Archives for January 2014

Bulletin Insert: 5 Epiphany (A)

The Feast of Absalom Jones

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Portrait of Absalom Jones by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

Portrait of Absalom Jones by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

On February 13, the church celebrates the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.

Jones was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746. While still a slave, he married Mary King, who was also a slave, in 1770. He worked for eight years to buy his wife’s freedom so that their children would be free, and seven years later, he was able to purchase his own freedom.

Jones became an active member of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, serving as lay preacher for the black members of the congregation. A gifted orator, Jones increased black membership in the church at such a rapid rate that white parishioners began trying to segregate the congregation; black parishioners were told by church officials that they would have to sit in the balcony. After a Sunday service in November 1786, when ushers tried to force all black parishioners, including Jones, to the balcony, Jones and his followers left St. George’s.

St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, 1829.  Founded in 1794, St. Thomas’ remains an active parish today.

St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, 1829. Founded in 1794, St. Thomas’ remains an active parish today.

Jones and Richard Allen, who had been a fellow member of St. George’s, founded the Free African Society in 1787, a nondenominational mutual aid society designed to assist freed slaves. By 1791, the African Society had evolved into the African Church, which was received into the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1794. The diocese renamed the church St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, and it became the first black Episcopal parish in the United States. In 1804 Jones became the first ordained priest of African descent in the Episcopal Church.

Jones died at his home in Philadelphia in 1818, and first appeared on the Episcopal calendar of saints in the Book of Common Prayer in 1979.

Collect for Absalom Jones

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 221).

 

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Dale T. Grandfield

Dale T. Grandfield, a postulant from the Diocese of Bethlehem, is in his first year of studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. He lives with his partner of 8 years, Brad.

Read Dale’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 6 Epiphany (A).

Read Dale’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 4 Lent (A).

Read Dale’s review of Frederica Harris Thompsett’s “Encouraging Conversation: Resources for Talking about Same-Sex Blessings.”  (Morehouse, 2013).

Bible Study: 6 Epiphany (A)

February 16, 2014

Dale T. Grandfield, General Theological Seminary

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Here we are toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses is delivering his third and final discourse on the plain before handing over the reins to his successor Joshua so that the Israelites may enter the Promised Land. These are Moses’ final instructions to the people he has guided and instructed through the wilderness for 40 years. He’s 120 years old! Yet by God’s command, he has to stay back while the people make way into their longed-for destination. Off to Mount Nebo he will soon to go. And onward the Israelites will march to cleanse and settle the land under the command of Joshua. They are on the verge of seeing the promises God made to Abraham so long ago come to fruition: a people who have a special relationship with God who have a homeland in which to live.

It would be easy to think that after all those years in the wilderness the job of forming the Israelites should be finished. Maybe from there it would be simple: Enter the Promised Land, see the Covenant blossom, eat that milk and honey and relax. Easy Street.

But that’s not what Moses explains. While the Wilderness was certainly a place of formation – of God and the people becoming acquainted – the Promised Land is the place to live out what God intends for Israel. That leaves the people in the precarious state of a choosing. Will they love God or will they abandon God, flaunt allegiances and worship like other people? In loving God will they follow God’s commands?

When have you stood at a place of passage and had to choose between God and gods?

Have you ever thought that living in the Promised Land – the Kingdom of God – might require more than just kicking back and relaxing?

How can the life of the baptized sometimes require the leaving behind of something beloved in order to grow more fully into the stature of Christ?

Do we, the church, sometime neglect our duty to continue forming people after they are baptized?

Psalm 119:1-8

Happy. That’s an interesting little word to begin a psalm with. That little word begins the first of 176 verses of the longest psalm – Psalm 119.

Of course, we break this longest psalm up into digestible eight-verse sections based on the poetic use of the same first letter of the alphabet for each word of each verse in each eight-verse stanza. But it is really one psalm, with one story to tell.

So while today’s stanza is the first, because each verse begins its first word with the first letter of the alphabet, aleph, if we read from the beginning to the end of Psalm 119, we would find a few recurring words of greater importance: statute, commandment, judgment and decree.

Nevertheless, with ‘ashrei – “happy” – we start this psalm with two verses of increasing intensity regarding the perfect. Those people are indeed happy, their way is blameless, they walk in the Law of the Lord, they observe God’s decrees and seek God with all their hearts. But what are those commandments, decrees, statues and judgments? At first it might be easy, reading Psalm 119, to think that the focus is entirely on the law and its keeping. Yet what is more important still is seeking, is opening the intimate conversation in which God can help and teach.

How can we become more interested in what God wants for us than what we want for ourselves? How can we know what God wants?

What does it mean to allow the space to continue to learn what God wants for our lives?

When have you found that living into God’s will for you makes you happy? Have you found that to be where God’s will and yours intersect? Is this what it means to be called?

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The Corinthians were apparently very contentious. They liked to fight among themselves about matters of faith and practice, and they apparently tended to divide on issues according to factions who sided with the teachings of this or that apostle. But the real issue for these Corinthians was not matters of faith or practice but maturity in Christ. They had become so caught-up in the differences and details that they missed the bigger picture – the one that showed them to be one Body in Christ.

Paul tells the Corinthians that the Christian life is like any human life – it must be born and nurtured from infancy to adulthood. The real work of care and support begins once a person is Christian, not before. That’s why the truths of the Faith must be given in easily digestible form to the neonates, while to those more progressed and mature deeper things can be revealed.

That’s where the Corinthians got jealous. It would be like asking: “Why has that baby begun to crawl at 6 months, and this one still can’t sit up?” Or “Why can that child read at 2 years and this one still can’t form sentences?” Maybe it’s what the parents have been feeding them – or maybe it’s all that Baby Mozart? Growth and development are tedious and tenuous. That’s what Paul says to the Corinthians. But a baby can’t walk before she crawls. And she can’t crawl before she sits up. And so is the Christian life.

Perhaps for show, perhaps for jealousy’s sake, the Corinthians had gotten ahead of themselves. Then, in his note to them, Paul tells them: You’ve missed the first two most important things. First, you are God’s, and God will fashion you in God’s time. Second, you are all God’s, and that means that you are equal to each other.

To quote a few verses ahead, “All [human leaders] belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (vv. 22-23).

What can you do to stay grounded in being God’s beloved child? And how can you open your eyes to see how your sisters and brothers in Christ are God’s children, too?

What types of distinctions and divisions do you find easy to dismiss? Which ones might be more convenient or comfortable for you?

Have you ever found yourself falling into the stance of being right?

Matthew 5:21-37

Here we are in the tough spot of the Sermon on the Mount. Everyone likes the beginning, the Beatitudes: “You are the Salt” and “You are the Light.” But this part, beginning with Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets” (v. 17) and following through Chapter 5 with the “You-have-heard-it-said”s is much less congenial. Murder. Adultery. Swearing of Oaths. Restitution. Giving Alms. Love for enemies. Jesus hits all of the tough topics of ethics in the Kingdom of God.

And not only does he uphold the law and prophets, but he ups the ante. Matthew’s Jesus takes very seriously that “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7) and that “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for all the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). That vision of the Kingdom is only possible if the law is not only kept, but the very heart of things is transformed.

So, for Matthew’s Jesus, being angry with, insulting or disparaging another person is tantamount to killing them. Looking longingly, lustfully at another’s spouse or casting-off one’s own spouse for insignificant reasons is the same as adultery. Shirking responsibility by word-smithing and swearing grandiose oaths on ethereal collateral is downright evil. Jesus followers should offer more than quid pro quo when their adversaries demand restitution. Jesus followers should give to everyone who begs, and loan money to anyone who wants to borrow. And Jesus followers don’t just love those they like, they love and pray for even the people who hurt and oppose them.

The Jesus of Matthew’s gospel demands a lot of his followers. In your relationship with Jesus, have you found him to have requirements?

Is it possible to love Jesus or others, with responsibility to and for them?

What does it mean when people cannot live up to the ethics of the Kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount?

How have you opened yourself to being transformed beyond the basic duty of Christianity?

Intensifying the Law, 6 Epiphany (A) – 2014

February 16, 2014

Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20 or Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37

In the moral life, we can think of commandments in at least a couple of ways. One way to think of a commandment is as a rule by which we can evaluate the rightness or wrongness of a given action. We might think of a commandment like, “thou shalt not bear false witness” as a rule against the deliberate telling of untruths. The moral task then will be to decide whether telling our spouses that “we love” their new neon green and brown plaid blazer breaks the rule against lying or not.

A second way to think of a commandment sees it as a guide and exhortation in the formation of our moral character. Taken this way, the command against bearing false witness is not just about following the rule, but it is also about the formation of an honest character. The rule is followed not just for the sake of following it, but because by repeated attempts to follow the rule in our ever-changing circumstances, we become people who are disposed to act honestly.

Jesus thinks of commandments in the second way. Our gospel lesson for today comes from a section of the Sermon on that Mount that traditionally has been called “Antitheses,” because Jesus’ teaching is presented in the following pattern: First, Jesus says, “you have heard that it was said ”; then Jesus follows with his own magisterial statement, “but I say to you”. The problem with calling these teachings “Antitheses” is that it suggests that Jesus is contradicting the earlier statement. But this is not so. Rather, what Jesus is doing is intensifying the particular law’s claims and thereby clarifying its true meaning.

In the so-called “Antitheses,” Jesus is showing what he meant earlier in the Sermon on the Mount when he said he came “not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it,” and to teach a greater righteousness: “If your righteousness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” The commandments are not just rules to be followed, they are given so that by following them we might become formed in a greater righteousness.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against murder, he is intensifying it. He knows that even if we keep the commandment not to kill, we can still hate and despise others. We can follow the rule and still kill relationships, still treat people as if they were dead to us. Jesus shows us that the fulfillment of the commandment not to kill is the formation of our hearts and minds so that we look at others not with anger, but rather with love. The greater righteousness is to love others as we would have them love us, even when they are our enemies. The commandment is given not just so that we won’t kill each other, but so that we will be the type of people who will seek out someone who has wronged us and work to be reconciled with them.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Again, Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against committing adultery, he is intensifying it. He knows that even if we keep the commandment not to commit adultery, we can still demean and belittle others. The lustful glance, the undressing with the eye, treats others as objects and takes what doesn’t belong to us, even if it keeps its distance. Jesus shows us that the fulfillment of the commandment not to commit adultery is a faithful heart that cherishes our spouses and respects our neighbors.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’”

Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against swearing falsely, he is intensifying it. Jesus knows that even if we can keep from swearing falsely, we can still manipulate others with our words and lead them astray with our tongues. We can make frivolous oaths in the name of heaven and belittle God’s holy name. Jesus shows us that the fulfillment of the law is not just to refrain from swearing falsely, but that our words ought to be so reliable and honest that no oaths need to be taken. The greater righteousness is to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” The commandment is given so that we would become honest people.

L. Gregory Jones, in an essay entitled “The Grace of Daily Obligation: Shaping Christian Life,” reflects on how we become grace-filled people through the daily and disciplined practice of Christian obligations. He writes:

“Isn’t it interesting that when we are talking about a ballet dancer, or, if you prefer, a Michael Jordan on the basketball court … we describe them as being graceful – full of grace. Yet anybody who has ever undertaken the craft of ballet or piano or basketball knows how much work day by day by day goes into the cultivation of that gracefulness. In this sense, gracefulness is not simply a process of sitting back and waiting. Rather, through the activity of daily habits people are prepared to move gracefully, in a way that transcends the day-to-day preparation. It becomes so natural that the graceful performer doesn’t have to think it through. … The gracefulness develops over time so that eventually the steps come together in a powerfully new way, a performance. That happens only through daily obligation.”

Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus came to call and form disciples in a community devoted to the higher righteousness. We follow the commandments not simply because they are rules; we follow the commandments so that we might become the type of people Christ wants us to be, people formed and fashioned for life in the kingdom of God.

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a description of the character of disciples fit for the Kingdom:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We become these types of people not by forsaking the law; rather, we become these types of people by following the law with true intention. God gave the commandments not so that we would become moral rule keepers; rather, God gave us the commandments as guides and exhortations for the formation of our character, so that we might become people who are pure in heart, so that we might love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and that we might love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. … For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Md., and co-author of “A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love” (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

Bible Study: 5 Epiphany (A)

February 9, 2014

Alan CowartVirginia Theological Seminary

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12); Psalm 112:1-9, (10); 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16); Matthew 5:13-20

Isaiah 58:2-9a, (9b-12)

God wants something more for us. God calls the prophet to point out the futility of fasting, worship, religion that does not make a difference in the current world. The idea of humbling ourselves is not to call God to pay attention to our posture: “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” God thinks of this worship as serving our own interest.

God is interested in something more: God wants to make a difference in the life we live. Humbling ourselves in worship is about lining our interests up with God’s interest. And God is interested in making a difference today in the real pain of the world.

So what we do each day and how we treat each other matters. It is not enough to fast or follow the law as if it were a list of “do this” or “don’t do that.” The ordinances of God (that is, the commands of God) are to “treat people in this way,” “serve God in this manner.”

It is in seeking justice today, in this world, and sharing bread that we are healed. It is in covering the naked and living a life of relationship that we hear God saying, “Here I am.” We serve God when we seek after the things that God seeks. We are healed by God when we seek to heal the world around us.

When we line up our motives with God’s, our hearts with God’s purpose, our yearning for God’s end, then we shall be redeemed. Then our light and healing will break through. Then God is there, with us, as God has always been.

We are all busy. Where in your life do you need to slow down and take a closer look at what is happening in the lives of the people you intersect? Who comes to mind?

God talks about fasting to loosen “the bonds of injustice.” Who in our society needs more justice today? How can you pray for them today?

Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

This psalm continues to explore what righteousness looks like. We know that “those who fear the Lord” are happy and secure, and “their hearts are steady.” The psalmist speaks of enduring faith and a lasting relationship with God. The righteous have hope in a future, “in the end they will look in triumph.”

A recurring theme in the psalms is the contrast between the righteous who follow God’s commandments and the wicked who stand against God or seek to do us harm. But this psalm barely mentions the wicked. In the end, they will be of no consequence; they will “melt away” and come to nothing.

Instead, the focus is on the result of living in righteousness. And this way of being is not simply about a right relationship with God, but also with those around us. It is striking that in addition to helping those in need and focusing on following the commands of God, those who delight in God’s commands “rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” It seems the focus is on living righteously with our neighbors and sharing the light we have found, which is a result of fearing God. This is the righteousness that will endure forever, that will be called “upright.”

If you have warmed yourself with the light of God, how can you share that light with someone else this week?

1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)

Paul reminds the Corinthians of their first meeting. The gospel was proclaimed simply, in an accessible way. The essence of the gospel is Jesus. The words are not as important as their content. The God who died on the cross is the central message. This is an Epiphany message. The child born and revealed to the magi is the child crucified and revealed to the world.

Paul adapts his message to the audience but is clear that not everyone “gets it.” Those trying to gain control of the young congregation by aligning with different factions (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17) must now align themselves with the principal message of Jesus crucified. It is a simple message but perhaps too simple for some. The message of the gospel doesn’t always make sense by our standards. And if we think of God’s love for the world in purely mathematical ways, it will never add up. It is something that must be experienced. “For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?” The experience of God is brought about by God, initiated by God and revealed by God.

How has your life been changed by an experience of God?

Matthew 5:13-20

Today’s gospel reading is near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and provides a bridge between two important sections of this long discourse. Jesus has concluded the familiar beatitudes “blessed are the poor ” and here identifies his audience more specifically: “you are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world.” I have always been struck that he didn’t say “You are like salt” but that salt and light are who we are. Our interactions in the world matter.

Many of us feel used up, tired. Salt that is no longer salty is useless. But here’s some good news: We can’t not be salt; we can only stop acting like it. We can only stop being salty to the world. God’s light is never extinguished, we can only choose to hide it or let it shine.

Jesus continues this idea when he speaks about the Law and the prophets. We think of the law as a way to measure the rightness or wrong-ness of our or someone else’s actions. But like the Old Testament reading today, the law identifies who is already living in right relationship with God. Jesus makes his point when he says that he fulfills the law. Jesus has a high regard for the law, for the relationship with God that it identifies. Those who follow Jesus, who seek to live in right relationship with God and with the world will discover that they remain salty, and the light of Christ will be revealed in their life.

Think about where your daily actions reflect your experience of God.

We are the light of the world. Where do you choose to hide rather than shine your light?

A loving Law, 5 Epiphany (A) – 2014

February 9, 2014

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12); Psalm 112:1-9, (10); 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16); Matthew 5:13-20

One of the hardest problems we face in hearing or reading the Bible, is that of time. We don’t have time machines, and even if we did, we’d journey back in time with the ideas formed in us by our nationality, the communities in which we grew up, our family traditions, and the things we take for granted. If we tried to get back to the people for whom Matthew is writing his account of the life and teachings of Jesus, we’d land in a strange land, among unfamiliar people. No doubt they’d think us pretty odd, too.

The gospel today underscores the great gulf that is fixed between our time and the first century of the Christian era. The verse where the passage ends only makes matters harder for us to understand. St. Matthew is writing primarily for Jewish Christians, who had been raised to attempt to keep the laws and rules of Judaism. Some of them had probably been Pharisees before their conversion. The word “Pharisee,” like the word “righteousness,” is loaded with not always very complimentary meanings for us. We think of proud, intolerant people, filled with self-admiration for themselves and full of harsh criticism for people they believed to be sinners.

The Pharisees, or Pious Ones, began their history as a reforming group, intent on bringing the Jewish people back to faith in their God. They believed that the best way to do that was to stress the Law of God, as given by Moses and elaborated on in the religious books developed over the centuries. In Jesus’ time, some of these Pharisees opposed the teachings of Jesus because they thought he was undermining God’s Law. They saw him as a threat to religious purity. Not all of them opposed Jesus. Two are named as his supporters.

As the church grew, opened itself to non-Jews and developed its own teachings, a great debate arose about the place of Old Testament Law in the life of Christians. St. Matthew, a Jew himself, seeks to assure Jewish converts that Jesus hadn’t come to abolish God’s law. He records Jesus as saying that the whole law would remain in force forever. And yet in the gospel we just heard, he says that in keeping this law, we have to do much better than the Pharisees.

Is Jesus saying that we must keep the Jewish Law, all that stuff about what we can eat, or what we can do on the Sabbath? Are we to be like some people, perhaps we know a few, who think they are better, more moral, more upright, than the rest of us and are harsh in their judgment of others, intolerant of anyone who is different?

This rather difficult passage comes in the middle of what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Just as Moses gave the Law to Israel on the Holy Mountain, so now Jesus gives the law to his disciples and those who would follow him. He begins with a description of those who are happy or blessed. He will go on to expand, or “fulfill” the meaning of the Law. In the verses that come after this gospel, Jesus will warn against an anger that leads to violence. “You shall not kill,” begins with our dealing with what happens when we give way to anger, disgust, when we take offense. Jesus will teach us that we are to seek reconciliation with people with whom we quarrel, that we are not to “come to the altar” if we haven’t done all in our power to love our neighbor; for loving those close to us, those in the communities around us, is one of the commandments of the Law Jesus identified as the foundation of “all the Law and the Prophets.”

So what can we take home with us from the gospel today? Keeping the law of God is not a matter of feeling and acting as if we are superior to those who, in our judgment, fail to live up to our standards. We love God in loving others. St. Paul often reminds us that the Law shows up our own inadequacies. We are in no state to judge others. But having received God’s love in Jesus, despite ourselves, we are empowered to help those who stumble. It’s not that we are to abandon all hope of perfection, of holiness. Rather it’s a matter of understanding that the road to holiness is the path of love, compassion, of caring and sympathy, of helping each other along that journey, stopping to assist those who have become tired, have fallen on the way, or who have given up in despair.

Some of the most tragic stories that emerge from wars involve prisoners or refugees, walking along roads, herded by brutal guards. The heroes of these stories are those who in the midst of their own miseries, despite the dangers, share their meager rations, water supplies, even clothing, to help those who have fallen by the side of the road, who might well be shot by the guards because they can’t keep up.

On the journey of faith, we are not appointed by God to shoot those who stumble, who fail to obey orders. We are called to go out of our way to care. The whole point of God’s Law is to urge us to put God and others first and to die to our own self-love and desire for self-preservation.

Of course the strength to live for God and for others doesn’t come from attempts to keep God’s commandments. That strength comes from God, in Jesus, by the Spirit. We meet here today to receive that strength, that grace, not as the righteous company of God-supporters, but as those to whom mercy is continually given. When we leave this place to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we go as forgiven, empowered people, strengthened to keep God’s Law by loving all who we shall meet.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Bulletin Insert: Presentation (A,B,C)

Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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“Presentation at the Temple,” stained-glass window by Mayer Co. of Munich, in St. Michael’s Cathedral. Toronto (Photo by Wojciech Dittwald)

“Presentation at the Temple,” stained-glass window by Mayer Co. of Munich, in St. Michael’s Cathedral. Toronto (Photo by Wojciech Dittwald)

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, also known as the Feast of the Purification, and Candlemas. Each year, this feast is celebrated on February 2, exactly 40 days after our celebration of Jesus’ birth.

On the 40th day after childbirth, according to the Law of Moses, a woman must go to the temple for purification, and so Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple on this day to offer “two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt-offering and the other for a sin-offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean” (Leviticus 12:8).

In the Gospel of Luke, the presentation of Jesus at the temple was also the occasion of Jesus’ meeting with St. Simeon the Righteous, who “took him in his arms and praised God,” saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). This blessing by Simeon is the basis for the canticle Nunc dimittis or “Song of Simeon”:

“Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.”
(Luke 2:29-32; Book of Common Prayer, p. 120)

When the celebration of this feast was introduced in Rome in the seventh century, it included a procession with candles and the singing of the Nunc dimittis, which is why this feast also became known as “Candlemas.”

CC photo by David Lownds

CC photo by David Lownds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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black and white, half page, double-sided 2/2/14

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

Bible Study: Presentation (A,B,C) – 2014

February 2, 2014

[NOTE: Because the Feast of the Presentation falls on a Sunday this year, its lectionary readings take precedence over the usual readings for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany in Year A.]

Brian PinterGeneral Theological Seminary

“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Malachi 3:1-4Psalm 84Hebrews 2:14-18Luke 2:22-40

Malachi 3:1-4

The Book of Malachi, a name that literally means “my messenger,” was written in the period following Israel’s exile in Babylonian and subsequent return, circa sixth century B.C. Malachi addressed a number of justice-related issues, but his book contains a great deal of reflection on the Temple cult of sacrifice and its priesthood. The theme of the Temple runs throughout our readings today. Malachi in this first text sets out a warning that one is coming to purify the priesthood of abuses the prophet outlined in vv 1:6-2:9.

The prophet’s concern for the integrity of Temple ritual speaks to the great reverence and respect our tradition has long attached to liturgy. Ours is an era that sometimes struggles with the temptation to coopt liturgy for ideological purposes. Malachi reminds us that worship is directed to God, not us, and requires that we execute it with reverence. Malachi’s is not a call to any sense of strict traditionalism, nor does it in any way foreclose development of our liturgical practices. Rather, the prophet underscores that worship is the outward expression of the deep faith and eternal longing of the heart. He calls us to view our outward offerings to the Lord as the fruit of a righteous heart (v. 3).

Is there a word or phrase from this reading that resonates with you?

What are the challenges to reverent and proper worship we face in our own time that require “purification and refinement”?

Psalm 84

The theme of the Temple and its central place in the believer’s life continues in today’s psalm. Pilgrimage, the beauty of the courts and the safety of the Holy place, even for the birds, are all underscored. Especially noteworthy is the Valley of Baca (v. 6), mentioned near the very center of the psalm, an indication of its significance in this particular text. (Ancient writers placed the most important points of a text in the middle, unlike modern authors who save the point of a story for the end.) Baca might refer to the place where David defeated the Philistines, or could symbolically refer to a time of trial, dryness and desolation we face on the broader pilgrimage of life.

Pilgrimage can bring challenges, difficulty and exhaustion, but the place to which the pilgrim is headed provides the inspiration and resolve to continue. Zion, the holy city, the dwelling place of God, represents our lifelong journey to union with God. The psalmist captures the entire narrative arc of this journey, from the soul’s initial deep longings for God, to the unavoidable dryness of the valleys, to the rejoicing experienced in those moments of union with our Creator. This text invites us to reflect on our individual spiritual pilgrimages and embrace where we are now, whether it be the stages of the initial call, the valley of Baca or the beautiful city we see as we approach the place of God’s dwelling.

Is there a word or phrase from this reading that resonates with you?

Where do you find yourself in the spiritual pilgrimage suggested by this psalm?

Hebrews 2:14-18

The epistle to the Hebrews interprets Jesus in light of the Israelite Temple and its priesthood. This lengthy sermon sees Jesus as both ultimate High Priest (the most significant Temple priestly office) and ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross deals with the power of sin once and for all. There is no need, according to the epistle, for any further sacrifices.

Our lectionary text today from Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus shared in our life experiences, including human frailty, the fear of dying and the many temptations that all people face as we struggle to remain faithful in our relationships with God. Although the epistle underscores Jesus’ exalted status (i.e. that Jesus is the human being par excellence), he nonetheless totally identifies with us – in our joy, in our longing for God, in our trials and suffering. As the gospels show, Jesus faced trials as he persevered in his fidelity to God and the mission to which God called Jesus. We all experience the impulse to infidelities, large and small, whether in actions or attitudes. Jesus stands ready – and according to Hebrews very well qualified – to support us in those times where we face the darkening temptation of infidelity.

Is there a word or phrase from this reading that resonates with you?

When have you felt Jesus standing in solidarity with you as face a time of trial or temptation?

Luke 2:22-40

Luke is very careful to situate both the beginning and conclusion of his gospel in the Jerusalem Temple. He seeks to demonstrate that Jesus, as well as his family and disciples, were faithful, law-abiding Israelites. Luke also uses the initial chapters of his gospel as a bridge to bring Old Testament characters forward to meet Jesus. For example, Zechariah and Elizabeth represent Abraham and Sarah. Gabriel last appeared in the book of Daniel. John the Baptist is Elijah. And in today’s text we see Simeon and Anna representing Eli and Hannah. Jesus is depicted as the fulfillment and the culmination point of Israel’s long journey.

Today’s gospel text provides us with the prayer known as the Nunc Dimittis, an oration still used in the Daily Office prayers of the church. Simeon also utters a second, interesting, mysterious and challenging oracle regarding Mary and the sword that will pierce her heart. Commentators since the earliest centuries of the church have struggled to interpret this oracle, and many have relied on sources outside Luke’s gospel in the quest to unravel it. In the context of Luke’s story that is to unfold in subsequent chapters, however, Luke foreshadows that Jesus will redefine the notion of family, and even Mary herself will be forced to make a choice (Luke 12:51-53). Jesus sees his family to be not simply those who are his biological relatives, but those who hear the word of God and do it. According to Luke 8:19-21, Jesus’ mother and brothers pass the test of discipleship, but nonetheless are subject to the discriminating judgment Jesus brought.

Is there a word or phrase from this reading that resonates with you?

In what ways has the call to discipleship been a sword “which pierces your own soul”?

Waiting, watching and discovering the glory of God, Presentation (A,B,C), 4 Epiphany (C) – 2014

February 2, 2014

[NOTE: Because the Feast of the Presentation falls on a Sunday this year, its lectionary readings take precedence over the usual readings for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany in Year A.]

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Today we celebrate one of the principal feasts of the church – and, no, we are not talking about the Super Bowl!

The strange thing is that many will never have heard of it. The Feast of the Presentation occurs each year on February 2nd – exactly 40 days after Christmas. Most years the feast slips by us on a weekday, with perhaps a celebration scattered here and there.

This year, however, February 2nd falls on a Sunday, and this great feast takes precedence over what would otherwise be the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany.

The full name of today’s feast is the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. It’s a celebration of one of Jesus’ major life events; that’s what makes it a principal feast.

You may also have heard of it as “Candlemas” or “the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

“Candlemas” because this is the feast when candles are traditionally blessed.

In some places, today marks the end of the Christmas season, which is not observed as 12 days of Christmas, but 40 days of the Incarnation.

And “Purification of Mary” because the law of Moses required that she – like the infant Jesus – participate in a rite of purification 40 days after childbirth.

That’s the why of the event: Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, bringing along with them a pair of turtledoves to offer as a sacrifice.

But what happens at the Temple is nothing short of miraculous.

Two prophets encounter Jesus and understand there is something special about him.

First, there’s Simeon.

Simeon, we are told, was righteous and devout. And he had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah.

You can imagine his plight. The older he got, the more he likely asked, “Is this the one?” of every person he encountered. “Is today the day?” And the answer must have been “No, not today”  a thousand times over.

But on this day, he takes the infant Jesus into his arms and sings:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared
before the face of all people;
to be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

It is, of course, a text well known to Anglicans as one of the usual two canticles at Evensong.

And it is also a prophecy. Simeon says, basically: Today I have seen my salvation, my Lord, my Savior. And this God has made this revelation for the glory of his people.

We are told that Mary and Joseph were amazed. Jesus was not yet 6 weeks old. They had survived encounters with angels, shepherds praising God, wise ones from the east bearing gifts, and dreams that caused them to escape into Egypt.

And yet they must’ve wondered. Could they have said to themselves, “Do they really mean our child?” or even “Do these people really mean any child can be the savior of humankind?”

And then there’s another prophet, Anna.

We are told she had lived 84 years – no easy feat in first-century Palestine, especially for a woman! She prayed and fasted in the Temple night and day.

But on this day, she noticed that something was different. She finds Mary and Joseph and the baby and begins to tell about him. “Praise be to God,” she may have said, “for this truly is the redeemer of the world.”

So we have a story about waiting, a story about watching, and a story about discovery.

Waiting for the day to come, for the savior to appear, for all things to be put right.

Watching to see that the day has come, that this child is destined for the falling and rising of many.

And the discovery that God has revealed all this to us: this light that lightens all the world, this child who redeems all people, this savior who is Christ the Lord.

Like the prophet Simeon, we yearn for the coming of the Messiah, for all in this world to be put right: for the hungry to be fed, for prisoners to be set free, for the sick to be healed.

Like the prophet Anna, we hope that our prayer and sacrifice and faithfulness will be fulfilled: that equality will come for all God’s people, that peace will prevail over the whole earth, that justice will conquer all oppression.

And so, we believe.

We believe because we are tired of waiting.

We believe because we are weary of watching.

And we believe because we have discovered the truth.

The hard truth of Christmas, of Candlemas, of the Purification, of the Presentation: the hard truth of the Incarnation is, in the words of Howard Thurman, simply this:

“After the prophets have spoken,
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

Let us work, pray and give to make it so.

 

— The Rev. Barrie Bates currently serves as interim rector of St. John’s Church, Montclair, N.J. He welcomes comments and chat to revdocbates@gmail.com and invites you to follow his blog of inspirational quotes, recommended reading and occasional spiritual musings.

Bulletin Insert: 3 Epiphany (A)

Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church

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

cc photo by Özgür Mülazımoğlu

cc photo by Özgür Mülazımoğlu

On January 31, the Episcopal Church commemorates the Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1921, Shoemaker was called in 1925 to become the rector of Calvary Church, New York City. While serving at Calvary, Shoemaker led the American chapter of the Oxford Group, an international Christian movement in the 1930s-1940s, and was instrumental in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Shoemaker is generally regarded as the spiritual mentor of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Episcopal Church not only remains an active supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous, but through Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, supports and cares for all who, through many forms of addiction, have lost their health and freedom.

Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church

Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church

“Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church is dedicated to helping those suffering from addiction find healing and transformation in the Episcopal Church,” commented the Rev. Kevin M. Cross, president of  Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. “We do so through ministries based in education, pastoral care, liturgical practice and advocacy. Our work is grounded in practices of radical welcome, community building, pastoral care and liturgics. We fully support the primacy of involvement in 12-step programs, and we seek to build an awareness of the potential for the Church to support and build on 12-step programs.”

To find out more about Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, visit their website, http://www.episcopalrecovery.org, which offers information about their annual gathering as well as resources, such as list of useful publications and a blog, “Through the Red Door,” featuring stories and insights by recovering Episcopalians.

“Whether you are in recovery, have friends or family members in recovery, or simply are curious, we invite you to join us in this work,” said Cross.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 1/26/14
half page, double-sided 1/26/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 1/26/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 1/26/14

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