Archives for April 2014

Building the Kingdom, stone by stone, 5 Easter (A) – 2014

May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60Psalm 31:1-5, 15-161 Peter 2:2-10John 14:1-14

“I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

It sounds so wonderful. It sounds perhaps like what we imagine heaven to be. If that’s so, then it’s a future place, a place that we will “go to.”

That may be part of the promise Jesus was making to his disciples. The other part is in his answer to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Yes, we are promised eternal life, but we are also promised that we are already housed by God, fed by God, carried by God. We already have a foot in that place Jesus prepared for us if we but look around, look within and listen. But as nice as that sounds, doesn’t it often seem difficult to imagine that in this world, we should be seeing evidence of Jesus being the way, the truth and the life? If people truly believed that God is very much with us, wouldn’t “the world” be a different place?

Jesus often talked about the Kingdom of heaven being here already – it’s here and now – and that we must be in the process of building it. But we aren’t terribly far away from the kinds of things that happened when our church was still in its formative era.

Today’s reading from Acts shoves a dangerous and dark shadow into our Easter joy. Stephen, even though he was filled with the Holy Spirit and evidently giving witness to what a life lived in imitation of Jesus should look like, is stoned to death by an angry crowd. They covered their ears and shouted. Isn’t that a frightening image? A manic crowd, hostile to goodness. Why? They couldn’t imagine that God would become manifest in Jesus, live among human beings, die on the cross and rise. We might think to ourselves, “How sad. They had Jesus right in their midst and they missed him. We certainly wouldn’t have!”

Yet, look at what happens today. Groups of lay people, priests and sisters are brutally murdered by guerilla groups with machine guns or machetes because they are working for freedom or education or they belong to the wrong tribe. Where is this Kingdom of heaven? For that matter, where is Jesus? Has he gone to prepare a heavenly place for us and forgotten to come back?

Do our hearts become troubled? Yes, very often they do. We wonder how we can build our faith to the point where we can believe in a different world – where we can see God in the midst of hardship.

Look at Peter’s letter and believe that we can drink that pure, spiritual milk that God offers us. That’s where we can begin again, regardless of how old we’ve become in the church. We are offered that nourishment in many ways – through prayer, through the words and symbols of our liturgies, through the example of those who love us into loving ourselves because they believe in God’s love for us.

Perhaps the most powerful way of growing in the spirit is through sharing the Eucharist and believing that Jesus left this with us so we could touch him and know he is in us. There is the power. There is the mystery that explodes within us if we just open our hearts and minds to all God reveals to us. There is the well of power that helps us continue looking for ways to build that Kingdom of heaven here while we wait to take our place in the world to come.

Peter reminds us that we are chosen, we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God. Do you believe that? Do you really?

If not, how can we help you to begin to grasp the meaning of those words?

When people do begin to believe these words, they find themselves doing amazing things. We might first think of those people like Stephen who give their lives for what they believe. But then we must also think of ourselves who may be called to build the kingdom in different ways, through teaching, writing, through the example of our integrity, and genuineness.

Jesus never promised a safe and trouble-free life for those who followed him – far from it. He was always very honest about the fact that “the world” would most often cover its ears and shout, and sometimes throw stones. But if we try – if we believe that we are chosen, that there is truth in the saying that one candle brings light into the darkness – then we are building, piece by piece. We are adding stone upon stone, and we will feel the difference in ourselves.

We need to be careful, however, not to think we have to complete the building of the Kingdom either all by ourselves, or at least in our lifetime. Our human desire to be successful, complete, wholly satisfied, can be a stumbling block for us just as rejecting Jesus was a stumbling block according to Peter.

The Kingdom here will never be finished, it just continues to grow. We are a part, a critical and unique part, but not the whole. There is always more to learn and more to offer of ourselves to others. Evil will never cease trying to destroy the goodness of a holy place. And so the need to continue building ourselves up, but also to work together, pray together, become that holy nation, a holy community, right here with those sitting with and around you.

Each and every one of you is called. Each and every one of you is invited to follow Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life.

The Good News is that Jesus is with us. He has promised never to leave us. We are holy. We are chosen. We are God’s beloved.

 

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

Bulletin Insert: 4 Easter (A)

The Feast of Thurgood Marshall

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

The Honorable Thurgood Marshall, June 13, 1967 (Photo courtesy of the  National Archives and Records Administration)

The Honorable Thurgood Marshall, June 13, 1967 (Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

On May 17, the church celebrates the Feast of Thurgood Marshall, an Episcopalian who became the first African-American justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Thurgood Marshall was born in 1908 in Baltimore, where he attended Frederick Douglass High School before majoring in American literature and philosophy at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and graduating magna cum laude from Howard University law school in Washington, D.C.

After Marshall passed the bar in 1933, he went into private practice in Baltimore, specializing in civil-rights cases. By the following year, he became the legal counsel for Baltimore’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall won his first major civil-rights decision, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936, which allowed black students to attend the University of Maryland for the first time.

Marshall successfully argued 29 out of his 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is most widely remembered for winning the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the Supreme Court declared the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional and which resulted in the desegregation of U.S. public schools.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Marshall served until his retirement in 1991.

The Archives of the Episcopal Church features a page on Thurgood Marshall as part of an ongoing exhibit “The Church Awakens: African-Americans and the Struggle for Justice” on its website,
http://www.episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/leadership/marshall.php.

The Archives describes how, during Marshall’s years in New York City, he served as senior warden on the vestry of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem and also served as a deputy to the 1964 General Convention. Then in 1965, when Marshall and his family moved to Washington, D.C., they joined St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. The Archives explains:

“As a devoted Episcopalian, Marshall was also an ardent believer in the separation of church and state. Consequently, Marshall attended church infrequently after his appointment as Supreme Court Justice, concerned that he would develop biased political views which would influence his judgment. His faith was revealed in his work, however, as he sought justice for all.”

Despite attending St. Augustine’s less regularly than his family did, according to “Holy Women, Holy Men” (Church Publishing, 2010), Marshall was affectionately known in his parish as “the Judge” and is remembered as being “a wise and godly man who knew his place and role in history and obeyed God’s call to follow justice wherever it led” (p. 374).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 5/11/14
half page, double-sided 5/11/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 5/11/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 5/11/14

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

Baptism into the fold, 4 Easter (A) – 2014

May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47Psalm 231 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10

In her retirement, some years ago, a woman lived in the English countryside. And from her living-room window, she could see a large hill, at the top of which was the ancient parish church. One of the bell-ringers who helped summon people to worship was a shepherd. In lambing season, his flashlight could be seen at all times of the night, seeking out newborn lambs, making sure they were safely delivered and that the mothers were safe and fine. The young lambs were suitable prey for the foxes that lived in the surrounding woods.

The shepherd’s job was to feed, guard and care for all the sheep who lived within the enclosure of the field. In the gospel today we see a similar imagery. The Jewish shepherd brought his lambs into a enclosure, surrounded by a wall of stones, into which there was a single entrance. Because the flock constituted the wealth of the owner, his available property, the job of the shepherd was so guard the flock, if necessary, with his life.

Jesus takes this familiar imagery and applies it to teach about his relationship with his church. This section of John’s gospel is chosen during the Easter season because it points to the Easter themes. In the early church, converts were brought to baptism on Easter eve. Eastertide was, for them, a time when they began to enjoy a new life, a new identity and a new purpose. The new converts had spent up to three years leaning about the Faith. During that period they were not permitted to join the Christian community around the altar. They couldn’t receive communion. They were at the gate to the fold, but not yet inside it.

One may imagine their thrill and joy once they were brought through the gate, as they were baptized into and through Jesus and assumed the name “Christian.” or “the Savior’s People.” Of course, the step they had taken involved danger. Many lost the support of family and friends, lost their jobs, and in times of persecution, faced danger and death.

It’s important for us to grasp the fact that these new Christians had been led by the Risen Lord into a fellowship.  Today we have become used to what might be termed “personal religion”: “Jesus saved me,” and “I’m going to go to Heaven when I die.”  At first glance, that is what Jesus seems to be saying: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

The people who first heard John’s gospel would have heard something quite different. They did not come from our culture of individualism. We need to listen with their ears. The words “enters by me” meant to the first Christians – and should mean to us – baptism. We don’t baptize ourselves. We are baptized in church, on a Sunday, surrounded by Christians. From that moment on, we have pasture, we may be fed at the Lord’s Table, by the Lord’s bounty. We become part of those who have been “enclosed” in the communion of the church.

To the first Christians, “coming in and going out” happened in the context of the church’s growth and the church’s danger. The people doing the growing were those who had been “saved,” rescued, taken out of a hostile world. As they shared their new faith and brought others to the door to the fold, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Someone said of them, “See these are they who turn the world upside down.”  Because of their success, they threatened the power of the Roman Empire, whose “thieves” sought to invade and destroy the fold, the church.

Yes, this new community, the church looked forward eagerly to the final result of salvation, when God would rescue the world, the universe he made and loves and restores his people to the Garden from which they were expelled in the Genesis story. Do note that when we talk about the Genesis story, we aren’t talking about history, but we are talking about truth. When we seek to envision the New Heaven and Earth, we struggle for adequate words, as did the John who wrote the last mysterious book in the Bible, Revelation. Yet what is expressed is the truth-in-hope the Christians of St. John’s time had embraced.

We, too, have entered into the fold through our baptism. We share a common essential identity as Christians. We gather in the fold of the local church to have fellowship, to be taught, to be fed. We go out to make disciples, to work for the Kingdom, to love justice and mercy, to care for the poor and the outcast.

Such a corporate calling is exciting and demanding and continues to cost. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are losing their lives simply because they are Christians. They may live in distant land, but in the fold of the church, they are our sisters and brothers. The words Peter wrote, that we heard this morning, hit hard with our persecuted friends:

“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

We are safe from such suffering. However, we are called to sacrifice much if we are to gain more. Grasping these truths challenges us to live a much more extraordinary life than merely believing that somehow by attending church we are validating a ticket to Heaven.

Our Lord offers us “abundant life” now.  We are called to build Christ’s church and to suffer for those who are the victims in our society, the poor, the sick and the lonely. We embraced this calling in baptism.

This morning, as we gather around the Table to be “strengthened for service,” we commit ourselves afresh to living out our faith, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “not only with our lips, but in our lives by giving ourselves in Your service.”

 

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

From glory to glory

Transhumanist book offers new perspective on old theology

"Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential." Ted Chu. San Rafael: Origin Press, 2014. 486 pp.

“Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential.” Ted Chu. San Rafael: Origin Press, 2014. 486 pp.

Ted Chu projects a vision for the future that is incredible while plausible, fantastical while thought provoking. Chu, a former chief economist both at General Motors as well as the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and current clinical professor of economics at New York University at Abu Dhabi, takes up grand philosophical questions about the future of humanity in the provocative pages of “Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential” (Origin Press, 2014).

While Chu’s thought probes deeply into matters of science, history, philosophy and theology, it is accessible to the lay person. Readers with a religious and theological consciousness must allow themselves to be challenged by Chu’s ultimate assertions – the evolutionary process continues to unfold; and humanity is not the goal and purpose of creation. As one digests Chu’s reflections and visions for the future, one cannot help but be drawn into an exercise of that is part stargazing and part soul-gazing.

Professor Chu is a futurist, and while not a philosopher by training, has dedicated nearly two decades to conducting research and reflection on the evolutionary future of the human person (and our potential “post-human” successors). His thought places him among an intellectual movement popularly known as Transhumanism. This view asserts that science and technology are poised to liberate humanity from limitations imposed by nature – for example aging, death, involuntary suffering and our confinement to planet Earth.

To many, however, the ideas of the Transhumanists sound quite frightening – genetically enhanced humans or robot/human hybrids conjure Frankenstein monsters and eugenics experiments. Chu, however, makes a commendable effort to address the many arguments – ethical, theological and philosophical – against the kind of experimentation that could lead to an alteration of human nature and to future intelligent beings we can only begin to imagine.

The post-human life form, which Chu calls the “Cosmic Being,” is poised to be the evolutionary successor to homo sapiens, just as we are the successor of homo erectus and homo habilis. But how will life move toward that milestone?

Chu takes the reader on a journey that begins with the raising of questions about human purpose. If humanity is the pinnacle of the evolutionary process, as most theological views hold, we are doomed to an “inward-looking fatalist being.” Our concerns will stagnate with seeking happiness, harmony and resource security, goals that Chu argues have been largely met in the developed world. If we are but the most recent manifestation of an ever-advancing process, however, perhaps we have a greater purpose than we have grasped. It is this destiny to which Chu directs our attention. As the first conscious manifestation of evolution, we have been gifted with the ability to create those beings that will continue the advancement of life.

Chu’s treatment of his subject is widely encompassing. He considers the intellectual and spiritual legacy bequeathed to us by both the western and eastern wisdom/faith traditions as well as their limitations, the limits of human potential, the risks and fears associated the with the specter of the emergence of autonomous robots and “cyborgs.”

Under a chapter titled “The Moral Argument,” Chu deftly deals with questions and objections that have been raised as genetic alteration and enhancement of life further unfolds. Pointedly addressed is the traditional Christian concern about the protection of human dignity in light of the theological premise that all persons are created in the “image and likeness of God.” Any attempt at genetic manipulation that would alter human nature is seen through the lens of this doctrine as a violation of the sacred Imago Dei. Chu responds that this argument “limits our vision to humanity alone, as if it were some eternal or static entity, and ignores humanity’s connection and responsibility to the broad environment that created it” (p. 365). Clearly, Professor Chu and his arguments must be engaged seriously if the Christian perspective is to have credibility as we grapple with these unavoidable scientific developments.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring and thought-provoking pages of Chu’s reflection are those that hold his vision of the “Cosmic Being.” This is a life form that will not experience death, will have no need for traditional education as “all existing knowledge is either built in or easily accessible” (p. 342), will be “all artificial” because scientific and technological progress will beat the best that nature can offer, will be devoid of a sex drive (because the reproduction function will be obsolete), will experience an altered sense of time, as well as new motivational drivers and new as yet unknown emotions. Chu envisions nothing less than a “Second Axial Age,” which will be birthed from the wisdom gained by the Cosmic Being as it travels across deep space and adapts to environments totally alien to human beings. Chu’s dream is indeed amazing in its creativity and daring.

“Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential” offers a solid introduction to what is a very complex, controversial and speculative arena of thought and imagination. Chu’s arguments are compelling in their carefulness, forcing the reader to seriously consider the breathtaking place where current scientific and technological research might take us. The uninitiated reader might find Chu’s confidence in scientific and technological progress to be overwrought – suppose, for example, that our current age of techno-cornucopia is a byproduct of an abundant supply of cheap fossil fuels and relative peace among the major world powers. Without that platform – and it is a ponderously important one – will Chu’s dreams ever have an infinitesimal chance of mirroring reality?

In a similar vein, one might question Chu’s uncritical – and universal – preference for modernity and all its techno-superiority. He states:

“If we think about how long we can now live relative to the recent past, how many opportunities we have to realize our natural talent, how much power we have over the natural elements, and how easy and inexpensively we enjoy our leisure and pleasures of life – we will quickly realize that modern life would be almost certainly have seemed like heaven on Earth to ordinary people living in the distant past” (p. 33).

This view sounds almost naïve and innocently romantic; it sounds like the view of an elitist. I wonder, for example, how people of the distant past would feel about the pathological business and fundamental distractedness that characterizes our lives. Most people on the planet have not been able to share Prof. Chu’s profoundly positive experience of technological progress.

In the end, Ted Chu has done us a great service in writing this rich but accessible book, for he invites us to examine the great questions of human existence and purpose. His imagination and confidence in human ingenuity also invites us to dream great dreams. People of faith will be challenged by Chu’s thought and insights, but also will be urged to see the cosmos through a new lens. After reading this book you might never think of yourself, or the future, the same way again.

(Brian B. Pinter is the director of campus ministry and a teacher of theology at Regis High School in New York City.)

Bible Study: 5 Easter (A)

May 18, 2014

Christine HavensSeminary of the Southwest

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 7:55-60Psalm 31:1-5, 15-161 Peter 2:2-10John 14:1-14

Acts 7:55-60

For the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we hear or read the five verses that are the culmination of Stephen’s ministry and his life. Luke’s description is shocking and disturbing, and amazing, especially when read within the entirety of Stephen’s story. Take a few moments to read it all, starting with Acts 6:1 and continuing through 8:3. How does this change your understanding of Stephen’s death?

How does it change your understanding of Paul? According to Luke Timothy Johnson, in his “Sacra Pagina” series commentary on Acts (Liturgical Press, 1992), the witnesses’ laying of their cloaks at Saul’s feet indicates their “recognition of Paul as a leader of those opposed to Stephen” (p. 140). Verse 8:1 says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”

“But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” All I can imagine here is of a group of men putting their fingers in their ears and vehemently going, “la-la-la-la-la-la,” as people – not just children – do when they want to make it clear that they do not want to hear the words, when they do not want the ideas getting through. This gesture is comical at best and annoyingly childish at worst. For Stephen, it signaled his death.

At what times in your life have you done this, either physically or metaphorically? What effect might it have had on your hearing what the Spirit is trying to say to you? What effect might it have had on those who were trying to speak to you?

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

A pair of jugglers with fake French accents, were always my favorite performers at a Renaissance festival near Pittsburgh. One was the tall, smart straight man, and the other was the goofy, short jokester. At one point in the routine, the straight man uses an analogy that goes right over the jokester’s head; the jokester goes for the literal interpretation. This annoys the straight man, who explains that it was a metaphor, to which the jokester replies, “I never met a phor I didn’t like.” I laughed at the corny joke the first time, the tenth time, and still chuckle at the memory of it. Obviously, it still enters my head when encountering metaphors within a text, as in today’s psalm. Metaphors allow for such expression in human narrative, both through humor and through seriousness.

What are the metaphors in these verses from the psalm? Reflect on each one, and take a few minutes to draw a picture of each. How do you, as a Christian living in the 21st century, relate to God through these metaphors? Which speaks to you personally? Why?

What metaphor or metaphors do you prefer for your relationship with God? Why?

1 Peter 2:2-10

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

What words come to mind when you attempt to describe a stone? Is “living” the first? The second? How far down the list? What is your list? Hard? Cold? Smooth? Rough?

How do we, as biological creatures, fit into Peter’s metaphor of living stones? What does it mean to be a “living stone”? How are we to imitate Christ, who is the living cornerstone of our faith, in this way? How can we be built into a spiritual house?

As you consider how to respond, keep these ideas in mind. According to Donald P. Senior, in the “Sacra Pagina” series commentary on Peter (Liturgical Press, 2003), lithos (Greek for “stone”) may mean a common stone, but more frequently connotes “a dressed or specially cut stone suitable for building.” In addition, the Greek word oikos not only translates as “house,” but also as “household”; in other words, the people within the house.

John 14:1-14

How do we feel when we say farewell to a friend, or when he or she says farewell to us? Someone with whom you have been living in close community for say, two or three years? How do you feel with the realization that you will not hear this person’s voice on a daily basis any longer, nor will his or her simple physical presence have a place in your daily routine? Is this not what the disciples felt? Can’t you hear it as the disciples ask their questions? “What will we do without you here?”

“Serve God, love me, and mend,
This is not the end,
Live un-bruised, we are friends”

These are lyrics from a popular Mumford & Sons song, “Sigh No More,” which embodies well today’s gospel lesson, echoing Jesus’ response to the anguish of his disciples.

Today we experience part of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples; all that it means for Peter, Philip, Thomas and the others – and for Christians today. Scholars and theologians have long debated the meaning of Jesus’ words, such as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and whether John’s work teaches “realized eschatology” (the end has come in the person of Jesus) or “future eschatology” (the end will come at a future time). Both are important theological concepts; however, as I prepare to graduate from a community so important in my life and spiritual growth, it is the saying of farewell between teacher and disciples, between friends, that calls out to me from this reading. The end is now and not now, as we all move into the future.

What calls out to you in today’s gospel? How do you, as a Christian, find hope and celebration in endings?

Bible Study: 4 Easter (A)

May 11, 2014

Charlotte LaForestBerkeley Divinity School at Yale

“So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.’” (John 10:7)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:42-47Psalm 231 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10

Acts 1:42-47

Have you ever imagined what it would have been like to be a member of the church in its foundational stages, as described here in the Book of Acts? The stories you would hear would not be ones that had been handed down across millennia, but they would be stories told by people who had actually been with Jesus, seen the miracles, heard his voice. The church wasn’t an institution yet; it didn’t have its liturgies or doctrine figured out. There were no dioceses or deaneries holding together groups of people. It was something much more basic: People were in awe of the risen Christ and the miracles worked in his name, and they felt drawn to gather together in celebration of this.

Have you ever experienced this awe because of Christ and wanted to share this experience with other people?

Now before we allow our imaginations to run wistfully wild, imagining how much better it must have been in the early church, let’s take a moment to imagine some of these gatherings. I mentioned that there were no liturgies or doctrines figured out. That may seem freeing, but it also means there was a lot to argue about! These were still opinionated human beings coming together at these gatherings. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation used in the Episcopal lectionary says they “devoted themselves” to teaching and fellowship, but I actually like other translations better that say they “persevered in” teaching and fellowship, because I think it acknowledges that this was work. But the joy of the risen Lord was present among them and helped them persevere.

How can the joy of Christ permeate and transform your life and your community?

Psalm 23

We encounter a familiar psalm in this morning’s readings. I would wager that even if you never memorized scripture verses in Sunday school, many of you will have bits of this psalm rumbling around somewhere in your memory. We generally think of it as a comforting psalm – green pastures, still waters, dwelling in the Lord’s house – and we imagine ourselves in the position of the speaker in the psalm. But have you ever noticed how much is demanded of us if we do so? Just as soon as we settle into our sunny patch of grass, we’re hoisted up to walk along the water. We make our way onto pathways, which lead us through a terrifying valley, just to end up at a table with people we’d rather avoid.

Have you ever felt angry or frustrated when it seemed you were being forced out of a place of comfort into somewhere new and frightening?

But we’re not alone through any of it. The gentle shepherd is with us in the peaceful meadow and the dark valley, sitting next to us at the table, and eventually welcoming us into his home.

1 Peter 2:19-25

This is a difficult passage of scripture, one that has been used to justify and glorify suffering. Yet this view is in direct conflict with the words of this morning’s gospel reading: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). How is it possible to reconcile encouragement to suffer with abundant life?

If you look at this passage in its context in 1 Peter, you’ll see that the lectionary has actually removed the first verse of the passage, v. 18, which indicates that this passage is specifically addressed to servants and slaves. This is not a general appeal to all Christians that they should suffer, but a specific address to those who already find themselves in circumstances of extreme suffering. Thus, it is a reminder that God is with them in their suffering and a call to remain faithful despite their circumstances, not an instruction to seek out more suffering for themselves.

The passage reminds those who are suffering that Christ also suffered and died for their sins, reminds them that they have already been welcomed back into the fold under the care of the shepherd.

Does awareness of Christ’s suffering provide solace in our times of suffering? How does a call to alleviate the suffering of others fit with this perspective?

John 10:1-10

There is yet another shepherd in the gospel reading for today, one who enters by the gate and calls his sheep by name. The metaphor may seem clear in the first section of the text: Jesus is the shepherd who knows and tends to his sheep. But Jesus does not make that parallel in the passage before us. Jesus does identify himself as the Good Shepherd in verse 11, but our text stops at verse 10, leaving us with the identification: “I am the gate for the sheep.” This requires us to suspend our automatic connection between Jesus and the shepherd to consider how Jesus might be the gate.

How might you understand Jesus to be the gate in this passage?

We are not the first to ask this question, and numerous theories and approaches exist. One common interpretation is the idea of Jesus as the gate to salvation. For me, the most powerful meaning of Jesus as the gate is in connection with his will for all to have abundant life. Jesus as the gate stands between us and the thieves and bandits who would kill and destroy. But Jesus as the gate takes the full force of this threat, creating a safe pasture in which we might attain abundant life.

God’s Passion, our passion, Good Friday (A,B,C) – 2014

April 18, 2014

Isaiah 52:13-53:12Psalm 22Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9John 18:1-19:42

Each year, year after year after year, Christians gather on Good Friday to rehearse this story – what we call the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we read versions from Matthew, Mark and Luke. On Good Friday it has always been from John. Each gospel offers a slightly different view of what happened on that day nearly 2,000 years ago. It is like looking at a diamond from different angles – one sees different facets, different sparkles, different ways the light plays off the gem stone.

For John, Jesus is Light – and His Light is the Life of the world. We call it Good Friday, even though it looks as if the light is extinguished. But for people of faith, we know that is just not the case. We know the rest of the story. We know that the darkness has not overcome the light.

But we do know a few things about darkness in today’s world. We see it from far off, we see it up close and personal. From the tragedy at the World Trade Towers, the tragedies of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we see it in friends and family members who suffer from ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s, we see it in young men whose lives are so broken they go on senseless shooting sprees in schools, movie theaters, churches and shopping malls.

There is darkness for those who have lost their jobs, for the child born of a mother addicted to crack cocaine, for the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and those without jobs here and around the world. For those who live under oppressive military dictatorships, for those mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers who sit on death row, for those who live with HIV/AIDS. We know something about darkness.

Darkness for John is evil – specifically the evil of living under the military yoke of Rome. Even more so, John and his community hold the memory of Jesus standing up to evil, to the imperial powers and the ruling religious authorities, to say that a lot of people, most people, are not getting the kind of care and support they need to survive – the kind of care and support our God commands us to provide as individuals and as a community.

This month, on April 4, we celebrated the life and death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the church we observe the date of the martyr’s death, not his birthday like the rest of the country does in January. The night before he was assassinated, he had been in Memphis, Tennessee, to support the sanitation workers, garbage men, who were striking for a living wage. In his last days he was also an outspoken critic of our country’s involvement in Southeast Asia, against the war in Viet Nam. Some years before that, Dr. King was incarcerated in the Birmingham, Alabama, jail, from which he wrote a series of letters urging white Christians to join his movement to end racial discrimination – segregation, what amounted to apartheid in America.

In one of these letters, Dr. King quotes one of the 20th century’s most renowned theologians, Reinhold Neibuhr. Quoting from Neibuhr’s book, “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” Dr. King reminds the white clergy of Birmingham that “groups are more immoral than individuals.” It has been observed that individuals rarely act immorally or practice bad ethics on their own. Such behavior patterns usually emerge in the actions and attitudes of a group – however large or small. It is the group mentality, or to quote the sociologist Erik Fromm, the “herd mentality” that drives greater hatred than the individual. Think of the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan, Rawanda, Pol Pot, the Inquisition, the Expulsion by the Church of the Jews from Spain, the Crusades and numerous other similar movements throughout history.

This theory suggests that evil always needs help. Evil needs companions! Evil, the devil, does not and cannot act on its own in order to achieve its intended goal. By comparison, “goodness” or “godliness” can always stand and act on its own merits.

This is what is going on in this story about Jesus. Evil had just enough companions to crucify him on that Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which, that year, was to be on the Sabbath. The collusion and collaboration between the Roman soldiers, politicians, religious authorities already on the payroll of Rome, and the usual crowd of “rubberneckers” always looking for a gory site to behold, was just enough to put him on a cross and let him hang there for all to see what the consequences may be for those who dare to act out of goodness and godliness to speak truth to power.

It is the Day of Preparation before the Passover. Jesus has been arrested. People all over Jerusalem are preparing for the Passover feast. Lambs are slaughtered for the Passover feast. Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate cannot understand that Jesus is Truth. No one seems to understand, even to this day, that God’s new revelation and God’s Good News is not a doctrine or an idea, but a person – a person like any one of us. “A person,” writes Evelyn Underhill in her book “The School of Charity”:

 “whose story and statements, in every point and detail, give us some deep truth about the life and will of God who creates and sustains us, and about the power and vocation of a soul which is transformed in Him, and pays ungrudgingly the price of generous love.”

John’s passion has numerous unique details: Jesus sends Judas out from the Last Supper; Jesus is not identified by Judas’ kiss but steps forward announcing, “I am he”; Jesus is not silent before Pilate, but speaks to him; Jesus carries his own cross and does not stumble or fall. But is there any more tender and yet powerful moment than when Jesus, already nailed to the cross, as his last act of divine charity gives up his spirit – or, as we used to say, handed over his spirit?

It is that “giving up” that compels us to pay attention to this story year in and year out. In both Hebrew and in Greek there is just one word that means “spirit,” “breath” and “wind.” All three are understood to come from God. God’s breath is our breath, God’s spirit is what sustains our life, and God’s wind fills our sails and directs us and sends us places we would never imagine going ourselves to do things we could never imagine doing. Here in his final act of charity toward humankind, Jesus gives up his spirit – he hands over, he offers us His Spirit: the Spirit of God.

Jesus does not give in to the herd mentality. He does not give in to group evil. He remains steadfast in speaking truth to power, just like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ghandhi, Pauli Murray, Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, Martin King, just like so many other individuals throughout human history who have made a difference.

This story we read together today is drenched with meaning. Today let us focus on the fact that the choice is ours. The choice is always ours. Evil is always looking for companions. Evil is always looking for help. And the choice to side with evil is often attractive. There always appears to be something in it for us, even if it is just the cheap thrill of watching someone else suffer.

The other choice, of course, is to stand up to evil. To stand our ground. Not to give in to the group. To speak truth to power. Or to simply walk away and say we will not participate.

The world is still a dangerous place. There is no limit, however, to how much goodness and godliness even one person can give to the world. If there is one moment to remember from this Passion Narrative of John’s, it is that final moment, when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit – that moment when God’s Passion becomes our Passion.

He gives it to us. He is still giving it to us. The man who healed people, helped people, fed people, gave outsiders dignity, and welcomed all to sit at his table and share a meal, gives his spirit to us. The question that resides deep within the rites and rituals of Good Friday, however, is, will we accept his spirit?

Will we take God’s Spirit and make it our own? Will we set our sails to capture God’s divine wind, breath and spirit and allow it to direct us and take us to places we have never been to do things we have never done?

The world needs His Spirit. The world needs your spirit. The church needs your spirit. You can accept His Spirit, which he gives away, which is given for the world, not just for Christians, not just for believers, but for the whole world, and you can do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.

The World needs you. The church needs you. God needs you. We all need one another.

Our choice must be to accept that spirit of goodness and godliness, the spirit of God’s divine charity, and make it our own. We must allow God’s Passion to become our Passion. When we do, what looks like a tragic story becomes good – a very good story. This is why we call it Good Friday!

 

— 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 American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Bulletin Insert: 3 Easter (A)

The Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich

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Detail from stained-glass window of Julian of Norwich and her cat,  St. Thomas Church, Norwich, Norfolk, U.K. (CC photo by Simon K.)

Detail from stained-glass window of Julian of Norwich and her cat,
St. Thomas Church, Norwich, Norfolk, U.K.
(CC photo by Simon K.)

On May 8, the church celebrates the Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich, a 15th-century English anchoress, mystic and writer.

Born sometime around 1342, during the years of the second plague pandemic or Black Death, little is known about Julian’s early life, even her name. When she became an anchoress (a woman who withdraws from secular life for religious purposes), she took the name “Julian” because her cell was built onto the wall of the church of St. Julian in Norwich. The church is believed to have been named, originally, for either St. Julian the Hospitaller or St. Julian of Le Mans.

At the age of 30, Julian suffered a grave illness, and on what appeared to be her deathbed, she experienced a series of visions of Christ, or “showings.” When she recovered, she wrote a book about these visions, “Revelations of Divine Love,” which has also become known as the Short Text. This remains the earliest known book written in English by a woman. Several decades later, she began work on a second book, further exploring the meanings of her visions, which is known as the Long Text.

As an anchoress, Julian lived a solitary life, never leaving her cell. Her meals were brought to her, and she kept a small garden inside a high wall. Aside from listening through a curtained window to those who came to seek her counsel, she lived in complete isolation – although popular belief is that she kept a cat, and in art, she is often depicted with her cat.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  — from “Revelations of Divine Love”

“Our soul is so specially loved of Him that is highest, that it overpasseth the knowing of all creatures: that is to say, there is no creature that is made that may know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loveth us.” — from “Revelations of Divine Love”

“He that made all things for love, by the same love keepeth them, and shall keep them without end.” — from “Revelations of Divine Love”

“It is God’s will that we hold us in comfort with all our might: for bliss is lasting without end, and pain is passing and shall be brought to nought for them that shall be saved. And therefore it is not God’s will that we follow the feelings of pain in sorrow and mourning for them, but that we suddenly pass over, and hold us in endless enjoyment.” — from “Revelations of Divine Love”

Collect for Julian of Norwich

Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 363).
 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 5/4/14
half page, double-sided 5/4/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 5/4/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 5/4/14

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

Bulletin Insert: 2 Easter (A)

The Feast of Christina Rossetti

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“Portrait of Christina Rossetti” by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866

“Portrait of Christina Rossetti” by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866

Today the church celebrates the Feast Day of Christina Rossetti, a 19th-century Anglican poet. Rossetti was born in 1830, one of four children of the poet Gabriele Rossetti and his wife, Frances Polidori. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the eldest child, became a famous artist who helped establish the Pre-Raphaelite movement in painting. Several of his most famous works were modeled by his sister Christina.

Christina was a lively child, educated by her parents, and began writing stories and poems at an early age. By the time she was 14, however, she began suffering from nervous disorders and declining health. During this time, she became fascinated by the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England, and she remained a devout Anglican for the rest of her life. Her writing is characterized by its deeply infused religious and devotional themes.

“Holy Women, Holy Men” (Church Publishing, 2010) explains: “Over 500 of her poems were devotional. They were related to the liturgy, to the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year, and to biblical ‘dialogues’ with Christ” (p. 348).

Two of Rossetti’s poems appear in our Hymnal as Christmas carols – #84 “Love came down at Christmas” and  #112 “In the bleak midwinter.” Hymn #112 begins:

In the bleak mid-winter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter,
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ. …

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

Collect for Christina Rossetti

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 349).
 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 4/27/14
half page, double-sided 4/27/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 4/27/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 4/27/14

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

Recalling the Resurrected Jesus, 3 Easter (A) – 2014

 May 4, 2014

Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

It is hard to understand how two faithful disciples of Jesus could have traveled with him, side by side, without recognizing him. Maybe disappointment blinded their eyes and their hearts to the truth. In Jerusalem, they had learned the devastating news about Jesus’ death. Despite having heard about the women and other disciples reporting that Jesus was still alive, they continued to focus on his death. They had hoped he was the one to bring redemption to the oppressed and subjugated people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend concluded that he was not the one. They did not understand how he could be alive or how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them it was still Good Friday, and they left for home.

But their experience along the road and at dinner in Emmaus changed their disappointment to joy and hope. When the disciples heard Jesus blessing the bread for the meal and saw him break it and give it to them, they suddenly began to understand. They recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days. And they remembered how they had begun to gain new insight on the road, when Jesus had recalled for them the great stories of Israel’s past and compared them with himself. These actions provided a telling insight into the reality they had missed.

Though Jesus disappeared from them, they now knew they had experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus. The context of living out their disappointments while somehow remaining open to what seemed impossible, allowed them to discover for themselves that what the women at the tomb had witnessed was true after all.

St. Luke’s story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus is very instructive for us. Like the disciples in this account, we, too, can miss the resurrected Jesus in our midst. But also like them, we can use our experience in recalling the deeper truths of scripture to transform our lives.

Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and place them in the extraordinary context of Jesus, our Christ. And we recall his powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction for having a fulfilled life.

For us, in so recalling, we are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. In so recalling, we are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. Such experience is a kind of reverse post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of trauma, though, we recall and relive the most glorious reality of knowing the resurrected Jesus and feeling that we are as much in the presence of God as were the disciples of old.

In worship, we experience both examples from today’s gospel account of reliving the resurrected Jesus. Both are critically important – word and sacrament – as we recall who and what we are as followers of Christ no less than the two men on the road to Emmaus. The church recognizes this in setting the Holy Eucharist into two equal parts in the prayer book: “The Word of God” and “The Holy Communion.” The font size for each of those two titles is the same in the Book of Common Prayer, revealing the fact that each is equally important and equally necessary for our spiritual health. We hear the scriptures and experience them interpreted for us. This sets a specific, weekly context for the communion in which we recall Jesus instituting the special meal, meant for each of us.

With the word of God still resonating in our minds, drawing out the meaningful contexts of our lives, we reach the altar rail and literally experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. Everything is as it should be as we recall in peace the moment that expresses all the values of God.

This experience regularly re-empowers us to walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play. On our journeys of faith, we find truth in action, in living out the daily reality of re-calling Jesus to our presence.

Again and again, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and go to where the re-birthed action lies. The resurrected Jesus can show us that the forces of evil and destruction will not prevail against the power of love.

Again and again, we recall that we are the body of Christ – and so in our lives, in our actions and in our words, we can reach others, helping them understand the presence of the resurrected Jesus. As Jesus did with the bread and wine, making it his body and blood, God in our midst empowers us to discover in the ordinary what is truly holy.

The encounter of two disciples with the resurrected Jesus came in the commonest, most familiar of ways. They came to know him walking and talking on a road, and sitting down with him to eat and pray. We encounter him, too, in common, familiar ways. The resurrected Jesus is with us, available to us, within us – always, as we live our daily lives.

When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.

Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion? Can we open our hearts and our minds, the action of our lives; to the challenge of the resurrected Jesus in order to live out in our time what he lived and died to prove? Can we open ourselves to the possibility of using the life-giving force of renewal and newness – or will we just wonder what has upset us so?

When we encounter the resurrected Jesus in our midst, will we respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus? Will we respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to meet the world head on, ready to face the risk and change that his presence allows? Or will we do nothing and just add to the heap of escapism and apathy and negativity that characterize what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?

The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. Can we become like them? Will our hearts, too, burn with the desire to use the power of the resurrected Jesus? Will we use this burning as a light to recognize that God loves us? Will we use this burning to empower us to reveal God’s love to others, continuing his ministry through our acts of compassion and caring to help heal a broken world?

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.