Archives for October 2013

Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore a native of Indiana, is a second-year student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and a postulant in the Diocese of West Tennessee. In his spare time Andrew, a former actor, enjoys watching good theatre and movies and is an avid college basketball fan.

Read Andrew’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Proper 27 (C).

Bible Study: 25 Pentecost, Proper 27 (C)

November 10, 2013

Andrew Moore, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’” (Luke 20:34-35)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Haggai 1:15b-2:9;Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Admit it, you had to check your Bible’s table of contents to find the Book of Haggai. One of the lesser-known prophets, Haggai was written approximately 70 years after the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian exile, as many Jews were returning to their homeland. As such, the book of Haggai is less concerned with questions of exile than with reclaiming and rebuilding the land. Specifically, Haggai prophesizes about the importance of rebuilding the temple. In the second chapter of Haggai, the people of Judah seem less than impressed with the beginnings of the rebuilt temple.

In today’s passage, Haggai is admonishing the people of Judah to keep faith, that God will help rebuild the temple to be even more splendid than the first. This must have sounded counterintuitive to the people. They were struggling to meet even their basic human needs. How could they possibly rebuild the temple in glorious fashion? Haggai reminds the people of God’s great promise of faithfulness to God’s chosen people. The work of rebuilding the temple is ultimately God’s work, not the work of the people.

What are ways in which we become discouraged when our attempts to do God’s work in the world are seemingly fruitless? How can we reframe our discouragement into an exercise of faith?

Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21

Psalm 145 is a hymn to God’s gloriousness. The last psalm attributed to David, it precedes the final group of songs of praise that end the book of Psalms. It is effusive in its praise of God and God’s works in the world. It paints a picture of God who is responsive and active in the world, worthy of unending praise. “I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty and all your marvelous works.”

Yet sometimes this effusive praise can be hard to hear, hard to speak. How hard must it be for the long-suffering to hear “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and helps them.” It can be difficult to reconcile the God of action who is described in Psalm 145 with the God whose action can be difficult to discern. Perhaps the key to reconciling the two lies in verse 2: “Everyday I will bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever.”

Embedded in this song of praise is a call to faithfulness. We are called to continue to praise God and trust in God’s good works, even when we lack the evidence to see them.

What are the challenges you face in praising God effusively?  What holds you back?

How might a daily practice of praising God transform times of discouragement and suffering? What would it take to praise God fully in the most challenging times of our lives?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

This passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians addresses a key theme continued from the gospels. When will the Kingdom of Heaven arrive? Many people believed that with the coming of the Messiah, the end was imminent. Paul warns the early Christians not to believe those who claim to know that the coming of the kingdom is near. He is essentially reminding us to not get ahead of ourselves and remain present in our earthly lives.

In the second part of the passage, Paul offers thanksgiving that God offers salvation.  This thanksgiving echoes similar passages in 1 Thessalonians. It is also invokes images of the Israelites in Hebrew scriptures. God chose to make promises to the Israelites just as God then chose to offer salvation to those who believe in Christ. Paul seems to be encouraging the Christians of Thessalonica to remain steadfast in their belief and their practices despite the fact that their hopes for the coming of God’s kingdom have not been fulfilled.

What are the ways in which you get ahead of yourself and focus on the promised reward and not your daily life?

How can we have faith in God’s promises even when we don’t see or experience the reward?

Luke 20:27-38

This passage continues a long line of reminders in Luke that we do not place value in the correct places in our earthly lives. The Sadducees were an aristocratic Jewish sect during Jesus’ time, often contrasted with the Pharisees. Historians describe the Sadducees as often being rude to their peers. As the passage indicates, they did not believe in the resurrection of the body or of the soul. They lay a trap for Jesus by invoking the Torah’s requirement that if a man should die before having children, one of his brothers should marry his wife. It was hoped that the woman would have a son so that the man’s family, and property holdings, could continue.

Yet Jesus deftly avoids the trap the Sadducees set for him by challenging the grounds for the question. Jesus reminds us that heaven will not be like earth. We are not able to comprehend just how different heaven will be from our earthly existence. We will not take the things we value with us into the afterlife. It reinforces Luke’s earlier messages about the importance of sharing our earthly abundance with the poor and suffering.

How do you picture God’s kingdom in heaven? How does it compare to your earthly life?

What parts of your earthly life do you value too highly?

Bulletin Insert: 25 Pentecost (C)

Veterans Day

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

Veterans Day 2009 in Okinawa, Japan (Photo by Joshua J. Wahl)

Veterans Day 2009 in Okinawa, Japan
(Photo by Joshua J. Wahl)

Monday, November 11, is Veterans Day, and the Rt. Rev. James Magness, the Episcopal Church’s bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, urges congregations to “remember veterans of all wars in music, readings and prayers.”

Magness suggests inviting veterans to wear their uniforms to church or identifying them with red carnations. For more information and ideas on where and how to support veterans, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.

Veterans Day was first celebrated as “Armistice Day” in 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, at “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in 1918.

President Wilson declared:

 “The reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938,  and in 1954 Congress replaced the word “Armistice” with “Veterans.”

Veterans Day Parade 2011, Baltimore  (Photo by Jay Baker)

Veterans Day Parade 2011, Baltimore
(Photo by Jay Baker)

Prayer for Veterans

Today we remember all of our veterans past and present. We ask for the healing of those who have been wounded in body and soul, wounds both visible and invisible. We pray for those who have returned and those who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, for those who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II and live with injured bodies and traumatized spirits to receive your solace and healing. We ask that those who are unable to pray for themselves will receive the blessings of our prayers offered on their behalf. Bring peace to those places where our women and men have fought. Bless those who served in non-combatant roles. May their service continue in their lives and may that service be positive for all of us.

Give us the vision to see a world in which all grow weary with war and fighting, and turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. These things we ask in the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.

—The Rt. Rev. James Magness, bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 11/10/13
half page, double-sided 11/10/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 11/10/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 11/10/13

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

Bulletin Insert: 24 Pentecost (C)

All Saints' Day

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

Detail from “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24) by Fra Angelico, National Gallery, London. Photo via Wikimedia.

Detail from “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24) by Fra Angelico, National Gallery, London. Photo via Wikimedia.

Although All Saints’ Day is celebrated each year on November 1, since it is one of the seven principal feast days on the church’s lectionary calendar, many Episcopal churches will celebrate All Saints’ Day today, on the first Sunday after November 1.

The exact origins of All Saints’ Day are uncertain, but some trace it back to the festival of All Saints on May 13 in 609, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Holy martyrs were celebrated on May 13 until the eighth century when Pope Gregory III moved the day of commemoration to November 1.

Greek icon of the Second Coming (circa 1700). Image via Wikimedia

Greek icon of the Second Coming (circa 1700). Image via Wikimedia

For the Episcopal Church, with its roots in Anglican tradition, it is important to note that November 1 was also the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of harvest season and marked the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

After the Reformation (1517-1648), the Feast of All Saints was retained on the Anglican liturgical calendar, and in addition to being recommended as one of the four holy days appropriate for baptism, All Saints’ Day began to assume the role of general commemoration of the dead: all Christians, past and present; all saints, known and unknown.

Collect for All Saints’ Day 

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 245).
 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 11/3/13
half page, double-sided 11/3/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 11/3/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 11/3/13

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

Christine Havens

Christine Havens graduated in May 2014 with Master’s of Arts in Religion from the Seminary of the Southwest. She is originally from the Diocese of Iowa, and talking about theology, literature, writing and language in any combination makes her smile. Check out her blog at ripplesinthefont.blogspot.com.

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for Proper 26 (C).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for 2 Advent (A).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for 1 Epiphany (A).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for 7 Epiphany (A).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for 5 Easter (A).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for Proper 15 (A).

Read Christine’s comments on the Revised Lectionary Readings for 3 Lent (B).

Read Christine’s review of Adam Thomas’s “Unusual Gospel for Unusual People” (Abingdon Press, 2014).

Bible Study: 24 Pentecost, Proper 26 (C)

November 3, 2013

Christine Havens, Seminary of the Southwest

“Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:8-9)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

What do we do with the sense of loss with which Habakkuk begins his conversation with God: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” Think of torah – the law – as a cord of words, a guideline, tying the people to YHWH throughout history. In witnessing a lack of righteousness and justice, Habakkuk’s complaint is that the people, and God, have let the cord slacken, resulting in a sense of displacement, for the prophet at least. He petitions the LORD, and then watches for an end to the turmoil through God’s direct and immediate action. God’s responds, however, with a call to action for Habakkuk and for the people: faithfulness. Christians often speak of faith as knowledge one holds, separating it from physical works; but the Hebrew word, emunah, implies a firmness of action (ancient-hebrew.org) toward torah, keeping one connected with that cord of words, with YHWH. God’s response is that God remains with the people, throughout history; the LORD will act, the people must also remain firm in the law.

How do we feel when God’s presence appears to be missing in our individual lives, in that of our community, our history? What is our response? Do we act with faithfulness?

Psalm 119:137-144

Scripture, especially the psalms, is participatory, as is learning and wisdom. Words are not simply lifeless objects on a page; rather, they are everyday reminders and celebrations of God’s word and teaching that encompasses torah. Psalm 119 serves as an excellent example for us. For the psalmist, God’s word must be embodied in one’s life: “Grant me understanding, that I may live” (verse 144).

Try reading these verses aloud in a variety of ways. Begin by reading them aloud to yourself alone, in a quiet, contemplative space. What do the psalmist’s words evoke for you? Discuss this with others.

Read the verses in a small group; each person takes a turn, reading one line each, repeating through the group, until all the lines have been spoken. Discuss the experience. Does this style of reading aloud change your understanding of the psalm? Why? What words stand out?

How do we, as Christians, participate in scripture?

How do Christians understand the psalmist’s words in verse 142: “your law is truth?”

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

As with other Pauline epistles, controversy reigns among scholars as to who is the real author of 2 Thessalonians – was it Paul himself or a disciple? Some commentators even use the word “forgery,” a harsh word. This argument can be extremely distracting. However, if we consider the apocalyptic and eschatological ideas espoused in this epistle, then whether Paul or a disciple wrote the letter can be problematic for some because the author presents us with a christology different from that of other epistles.

Today’s lesson omits verses 5-10, in which the author depicts the Lord Jesus “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vv.7b-8). This is a very different image than that of 1 Thessalonians 9: “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How do you interpret and reconcile the dissimilarities? Is it important to you whether Paul or a disciple wrote this epistle?

Today’s passage opens with a greeting from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the “church of the Thessalonians” (v. 1) and continues with the author(s) giving thanks and praying for the brothers and sisters within the community. The Pauline epistles generally begin this way, so we might often take these lines for granted. We also may dismiss them to some degree because they are written by an apostle, in a pastoral setting. In our postmodern, technological culture, we may also find this opening quaint – we rarely write letters anymore, preferring Facebook, Twitter, email, and texting to communicate.

Is it important that we, as Christians, incorporate prayer and thanksgiving into our daily written communications? How might we be more intentional in participating with scripture in this way?

Luke 19:1-10

One of the themes at the heart of Luke is travel; the gospel depicts the journey motif in multiple ways, primarily through descriptions of Jesus’ and the disciples’ journey toward Jerusalem (Charles Talbert’s “Reading Luke,” Smyth & Helwys, 2013, p. 342). Jesus encounters many along the way; in today’s passage, it is Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. A tax collector in Judea was viewed as a collaborator with the Romans, and so fellow Jews labeled Zacchaeus as “a sinner” (v. 7). Jesus’ interaction with him forms this short part of the narrative.

In their book “Christians Among the Virtues” (University of Notre Dam Press, 1997), Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches contrast the idea of trips versus journeys in terms of the moral life (p. 18). “Trip” carries the connotation of short-term travel, something lightweight and transitory. A “journey,” however, is long-term travel, during which one makes progress toward one’s telos or “goal.” It is a matter of formation rather than transformation. Perhaps Zacchaeus, in running ahead to see Jesus and being willing to overcome the little obstacles in his way, has already traveled far in his formational journey. He is a sinner, but one who is unafraid to encounter Christ anyway.

Narratives themselves, such as the gospels, are journeys, too, inviting us in – narrative hospitality.

How does the story of Zacchaeus invite you into the story of Christ?

How do you interpret Jesus’ words: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is the Son of Abraham” (v. 9)?

Describe your own journey as a Christian.

The way of truth, hope and love, 25 Pentecost, Proper 27 (C) – 2013

November 10, 2013

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21 (or Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 17:1-9); 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17; Luke 20:27-38

As is fairly typical, in today’s gospel story Jesus replies to a conundrum with a conundrum. He’s given a sort of riddle about a woman who marries seven times – and just not seven times, but seven brothers, in succession. Each brother dies, leaving her a widow. After all, marriage vows are only valid while both partners are alive, right? “Until death us do part,” as we used to say, or “until we are parted by death.”

And the Sadducees, who are among Jesus’ critics, want to know: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?”

They don’t believe in the resurrection, you see, and so they are trying to mock him, to show how silly and unworkable an idea eternal life is. They are trying to demonstrate that the things we hold dear in this life, including the bond and covenant of marriage, will make no sense in the next life. And they are trying to depict Jesus as a kind of oddball faith healer and snake handler, whose fundamental claims just don’t make any sense.

And, of course, they are right.

Jesus is very easy to mock. Eternal life is a silly and unworkable idea. And the fundamental claims of Christianity really do not make any sense – especially when compared with the values of the secular world. This was true in Jesus’ time, and it is still very true in our day.

Let’s start with the most striking of the implicit assertions made by the Sadducees: The fundamental claims of Christianity just do not make any sense.

Let’s see – love God and love your neighbor. That’s fundamental, right? But most of our world is obsessed with power, prestige, wealth and control. If we but admit to the existence of God, then we have to acknowledge that the things we have are simply lent to us. We are stewards of our possessions, including our earthly bodies. All that we have is a gift from God, and only of value while we are alive on this earth.

But the culture we live in says this is my home, my money, my whatever. And I can do with it whatever I want.

But when we acknowledge the existence of God, we also acknowledge that we are not in control, not the ultimate judge, not the great power of the universe – or even the family.

But the world says otherwise. Our society is full of people who insist on their own way, on their own individual authority. It happens at the simplest levels of human interaction, and it happens at the highest levels of government and industry.

And those two points – not owning things and not being in ultimate control – they are just the first two steps toward acknowledging that God exists. It’s still a long, long way before one can love God.

And what about loving our neighbor? Our society doesn’t always uphold this, does it?

So, loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself – these two great commandments to those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians: They are not the values of our country, of our society or of our world.

Then there’s the idea of eternal life – a silly and unworkable idea. The Sadducees have shown us that. When we think of eternity like this, we are failing to use our imagination.

The problem is that they – and we – have failed to imagine it as something we will actually like. And yet we are promised ineffable joys, never-failing care, the strength of God’s presence, rejoicing in eternal glory, being received into the arms of mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and being reunited with those who have gone before in the paradise of God.

When you talk about those things, on that kind of scale, then wasting a lot of energy on whether we will live forever, or to whom we may be married, or whatever – well, it seems a whole lot more like another manifestation of that power and control thing, doesn’t it? “I demand to know, and I can afford to pay for the knowledge” or  something like that.

Yet, the fullness of God’s love and truth is not known to any of us – not yet. And that’s exactly why Jesus is so easy to mock.

We don’t know everything. As St. Paul says it, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.” Remember, that in the first century, a mirror was not likely to be one of today’s manufactured, perfectly smooth and clear glasses. Looking into a mirror was like looking into a brook or stream, or into a highly polished rock.

Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but when the end comes, “we will see face to face. Now, I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

The Christian dispensation acknowledges that we do not know, we do not have control, we are not in charge.

So, how is it we have come to believe?

Here’s a story, about two friends. Alice is a priest, and more than a dozen years ago, a seminarian called Bill spent a summer assisting in her parish. It’s a wonderful and special place. The first time he served Communion to Alice, she looked him right in the eye and said, “I believe!”

He was stunned. First of all, he was taught never to look anyone in the eye at Communion. He still isn’t sure why that was, but it used to be a kind of unspoken rule. And second, the Prayer Book clearly states that the appropriate response to “The Body of Christ” is a polite and reverent “Amen,” not an ebullient and loud declaration like “I believe!”

Over the course of the summer, Bill adjusted to Alice’s ways, and became accustomed to hearing “I believe” week after week. And his last week there, Alice invited him to dinner.

It was one of those late-summer evenings that are just perfect for sitting on the porch, rocking. He remembers they had corn on the cob, steaks on the grill, and tonic with their gin.

He mustered up his courage and asked her, “Why, Mother Alice, do you say ‘I believe’ when you receive Communion?”

“I started that a long time ago,” she told him. “It was a time of questioning and doubt for me. I couldn’t be sure there even was a God. And I wanted to know. I wanted to be certain, to be in control. And I figured the only way to get there was to ‘fake it till you make it.’ So one day, I just said, ‘I believe.’ What I really meant was, ‘I’d like to believe,’ or, even better, ‘I think I’m considering believing.’

It was all very tentative. And it was an invitation to God, at least as she intended it. As she explained, it was almost as if she were saying “Show me how to believe,” or “Improve my belief,” or even “Help my unbelief.”

“It was many, many years later,” she continued, “that I realized, O my God, I believe. I really do. Oh, I have questions, sure. And I have doubts from time to time. And a whole lot of this just doesn’t make any sense. But I believe, and that’s all that matters.”

Alice’s witness is a powerful one. It shows us how we can stand up to the powers that be in this society of ours, how we can continue to show another way to the world.

The way of truth, the way of hope, the way of love.

The journey of faith is not a life lived without doubt or questions, the life of a Christian is not one without trial or travail, and the earthly pilgrimage is not about control and power.

It’s about truth, hope, and above all, love.

And all of this begins not with “I insist” or “I own” or “I want” – but with the simple, elegant and hopeful proclamation, “I believe.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. J. Barrington Bates is a priest of the Diocese of Newark. 

Doing faith, 24 Pentecost, Proper 26 (C) – 2013

November 3, 2013

Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

“It is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service.” This phrase in the opening collect today is a major theme in today’s readings.

In the passage from Isaiah we hear God’s angry tirade against what the people think is true and laudable service: incense, offerings and sacrifice. But God is not interested in these things, and despises their context and content. “I cannot endure your solemn assemblies with iniquity.”

So, where does that leave those of us who worship regularly? It leaves us with the mandate to worship and act in faith.

Faith is not a noun as much as it is a verb, a word of action. Faith is about doing things that please God, because of what God has put into our hearts. Faith is about exercising our values, stretching them, strengthening them, and bringing justice to others.

Look what happens when Jesus encounters Zacchaeus, the whimsical tax collector sitting in a tree. There is a dialogue, of which we only have a small piece. It’s pretty obvious that Jesus and Zacchaeus bond. You can see it: The Lord, an itinerant preacher wandering around the town, and the obviously curious and friendly Zachhaeus meet and are mutually attracted by their unique ways of viewing the world.

Zacchaeus doesn’t just hop down from his perch, he leaps into a new way of life. By the time he hosts Jesus at his house, he has come to a new understanding of his latent love for God, and he announces it through his generosity: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Taxpayers were allowed to extort additional fees for their living besides collecting the tax, which is one reason they were despised.

Jesus tells him quite simply, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus has found faith in a man outside the circle of the faithful. He has found a person who is prepared to share first.

A man recently died who had lived modestly in a van in a small town in the Ozarks. He had no close family, but a number of friends came to a memorial service for him held in the garden at a local church. “Al” was not a member of that church, but he often came to their Sunday night suppers during the cold winter months. He was also a regular recipient at the local food bank.

Before the memorial service, the minister invited people to share stories about Al. Many of the stories shared were of acts of kindness: how Al had fixed their tire or replaced a fan belt, how he had seen to it that a person had money to get new glasses, how he had helped another person with transportation, even though his own income was a small Social Security check each month.

By the time the service began, it was obvious to all that Al had been a faithful steward, using his simple gifts to serve others. His many friends rejoiced in his life, his kindness and his response to their needs.

This life, celebrated in a church garden, ended with the blessing of a new plant in Al’s honor. The giver of the plant said she wanted it to grow and remind everyone of Al’s unselfish care for others.

Al and Zacchaeus are two heroes who share their faith by doing for others what God wants them to do. They were not interested in large ceremonies or big public events; they wanted instead to serve others with what they had, and their lives are celebrated because of that.

Often when we see people who are generous and kind, we remark on how strong their faith must be. That is because faith is something given us by God to be used. Its expression is that of a steward doing his or her duty. Its sign is service, and its character is simplicity. We see in these generous lives the joyful and unbounded love for God expressed through service to others. It is what God commands, and it is what God defines as justice.

But what about our lives?

Are we faithful stewards who take what we are given and share it with those less fortunate? Are we people who think that faith is a noun or a verb? Do we see our church communities as gathered for worship and then sent forth to “do” our faith?

These are the values Jesus celebrates. These are the behaviors that God calls for. These are the behaviors that result in true and laudable service.

 

— 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. 

The blessings of the saints, All Saints’ Day (C) – 2013

November 1, 2013

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Since the earliest days of Christendom, the faithful have gathered to give thanks for the life and ministry of the saints – women and men whose witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a blessing in every generation.

The witness of many of these blessed women and men – such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Theresa of Avila or Saint Augustine of Hippo – are well known. Many of their writings have become popular, their deeds inspire us to name hospitals and schools and churches for them, and their service to the Church is taught to the faithful in every generation. Yet, for others – such as Saint Simon or Saint Jude – little is known beyond their names.

But regardless of how much or how little we know about these faithful witnesses, one thing is certain: Their life and ministry has richly blessed the church. And as we gather to celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we are called to give thanks to God for the blessings that the saints have bestowed upon the church, as well as the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.

Of course, by worldly standards, it would appear that the saints didn’t know very much about blessings. Most of them didn’t know the first thing about wealth, and many lived all or part of their lives in poverty. Status and the power that comes with it was a foreign concept, as many of the saints never knew high-paying or revered jobs, choosing instead to work for little or no money at all, serving the poor and the helpless. And far from inspiring fear or subordination, many of the saints were hated and met their untimely death precisely because of the faith they so boldly proclaimed.

But worldly standards weren’t how the saints patterned their lives. They lived by Jesus’ standards. And as the Gospel of Luke tells us, Jesus’ standard for what constituted a blessing is radically different from the standards that the rest of the world is accustomed to:

“Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus says, “for yours is the kingdom of God.”
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.”

Poverty, hunger, mourning, hatred, exclusion, revilement and defamation – these things certainly don’t seem like blessings!

But Jesus is convinced that they are. And most shocking of all, Jesus says that these are the sorts of people to whom the Kingdom of God is entrusted.

Of course, some will raise their hands in objection and say, “We can’t possibly entrust the Kingdom of God to a bunch of poor folks. They don’t know the first thing about business or what it takes to run a kingdom.”

Others may say, “The Kingdom of God is just a fancy term tossed around by theologians. It isn’t possible on Earth. There’s just too much violence and oppression and chaos.”

Or worst of all, some will hear the words of Jesus and say, “See there? Jesus will take care of the poor and the hungry and the sorrowful and the hated in heaven. Who am I to get in the way of God’s will?”

Yet, with piercing clarity, Jesus looks the opponents of the Kingdom of the God in the eye and pronounces a stern warning: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation!”

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry!”
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep!”
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets!”

In other words, woe to you who don’t know what poverty looks like, or what hunger feels like. Woe to you who have never known an occasion for mourning. And woe to you who manage to tell everyone what they want to hear instead of the truth they so desperately need to hear.

And so, we gather here on this Feast of All Saints with words of blessing and words of woe ringing in our ears, amidst beautiful trappings and festive liturgies and memorial celebrations. But let us not lose sight of the fact that today, God is calling us to action – God is calling us to bear witness to the Kingdom of God!

And the Kingdom of God witnessed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel is not some abstract theological term about a time and place the world has never known. In fact, the Kingdom of God can be a place that all of us can come to know.

The Kingdom of God breaks through when we love our enemies. It takes hold when we do good to those who hate us. It comes alive when we bless those who curse us. It shines brightly when we pray for those who abuse or mistreat us. It shows up when we honor the request of beggars.

And when we live our lives by the principle of “do to others as you would have them do to you,” we become citizens of the Kingdom.

Of course, the work of building the Kingdom is not easy. But then again, as Jesus reminds us here in Luke’s gospel, life with God isn’t easy, either. Life with God means that we will know what it is to be poor, hungry, sorrowful and cursed.

Life with God means that we will know what it is to be unpopular – to be discounted and overlooked.

And life with God means that we will know what it is to be hated.

But the Good News is that the Kingdom of God is built – brick by brick, stone by stone – by people such as these: people who know what poverty and hunger and sorrow and being cursed looks like. People who know how it feels to be overlooked and discounted. People who know what being hated feels like.

So today, on this Feast of All Saints, let us begin to live by a different set of standards. Instead of worldly standards, let us begin to live by the standards of the Kingdom.

It starts today. It starts by loving our enemies. It starts by showing kindness to people who don’t deserve it. It grows into the ability to bless those who curse us; to pray for those who mistreat and take advantage of us. It manifests itself in the ability to listen and show honor to those who are forced to beg.

It is lived out, not in the comfort of our homes or our churches or our offices, but among the poor and the hungry and the sorrowful and the hated; because, after all, the Kingdom of God belongs to them.

And when we do that – when we exchange our worldly standards for Kingdom standards – the blessed communion of saints cries out, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”

 

— The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Florence, Kentucky (Diocese of Lexington). He holds a BA in American Studies from Transylvania University and a Master of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

Bulletin Insert: 23 Pentecost (C)

All Hallows' Eve

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

The Service for All Hallows’ Eve is based on the Prayer Book’s Service of Light.  (Photo via Wikimedia)

The Service for All Hallows’ Eve is based on the Prayer Book’s Service of Light.
(Photo via Wikimedia)

October 31, the night before All Saints’ Day, is All Hallows’ Eve, or as it is more commonly known, Halloween. Although All Saints’ Day is one of the major holy days on the church’s liturgical calendar, All Hallows’ Eve is not as widely celebrated in the church as it is in secular culture.

However, for Episcopalians seeking a Halloween liturgy, “The Book of Occasional Services” (Church Pension Fund, 2004) does offer a service for All Hallows’ Eve  (pp. 108-110).

It begins with a rite taken from the Service of Light in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 109), using the Prayer for Light appointed for the Festivals of Saints:

“Lord Christ, your saints have been the lights of the world in every generation: Grant that we who follow in their footsteps may be made worthy to enter with them into that heavenly country where you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer. p. 111).

Suggested scriptural readings for All Hallows’ Eve include: “The Witch of Endor,” 1 Samuel 28:3-25; “The Vision of Eliphaz the Temanite,” Job 4:12-21; “The Valley of Dry Bones,” Ezekiel 37:1-14; and “The War in Heaven,” Revelation 12:(1-6)7-12.

Prayers offered during the service include:

“Almighty and everliving God, you have made all things in your wisdom and established the boundaries of life and death: Grant that we may obey your voice in this world, and in the world to come may enjoy that rest and peace which you have appointed for your people; through Jesus Christ who is Resurrection and Life, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen” (“Book of Occasional Services,” p. 108).

Traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)  sugar skulls from Mexico.  Photo by Tomás Castelazo.

Traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
sugar skulls from Mexico. Photo by Tomás Castelazo.

“O God, you have called your people to your service from age to age. Do not give us over to death, but raise us up to serve you, to praise you, and to glorify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (“Book of Occasional Services,” p. 109).

It is also recommended that “suitable festivities and entertainments may take place before or after this service, and a visit may be made to a cemetery or burial place” (“Book of Occasional Services,” p. 108).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 10/27/13
half page, double-sided 10/27/13

black and white, full page, one-sided 10/27/13
black and white, half page, double-sided 10/27/13

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