Archives for September 2013

Bulletin Insert: 20 Pentecost (C)

Vida Dutton Scudder

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Vida Dutton Scudder

Vida Dutton Scudder

On October 10, the church celebrates the Feast Day of Vida Dutton Scudder, educator and social activist.

Vida Dutton Scudder was born on December 15, 1861, the child of Congregationalist missionaries in India. After her father’s death in 1862, she and her mother returned to Boston, and in the 1870s were both confirmed into the Episcopal Church. In 1884, Scudder graduated with a degree in English literature from Smith College, then attended Oxford University for postgraduate studies. In 1887 Scudder began teaching in the English Department of Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, where she remained until her retirement in 1927.

As young woman, Scudder helped found the College Settlements Association in New York City and Denison House in Boston, which was the third settlement house in the United States. Scudder served as the primary administrator of Denison House from 1893 to 1913.

As an outspoken activist for trade unions as well as a deeply spiritual Episcopalian, Scudder struggled to reconcile the seemingly conflicting doctrines of Marxism and Christianity:

“Supposing a socialist organization of society realized, what would be the reaction on the ethical and religious consciousness, – on creed, on worship, on conduct? … One hears [critics] reiterate the conviction that an inner change alone can help and heal the sorrows of humanity, and that all who care for the Spirit, yet range themselves on the socialist side, are victims of a delusion all the more dangerous for its loftiness, dupes of that very materialism which they think to fight. It is in vain to plead with these critics the obvious identity of the ethics of socialism with those of Christianity” (“Religion and Socialism,” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 3, April 1910).

Collect for Vida Dutton Scudder

Most gracious God, who sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in thy Church witnesses who, after the example of thy servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 633).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 10/6/13
half page, double-sided 10/6/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 10/6/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 10/6/13

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

Bible Study: 21 Pentecost, Proper 23 (C)

October 13, 2013

Alan Cowart, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:17-19)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7Psalm 66:1-112 Timothy 2:8-15Luke 17:11-19

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

The children of Israel, God’s chosen people have been taken captive and live in exile. God and the prophets warned and foretold, and now it is happening. God will not intervene. That time – that opportunity – has passed. This exile is God’s method of intervention.

Hope is not always easy. It is not a removal from this life. It is not something that rescues us and magically takes us away. It is a long-term vision; it is what gets us through.

Israel is not to wait for rescue, but to live into their exile life. It is important that they do just that: live. They are to continue in the things that make them a community, building, growing, marrying. They are to live and participate in the exact time and place to which God has brought them.

This act of living faithfully in a time of what should be tragedy is its own triumph and its own end. In a tumultuous time of empire and conquest, the exiled people will be safe, will continue to be a people. They will continue to be called and special and chosen. And God will lead them home.

What part of your life have you been wishing away but you realize will be part of your life for a long time? Is there a place of exile in your life that you need to come to terms with?

Can you see a spark of life in a painful place in your world?

Imagine you have replaced your hope of rescue with the hope of re-creation and life; how will this change your view of God? Of yourself? Of others in your life?

Psalm 66:1-11

Children get excited over the strangest things. They will grab your hand and lead you to a room and say, “Look! Look! Look at what we did,” and they will show you something that is amazing to them, and they are so thrilled and beaming when you say with enthusiasm, “That is amazing! That is the BEST thing I have ever seen.”

It could be a picture or a fort or a frog. They are so proud and you hope they remember that feeling for as long as they are alive.

This psalm is like that – a psalm of praise and unbridled joy. “Look at what my God has done. God, Just LOOK at how awesome you are.”

What are you excited about in your life?

Can you list a few of the things God is doing today?

How can you share your thanks for God’s action in your life?

2 Timothy 2:8-15

The hope of the gospel is to overcome. The admonition to “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” is the justification not simply for enduring hardship but for “salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” And it is God who is faithful to bring us through rather than our willingness or ability to suffer.

Our own actions, even our own suffering, are potentially a part of our life, but they are not an end to themselves. Like the reading from Jeremiah, we have an ultimate, better home in sight but this home, this place is where we are. This is very “here and now.”

Reading Second Timothy, we remember that in everything we are bound together through our faith in Christ and by God’s grace. Many of the letters of the New Testament speak as much of behavior within the community of Christ as our actions in the world. Here, we are reminded that our unity with Christ in our own suffering, and our shared life together in a broken, dangerous world is the reason that we can cease our quarrelling over things that do not matter and use our words to lift each other up. Hope is something to cultivate together.

What keeps you from participating fully in your faith community?

How can you share your story with someone who needs to know they are not alone?

Luke 17:11-19

The lepers are faithful people. They respect the distance the law requires as they call out for mercy. Like many outsiders who encounter Jesus, they know whom they are seeking: “Jesus, Master,” they cry. They know what he can do. The mercy they seek is not a generic quality of help, but a specific request for assistance. They need healing. They seek restoration. So it is all the more shocking when nine keep walking.

Ten are made clean, and one returns. Luke has again chosen to share a story of Jesus that highlights the outsider, the “foreigner.” The one who returns to thank Jesus is a Samaritan among lepers, an outsider among outcasts. He is the model for this story, and we are not sure if, in the end, he receives something more.

All of the lepers were cleansed; the Greek word for “cleanse” is the one used in many healing stories in the gospel for leprosy and other conditions that were cleared up by a healing act. But Jesus concludes this encounter by saying, “Your faith has made you well,” using the word for “salvation” so that it might be translated “Your faith has saved you.” This is the same word Jesus often uses when he connects an individual’s faithful act with their healing. Our salvation is inextricably tied to our healing of soul and self. We are not saved from having to walk to the mailbox today; we are saved to walk in newness of life.

In this case, the leper’s faith (the faith of a foreigner who most assume doesn’t “get it”) compels him to return to Jesus, singing. This faith leads to something more than healing, it leads to wholeness, a blend of wellness and healing. This encounter with God through a lens of faith and trust changed a leper forever. The difference from his friends was that he was the only one who knew it.

What intervention of God in your life causes you to return, singing?

Are there people you have met in the last few days who are outsiders? How might they need to see God today?

Where do you need mercy and healing?

Made whole by faith, 21 Pentecost, Proper 23 (C) – 2013

October 13, 2013

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-11 (or 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111); 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Throughout the chapters of the Gospel of Luke previous to today’s reading, the Evangelist again and again and again presents the Good News through telling stories. He illustrates a series of personal encounters between Jesus and others – sometimes with his followers, sometimes his opponents, sometimes strangers. There were crowds of the curious and hopeful and various individuals – a tax collector, a centurion, a grieving mother, a sinful woman, a man inflicted with demons. As Luke relates these stories, he shows Jesus responding with love and grace and using the occasions to teach the values of God, while challenging the contrasting and distorted ways of the world.

Now, having reached Chapter 17 in the liturgical calendar, we find Luke recalling an episode in which Jesus was engaged by 10 lepers begging for mercy. These unfortunates suffered from what we now call Hanson’s disease. This malady, known among humans for thousands of years, went untreated in biblical times and caused permanent damage to skin, nerves, limbs and eyes, compromised the immune system, and hastened death. Though it is now known to be only mildly infectious, the ancients considered it highly contagious and forced lepers to stay away from others, identifying their condition by announcing, “Unclean. Unclean,” when approached.

As a result, they were excluded from the general society and forced to make their own communities, not unlike leper colonies that still exist in some parts of the world. They became dead men walking – at the mercy of others, ostracized, alienated from the richness of family life and the comfort of communal religious practices.

Like others, the lepers in today’s gospel were outcasts who bound themselves to one another out of necessity and because no one else would touch them. All that mattered was their disease, as evidenced by the inclusion among them of a Samaritan who would have been a hated and shunned foreigner in mainline Jewish society.

This band of 10 had nothing to offer others; nothing to offer Jesus when they saw him coming. But they recognized him, perhaps by his reputation as a holy man, and approached within shouting distance the one they knew by name. They cried out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Possessing enough inspiration, or maybe just a sense of desperation, they reached out to Jesus with an appeal for healing that went beyond all conventional expectations.

Jesus did not hesitate in his response. He did not back off or require the lepers to confess faith in God. He did not inquire about whether they were worthy. He did not ask anything of them. Jesus saw them and said simply, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

According to Jewish law, a cured leper had to appear before the priests, who would conduct a series of elaborate ritual actions in order to declare them cleansed. The lepers, who had hoped in Jesus, now displayed enough faith to obey him. They immediately left his presence to go to the priests as required and to begin the new lives Jesus made possible.

What Jesus did for them, of course, bore remarkable significance. Not only were they cured of a horrendous, disabling disease, but the cleansing also enabled them to overcome what was perhaps the greater affliction. Now they could return to the community, to become a part of the body that had cast them out. Now they could participate in life fully, restored physically and socially, and surely, experiencing the beginnings of emotional healing.

Yet, we might ask, did they gain everything Jesus hoped for? Did they achieve spiritual healing, as well? We will never know about all of them, but we have assurance that one did – the Samaritan who returned to give thanks. If we wonder what led to his distinguishing himself by praising God and falling at Jesus’ feet in gratitude, we might speculate that it was easier for him – as a double outcast – to see clearly the remarkable nature of what had happened. More likely, however, it was due to his greater maturity and deeper strength of character.

Whatever the reason, Jesus was saddened that he was the only one who turned back, and he used the one and the nine to teach his disciples another lesson about the values of God. He was clearly disappointed by the behavior of the nine, and in earshot of his followers, he said to the now-cleansed Samaritan leper, “Your faith has made you well.”

In place of the word “well,” some translations use “made whole” or “saved.” There is ambiguity about the Greek meaning, but its use by Jesus surely implies more than simply being cured from a disease. “Your faith has made you whole,” seems closer to the way Jesus used this episode to provide a new teaching. The Samaritan was not simply cured like the others, but experienced something more important.

His response to being cleansed demonstrated that his view of God was closer to what Jesus came to reveal. He acted not out of selfishness to gain certification of his cure, not rushing to the priests without reflection, but paused to put his cleansing in a wider perspective, seeing God as the center of the personal miracle he was experiencing. Before anything else, the Samaritan gave thanks for the chance to renew his life. This was the beginning of his transformation, and it provided a fitting model for Jesus to honor. He was not only cured physically, but he also gained spiritual wholeness.

For the worshiper, there are several “take aways” from today’s gospel – community, inclusivity and wholeness in the life of the world and in Christianity. Think about the Eucharist this morning – or the powerful fellowship of the Holy Spirit if you are in a congregation without a priest, using Morning Prayer. The moment we experience among our fellow worshipers today, in prayer and at the altar rail, is unity in its purest form. Receiving the sacrament of bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, all else is shut out but the holy context. We are at one with God and one another, in a sublime moment of grace.

In this moment we are made whole. Even if we lose this reality as we go out the door or back to our pews, we know it as a deep truth on which to draw on our journeys of faith. In that moment, we know that everyone is like the Samaritan, freed from alienation and separation from others in a realm of God that includes a circle of universal inclusion.

Luke’s story of this encounter between Jesus and the lepers allows him to teach us about the disappointment Jesus felt because the nine failed to give thanks and the joy he experienced in discovering that the Samaritan recognized the deeper truths of God. When Jesus reflects on the difference, he speaks no less to us than the disciples of old. Today we are reminded of the sadness of our Lord when we, like the nine, fail to follow him, but we also are led to emulate the Samaritan. We can take joy in committing ourselves anew to respond in love and gratitude to the grace, forgiveness and wholeness of God that we all can have simply by accepting this freely offered gift.

 

— 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.

Bible Study: 20 Pentecost, Proper 22 (C)

October 6, 2013

Steven King, Virginia Theological Seminary

“The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) 

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Lamentations 1:1-6

The book of Lamentations is composed of five lament poems. In this passage, we read the first one, written with a female voice proclaiming deep despair and loss. Other poems in this book are written with a male voice and, thus, in this book we read of much of the human experience of despair and loss – at least as it was understood by the authors of these poems.

This poem, in particular, metaphorically describes the city of Jerusalem, which has had to endure God’s actions caused by the sins of its inhabitants. While we should not assume that this chapter is the biblical standard on divine justice, we can embrace this passage as a true and deep experience of human emotion.

God has created human beings in God’s image and we are called to be in constant relationship with God. We know that God will never abandon us, but that does not mean that we do not fear that he will sometimes. When it feels as if we are not in contact with God any longer, that can cause deep despair and sadness.

Let us lift this up as a very real, human emotion and experience and also remind ourselves that God is always present and will not abandon us. We are called, then, to turn our hearts and minds back to God’s love and mercy.

If God has felt far off for you recently, consider why this may be. What helps you to reconnect with God who is always present and always quick to love?

If God has been particularly close for you recently, consider how you may deepen that relationship. What prayer practices help you connect with God more fully?

Lamentations 3:19-26

This, the third poem in the book of Lamentations, is listed as the response to the first reading in the lectionary. It is the middle of the five poems in the book and its location is theologically significant. It is at the heart of the book and its message is at the heart of our faith: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”

While the first poem reminds us of true and profound human experience of the world, this poem calls to mind the eternal truths to which we hold: God loves us abundantly and unconditionally and nothing can separate us from that love. Even when we have sinned or turned away from God, God does not turn away from us. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive, so let us always – even if we do not feel far off from God – always examine our lives and consider how we may give ourselves to the love of God more fully.

What is the most tangible way you feel or see the love of God in the world? What are signs of the hope of God in your life?

Consider how you might more fully share and embody the love of God in a broken and despairing world.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

I can hear Paul’s earnest cheerleading in this passage to continue in the faith Timothy has known for generations in his family and one that we also know deeply in our lives. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Through our faith and in our baptism, we are given the charge to powerfully embody God’s love in the world. One way we can tap into that sense of God’s love in our lives is through self-discipline. One discipline I have is to say Morning Prayer each day and, in doing so, hear scripture and be in prayer with God for me and for those whom I love. This centers my day on the love of God and reminds me of my call to embody that love to help renew and restore creation to a more full expression of the image of God.

What disciplines do you have that help you in your life with God? What do you learn from those disciplines?

Perhaps you do not currently have a practice of self-discipline as a part of your faith. Consider one that may work for you. This may not be the one that works for me or others but should be one that fits your rhythm of life and prayer. Perhaps it is a journal reflecting on Scripture or a contemplative or meditative prayer time or saying the Daily Office.

Luke 17:5-10

The beginning of this passage shows a classic moment of the disciples thinking they know what they need and Jesus promptly reversing that thought. Isn’t that true with our lives also? The disciples want more and bigger and better faith. Jesus says one does not need that, only faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. With faith this size, you could have some serious power – even enough to move a mulberry tree!

I am reminded in this passage that my sense within myself that I am not doing enough or faithful enough or praying enough to be a good follower of Christ is a very flawed thought process. In Christ, it is not about whether we are doing enough or have bigger and better faith, but that we work to deepen our faith and trust and love of God. We do not need more or better; instead we are called to humble ourselves to love and serve God and our neighbor fully. In this, we demonstrate very powerful faith, even if it feels small.

Have you ever felt like the disciples? Consider how Jesus’ reversal of thought speaks to you and your faith.

To hear and obey, 20 Pentecost, Proper 22 (C) – 2013

October 6, 2013

Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 (or Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-10); 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Obedience, a highly prized virtue in the biblical narratives, is rather despised today. Pause for a moment to remember being obedient as a child. Was it required of you? Did you resent it? Do your children resent being obedient to you? Every child resents having to obey parents and teachers, but we all know that a child’s safety and survival depend on obedience. Necessary as obedience is in our childhood, we hear almost nothing about this virtue as adults.

In western cultures, marriage vows no longer include the word “obey” for many reasons, mostly because women’s status has changed in the last few decades; the word “obey” was eliminated from vows and from the culture because of a new understanding of inequality and even injustice. This seems to be the crucial word: “injustice.” When a command is just, most people have no trouble obeying it. But when it is unjust, they have every right to reject it, for we know that unjust demands and commands caused untold harm through the ages.

Women and children were delegated to less than full humanity even as late as the 19th century. Women could not even vote and children had no rights. In order to survive, both women and children had to obey men. Is it any wonder then that the virtue of obedience came to be resented? The institution of slavery to which Jesus refers in this passage was accepted as a given in the world of the first century, and to our great shame it continued to be accepted as the natural order of things in the United States. In some parts of the world, this terrible situation continues. No, this kind of obedience is not attractive to us.

Then, why is it that so much emphasis is placed on obedience throughout the Bible?

From the very beginning we are told the value of obedience and the consequences of disobedience: Adam and Eve disobey and are ordered out of the garden. Abraham obeys and is promised great things for his descendants. Moses obeys and becomes a liberator.

We need to pause here and consider the meaning of the word “obedience” both in the Old Testament and the New. In both Hebrew and Greek the word is based on the verb “to hear.” In Hebrew, the same word means both “to hear” and “to obey.” In the Greek, the root word is “to hear” with the prefix hypo, which means “under” or “beneath.” So one who hears and obeys is one who is in a lower position than the one speaking. God speaks; human beings hear and obey. Whenever God speaks through the prophets, the word “hear” is repeated. Before the proclamations of the prophets, we read the words, “Hear, O Israel.” Jesus says to the crowds that follow him, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Hearing in the biblical context is much more than allowing sound to pass through the ears to be understood by the brain. It means hearing with the understanding that the word comes from God and must be obeyed. This kind of hearing implies also the conviction, the trust, that God is good and deserving of obedience. Jesus calls it faith.

In today’s rather strange New Testament passage, so difficult for us to understand because its context is different from ours, Jesus is asked by the disciples to increase their faith. With his usual figurative language, he gives examples that seem greatly exaggerated: faith as tiny as a mustard seed, a mulberry tree that is uprooted on its own and plants itself in the sea. This language shows us how ridiculously small our trust in God really is. Jesus, with his words and acts, has already shown the disciples that he has been able to perform healing miracles through his total obedience to his Father. This obedience to the Father is a recurring theme in Jesus’ ministry. Again and again he feels the need to withdraw, to hear the words of his Father, in order “to do the will of him who sent me,” as he repeatedly reminds his disciples.

Jesus obeyed God because he was convinced that God is good. The great prophets obeyed the Word of God because they were convinced that God is just and that God wants only what is good for God’s people.

Hearing the word of God while trusting that God is acting already for our good seems to be the essence of obedience. God expects obedience because God is good and acts on our behalf. This is what we learn from the prophets and this is what Jesus showed us in his life. In this manner, to hear and obey means to be changed. St. Paul was changed radically when, on his way to Damascus, he recognized the voice calling him as the voice of the one he was persecuting. From then on he lived a life of obedience that changed the world. His words to Timothy, in the epistle read today, reveal that Timothy also heard, obeyed, and lived a life of faith. This faith must be rekindled, Paul reminds him, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

We need obedience in God, in the Word incarnate in Jesus Christ, in order to live with courage and not cowardice – and how desperately we need courage in this confusing world of ours. Power and love and self-discipline do not come without hearing the Word and doing it.

This then is the meaning of obedience: to trust that God is good, to hear his Word knowing that it is already at work within us, and to know that through grace even faith as tiny as a mustard seed can perform the miracles of love.

Obedience to a good God is still a virtue to be prized. Let us recapture it. Who knows what surprising results we will see in our lives? It’s worth a try.

 

— Katerina Whitley lives and writes in Louisville, Ky. She is an author, speaker and retreat leader. She can be reached at katsarkakk@gmail.com.

Bulletin Insert: 19 Pentecost (C)

Pet blessings

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 Pet-blessing ceremony in Newton, Kan. (CC photo by Kristin Prairiedaze)

Pet-blessing ceremony in Newton, Kan.
(CC photo by Kristin Prairiedaze)

On October 4, the church celebrates the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi, an 11th-century Italian friar. Saint Francis founded the Franciscan Order for men and the Order of Saint Clare for women, and he is also widely known for his love of nature and animals. Because of his dedication and ministry to all living creatures, many congregations hold pet-blessing ceremonies each year on or around October 4, to commemorate St. Francis’ Day.

The Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare (ENAW) offers pet-blessing ceremonies in English and Spanish on its website, http://enaw.org.

Their website explains: “We are a grassroots organization composed of laity and clergy within the Episcopal Church who share the common belief that all God’s creatures deserve basic compassion and humane treatment and ought to be within the scope of the church’s ministry and embrace. ENAW has no staff or budget, instead we work as volunteers and affiliate together for mutual support in our various and widespread ministries of animal welfare at the local, parish and diocesan levels. Periodically we gather together to witness to the church at the wider national level. However, our day-to-day communication is through our email ListServ, which is the ‘glue’ of our group. ENAW was co-founded by Ms. Sue Grisham and the Rev. D. Rebecca Dinovo, with the help and support of many others. Today we have over 200 members throughout the United States and friends from other denominations and around the world.”

Wooden statue of St. Francis of Assisi near Castle Rock, Colo. (CC photo by Peter Hodges.)

Wooden statue of St. Francis of Assisi near Castle Rock, Colo. (CC photo by Peter Hodges.)

In addition to providing pet-blessing ceremonies, the Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare’s website offers the Rites and Prayers for the Care of Beloved Animals, authorized at the 2012 General Convention, as well as other liturgies, sermons, prayers and resources for animals.

Collect for the Feast of St. Francis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 623).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 9/29/13
half page, double-sided 9/29/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 9/29/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 9/29/13

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

Bulletin Insert: 18 Pentecost (C)

Thomas Traherne

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Stained glass detail of Thomas Traherne in Hereford Cathedral, England. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Stained glass detail of Thomas Traherne in Hereford Cathedral, England. (Photo via Wikimedia)

On September 27, the church celebrates Thomas Traherne, 17th-century priest, poet and theologian.

Traherne was born in Herefordshire, England, in 1637, the son of a shoemaker. At the age of 15, he attended Brasenose College, Oxford, where he earned his B.A. He was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1660, and from 1667 until his death in 1672, he served as chaplain to Orlando Bridgeman, King Charles II’s Lord Keeper of the Seal.

Now considered to be one of the major metaphysical poets, Traherne’s work was unpublished and unknown for over 200 years after his death. By chance, two manuscript volumes containing his poems and meditations were discovered in a London bookseller’s stall in 1896.

In the early 20th century, Traherne’s work began being published, including his prose works on matters of religion, such as “Roman Forgeries” (1673), “Christian Ethics” (1675) and “A Serious and Patheticall Contemplation of the Mercies of God” (1699). His most famous work, “Centuries of Meditations,” was published in 1908, reflections on childhood, happiness and Christian ministry.

“An empty book is like an infant’s soul, in which anything may be written. It is capable of all things, but containeth nothing. I have a mind to fill this with profitable wonders. And since Love made you put it into my hands I will fill it with those Truths you love without knowing them: with those things which, if it be possible, shall shew my Love; to you in communicating most enriching Truths: to Truth in exalting her beauties in such a Soul.”
— “1., The First Century,” from “Centuries of Mediations”

“Before, Behind, and evry where, Faith is,
Or sees, the very Masterpiece of Bliss.
All Its Materials are a Living Tomb
Of Glory, striking the Spectator dumb
And there our GOD is seen in Perspective
As if he were a BODY and alive.”
— “Article” from “Commentaries of Heaven”

Collect for Thomas Traherne

Creator of wonder and majesty, you inspired your poet Thomas Traherne with mystical insight to see your glory in the natural world and in the faces of men and women around us: Help us to know you in your creation and in our neighbors, and to understand our obligations to both, that we may ever grow into the people you have created us to be; through our Savior Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in everlasting light. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 609).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 9/22/13
half page, double-sided 9/22/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 9/22/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 9/22/13

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

Bible Study: 19 Pentecost, Proper 21 (C)

September 29, 2013

Josh Hosler, Virginia Theological Seminary

“The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’” (Luke 16:24)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15Psalm 91:1-6, 14-161 Timothy 6:6-19Luke 16:19-31

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The Hebrew prophets were renowned not just for prophetic words, but also for prophetic actions. Ezekiel lay on his side for a whole year. Hosea married a prostitute and gave her children insulting names. As for Jeremiah, well, he buys his cousin’s field. We hear every detail of this seemingly ordinary financial transaction, and we may find ourselves yawning.

But Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians, and it has become clear to everyone that the kingdom soon will be overrun. Does Jeremiah have no understanding of basic economics? To spend money now on a long-term investment is foolhardy – far worse, even, than signing off on an adjustable-rate mortgage!

Yet the prophet gives a proclamation from the Lord’s mouth: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” This is Jeremiah’s prophecy, but it’s not just words. The prophet demonstrates his faith: He’s “all in,” as they say.

Did Jeremiah change some hearts with his action? Perhaps some said, “Oh, that crazy Jeremiah. He’s always making a fool of himself.” But others may have said, “Whoa, that Jeremiah is really close to God. If he believes that this imminent invasion isn’t the end of the world, maybe there’s something to it.”

Hope is catching, and the prophets of Israel, in spite of their inflammatory rhetoric, were always messengers of hope. Even when they outlined in detail God’s unavoidable punishments on the people, they always came back to a long-term future in which Israel would once again become God’s favored people.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

At first reading, this psalm seems to say that God protects us from violence and disease. Is this true? Many people have experienced a narrow brush with danger or death and attribute their protection to God’s action. But what about people who are not protected? Does Psalm 91 not apply to people in plane crashes, or innocent people shot in hazardous neighborhoods, or people who die of cancer? This seeming incongruity is enough to make some people throw up their hands and give up on God altogether. Clearly God doesn’t protect everyone, and God doesn’t even succeed in protecting the innocent much of the time. So what good is a psalm like this?

Yet here we all are, living in a world that is so often uncertain and dangerous. These words can be used in superstitious ways, but they are not mere folly. Many people who suffer incredible hardships come through them feeling that God has walked with them, and they do not demand an explanation as to why the hardship occurred. Tragedy happens with alarming frequency, but so do opportunities for compassion and love in the face of horror. Is God testing us? I don’t want to think so. But are we tested anyway? Undoubtedly. And perhaps God’s protection is more spiritual than physical: No matter what happens to us in life, ultimately, we are under God’s eternal care and protection.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

This passage isn’t about having; it’s about the ability to let go. It’s about priorities. When you have money, what will you do with it?

I’m reminded of a craft I was taught as a kid at camp, about how to make a “warm fuzzy,” a little puffy ball of yarn strung together a certain way. Along with the craft came a story about “warm fuzzies” and “cold pricklies.” If you try to hoard warm fuzzies, they will turn into cold pricklies. You can’t keep them; you must give them away. This is what it means to be “rich in good works.” This is how we “take hold of the life that really is life,” as opposed to the life that really is a living death.

To what are you clinging tightly? Money isn’t the only offender. In his series of books on the parables, Robert Farrar Capon wrote that God constantly showers us with gifts, and we are to enjoy those gifts while they are here. All gifts pass away. If we cling to them tightly, we may succeed in hanging on to them for a while. But if we do, our clenched fist will not be open to receive the next gift that comes along.

Luke 16:19-31

In this gripping story, Jesus gave us much of the imagery we still attribute to the afterlife: a heaven above, a burning fire of hell beneath, and a giant chasm between them. Doubtless Dante drew on these images and expanded on them when he created “The Inferno” and “The Divine Comedy.” I always try to remember that this is a parable, not a description of a metaphysical reality. Jesus seems to be illustrating a continuity between our lives now and our lives on the other side of death.

Sometimes it takes personal misfortune to awaken us to our selfishness and to spark our compassion. From Hades, the rich man begins to worry about the fate of his brothers, but it is too late.

Many of Jesus’ later parables urge us not to wait to change our lives. We don’t like to imagine a time, on either side of the grave, after which it will be too late to change. But at what point will change just become too difficult for us to bear? Must it take death to spark change in our lives? And is this moment, right now, too soon to begin really living?

Bible Study: 18 Pentecost, Proper 20 (C)

September 22, 2013

Susan Butterworth, Episcopal Divinity School

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1Psalm 79:1-91 Timothy 2:1-7Luke 16:1-13

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

This passage comes from the section of Jeremiah that contains a series of poetic oracles of God’s judgment in the form of conquest and destruction by Babylon, the foe from the north. It is a dialogue between the prophet Jeremiah, God and the people of Israel. It is not always clear who is speaking, and it is quite likely that at times Jeremiah is expressing God’s anguish over the coming destruction of God’s people. God is in despair over the behavior of the people who have forsaken their covenant by worshiping foreign idols. Jeremiah echoes God’s anguish. The people are confused; they expect God to provide for them, yet it seems that He has abandoned them. The well-known verse “Is there no balm in Gilead?” is a rhetorical question. The healing that the people seek can come only from God.

Consider the paradox of God’s nature. God longs for peace and healing. At the same time, God longs for justice and truth. A compassionate God weeps for the world that turns away from honesty and integrity. How does this paradox affect your understanding of the disasters in the world and in your life? How does God react to terrible events?

The spiritual “There is a balm in Gilead” assumes an answer to the question “Is there no balm in Gilead?” What is the answer, according to the song? How does the poetic imagery of the hymn reflect the poetic imagery of this passage from Jeremiah?

Psalm 79:1-9

Psalm 79 is a lament, or community prayer for help, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians. The selection begins with a poetic description of the disaster and laments the seeming absence of God in these events. “We have become a taunt to our neighbors” refers to line 10: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” “Why me?” the psalmist seems to say, as he pleads with God to pour out God’s anger on “the nations that do not know you.” The passage ends with a plea for compassion, help and forgiveness.

The Prayers of the People are an example of community intercessory prayer in the Episcopal tradition. You might try re-writing this psalm in one of the forms of the Prayers of the People in the Book of Common Prayer. Or you might write a prayer that addresses a time of disaster or defeat in your own community life, using Psalm 79 as a model.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First Timothy is one of the pastoral epistles, presented as a letter by Paul to Timothy, who is guiding the community of believers in Ephesus. The pastoral epistles address rules for life in the early Christian community. Paul suggests that Timothy’s community should conform to prevailing social values and live quiet, dignified lives while waiting for Jesus’ return. The writer urges the community to pray for the welfare of the government as a practical way of co-existing in peace with the surrounding dominant community. He supports his position by explaining that God wants everyone to be saved and that salvation is attained through knowledge of the truth of Christ’s sacrifice. Above all, the passage supports the idea that the community must pray, that Christ is the mediator or intercessor and that everyone is worthy of prayer.

What are the different aspects of prayer that the writer of First Timothy advocates? Why is it important to pray for those who do not share faith in Jesus as savior? Do you think it is possible to pray with those whose faith does not include belief in Jesus as mediator and teacher?

The passage urges Christians to live “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” How can such a life witness the character of God and our faith to those around us who may not know anything about the Christian faith? How do these instructions apply to living as faithful Christians in a secular world?

Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the Dishonest Manager is one of the most puzzling texts in the New Testament. The passage is rich with paradox. The steward is indeed corrupt, yet he seems to be both condemned and commended by his rich master and by Luke. The diverse possibilities of interpretations are frustrating. Is the message that the children of light should learn from the economy of their corrupt neighbors? Are we to make friends by the use of dishonest wealth? Do the ends justify the means? Or must we be honest with ordinary wealth so that we can be entrusted with true riches? An interesting aspect of this parable is that it features a manager of some status – in charge of considerable assets – who must consider his alternatives once his corruption is exposed. He isn’t strong enough to dig; he is too proud to beg; how can he earn acceptance in the homes he is accustomed to entering? Even the final line of the passage – “You cannot serve God and wealth” – which seems relatively clear, is a paradox. Does this mean we are not meant to enjoy material possessions? Or does this address the difficulty of not letting our possessions be a barrier between God and us?

How does the relationship between God and wealth work in your own life? Do you prefer to keep them in separate compartments in your mind? Can you reconcile the wealth of the world with the riches of faith? How does the stewardship of wealth affect your church?

Can you recognize the corrupt steward anywhere in current financial news? Shady Wall Street practices? Insider trading? Do we both condemn and commend such practices? What lessons can we learn from corrupt stewards in the contemporary world? Can we make use of the techniques of corrupt stewards for godly purposes?

Many ways to share, 19 Pentecost, Proper 21 (C) – 2013

 September 29, 2013

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (or Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146); 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

[NOTE TO READER: The Latin word dives, in the seventh paragraph, is pronounced “DYE-veez.”]

“I always thank the person for asking, even when I don’t have anything to give at the time.”  These are the words of Archbishop James Salisbury of the African Orthodox Church in America, about being asked for money by people on the street.

If you look up Archbishop James up on their church’s website, you’ll see that he has the look of a beneficent and cheerful grandfather. You can imagine his kind, dark eyes looking deep into the soul of a poor person and thanking that person for having the courage to ask for something.

Now, you may be saying to yourselves, how could an archbishop not have money in his pocket to share? To be honest, don’t we all have times when we don’t have a cent on us, usually because we’ve forgotten to go to the ATM or in this difficult economy there are days when we, who may be far from homeless, stayed away from the ATM until we were sure there was something there that month?

It might be nice to do what James does when we are asked for some spare change on the street instead of assuming the person is too lazy to work.

Another thing that would be thoughtful when we interact with people in need, is to ask their name and have a conversation with them. If you read “Down and Out in Providence” by Bishop Geralyn Wolf of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, you would read her journal written during the time that she lived among the homeless for her sabbatical. She talks about how important it is to be acknowledged by name – how desperately alone and invisible the homeless feel when no one speaks their names. Read her book. It’s life changing.

Each of our passages today reminds us that those in need are our responsibility. God expects us to care for the poor. It’s all through the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Every prophet, from the Old Testament to the Liberationists and beyond reminds the people that the poor are our neighbors and that none of them should ever have to beg for the crumbs that fall from our tables.

Isn’t that image from the gospel heart rending? We can’t imagine that a rich man would be so callous as to ignore poor Lazarus who lay by the gate of his house. He was so poor and so sick that we’re told dogs would come and lick his sores. If you Google “Lazarus and the Rich Man” or “Lazarus and Dives” – dives is Latin for “rich man” – you will find many images in art portraying this scene. In most, the dogs look like friendly sorts, just lolling around calmly with their tongues hanging out. It probably wasn’t like that at all. Dogs will fight over the taste of blood. Lazarus had a horrid and probably frightening existence, and still, the rich man ignored him.

Jesus tells this story to point out that some of the Pharisees were ignoring the needs of their own people just like the rich man – and we may be surprised at the reluctance of those religious leaders to understand Jesus’ concern.

But why might we be surprised? Again, we need to see what this is teaching us.

In Jesus’ day, the assumption was that a man like Lazarus was that way because of his or his parents’ sin. In our day, isn’t the assumption often that a person in Lazarus’ condition, the homeless, the poor, the down and out, are that way because of their “sin” of laziness or poor judgment or that they’re scamming us?

We often hear people say that they don’t give a street person any money because he or she will spend it on alcohol – end of story.

Yes, sometimes they do, but many times they don’t.

When we assume why a person is in need, are we any better than the rich man or the Pharisees? This is when it’s helpful to engage a person in conversation. Like most human beings, the person in need often yearns for someone to listen, to show even a few short moments of care. If you’ve ever worked in a shelter or soup kitchen, you know that’s the truth.

However, in considering the image of rich versus poor, there’s another issue to think about today. Our own economy places many of us in very difficult circumstances. Sometimes those who may look quite comfortable are hiding the fear of losing everything if the next paycheck doesn’t come. God doesn’t expect us to put ourselves or our families in danger because we give others our last bit of money.

There are many ways to share – we all know this. Acknowledging the humanity of another is one way; listening, volunteering – these are all ways of being human.

First Timothy gives us another. The author reminds us about the danger of excesses. Our culture also encourages us to amass much more than we need, doesn’t it? If we’re honest, we might have more to share if we were more content with having enough.

“But those who want to be rich, fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Now, those are scary words. Strong verbs, “trapped” and “plunged,” warn us that greed can lead to our destruction.

Isn’t it annoying, though, when we see some extremely rich and assumedly happy people splashed over magazine covers and news articles?

Ah, but there’s a catch. We assume, we don’t really know. We don’t know what’s really going on inside them; we can’t. So it’s better if we turn our faces toward those who need what we can share – our thoughtfulness, our care, and sometimes our material goods.

All people should be content as Timothy says – content with having enough.

 

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