calls then to perseverance in walking toward our heavenly home.

Luke 12:49-56

The theme of judgment that ran through the Old Testament reading and psalm for today continues in this gospel passage. Jesus’ tone is hard, determined, angry and sorrowful. Inevitably, we read (as Luke wrote) these lines in light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and so it appears reasonable to understand Jesus’ “baptism” as that of the Passion. But this self-referential statement does not easily release the wider world from the fire and division to come. Verse 53 alludes to Micah 7:6, in which the prophet upbraids the people for their perversion of justice so that even one’s household is the site of conflict.

How do we interpret the present time? How is Jesus calling each of us, the church, and the world to repentance?

Bulletin Insert: 12 Pentecost (C)

Back to school with lesson plans and devotions

[Scroll down or click here for ready-to-print PDFs.]

cc photo by Victoria Choi

cc photo by Victoria Choi

As a new school year approaches, the Episcopal Church invites teachers to download free lesson plans for Sunday school and offers students free daily devotions.

Lesson Plans That Work are free, downloadable, weekly Sunday-school lesson plans offered by the Episcopal Church’s Office for Lifelong Christian Formation: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/lessons.

Written by experienced church teachers using practical approaches, these teacher-friendly resources follow each Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings and are available for young children (non-readers), older children (grade-school ages) and adults. Intergenerational lesson plans are also available at the beginning of each season and for many major feast days throughout the liturgical year.

“Lesson Plans That Work is a proven solution for busy volunteer church-school teachers who want to provide quality lessons but have limited time with their full-time responsibilities within their families and/or workplaces,” said Ruth-Ann Collins, the Episcopal Church’s officer for  Lifelong Christian Formation. “The lesson designs are concise, consistent and flexible. One of the parts that teachers find especially helpful is the background information on Sunday readings. I have often heard that the lessons help the teachers on their own faith journeys.”

For more information on Lesson Plans That Work, please contact Ruth-Ann Collins: rcollins@episcopalchurch.org.

Back2School, an annual series of daily devotions, is available August 4 – September 14, at http://www.d365.org.

This free, devotional resource helps students consider the transition from their summer days back to their classroom schedules. Daily interactive devotionals challenge readers to consider what their faith journeys will look like as they enter a brand-new year of school. A companion curriculum for youth has also been developed and is available for purchase at http://www.passportstore.org/Back2School.

The Episcopal Church collaborates with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Passport, Inc., to produce the d365.org website.

“Thousands of teenagers read the same scripture, hear the same music and meditate on the same reflection every day at d365.org,” explained Bronwyn Clark Skov, the Episcopal Church’s officer for Youth Ministries. “Written for teens and tweens, this ecumenical online resource is a great place to help your students connect their everyday lives with their personal spirituality in virtual community. Join us and experience the power of prayer.”

For more information on Back2School devotions, please contact Bronwyn Clark Skov: bskov@episcopalchurch.org.

 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 8/11/13
half page, double-sided 8/11/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 8/11/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 8/11/13

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

Bulletin Insert: 11 Pentecost (C)

Feast of the Transfiguration

[Scroll down or click here for ready-to-print PDFs.]

August 4, 2013

“The Transfiguration,” by Fra Angelico (1439-1443), fresco. cc photo by Jonathan Aquino

“The Transfiguration,” by Fra Angelico, 1439-1443, fresco. (cc photo by Jonathan Aquino)

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which commemorates Jesus’ unveiling as the Son of God, and his radical change of appearance while in the presence of Peter, James and John on a mountaintop.

The Gospel of Matthew records that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter, misunderstanding the meaning of this manifestation, offered to make three “booths”  (or “dwellings”) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell on their faces in awe, but Jesus encouraged them to arise and “have no fear.” When the disciples looked up, they saw only Jesus (Matthew 17:1-8).

The Transfiguration is also mentioned in two other gospel accounts (Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36) and is referred to in the Second Letter of Peter, which records that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” and “we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

The Transfiguration is a pivotal moment because it revealed Christ’s glory prior to the crucifixion, and it anticipated his resurrection and ascension. It also prefigures the glorification of human nature in Christ. Some think that the setting on the mountain is significant because it becomes the point where human nature meets God, with Jesus acting as a point of connection between heaven and earth.

Celebration of the Transfiguration began in the eastern church in the late fourth century. The feast is celebrated on August 6, which is the date of the dedication of the first church built on Mount Tabor, which is traditionally considered to be the “high mountain” of the Transfiguration. There are scholars, however, who believe the Transfiguration occurred either on Mount Hermon, which borders Syria and Lebanon, or on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Collect for the Transfiguration

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 243).
 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 8/4/13
half page, double-sided 8/4/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 8/4/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 8/4/13

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

Beyond material worth, 12 Pentecost, Proper 14 (C) – 2013

August 11, 2013

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Christians have always believed in a God who is concerned with the natural world. We have prayed to God from the depths of coal mines to the heights of Everest and from outer space. We have blessed ships and planes in God’s name, built soaring cathedrals to the honor and glory of the Almighty, and even equated scientific achievements to God’s guidance and blessing. These are all material things, because we believe in a material God.

Today’s readings cause us to step back for a moment and consider God in another light, as one who is beyond the material. In the passage from Isaiah, God castigates the people of Sodom because they have allowed material things such as incense and sacrifices of animals to become more important than their relationship with God. God defines the relationship as being centered on justice and care for orphans, not expensive feasts and liturgies, as God commands the people to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

The quality here is not material, but a spirituality that deeply honors a God who cares passionately for the whole of creation and doesn’t need to be appeased with sacrifice when things are going badly. It’s not about God; it’s about us. And God expects us to address the things that are amiss, not fix them through incantations.

However, we continue to write a check for the hungry without learning why there is hunger in the world. We pass legislation that addresses immigration reform without wanting to know why people want so badly to come to America that they are willing to risk imprisonment and deportation to do it, leaving their families behind while they work to send money home. The truth of the causes for both of these issues has as much to do with our demands for cheap goods and food as anything else. We cannot appease God while we try to have everything we want.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus addresses this issue of how we are to live with God:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Recently a conversation took place in a coffee shop. A woman with a loud voice revealed how frustrated she had been because she couldn’t find a parking spot. She then related how she had loudly prayed, “OK, God, I give up. You find me a parking place or I’m going home.” As she drove around the block for the fourth time a place opened up right in front of the coffee shop. Her friend, a rather quiet woman, smiled and then shared how she had been praying for weeks for her friend who had received a bad prognosis for her recurring cancer. She had just spoken to her friend that morning and learned that the doctors were now confident she would recover. Both of these women were sincere, but the one who asked for healing for her friend knows what God’s power is for – it’s not for finding parking places!

We are not going to get very far with God as long as we understand the Kingdom as material rather than spiritual. We are not going to have much of a relationship with God when our weekends are spent spending the money we have earned on more material things. Sabbath is not shopping; it is rest. It is time set aside for us to enjoy quiet, rest and refreshment.

Sabbath is the rest that helps us to prepare for the return of the Son of Man, the final breaking in of the kingdom. We are given the commandment to observe the Sabbath for our better selves. We are given the space to rest, restore our spiritual lives, and avoid being completely swamped by the world’s material goods. Nothing that rusts or wears out will enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to be able to leave it all behind.

Outside of these readings but deeply inside their message, is the great voice of the Creator reminding us how much we are loved, not for what we have, but for who we are. We are treasures, servants who are blessed by the Holy One. Our economic standing, our homes and wealth are of no account to God. What matters is our lives. How we live, how we approach justice, care for the poor among us, and how we treat one another is the bottom line for judgment. Our success in worldly things will mean nothing.

Summer is a good time to take another look at all that we possess and inventory in our hearts and minds the spiritual treasures we have, the friends who love us without condition, the church that keeps us in communion with each other and God, the beauty of the material world that belongs to every human being. It is a good time to look up at the stars in awe, and remember that the God who made us also made them, but they are nothing compared with the treasure we have of being loved by that same God who asks us to show that love and care to every person we meet.

 

— The Rev. Ben Helmer is part of a ministry team at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Ark.. He lives with his wife in nearby Holiday Island. 

Those who give back, The Transfiguration (A.B,C) – 2013

August 6, 2013

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Immediately leading into this story of the Transfiguration is Peter’s confession, followed by Jesus telling the disciples he is going to Jerusalem where he will die, and an important teaching on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: Pick up your cross and follow me.

If we were watching a movie of Luke’s gospel, directed by Luke the evangelist himself, he might come up behind us, tap us on the shoulder and say, “Now pay attention to this next scene! This is the heart of the matter.”

Indeed, this episode on a mountaintop is at the very dividing line of Luke’s gospel. It is nearly dead center. Up until now there has been activity in and around Galilee. From here on, it is a march to the scaffold: the journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

What we find on this mountaintop is a massive appeal to our corporate memory as a people of God. Moses went up to a mountaintop to receive direction and instructions from God and even to argue with God. When he would return to the people, his face would be shining brightly, so brightly he would have to veil it. Elijah hid in a crevice on a mountaintop, withstanding wind, fire and earthquake until he heard the “still, small voice” of God. Whereupon he immediately covered his face as he came out of the crevice to face the Lord, the God of Israel.

So as Jesus heads up a mountain to pray, we are already remembering what goes on up in these regions closer to the heavens, what some refer to as “the thin places”: places where people encounter the Holy and listen to God. And just in case our corporate memory is failing us, Luke paints the picture more precisely by putting Moses and Elijah there with Jesus, all three dazzling in glory, dazzling white, shining like the sun.

If you were Peter, James or John, I suspect at the very least there would be an audible gasp. If up to this point there has been any question at all about who this fellow Jesus is, imagine what is going through their minds now! It is like a return to the 40 years in the wilderness, the defining period of what it means to be a people of God – days of wandering; living in tents; living on manna, bread that is given daily.

It is like a return to the age of prophets such as Elijah who regularly challenged the domestic and foreign policies of the politicians and religious authorities. Elijah, who lived in the wilderness, at the margins of society, who mingled with foreigners and resident aliens, living in tents, booths, accepting the hospitality of total strangers, living on bread that is given daily.

Once a year, every year, for the eight-day Feast of the Tabernacles, Peter and his people would build booths and sleep in them for eight nights to remember the years of tenting on the land. To remember the days of Moses and Elijah. No wonder he wants to build some booths. No wonder he feels the need to do something to celebrate their corporate memory among such revered guests.

Quickly, however, the one in charge of the narrative speaks from off stage to remind one and all that this is not a story about Peter, James and John, and it is not about us or our experiences of the Holy. “This is My Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”

It is about the Son. The Chosen. And about listening: listening to God’s Son.

It is worth pondering that when the one in charge of the story speaks and names the dazzling one, we do not hear the words, “Jesus,” “Christ,” “messiah,” “rabbi,” “master” or even “lord.” The primary name given to the dazzling one is “Son.” More specifically, “My Son.”

We are told to listen to “My Son.” My Son says, “Bear your cross and follow me.” And as we follow him down into the valley, what do we find? Another man’s son. The father is bereft. The son is possessed. The son convulses and foams at the mouth. The disciples have been of no use at all.

My Son says, “Bring your son here.” The demon makes one last attempt to conquer the boy, throwing him down on the ground. My Son puts an end to the demon. The boy is restored to his father. The text says that My Son “gave him back to his father.” The demon had taken the boy. Then My Son gave him back. Demons take. My Son gives back.

The crowd is astounded. All were astounded;  there was not one person who was not astounded “at the greatness of God.” Do we allow ourselves to be astounded? Astonished? Amazed?

Note how subtly My Son becomes God. One could almost miss it altogether for sake of being so astounded and all. It would take several hundred years for the church to wrestle with this insight.

We cannot even begin to know who Jesus is if we separate these stories out. What happens on the mountaintop is important, and does have meaning. But that meaning is inextricably bound to both the question Jesus puts to the disciples before going up the mountain, “Who do you say that I am?”  and to what happens down in the valley.

Jesus will not be known any other way. Not through any clever novelization or cinematic inventiveness. Not through reading and discussing books about him. Not through watching movies and debating the merits of the movies about him. He will be known in our listening to him and following him. And in the breaking of bread that is given.

That’s why we are here. To listen to him, to follow him, and to eat our daily bread, so we might complete his work in the valley of this world. To be those people who do not take, but those who give back. How often do we take the time to be still, be silent, and listen to him?

Perhaps this is what Transfiguration means: listening to him and following him so that we may be transfigured, so that those around us may be transfigured, so that the whole world might one day be transfigured just like God’s Son.

We do this by becoming those people who do not take. We are to become those who give – those who give back.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Bible Study: 12 Pentecost, Proper 14 (C)

August 11, 2013

Steven King, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” (Luke 12:35)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

In this, the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read of the many things that people have been offering to God, such as burnt offerings and animal sacrifices, but we read that this not what God actually desires. Instead, some of the clearest direction that we get in the whole Bible about what God asks of God’s followers comes in verses 15 and 16.

In these verses, we read that God desires for us to make ourselves clean by removing evil from our lives and to do good and serve those in need. This is not breaking news for believers. We have been taught and we believe that this is our ultimate call – to love God and love our neighbor. And yet, we can struggle with comprehending that God would love us unconditionally and we stumble in seeing the image of God in our neighbors. But this remains our ultimate call and one of the deepest truths our faith. You are loved by God unconditionally and perfectly, and because of that, you are called to share that love with all of God’s children. This is what God desires and asks of God’s servants.

Consider and identify those things that may be keeping you from a deeper love of God and neighbor.

What helps you to connect with this love more fully and then to share it with others?

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23-24

The beginning of this portion of Psalm 50 reveals both God’s mighty power and constant presence with us: “The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” We read here that God summons the earth – what awesome power! – and also that God is present constantly from the sun’s rising to its setting.

God’s presence is not just in the sunrise and sunset but it is also with us, individually. God rules the earth with omnipotence and, at the very same time, deeply cares for and loves each small creature that God has made. This idea is one that can be hard to fathom or believe. Why would God love each of us, individually and unconditionally? What have we done to deserve that? The answer, of course, is nothing. And further, there is nothing that can take that love away because nothing is stronger than God’s strength and power.

How is the power and awesomeness of God revealed to you in your life?

Consider where you see God’s love revealed both in the large things in life and in the details. God is in all and loves all.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

This passage from the letter to the Hebrews opens with one of the most famous and beautiful verses in scripture. This definition, if you will, of faith is a profound one: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It sounds very lovely and, for many, remains one of the favorite pieces of scripture. Not only is it beautiful and lovely and a favorite, it is also a deep call to a belief in something that we cannot see, only hope for.

This is a demanding and difficult call. Those things that are tangible and directly in front of us are much easier to have faith in. But as we continue to read this passage, we come to understand why this demanding and difficult call is also one that is profoundly rooted in a God who loves us and will provide for us. We read that it was by faith that the world was created. It was by faith that Abraham trusted God to guide him when he did not know where God would lead him. It was by faith that Abraham arrived in the land of promise, and it was by faith that that which was previously impossible for Abraham and Sarah became possible.

It is by our faith that we know God’s deep faithfulness to us. In our trust, even in the things that we cannot see, including and especially God, we come to see and know God’s loving mercy and profound power to do those things that we can neither ask nor imagine. It is for us to trust and believe.

Each of us sees and feels God in different ways or places. For some it is in nature or art or exercise or relationships. Where do you most readily see and feel God in your life?

Consider how your faithfulness in God has helped to reveal the deep faithfulness of God in your life.

Luke 12: 32-40

This passage from the Gospel According to Luke does not contain a parable or story as we might expect from a gospel lesson. Instead, this passage gives clear instruction for what we should be doing now in order to prepare for the Messiah’s return.

Ultimately, the lessons here focus us on being ready by preparing our bodies, our hearts and our lives for the Kingdom of God. This calls to mind the image of physical exercise, like running in order to prepare for a race. In maintaining a regular running regimen, we can steadily increase our conditioning and be prepared to run any distance whenever the race may be.

Luke’s message to the reader here calls us to a spiritual exercise regimen. We do not know when God will return, but we believe God will. So, we are called to prepare ourselves – our souls and bodies –for this return so that we may join in the reign of God’s Kingdom.

What would your spiritual exercise regimen look like? Consider adding a portion or all of the Daily Office to your routine. Perhaps you can take on regular scripture reading. And still, for some, there will be other things that will be more of a benefit. The point is that we do these things not for the sake of completing a task. Instead, in bringing our lives more fully into God’s constant presence, we make ourselves ready to serve God as followers more fully formed into God’s image.

Bible Study: 11 Pentecost, Proper 13 (C)

August 4, 2013

Daniel Stroud, Virginia Theological Seminary

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23Psalm 49:1-11Colossians 3:1-11Luke 12:13-21

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

All is vanity, all is vanity. This reading seems similar to an episode of Oprah. Your work is vanity, my work is vanity, everyone’s work is vanity!

Even so, it makes a valid point about our concern for the world. When we labor, we know that our labors, in the end, are not for our own good because we, like all things in this world, will pass away. When we worry, this is vanity, because the world will pass away. When we do not toil, it is also vanity.

It all sounds so existential. But what seems to be happening here looks like it may be a bit of rabbinic hyperbole. Like most teachers and preachers, sometimes the scriptures, ahem, exaggerate a bit to make a point.

In the end, is everything vanity? Is every single act we do in this world only for ourselves? Do we do nothing worthwhile? Of course we do. Of course our actions are important, of course it matters how we live our lives. Of course it matters whether we work and leave things better for the next generation than they were for us.

But the point of this particular reading seems to be that, in the end, while all these things are important and in fact are the most important things we will do during our short time on this spinning rock, that importance pales in comparison to the eschatological, heavenly hope and life that we will lead.

In the end, our worship of God, our praise of God, and our relationship with God are the most important things. And those things manifest themselves in a variety of areas of our lives, all of which are important. But when that last day comes, when we find ourselves raised again into our new life with Christ, when light perpetual shines upon us and we are overwhelmed with the glory of the Lord God Almighty, all we had done prior, all of our previous successes, sins and shortcomings will fade away as insignificant in the face of that overwhelming love. And it will all seem to be vanity.

What details do we get caught up in that are unimportant?

What minutia is distracting us from a life with God?

What small things are interfering with our relationship with God that may be overshadowed by the big things interfering with our relationship with God?

Psalm 49:1-11

In today’s psalm we see that “the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish” and that “we can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life.” This reading has a grim but liberating equality to it. It is a reminder of the ultimate equality of every person; king and beggar alike both molder into dust in the end. And yet, this seemingly hopeless psalm fits with our other readings for the day. This reminder that we are dust easily sets up a premise for a sermon, presenting us with a problem that needs the redemption offered by the readings in both Colossians and Luke. When we are reminded we are going to die, and that rich and poor die alike, fertile ground is plowed for a reminder that not only do we die, but we are also raised in Christ.

Likewise, it reminds us that no matter how many toys we have, we still die, and that our greed is not our goal. While potentially dark and heavy on its own, this reading offers up an existential problem that is met with powerful and affirming solutions in the other readings of the day. Incorporating this psalm gives the preacher a chance to scripturally ground feelings of fear or worry that are redeemed in Christ.

Why are good works not enough to ransom ourselves?

What is the folly of trusting in riches?

What must we do to never see the grave?

Colossians 3:1-11

Today’s reading from Colossians leads with the best of news: “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is. … When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” It continues on, exhorting and encouraging good behavior, but reminding us that in Christ it does not matter, and that even the death we suffered has enabled us to be clothed in the “new self.”

While we cannot be saved by our own acts, we can be saved by Christ. We invite upon ourselves death if we rely upon our own actions or our own abilities, but Christ, who is all in all, does not worry about our sins and inadequacies; Christ redeems us anyway.

What failings or iniquities can the power of Christ wash away?

What does a new life in Christ look like?

What relation is there between this universal life in Christ (neither Jew nor Greek, etc.) and a life in which we rely on human ability?

Luke 12:13-21

In this reading we hear Jesus rebuking greed and worldliness and giving us an example of bad stewardship. Normally, we would consider a man who had stored enough to fill his silos and storehouses to be a good steward of the resources given to him, having multiplied them like the servants with the talents. The difference is that here, the talents have not been given back to the master in gratitude. This man has saved more than he can use, and yet he shows no gratitude to God for the gifts he has been given. He does not care for the widow, the orphan, the starving, or the helpless. He even speaks only in the first person. “I,” “I,” “I,” “I,” all throughout the parable.

Saving and being prudent with resources is a virtue, but this man has become an idolater, greedily taking more than he needs or can use, failing to use the gifts he had been given. While his grain may have multiplied, is storing it in a silo where he can come back and get it later any different than the servant who buried the talent? This parable warns us against the idolatry of greed, the glorification of excessive wealth. Jesus does not condemn the man for his success, or even for his wealth. He is shown as a negative example because he fails to serve anyone but himself and his own wealth. His greed has caused him to think only of having more for himself, to the detriment of those around him. And in his actions, he has forgotten that most important of financial truths: You can’t take it with you. He who dies with the most toys is still just as dead. And in death, this man will have to stand before God in judgment, with his greed and selfishness on full display.

Stewardship is about more than getting as much as possible. It is about more than stockpiling resources. It is certainly about more than idolizing that which we are greedy for. It is about making sure that we have enough, certainly, but about making sure those around us have enough as well.

What are our idols? For what are we greedy? What is it that we pursue to the detriment of those around us?

What material goods or wants are we putting above God and service?

Are we more worried about the judgment of the world or about the judgment of God?

Relationships are the true treasure, 11 Pentecost, Proper 13 (C) – 2013

August 4, 2013

Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”

What thoughts does this quote from today’s gospel reading bring up for you? Did you think, “Awesome! We need to talk more about greed”? Or was it more like, “Oh, no. Here it comes: stewardship season and another Sermon on the Amount”?

The topic of money tends to make many Episcopalians cringe. Perhaps this is partly due to our “denominational DNA” with its reputation of being the “wealthy, established church.” In truth, talking about money makes us uncomfortable in the larger context of our society as well. It’s one of those things you learn from an early age not to bring up in polite company. Just watch when small children ask adults how much money they make or how much their cars cost, and see how quickly parents swoop in to shush the child and follow this with the admonition, “It’s not polite to ask those kinds of questions.” From a very early age, we learn that there are some topics, like sex and money, that are taboo.

If you were raised this way, hang on! Today we’re going to break taboo. But fear not. After all, Jesus himself did so. He talked more about money and possessions, and our relationships with them, than any other topic. Now, if our Lord can talk about money, so can we; and today’s readings give us the perfect opportunity to do so.

Luke tells us of Jesus being in a crowd of people, teaching. A man approaches Jesus and asks him to arbitrate a dispute he is having with his brother about an inheritance. This man’s request may seem a bit odd at first glance. Why would Jesus be asked a legal question? Jesus was a respected Pharisaic preacher and teacher. Forget what the word “Pharisee” may conjure up in your mind. The Pharisees were the respected religious teachers and interpreters of the law who believed in the resurrection of the righteous. In that regard, Jesus’ preaching falls within the Pharisaic tradition, and as there was really no distinction between religious and state affairs in first century Palestine, Pharisees were often asked to act as judges over these types of legal disputes.

Jesus, however, opts out of getting involved in the familial squabble over property. Instead, he uses it as an opportunity to talk about money – and more importantly, a right relationship with money.

Jesus tells a parable that is often called the Parable of the Rich Fool. Let’s begin with some clarity about the main character in this parable: He isn’t portrayed as particularly wicked. He is not described as one whose wealth was ill-gotten. He hasn’t cheated anyone, he’s not one of the tax collectors – who were the shake-down artists of Jesus’ day – and he hasn’t stolen anything. From the information we’re given, he became wealthy by the sweat of his brow, by honest means. He was a farmer and his land had produced prodigiously. And at first glance, his decision to save for the future by building bigger barns doesn’t sound too unreasonable either; after all, he does need space for his abundant harvest, right? What’s wrong with saving for a rainy day?

The truth is there’s nothing wrong with saving for a rainy day. The foolishness of this man isn’t in his plan to build bigger barns. His spiritual illness isn’t inherently about his wealth or even his ambition – it’s in how he relates to it.

Notice the inner dialog this man has with himself:

“What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

Notice the emphasis on “me.” In this short internal dialog, consisting of approximately 60 words, the man uses 11 references to himself with the personal pronouns “I” and “my.” If we add the references to “soul” and “you” as part of that inner dialog about himself, then we have 22 percent of the words in this short passage talking about, well, “me.”

Here is part of this man’s spiritual illness: He is all about the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. There are no references at all to others– not to family or friends, and certainly no references to God. He is under the mistaken belief that all this wealth is his: his possession, his to control, and that he alone produced this wealth.

The other delusion that distorts this man’s relationship with his wealth is uncovered when God addresses him: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

In the face of the stark reality of death, the truth is revealed: No amount of wealth or possessions can save you from your own finitude. You will die, and nothing on this earth can prevent death. Your possessions are temporal and are not of ultimate worth. They will not save you.

On one level, we all know our wealth won’t save us. We tend to know this in our heads, but often our hearts don’t believe it. We are anxious about money – anxious about our jobs, putting the kids through college, the market fluctuations of our 401(k)s, making the mortgage payments, fearful that our cars will die on us, worried our refrigerators will give out – all of which make us nervous about money. But notice all these anxieties are focused on the self, and this myopic, internal focus becomes the basis of the fear in our hearts.

As Christians, we are called to shift our focus away from the small, egocentric self and outward into a radical trust in God.

When our focus moves outward in this way, we begin to view our wealth very differently. First, we realize that it isn’t our wealth at all – it all belongs to God. Not only has our wealth come from God, even our own talents by which we are able to obtain our wealth are gifts from God. None of it belongs to us – it’s all on loan.

The Rich Fool hasn’t figured out that the wealth he claims isn’t really his, he only has temporary custody of it. To put it into today’s context, we might ponder exactly how much Bill Gates or Warren Buffett will be worth when they die. The answer is: the same as you and me.

Death is the great equalizer, and when we die, our net worth in dollars is zero.

The second thing we realize is predicated on the first: If all comes from God, then we have an obligation to God to use this wealth in right ways.

This realization moves us from being consumers of resources to stewards of God’s good gifts. We begin to ask different questions about the use of wealth: “Do I really need this? Or is it a want I can live without?” “Where can I best use this money for everyone’s benefit?” “How can my wealth be a blessing?”

It doesn’t mean that our personal needs will be left out of the equation, but it does mean that we will balance personal needs with the needs of others and the environment, promoting healthy and holy relationships to bring glory to God.

So Jesus’ teaching is not a condemnation of wealth or ambition; rather it is an invitation to view our material possessions differently.

Can our wealth and possessions help us live a relatively comfortable life? Of course they can.

Can they make us confident that we are worthy of God’s love and guarantee us right relationships with God and each other? Absolutely not!

Christ invites us into a life greater than our anxious fears over things that have no ultimate worth. He invites us into deeper relationship with God and with others – a treasure far greater and more enduring.

 

— The Rev. Anjel Scarborough is priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Md. She and her husband are the parents of two teenage daughters. She can be followed on Twitter @ReverendMom and blogs at innumerablebenefits.blogspot.com.

Bulletin Insert: 10 Pentecost (C)

Grants available for campus ministries

[Scroll down or click here for ready-to-print PDFs.]

A group of students gather at the University of Georgia.  (Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia)

A group of students gather at the University of Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia)

Applications are now being accepted for grant proposals for the 2013-2014 academic year from dioceses, parishes or community college/college/university campuses for new and current Episcopal campus ministries.

The Episcopal Church Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries is offering two categories of grants:

Campus ministries grants are available to provide seed money for the start-up of new, innovative campus ministries or to enhance current programs. These grants will range from $3,000 to $5,000.

A Leadership Grant is available to establish a new or reenergize a dormant/current campus ministry. This $20,000-$30,000 grant is for a two-year period.

Sam McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and director of Mission, pointed out that additional rounds of grant applications and awards for this triennium will be available for subsequent academic years.

For additional information, guidelines and to submit proposals, please visit  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/campus-ministry-grants.

The deadline for submitting grant proposals is August 15.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 7/28/13
half page, double-sided 7/28/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 7/28/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 7/28/13

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

Bulletin Insert: 9 Pentecost (C)

Journal of General Convention 2012 now available

[Scroll down or click here for ready-to-print PDFs.]

1100 Cover mockThe Journal of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is now available for download, free of charge, at http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/gc2012.

The Journal of the General Convention reflects the actions of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in July 2012, and includes minutes and votes on the consideration of over 350 resolutions.

“The Journal of the General Convention is a go-to guide for the leadership and policy information of the Episcopal Church,” explained Christopher Barajas, General Convention manager for digital systems and publications. “The Journal is also the source of information for the Digital Archives, which will be updated later this year with the Acts of Convention 2012.”

The Digital Archives can be accessed at  http://www.episcopalarchives.org/digital_archives.html.

Print editions of the journal can be pre-ordered through Church Publishing, Inc., at  https://www.churchpublishing.org.

Also available in English and Spanish are the 2012 Constitution and Canons, which reflects all changes enacted by the General Convention that became effective January 1, 2013: http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/gc2012.

For more information, please contact Christopher Barajas: cbarajas@episcopalchurch.org.

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Indianapolis, July 2012

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Indianapolis, July 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 7/21/13
half page, double-sided 7/21/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 7/21/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 7/21/13

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