Archives for December 2013

Bible Study: 1 Epiphany (A)

January 12, 2014

Christine HavensSeminary of the Southwest

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 42:1-9Psalm 29Acts 10:34-43Matthew 3:13-17

Isaiah 42:1-9

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Arguably, Juliet’s words about Romeo in the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s play are among the most frequently quoted in Western culture. She speaks aloud, unaware that he is below in the garden, listening. Juliet wonders why the man she loves must bear the name of the family with whom her family is in a blood feud; she reflects on the properties of names and their relationship to the things they represent. Not only do Shakespeare’s works exemplify the limitations of names and of language itself, but also our creaturely ability and freedom to play within those limits.

The poetry of Isaiah in today’s reading embodies this also, and serves to help Christians today ask Juliet’s question and then ask more questions: What is in a name? What is in God’s name? What is our relationship with God? What is in a word? What in a word prompts action? What in God’s Word prompts action?

Follow this link to Act II, Scene II of “Romeo and Juliet” and read lines 40-143. Then re-read Isaiah 42:1-9. What words stand out in both? What theological themes come to mind as you read each? Are the ideas of name and covenant connected in each piece? If so, how? Are names important? If so, how? How is this reflected in action, for example, in God’s actions? In the actions of Christians?

Psalm 29

Doxology. I love “logy” words, the “speaking of” words. These words, such as psychology, sociology, biology and even theology, abound in contemporary American language. James Luther Mays, in his commentary on the Psalms, states that “our tendency is to see the world as a complex to be explained and exploited.” We are so conscious of being, conscious of our world that often our “poetic and mythological vision is dimmed” (“Interpretation: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching,” John Knox Press, 1994, p. 138).

The “ologies” attempt to be scientific and objective, and attempt to make ideas manageable. Perhaps these words are among the best examples of our creatureliness. This is why I particularly love “doxology,” which is the “speaking of praise” to God. This makes it the perfect word for Psalm 29; we use a word that is all about “the speaking of praise” to God in order to describe a song that is all about sound and voice; Qowl, the Hebrew word for voice, sound, noise, appears nine times within five of the song’s verses. And yet, this one word, with its quiet, lyrical sound, cannot contain the psalm.

Praise God whose powerful voice cannot be contained in a few words, but whose glory and action in our lives we yet can celebrate with our voices, our words.

Acts 10:34-43

In today’s reading, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47).

Luke’s relating of Peter’s experiences prior to this statement, from his vision of the clean and unclean on the sheet and his encounter with the gentile centurion, Cornelius, in Chapter 10, suggest that perhaps the apostle might be on the path to truly trusting in Jesus and in God, rather than in earthly things. We are all familiar with the Peter of the gospels, who is afraid, lacking trust, who denies not only Jesus’ assertions about what is to come in Jerusalem but also denies even knowing Christ. That Peter appears to have all but disappeared in this story. Though he is “puzzled” by the vision sent by God, he does not hesitate to obey the Spirit’s instructions when the Spirit says to go with Cornelius’ men.

Peter’s growing trust mirrors his growing understanding. His trust in God allows Peter to articulate his belief to those present, which translates itself into the action of baptism and sharing. Then he is able to articulate the same to those in Jerusalem who questioned his actions regarding the gentiles. They, in turn, trust this revelation through Peter, which leads to praise of God and to the forming of a community greater than any of the apostles thought possible.

What implications does trust or lack thereof have for Christian community?

Have there been times in your own life when you heard the Spirit’s words and trusted to act upon them? Have there been times when you have not trusted to act upon the Spirit’s words?

Matthew 3:13-17

Take a moment and read the part of Eucharistic Prayer C (Book of Common Prayer, p. 372), which asks for “deliverance from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” How might this prayer be related to today’s gospel reading?

Jesus approaches John in order to be baptized, yet the gospel’s writer shows John as not recognizing the gift of service that he could provide to his cousin. How do we, as Christians, enact service? How do we enact our relationship with Jesus as God’s Son, “the Beloved”? How do we receive the gifts offered to us through the Spirit, whether they be in the form of friends, family or the offer of fulfilling our needs?

Baptism of Our Lord, 1 Epiphany (A) – 2014

January 12, 2014

Isaiah 42:1-9Psalm 29Acts 10:34-43Matthew 3:13-17

Having a baptism today gives us something to celebrate. Whether the person to be baptized is a child or an adult, a baptism done on this day is more than special, it is triumphant.

In a world that celebrates life achievements mostly for celebrities, the church rejoices at the baptism of a person into the church as well as into their own unique relationship with Jesus, as they are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.

But even if there is no baptism in this congregation today, it’s a good opportunity to renew our Baptismal Covenant, the promises we made, or if we were infants, that others made for us. This is a day to renew our commitment to Christ and each other.

The readings today particularly stress the nature of Jesus’ baptism and our own. The passage from Isaiah gets right to the heart of the matter: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”

Recently a congregation was present for the baptism of a 55-year-old man who had just started coming to church. His first question was “What do I have to do to be baptized?”

On the day of his baptism, with the bishop present, he stood at the small font, a tall, athletic man, and bowed his head as the priest poured water on him and the bishop sealed him with chrism, marking him as Christ’s own forever.

Afterward, he shared how moving the experience had been for him. He told how something had always been missing in his life. He had been a counselor until retirement, and he now realized the wholeness given to him, just as he had often tried to help others find it in their lives.

He is now a servant, volunteering at a food pantry, and on Christmas Day he offered to help cook and serve Christmas dinner for others at a local health clinic. He spent Christmas weekend with his family, but the day itself was marked by his servanthood.

The second reading today is Peter’s dramatic speech about life in the Spirit, and how he now realizes that God shows no partiality. In our baptismal vows, we take that realization seriously as we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” We also promise to respect the dignity of every human being. The reality of refugees and migrants among us brings this issue right to the front of our minds and hearts. We approach all persons, especially the alien, the stranger, as gifts from God to us, and we extend our hospitality to them because “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

In the gospel reading we are shown our Lord’s own humility because, “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Righteousness has to do with the way God intends things to be, and God obviously intends us to submit to one another in service and sacrifice.

Recently, a woman found herself being prodded to do something about the lack of housing for the poor and homeless in her community. Among them were people who were undocumented, people who were out of work, single mothers with children, and several who were simply alone.

She tried to get the attention of her church about their plight. A committee was formed, but nothing happened. Then she decided to take matters into her own hands and began meeting with the people themselves. They organized a housing co-operative and before long they found a small vacant motel they could buy. Having no funds, they began to search for resources, and through a process of diligent work and generosity, put together a financial package to buy the motel. They found a man willing to be their residential manager, and now on cold winter nights and in the heat of summer several dozen people have housing. Her church has now become an integral part of the enterprise as well.

This is what baptism can lead to: a strong sense of servanthood, and mission that fulfills what it means to be righteous. While the baptism of a child is precious, an event that leaves us all smiling and joyful, we cannot know what God has in mind for this person if they are nurtured in the love of the Lord. Often we don’t get to see “the rest of the story”; but if we, did we would be amazed. There are countless stories of people who go on to a servant’s vocation, backed by their vows of baptism and their bond to Christ and his church.

Take a moment now and reflect on where your baptismal journey has brought you.

What have you done as a result of your life in Christ? How has Jesus led you to use your talents and gifts for righteous actions? What has been joyful for you on this journey?

Then look around at your sisters and brothers, and give thanks that together you can celebrate your life in Christ and look forward to further adventures.

 

— Ben Helmer is a priest in the Diocese of Arkansas. He lives with his wife in Holiday Island and is currently vicar of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Eureka Springs.

Were the Magi real?, Epiphany (A,B,C) – 2014

January 6, 2014

Isaiah 60:1-6Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14Ephesians 3:1-12Matthew 2:1-12

Were the Magi real? Did they actually make their way from a distant land in the East some 2,000 years ago, following a mysterious star all the way to Bethlehem? And did they really bring the Child Jesus those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?

Good questions.

Every year around this time of course, astronomers, both amateur and professional, offer some innovative scientific – skeptics might say “pseudo-scientific” – explanation for the appearance of the star. An unusual conjunction of planets, they most often explain. And reputable historians will be happy to tell you that soothsayers and traveling shamans were undoubtedly a colorful and important element of the ancient world. Then as now, people wanted to understand the deeper meanings of life.

So it all could have been just as related to us in the Gospel of Matthew. The gifts of precious metal and aromatic resins are perhaps a bit more problematical – not exactly what you might think to get a little boy for his birthday these days. Evidence perhaps – as some commentators and parents puckishly suggest – that the wise men did not have children of their own.

Still, whether the Magi and their star and gifts were real or not remains anybody’s guess. Many reputable Scripture scholars, in fact, question their actual existence. They remind us that much in Scripture was never intended to be taken literally. The stories of Jesus’ birth, they go on to say – the so-called Infancy Narratives – are simply parts of an ancient midrashic, or interpretive, genre of biblical narrative, not intended as strictly factual accounts.

So, were the Magi real?

Hard to say. Maybe – just maybe – we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

What does it mean to be “real” anyway? Perhaps the Magi are as real as real gets. After all, when you stop to think about it, there are a lot of people in our contemporary world who could stand to get real. We meet them at work and at the mall, sometimes even in our own families. And most of us, if we look at our own lives, would have to admit that they are filled with the unreal and with our own fair share of improbabilities – events and happenstances that we could hardly have predicted before their occurrence. Yet, here we are – in the flesh, with our all-too-real contradictions and accumulated paradoxes.

So, perhaps a small troop of mystics or sages arriving from the East – note, by the way, that Matthew does not mention the number three – are not so odd or implausible as we might at first think. The Magi were, to be sure, outsiders in most every sense of the word – gentiles after all, surely as incongruous and out-of-place as anything or anyone could be in the heartland of the ancient Jewish world. And most likely, if we read between the lines, they were clairvoyants and prestidigitators of sorts – practitioners of the occult arts, if you will – and filthy rich. How else explain those gifts, costly in any age? For all we know, the Magi may well have been the David Copperfields of their day.

Yet for all that, their agenda was deceptively simple and straightforward: to find the King of the Jews, to worship him and to bring him their gifts. And it is this simple agenda that leads them from their own far-off land to King Herod and beyond on an unlikely journey of discovery and epiphany.

What could be more real than that?

Epiphany remains for us in our own age an astonishing sign or manifestation of the hardly believable yet very much real – God’s wisdom masquerading as human weakness and folly. For as we readily see, God’s eternal wisdom is found not at King Herod’s magnificent court, but rather in the humble village home of a small and vulnerable child and his parents. Perhaps it does take show-business-like conjurers – themselves no doubt masters of surprise and the unexpected – to recognize the real in the impossible.

There is, of course, always a fine line between the real and the impossible. All too often it is indeed the impossible that inevitably comes to pass: An obscure South American cardinal with a heart for the poor is elected pope; a former rising oil executive known for the gift of reconciliation is appointed archbishop; and a humble man at long last unites the peoples of his native land after decades of Apartheid and rigid racial segregation.

There are wise men – and women – among us still.

But if there is a fine line between the real and the impossible, there is sometimes an even finer distinction to be drawn between true wisdom and our own self-deceptions and doubts. We must admire the perspicacity and persistence of the Magi making their way methodically and sure-footedly across wilderness and desert, seeking an out-of-the-question reality they were certain had come to pass. Few of us are so sure of ourselves and our paths. Too many among us never even dare leave home.

But the Magi, their task accomplished, return home from their journey “by another road” as the gospel tells us, and have not been heard from since. For all we know, they may still be on their way. For all we know, they may be journeying among us here and now in our congregations and communities, bequeathing to us from time to time their precious gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding – gifts that remain as rare today as gold, frankincense and myrrh in any age.

Perhaps that is why the church has given us this special festival day of Epiphany, to celebrate the wondrous and amazing things in our own lives. And to give us courage to follow, in our day, the star of the Magi as it leads us – just as it did them – to Bethlehem and the Child Jesus.

If the Magi are not real, who is?

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page at www.anglicanbudapest.com. Isten hozott!

Welcoming the Light, 2 Christmas (A,B,C) – 2014

January 5, 2014

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84 or 84:1-8; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23 

We find ourselves in the gospel landscape of Matthew. It is a story of angelic messages delivered in dreams. It is a story without shepherds, without a manger, with no mention of other animals. It is a story that features some strangers, undocumented aliens from Persia or thereabouts – “Magi,” whatever such a word might conjure in our imaginations: astronomers, magicians, inquirers, maybe even the first-century equivalent of scientists! They come following and seeking the Light, the Word, the logos and, they say, “the Christ.”

It is a story of a gathering darkness and danger, featuring the irritability and selfishness of all human tyrants in the person of Herod. For Israel, Herod and his family represent the failures of the last attempt to convert gentiles into the world of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is easy to understand that the Jewish people from the time of Herod forward cease all attempts at proselytizing and conversion!

Those familiar with the biblical narrative will see in Herod all the negative attributes of that earlier tyrant, Pharaoh, and the tell-tale signs of all future tyrants with names like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Amin, Hussein, Mugabe – the list is sadly endless. They will also see the child, Jesus, connected to three formative events in the history of Israel: born in Bethlehem, home to the shepherd King David; time in Egypt, the place from which the Exodus/Passover event occurred; and a reference to the Babylonian Exile.

The last, alas, obscured by the lectionary’s curious editorial choice to omit verses 16-18, which reads:

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;  she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’”

To edit out these verses renders the story meaningless. Rachel, of course, was one of Jacob’s wives, believed to be buried in Bethlehem; and Ramah was the place of mourning for the Exile. It seems the lectionary is a bit squeamish about presenting the genocidal slaughter of so many innocent children in the Christmas season.

Lest we draw any wrong conclusions, Matthew offers a subtle distinction easily overlooked by the casual reader. Instead of suggesting that God in any way caused this unmitigated evil to occur, Matthew has changed his usual language to introduce Old Testament prophecy, “this was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet” to the words “then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet.” A subtle change, but a change nonetheless.

As Thomas Long observes in his commentary “Matthew,”  this change suggests that “the message is not that God summons evil to accomplish divine purposes, but that the scripture knows the tragic human destruction written into the fabric of history, and that not even evil in its most catastrophic form, evil as cold and merciless as the murder of innocent children, can destroy God’s ability to save.”

Rather than look for a silver lining, we are to join with Rachel, who represents all mothers everywhere who lose their children to such senseless tyranny, and weep over this tragic loss of life, and that the Son of God, the Light and Life of the world, is sent into exile. The terrible rage of Herod proves his helplessness, and the helplessness of all tyrants like Herod past, present and future. The child survives, returns, and lives on to this day!

We also learn something about the strategy of the Light in its unending battle to transform all darkness into Light. The Light cannot be destroyed, but it can be forced to withdraw; it can be hidden; worse still, it can be shut out. Surrounded as we are by great and little Herods in our day, it is easy to overlook that we must also contend with the Herod who resides in our own souls. We are all too capable of shutting out the Light that lives inside of us, and refuse to see the Light that lives inside others – all others. So often the Light remains hidden, and we are too busy to stop, look and listen for its presence in our midst.

The growing number of Episcopalians who experience and practice Centering Prayer are beginning to learn about the barriers we construct that shut us off from the God within, from others, and from our true selves. Together we sit in silence to let go of the busy-ness of our lives and the barriers we believe necessary to carry on such busy-ness, and listen quietly for the presence of the Light, the Word – the Word that becomes flesh to dwell among us.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes it in the words, “Christ lives in me.” The German theologian Meister Eckhardt called it “the birth of the Son in the castle of our soul.” The Quakers call it “the Light Within.” All of them agree that this light appears by grace. The human soul, as it were, is its mother; the father is the eternal Spirit.

At Christmas we are to celebrate this coming of the Light, this virgin birth of Christ within each one of us. The Christ we promise in our baptism to seek and serve in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

The Holy Innocents, the victims of Herod’s holocaust, died for the Light, the Christ, though they did not know it. Their parents, like Rachel, mourned the death of these first martyrs of our faith.

This Second Sunday of Christmas means to ask us, Will we allow the birth of this Son in the castle of our souls? Will we let down a draw bridge across whatever moats we construct to keep Him at some distance from us? Can we join with those Holy Innocents in whatever way possible to bear witness against the Herods of our own time and place? How might we console Rachel to know that her children and all innocent victims of tyranny in fact live on in, with and through Christ throughout all generations?

In our reading from Ephesians today, Paul prays that the “eyes of your heart” be enlightened so that you may “know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

May Paul’s prayer and the lives of all those innocent children come alive in us this day.

 

— 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.

The name of Jesus on our lips, Holy Name (A,B,C) – 2014

January 1, 2014

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

If we start with Christmas Day, December 25, and count eight days, we come to today, January 1. It is on the eighth day of Christmas that the church celebrates the Holy Name of Jesus.

We celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus on this eighth day of Christmas because it was on the eighth day that Jesus was circumcised and received this name. This story is told in a single verse of the gospel we just heard.

The shepherds, summoned by an angel, have visited the baby in the manger. They return home, praising God for what has happened. Then comes the focus of today’s celebration. “After eight days had passed,” we hear from the gospel, “it was time to circumcise the child; and he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

“It was time to circumcise the child.” Following the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph have their child circumcised on the eighth day. Thus he becomes a participant in the covenant, a son of Israel.

Circumcision brings with it the shedding of blood. What happens to Jesus on his eighth day is the the first small step in the shedding of his blood for the redemption of the world.

His blood will be shed abundantly when his life draws to it close.

• In the Garden of Gethsemane he will pray so urgently that his sweat will resemble clots of blood falling to the ground.
• Blood will drip when he is scourged with whips by Roman soldiers, and when they press a crown of thorn branches deep into his head.
• Blood will drip as he carries his cross on the long walk to Calvary, and when spikes are driven through his feet and hands.
• And blood will drip even after he is dead, when the sharp point of a Roman lance cuts into his heart.

The blood shed at his circumcision is only a small beginning, the promise of what awaits him.

But something more than circumcision happens to Jesus on his eighth day. He receives his name. Among the Jews, circumcision is when a boy is named.

The name Jesus receives is heavy with significance. It is the same as that of Joshua, the Old Testament hero who leads Israel into the land of freedom. The name means literally “The Lord is salvation.” This is the name that Gabriel, at the Annunciation, tells Mary to name her child. It is the name that Joseph is told to name the child by an angel who appears to him in a dream.

And so it is not a name thought up by the baby’s parents. It is a name that comes from God. The name of the Savior, the salvation he brings, and he himself all come from God.

We would miss the significance of the name of Jesus if we took that name as only a label, a way to distinguish one person from the next. The name of Jesus points us to who he is, who he is for us: the Savior, the one who delivers us, rescues us; leads us, as did the Old Testament Joshua, into a land of freedom, a different way of life.

The name of Jesus is, as today’s collect states, “the sign of our salvation.” Given to us by God, this name is a verbal sacrament, something spoken that conveys to us the grace of God. When this name is used by us with faith and reverence, it is for us a prayer. Indeed, of all prayers it is the best. No other prayer is so simple. None is so great.

Do you want to pray, my friends? Not only with your lips, but from your heart? Then use this holy name. Whatever your condition, whatever your circumstances, this holy name can be your prayer.

Say the name of Jesus with faith and reverence many times each day. Let this prayer, this name, rise and fall with the rhythm of your breath. JESUS! JESUS!

Let the name of Jesus become for you a holy habit, a second nature. You will never wear out this word. You will find in this great name enough sweetness and consolation, enough courage and joy to last you a lifetime, whatever may come upon you. The saints of the church from many centuries and many countries bear witness to the power and renewal they have found in making the name of Jesus their frequent, oft-repeated prayer.

There is a story about the power in this prayer, a story recounted by a member of the Dominican Order, Paul O’Sullivan.

The year is 1432. The place is Lisbon, Portugal. A terrible plague has broken out. All who are able to do so, flee from the city, and thus they carry the plague to every corner of the country. Thousands of men, women and children are swept away by the cruel disease. People die from it everywhere – at table, in the streets, in their houses, in shops, in marketplaces, in the churches. From one person to the next it spreads, or from a coat, hat or any garment used by the plague-stricken. So many people die from the disease that bodies lie unburied in the streets of the city.

Among those left helping the sick is a bishop named Andre Dias. He sees that the plague grows worse each day, so he urges the people, both those dying and those not yet afflicted, to repeat the Holy Name of Jesus. “Write it on cards,” he said, “and keep these cards on your persons; place them at night under your pillows; put them on your doors; but above all, constantly invoke with your lips and in your hearts this most powerful Name.”

Bishop Dias goes about as an angel of peace, filling the sick and dying with courage and confidence. The poor sufferers feel within them a new life. Calling on Jesus, they wear the cards on their persons and carry them in their pockets.

Before long, the sick begin to improve, those near death rise from their beds, the plague ceases, and the city is delivered from the worst suffering ever to inflict it.

The news spreads across the entire country. Soon everyone is praying the Holy Name of Jesus. In a very short time, all Portugal is free from the dread disease. Grateful for what has happened, the people continue to love and trust the Holy Name, to call on and honor the Name of their Savior.

What happened in Lisbon was not magic or superstition. It was what all prayer is: not an attempt to change God’s mind, but an opening of ourselves to God’s purpose. The people of Lisbon prayed fervently the name of Jesus, opened themselves to divine mercy to a remarkable degree. They became different. Their world became different.

We can become different, our world can become different, through an increasing reliance on the Holy Name, a fervent praying of the Holy Name. What are the plagues that beset us as individuals, families and as a society? Do these afflictions make us indifferent, apathetic, cynical? Or do they drive us to prayer and to action that reflects our prayer?

A new year lies before us. We do not know what it contains. But we can pray with fervor the Holy Name of Jesus.

• Perhaps some of us will die during the new year. We can leave this life at peace with God, with the name of Jesus on our lips.
• Some of us may face great trials. We can meet them confidently, with the name of Jesus on our lips.
• Some of us may experience wonderful joys, new opportunities, unique blessings. We can express our gratitude, with the name of Jesus on our lips.

A new year lies before us. May it be for each of us a year when we pray our Savior’s Name with faith and fervor, a year when we discover that this world can be a very different place through the power of the Holy Name.

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of ”A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2003).

 

Bulletin Insert: 1 Epiphany (A)

Special Offering for Holy Trinity Cathedral, Haiti

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From the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori:

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

As Haiti prepares to mark the fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake in 2010, I urge all Episcopalians to pray and give in solidarity with our largest and fastest-growing diocese. I ask for your generosity in a special offering on Sunday, January 12, 2014 to aid the Diocese of Haiti in rebuilding Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.

Illustration of newly designed Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince  (Image courtesy of Kerns Group Architects)

Illustration of newly designed Holy Trinity Cathedral,
Port-au-Prince (Image courtesy of Kerns Group Architects)

The Episcopal Church in Haiti for more than 150 years has taught, healed, and cared for Haitian people in body, mind, and spirit. Today the diocesan ministry includes more than 170 congregations and 250 schools, a dozen clinics and two hospitals, serving thousands of people across the nation every day. Yet the spiritual heart of the church’s ministry centers on Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.

The cathedral building destroyed in the 2010 earthquake housed religious art that was a national treasure. The music school at the cathedral hosts the only philharmonic orchestra in the nation, as well as internationally noted choirs. The Haitian people give glory to God through many art forms, music, dance, and liturgy, which the cathedral continues to bless and celebrate. Rebuilding the cathedral offers hope not only to Episcopalians but to the nation as a whole – a sign that God is present, that God continues to create out of dust, and that God abides in the spirit of his people.

A Holiness Church bishop and missionary in Haiti speaks of the spiritual role this cathedral plays in the lives of all Haitians:

“As one who actually lives and ministers here in Haiti amongst the Haitian people, I can assure you that the Episcopal Church of Haiti is working closely with the people through education, medical missions, community development, and church ministry. Unfortunately some fail to understand that by having a central focal point where all can unite, pray, praise, and glorify God together is an important part of our culture here. Knowing that people outside of Haiti love us enough to make a sacrifice of this magnitude so that this part of our lives can be touched as well gives hope and encouragement beyond the daily provision of the things we need. Please don’t feel that it is sinful to give something special to the poor. We know that we are poor and needy, we don’t need to be reminded – we see it every day. What we do need is to know that we are loved above and beyond pity, and that we have something that we can be proud of that represents our faith in our God who loves us so much that He would inspire someone to do such a wonderful thing in His name and on our behalf in our midst!”

— Allan Chabot-Stahls, Bishop, Independent Holiness Church of Canada

I ask that you share your blessings with the Haitian people on January 12, and offer your gift in the spirit of the Diocese of Cuba immediately following the earthquake: “We give not out of our abundance, but out of our poverty.” All we are and have is a gift, and it is in knowing our poverty that we become rich in spirit.

May God bless and strengthen our bonds, one to another, in the Body of Christ

I remain

Your servant in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Gifts to The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society may be sent to the Development Office, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and annotated for Holy Trinity Cathedral. 

For more information about the work of the Episcopal Church in Haiti, contact Elizabeth Lowell at the Development Office of the Episcopal Church: (212) 716-6041; elowell@episcopalchurch.org.

 

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

Bulletin Insert: 2 Christmas (A)

Episcopal Migration Ministries

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Still image from EMM video,  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

Image from EMM video, www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

On January 6, the church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas Day, and the end of the season of Christmas. Epiphany not only recognizes the manifestation of Christ as the Son of God, it also recalls the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the tyranny of King Herod, who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees in a foreign land.

Today, the Holy Family’s experience is mirrored in the plight of more than 15 million refugees who live in uncertainty and exile after fleeing their home countries to escape violence and persecution. The Episcopal Church responds to this crisis through the work and witness of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), offering welcome, hospitality and hope to newly arriving refugees.

Since the days leading up to World War II, the Episcopal Church has extended welcome to refugees from many nations, ethnicities and creeds – from Vietnamese “boat people” to the Sudanese “Lost Boys.”

Still image from EMM video,  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

Image from EMM video, www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

The 30 local EMM affiliate offices that serve these newcomers partner with churches, who not only donate material goods, but most crucially, offer compassion and friendship to newly arriving refugees. It’s the friendship that churches provide that helps refugee integrate into their new communities and ensures they do not feel isolated, but rather, welcomed and valued as new neighbors.

“Refugee families bring tremendous gifts to contribute to our communities,” said Allison Duvall, Episcopal Migration Ministries’ program manager for Church Relations and Co-Sponsorship. “They have such hope and optimism. They strengthen the fabric of our communities as they become homeowners, entrepreneurs, job creators, fellow co-workers and new Americans. Their resilience, perseverance and energy enriches our cities, towns and the lives of those in our churches who are blessed to meet and welcome them.”

To find an EMM affiliate office near you, visit www.episcopalmigrationministries.org, or learn how your church can join EMM’s work by contacting Allison Duvall: (212) 716-6027; aduvall@episcopalchurch.org.

Episcopal Migration Ministries Prayer

O God our strength, our protector, and our home,

In this season of Epiphany, we remember that the Holy Family became refugees in a foreign land.

We know that today You are made known to us in Your children: migrants, refugees, and immigrants, who journey in search of safety, security, and opportunity for themselves and their children.

Strengthen them, we pray, for their journeys:

Give them courage and hope in the face of fear and doubt,

Give them comfort and healing in the face of pain and loss,

Shelter them, protect them, and uphold them as they seek new life.

And grant that we may grow in compassion, nurturing communities of welcome for all of our neighbors; that we may seek and serve You in the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee; and that we may strengthen our commitment to caring for Your creation and loving Your people. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Image from EMM video, www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

Image from EMM video, www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View videos at www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-migration-ministries.
 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 1/5/14
half page, double-sided 1/5/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 1/5/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 1/5/14

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

Bulletin Insert: 1 Christmas (A)

The Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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“Circumcision of Christ” from the menologion of Basil II, 11th century

“Circumcision of Christ” from the menologion of Basil II, 11th century

On the church’s liturgical calendar, New Year’s Day, January 1, is also the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also sometimes called the Feast of the Circumcision, since it is observed on the eighth day or “octave” of Jesus’ birth, when, in Jewish tradition, infant boys are circumcised and named, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3).

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

The name “Jesus” comes from Joshua or Yehoshuah, the Hebrew word for “savior” or “deliverer.” Devotion to the Holy Name can be traced back to Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which says God highly exalted Jesus “and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).

The observance of the Circumcision on the first day of January was originally designated as a fast day in A.D. 567, to counter pagan festivals that occurred at the beginning of each new year. Eventually it evolved into a feast day, celebrating the naming of Jesus and his circumcision; in Jewish tradition circumcisions are often a festive occasions, when family and friends gather to witness the naming of the child.

Collect for the Holy Name

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 213).

Hymn 435  (The Hymal 1982)

At the Name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
‘tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word. …

Name him, Christians, name him,
with love strong as death,
name with awe and wonder
and with bated breath;
he is God the Saviour,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshiped,
trusted, and adored.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 12/29/13
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black and white, full page, one-sided 12/29/13
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Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

Rod Clark

The Rev. William Roderick (Rod) Clark is a deacon in the Diocese of West Texas and a senior in the Master’s of Divinity program at Seminary of the Southwest. He is from the Gulf Coast of Texas, and is married with a 2-year-old daughter. He and his wife are expecting the birth of their first son at the end of January 2014.

Read Rod’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 2 Christmas (A).

Bible Study: 2 Christmas (A)

January 5, 2014

Rod Clark, Seminary of the Southwest

“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Jeremiah 31:7-14 

The Old Testament reading for today is another in a series of promises that God delivers through his prophet, to the scattered people of Israel. Jeremiah has to be pleased with today’s selected reading. After all, he finally gets to relent from lamenting.

Jeremiah’s prophecy of hope for Israel stands in stark contrast to most of his other writings. He even lamented having to lament (20: 7-9).

So, Chapter 31 takes on special significance because it is a fulfilling of long desires on two levels. First, it is a promise that the people of Israel will be released from captivity and exile. Their journey home will be one without obstacles or want for comfort. Jeremiah tells them that God “will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble” (31:9). And they are promised to have cause for celebration and dance (31:13).

On another level, it fulfills Jeremiah’s desire, not only for Israel’s release from captivity, but the promise also of Israel’s repentance. And of course, there is Jeremiah’s desire to relent from lamenting. He finally gets to bring good news.

Have you experienced a time when you have had hopes and promises fulfilled? How might that fulfillment have been working in more ways than one?

Psalm 84

This psalm is a song of longing to be in the Holy City. The Temple is the spiritual home of all Israelites, and this psalm sings praises to it.

Psalm 84 is also a pilgrim song. It begins with words of longing to be in the House of the Lord. Throughout the text there are motifs of pilgrimage: a sparrow finding a home, highways to Zion within the hearts of the faithful, a specific reference to traveling through the valley of Baca. The theme of pilgrimage also reveals the double-entendre of verse 11. For “those who walk uprightly” can be both pilgrims going up to the Temple, as well as those who follow the Torah and lead a faithful and moral life.

Making pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem was not supposed to be a singular event in the life of faith. In fact, making sacrifice at the Temple was an important aspect of Jewish life. Where do you see pilgrimage in your daily/ordinary life?

How might you incorporate pilgrimage into your spiritual disciplines?

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a 

Unlike some of the other letters attributed to Paul, it is not clear whether the letter to the Ephesians focuses in on a single community or was circulated among several communities. Instead of resolving differences or writing to specific issues, the letter to the Ephesians is general in its exhortation and teaching.

The major theme of the letter is the unity between Jews and gentiles within the church. And this unity is part of God’s vision for salvation. In His Kingdom, we are all heirs.

Today’s reading reminds us of this truth with words of adoption and inheritance. The unifying aspect of this kinship to the Father comes through Christ, and it was part of his purpose in creation. We were chosen before the formation of the world. Before there was free or slave, Greek or Jew, male or female, we were all one in Christ.

Soteriology (the study of salvation) comes in many flavors. One of which is “Universal Salvation.” In this form of soteriology, God saves all people, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Atheist or Buddhist. Some of the readings from the lectionary seem to support such a view of salvation. Yet there are other passages of scripture that seem to refute such a view. “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) is one such passage. How can we hold the tension between texts of such variance?

How do you hope God’s salvation works?

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The gospel reading from Matthew continues our themes of unity, salvation and pilgrimage.

It seems that Jesus’ very being is already redemptive for those who were considered “outside.” His safety is assured by returning to the land in which the people of Israel were once enslaved. As a baby he made no conscious choice to go to Egypt, but God’s plan for salvation includes all of us – the Holy Family is already caught up in this redemptive movement of the Spirit.

Likewise, the departure of the wise men in today’s reading further develops the idea of unity in Christ. The wise men were not Jewish kings, they were gentiles. So, their visitation is significant, not only as a marker of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s reign, but it gives new meaning to “God’s chosen people.” So, the prophet’s words and God’s plan come to fruition in a chain of events.

We can also see how pilgrimage continues to be a part of God’s plan. Joseph, Mary and the Christ child have not been at home since the Incarnation project began. The family is forced to go on a long journey and is taken to a foreign country for safety. And just when things are looking as if they might settle down and the family can come home, Joseph has another dream. We know how the rest of the story goes, and it seems that Jesus’ ministry will mimic the nomadic reality of his childhood years: on the move, working out God’s plan of salvation for us all.

We often read about how Christ and his actions fulfilled scriptures or words spoken by the prophets. But how does Christ continue to fulfill the promise of salvation, resurrection and justice today? What other points of contact do you see between today’s gospel reading and the other selections from today’s lectionary? How are those points of contact significant to you in your current circumstance?