Archives for June 2014

Groaning: The soundtrack of creation, 6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014

July 20, 2014

Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 (or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17); Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If you go into any gym and find the section where people are pumping iron, you will hear a lot of grunting and groaning. Weightlifters often groan. They groan as they strain to push weights off of their chests, or over their heads, or pull and heave them off the floor.

Engines straining also groan. If you strap a heavy trailer to a pickup truck and point it uphill, you will hear the engine groan. Gears push against gears, the engine revs, and the truck groans as it strains forward.

This is the sound of creation. Groaning is the sound of creation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

This is a vivid image. Perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic metaphor for women who have actually experienced labor pains, but it reminds us of the difficult work of creation. That work can be hard. That work can be groan-inducing.

Groaning happens in a gap – a gap between what we are trying to do and what we hope to do. Groaning reminds us that the time spent in the gap between what is and what could be is a place of hard work.

Our readings from the New Testament today are about living in this gap. We hear about the gap between creation as God intends and wills it, and where we are now. Paul describes how to, somehow, live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfill what God has promised to us. He calls this life in the Spirit. Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.

Paul felt that he had seen the fulfillment of creation in Jesus, he knew that fulfillment was within reach. He also knew the communities he preached to still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering. He knows both the glory that is to come and the very present sufferings of the present time.

He exhorts the Christians in Rome to live in the Spirit, because he also sees the glory that is just beyond the gap. A life in the Spirit is a life characterized by the confidence that through Christ we have been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering. A life in the Spirit is a life lived free of hatred and violence, and instead filled with joy and reconciliation. A life in the Spirit is a way to live in the gap between what is and what shall be, in joyful exertion, not in desperation.

The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap. The Reign of God – a reign that Jesus preached was here and now – is described as glorious. Jesus compares it to a grain field. A field of grain is the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread. This is an image of an abundance of what was, and for many still is, the basic food, the basic source of life. Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds. The weeds gum up the works. They cannot be removed easily. The parable today is about having to wait in the gap – in a world of both abundance and weeds. The parable is there to comfort those who live in the gap with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.

It is extremely difficult to live in a gap. It is difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that is not yet fully glorified. The first Christians must have felt this very strongly. Those who actually knew Jesus had known in their minds and felt in their souls the goodness and love of God in creation, the Reign of God in the here and now. Paul had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches he planted. Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision.

The parables Jesus told about the end of time, the words Paul gave to his communities, were written to help those communities understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be.

They are also words written for today. Christians still live in the gap. Many know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in their lives. Many have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness. Christians rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs of the Reign of God come near. Yet, people everywhere also wake daily to news of war and rumors of war, of violence in homes and communities, of soul-crushing poverty in every country, of injustice, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected.

As Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, Christians are reminded now – we do not hope based on what we see. Christian hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing all things to what they are meant to be, closing the gap. God’s focus is on closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. This is the work of God from the beginning of creation. To be Christian is to join in this work, for all people are children of God, part of that creation coming into being.

The way to join in this work is to live a life in the Spirit. This isn’t a life that tries to ignore the gap. It is a life that can stride confidently into the gap – angered at injustice, grieving at suffering, striving and straining and groaning.

Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It is the sound of the gap closing, of the Spirit overcoming resistance. Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the gap. It is a good, honest groaning, the soundtrack of what will be coming into being.

Life in the Spirit is a life that closes the gap between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead. Life in the Spirit closes the gap between the engine straining against the gears and finally reaching full speed, running like a well-oiled machine.

Christians are to be gap closers. Christians are to see the distance between what should be and what is, and strain, and heave, and work, and lift to close that gap. It may be necessary to groan, but the groans sing the soundtrack of creation.

May we stay true in the struggle, groaning if need be, laughing at our groaning when we can. The gap is closing, let us hear the soundtrack of creation as we raise our voices in work and strain and joy.


— The Rev. Matt Seddon is an archaeologist-turned-priest who focuses on multicultural ministry, social justice and care for our environment. As of this sermon he is living in a gap. He is currently transitioning from serving as vicar to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City, Utah, to serving as priest-in-charge for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Bulletin Insert: 6 Pentecost (A)

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

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July 20, 2014

On July 22, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, a leader among the women who followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene, also called Mary of Magdala and the Magdalene, began following Jesus in Galilee after he healed her, and she remained with him throughout his ministry until his crucifixion, then was one of the first witnesses to his resurrection.

Mary Magdalene in detail of stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church, Sülzbach, Germany  (Photo by Peter Schmelzle)

Mary Magdalene in detail of stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church, Sülzbach, Germany
(Photo by Peter Schmelzle)

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:1-10, NRSV).

“Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her’” (John 20:11-18, NRSV).

Collect for St. Mary Magdalene 

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 242).

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

Bulletin Insert: 5 Pentecost (A)

New Hope for children of the incarcerated

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July 13, 2014

Campers at New Hope Oklahoma (Photo courtesy of New Hope)

There is a New Hope camp for every Oklahoma child 5 to 18 years old. (Photo courtesy of New Hope)

There are an estimated 1.7 million children in the United States who have a parent in prison. These children are sometimes called “orphans of justice” or “the forgotten victims of crime.”

“In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” quoted Val Hymes, editor of the Episcopal Prison Ministry Network News. “The question then becomes, How can we respond to our Lord’s call for us to minister to the least of his?” 

Hymes underscored the severity of the problems that children of inmates face by pointing out that they are prone to develop depression, aggressive behavior, sleeping and eating disorders, and often end up with poor grades or in gangs. “Studies say these children are five to six times more likely than their peers to end up in prison, too,” she added.

Hymes recounted the remarks of a boy whose father was in prison who had said he felt he had to “develop a hard streak and grow up fast” and the story of another boy, who tampered with car locks in the hopes of being sent to prison to be with his dad.

Across the Episcopal Church, nearly 20 parishes and dioceses have developed ministries for children of the incarcerated, through summer camps and after-school programs. One of the earliest and broadest programs is New Hope Oklahoma, an Episcopal ministry with the aim of  “ending generational incarceration, one child at a time.”

Campers at New Hope Oklahoma learning archery  (Photo courtesy of New Hope)

Campers at New Hope Oklahoma learning archery
(Photo courtesy of New Hope)

New Hope began in 1992 with Deacon Judy Gann, whose diocese led a program visiting prisons in Oklahoma, a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. Gann and other volunteers began to realize that the No. 1 concern among inmates was the well being of the children they had left behind. And so, starting with three children and six volunteers, Gann began New Hope. As its staff, children and programs have increased over the last two decades, they now provide over 400 children, 5 to 18 years old, with camp experience, weekend retreats, after-school programs and holiday parties. 

“Through our life-affirming programs, children are lifted from isolation and fear into the possibility of hope,” said New Hope’s executive director Lindsay Fry-Geier. 

Retired New Hope founder Gann dreams of seeing an after-school program in every Episcopal church. 

To learn more about creating a camp in your community for the children of prisoners, please contact Val Hymes ( or the Rev. Jackie Means (



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

Donna Stanford

Donna Stanford is in preparation for ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Diocese of West Missouri, having recently completed a course of study at the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, Topeka, Kan., an institution providing high-quality theological education in a local setting for people in the Episcopal Dioceses of Kansas, West Missouri, Nebraska, and Western Kansas.

Read Donna’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Proper 11 (A).

Bible Study: 6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A)

July 20, 2014

Donna Stanford, Bishop Kemper School for Ministry

“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.” (Matthew 13:40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In each of the four lectionary readings for this Sunday, we see expressed the themes of promise, blessing and belonging to God.

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob is on the run. He and Rebekah, his mother, have connived to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving Jacob his older brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob’s deception, which led Isaac to grant him the blessing due the first-born son, fuels hatred in Esau. When Rebekah is told that Esau plans to kill Jacob, she sends Jacob away to her brother in Haran.

Our story begins when Jacob stops on his first night on the road. He lays down with a stone under his head for a pillow and falls asleep. Little does he know that he is on sacred ground. Jacob dreams of a ladder or ziggurat to heaven with angels climbing up and down. However, it is not the angels who speak to Jacob, but God. God stands beside Jacob and introduces himself: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (verse 13).

God makes the same promises to Jacob that he made to Jacob’s ancestors: land and offspring. In a sense, God includes a caveat with his blessings. In essence, God tells Jacob, “You will be blessed when I fulfill my promises to you. But these blessings are not for you to hoard. It is through you and your family that all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God then makes a personal promise to Jacob: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (verse 15). God’s promises of presence and protection – of belonging to God – are central to the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people.

Jacob awakes a transformed man. He recognizes the awesomeness and sacredness of his encounter with God and commemorates it with a shrine made with the stone on which he slept, calling the place Beth-el, “House of God.”

Are you hoarding the blessings God has given you? How can you channel your blessings so that you will become a blessing to others?

How has your experience of God’s grace transformed you?

Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23

The psalmist, resting assured in God’s promised presence and protection, turns to God for deliverance from his enemies. His blessing is his relationship with God. The psalmist addresses God by his personal divine name, YHWH (“LORD”) (verses 1, 3), and speaks to God directly: “you know” (verses 1, 3), “you discern” (verse 1), “you trace” (verse 2), “you press” (verse 4), “[you] lay your hand” (verse 4). The psalmist is awed by the completeness of God’s all-encompassing knowledge of him; God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (verses 1-3).

The psalmist affirms that God is always present with him. No matter where the psalmist goes, whether to the extremes of heaven or the grave, “Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast” (verse 9). The psalmist trusts his future to God, assured that he belongs to God. He welcomes God’s testing, which will reveal the psalmist’s righteousness and commitment to following the ways of God (verses 23-24).

Does God knowing you fully make you uncomfortable? Are you able to say with the psalmist with no reservations: “LORD, you have searched me out and known me”?

Have you ever wanted to escape from the presence of God? When and why?

Romans 8:12-25

To Paul, every human being is subject to some power, and lives either in the domain of the flesh, under the power of sin, death and law; or in the domain of the Spirit, under the power of grace. Paul has assured believers in an earlier verse that they no longer live in the domain of the flesh, but now live in the domain of the Spirit, because the Spirit of God dwells in them (Romans 8:9).

In today’s passage, Paul describes life in the Spirit in terms of relationships. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (verse 14). The indwelling Spirit is God’s presence with believers. Believers are blessed; we belong to God’s family – children of God by adoption (verses 14-15). We are God’s heirs and, therefore, joint heirs with Christ, sharing in his suffering, death, resurrection and glory (verse 17). We are to live unafraid, knowing that we belong to God.

Just as God fulfilled his promises to Jacob, Paul admonishes believers to wait with patience because God will fulfill his promise of future glory. God will free all of creation “from its bondage to decay” (verse 21). Believers and all creation must endure the birth pangs of the completion of salvation – of the promised restoration of creation to what God intended it to be, begun when God chose a people to be his instruments of blessing.

In what ways do you sense that you are living in the “in-between” time?

Discuss your experience of life in the Spirit.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a field sowed by two sowers.

The master sows good wheat seeds in his field. At night, an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat seeds. When the wheat comes up and bears grain, the weeds come up as well. The master refuses to let his slaves gather the weeds. He tells them to let both of them grow together until the harvest, when the reapers will collect the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn.

Jesus privately interprets the parable to his disciples as an allegory. He is the master, and the good seeds are the children of Kingdom of God. The enemy is the devil, and the weeds are the children of the evil one. At the final judgment, the Son of Man will send his angels to root out sin and evildoers, and the righteous will inherit the Kingdom. God’s promise in the parable is that evil will not overcome the good.

There is a more contemporary dimension to the parable. In a previous chapter from Matthew, Jesus called us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” or “is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Could it be that the final judgment isn’t a distant event in linear time but is now? Could it be that the Kingdom isn’t someplace that will be established in the future but is here now? Were both inaugurated with the coming of God in Jesus?

Jesus issues a warning: Those who reject Jesus’ message are refusing to participate in the Kingdom. They are refusing to be the blessing to all the families of the earth that God calls believers to be. Those who accept Jesus’ message and follow the praxis of the Beatitudes belong to God, are his children and have inherited the promised Kingdom.

What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God?

How does your faith that God’s Kingdom will triumph over evil and death influence the way you live?

Sowing the Word of God, 5 Pentecost, Proper 10 (A) – 2014

July 13, 2014

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14]; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9)

We don’t often think of it, but of all the New Testament literature, St. Paul’s letters are the oldest sources we have about Jesus – predating the gospels by a couple of decades. And Paul writes that for those who are “in Christ,” and “Christ is in them,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This ought to strike us as an astonishing assertion. Not something we should take for granted.

And we might ask, just how does this “Spirit of God,” this Christ, come to dwell in us?

“Us” is the key word here, since St. Paul writes in the plural – something the English translation cannot indicate. Paul rarely speaks of an individual’s relationship to Christ. He speaks almost exclusively of the individual in the context of the faith community – the community of Christ’s Body, the priesthood of all believers. How does Christ and the Spirit of God come to “dwell in us”?

Along comes the Parable of the Sower, rich with varied depths of meanings to help us see just what things, as our collect for today urges, we “ought to do,” and just how we might find ourselves equipped with the “grace and power to accomplish them,” and which things very well may prepare ourselves as a community to receive Christ and the Spirit of God into our midst – so that God’s spirit might “dwell” among us, a technical word in the Greek for pitching a tent, setting up shop, moving into a neighborhood.

And the first thing we might notice is the repetition, “A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed … .” That is, this is no random person scattering seed, hoping gravity and good luck will take care of the rest. This sower is sowing, which points to a practiced skill. This seed goes where it is supposed to go. No soil is left bare. No soil is overplanted. Yet, even with such a sower, some seed lands on the road, or on stones, or among thorns.

Vincent van Gogh, a 19th-century Dutch artist, understood this. He understood that the seeds were God’s Word of the Kingdom – and van Gogh knew, as we all know, that Christ is God’s Word of the Kingdom. Christ, the Word of God’s Kingdom, came to proclaim a message: I will set you free; I won’t let you be anything but holy, good and free.

Now what most people do not know is that the young van Gogh set off to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Protestant pastor. He spent some years evangelizing, bringing this good news of God’s Word to the poor, beginning with mine workers in Borinage, Belgium. During this time he was able to identify with the miners, their families and their lifestyles. His religious beliefs made him want to alleviate spiritual and physical suffering.

Only later did he turn to painting as another way to express his desire to bring people closer to God, closer to each other and closer to themselves. In 1888 he painted “The Sower,” an important work in the history of art, and surely a scene related to our story here in Matthew. One sees the sower, practiced in the art of sowing, deliberately planting the seed in the soil. For van Gogh the color yellow symbolized faith, triumph and love. The color blue represented the divine – and so he combines these colors so they seem to move together, showing the relationship of all living things. And there is something holy, good and free in the figure of “The Sower” – who, in the parable, of course, is God in Christ planting the Good News of God’s Kingdom in the soil of our hearts.

And the very thought that this seed, the Word of God, could yield a hundredfold would be heard by the farmers and fishermen Jesus addresses as simply fantastic! No seed known yields such bounty. Maybe tenfold, twentyfold or even thirtyfold, but 60 or 100 is unprecedented, unknown – simply unimaginable! We are meant to respond with awe that God’s Word possesses such grace and power. We are meant to want this Word planted in the soil of our own hearts, where we can tend to it, hear it, and be transformed a hundredfold ourselves. What a truly awesome gift from an awesome God.

Of course, the dangers of not tending to it are outlined. It is a parable of self-analysis: Are we fertile, well-tilled, deeply mulched soil? Or are we rocky ground? Do we welcome and make opportunities to tend to God’s Word every day? Or do we spend more time tending to the thorns of wealth and the cares of the world, such that the Word yields nothing?

Many who first heard Jesus tell this story figured out its meaning: We are the soil, the seed of God’s Word comes to rest in us, and for those who till and water and mulch and care for God’s Word, we become sowers of the Word ourselves – like the young Vincent van Gogh, like St. Paul, like the fishermen, tenant farmers, soldiers and others who first heard this story.

Like the skilled sower, may we become more practiced in letting the Word take root in our lives so we might begin to feel and to know that what St. Paul says is true: “We are in the Spirit, God’s Spirit dwells in us.”

God’s son Jesus desires to pitch his tent and plant his Word in our hearts and minds and souls so that we might truly become holy, good and free!


— 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

Bulletin Insert: 4 Pentecost (A)

Do you visit other parishes while on vacation?

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July 6, 2014

“When you travel on vacation, do you usually look for an Episcopal church to attend? Where was the Episcopal/Anglican church farthest from your home parish that you’ve ever visited?

The Office of Communication posted this question recently on the Episcopal Church’s Facebook page (, and here are a few of the almost 900 responses:

Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, Kauai, Hawaii   (Photo by Steven deChristopher Jackson)

Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, Kauai, Hawaii
(Photo by Steven deChristopher Jackson)

“We love visiting Episcopal churches on vacation. Our home church is in Florida and the farthest church we’ve visited is Portland, Oregon.”

“It is usually the first landmark we find! Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, UK.”

“Actually, the farthest Anglican Church service that we have attended was in Normanton, West Yorkshire, England, when we were visiting distant relatives and where my maternal grandmother was born. Home parish is St. Paul’s Episcopal, Leavenworth, Kansas. It was a beautiful service, and we were so warmly welcomed!”

“Just came back from Honolulu. I attended services at the Parish of St. Clement.”

“St. Ann’s in Kennebunkport, Maine. Wonderful!”

“St. George’s, Jerusalem.”

“Apia, Samoa. The service was half in English and half in Samoan, and it was beautiful!”

“Always. Phoenix; I’m from New Jersey.”

“Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Beautiful church on a canal with friendly people and a great priest!”

“St. James’ in Bermuda.”

“Always. Cathedral in Hong Kong.”

“Seoul, South Korea!”

“The Church of the Epiphany, Doha, Qatar.”

“Wardak, Afghanistan. (Chaplains count, right?)”

“Johannesburg, South Africa.”

“Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Epiphany, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.”

“Cuernavaca, Mexico.”

“Moscow, Russia.”

“Nairobi, Kenya; and Juba, South Sudan.”

“I live in Georgia and visited the Episcopal church in Fairbanks, Alaska. Friendly parishioners and lovely log structure church.”

“We’ve appreciated and enjoyed attending Episcopal and Anglican churches in New Zealand, Australia and Zambia. Have to check the miles to learn which was farthest from Kalamazoo, Michigan.”

“Went to one in Nags Head, North Carolina, and ran into the priest who used to be in a church where I live. Small world.”

“We enjoy visiting other parishes on vacation. We visited the parish in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a few years ago. Wonderful folks, service and choir!”

“St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Lilongwe, Malawi (Southern Africa).”

“The American Cathedral in Paris, Holy Trinity – beautiful church, warm welcome!”

“Panama City, Panama.”

“I attend Holy Trinity in Ocean City, New Jersey. The farthest from my home was probably St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome.”

“St. George’s, Beirut.”

“We always look for an Episcopal church when we travel on a Sunday. The farthest Episcopal church we have ever attended was in Scotland. We didn’t get to stay for the whole service because we had to be back on the bus.”

To participate in this and other conversations with Episcopalians around the world, “like” the Episcopal Church on Facebook.


Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 7/6/14
half page, double-sided 7/6/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 7/6/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 7/6/14

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

Essays brewed in the Spirit

Insights and humor from a priest / bar owner

"The Beer Drinker's Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving, and Living." William B. Miller. New York: Howard Books, 2014. 352 pp.

“The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving, and Living.” William B. Miller. New York: Howard Books, 2014. 352 pp.

As both an Episcopal priest and a bar owner, William Miller combines his two vocations into one thoughtful collection of spirited, yet spiritually grounded essays. Miller’s style walks the edge of irreverence as he distills his thinking into the three sections: Wine, Women and Song. While women can enjoy these essays, this may be a rare Christian book that is well suited to a book club that is less into yoga pants and wine and more into cigars and single malt.

Each of the book’s 24 essays mix stories drawn from the author’s life with stories from scripture and thoughts from Christian tradition to come to thought-provoking conclusions. Miller is well traveled, and ports of call from Dublin to Kathmandu make cameo appearances in these writings. Also present on most every page is Miller’s wry wit. As he writes, “We are much too serious in our attempts to understand a God who is far more playful than those who claim to speak on his behalf.”

You will be hard pressed to find another book in the religion section with essays called “A Dingle in My Wingle” and “More Cleavage.” The first is a ditty created on the fly by a traveling companion when making a pilgrimage to Ireland. The second comes from a pastor preaching from the book of Genesis teaching of a man leaving father and mother and cleaving to his wife, who didn’t understand why the congregation laughed when he spoke of marriages ending too easily saying that what we need is “more cleavage.” In every case, the author finds humor and spiritual insight in the ordinary.

Miller works well with metaphor and analogy, and in this, he is in good company. Augustine of Hippo echoed his own theological mothers and fathers illustrating the mystery of the Trinity by talking of the light of the sun or the course of a spring through a river. For Augustine, all of nature bears the stamp of its creator, and this Miller finds distilled to its essence in the brewing of beer and the distilling of stronger spirits. Miller clearly sees all creation as a sacramental universe in which God uses rather mundane material things to be present among people, using this common stuff of life as vehicles of grace.

This sacramental view comes through in the essay “The Angels’ Share,” with its poetic passage describing the casks that permit Scotch to breathe through the barrels in which it is aged. Some of the whiskey leaks through, which is the part that goes to the angels and gives the distillery its heavenly aroma. Miller compares this way of letting two percent of the Scotch leak out (or even 30 percent in the case of American bourbons) to using hermetically sealed canisters to age the whiskey, which would keep every drop in the barrel while resulting in pitifully inferior Scotch. He goes on to compare this to his father, a Church of Christ pastor who was a master teacher in the art of generosity. His father gave freely of both his money and himself. When a parishioner told him that the tithe was an Old Testament idea, Miller’s father retorted, “You’re so right. The ten percent tithe was before God showed us just how much he loved us. …  The tithe is now completely insufficient as a response to God’s incredible generosity.” The essay does a memorable job of telling stories of generosity alongside efforts to hold on to what we have to show that miracles happen when we share freely.

Having a section of essays titled “Women” in a spiritual book crafted on the bounds of the irreverent is dicey territory, but the author pushes bravely along. The women in his life include two Hooter’s girls and a retired high-school teacher turned church librarian that Miller first experienced as “a hypercritical, judgmental, nonhumorous, unforgiving bag of wind.” Here too grace abounds as in all human relationships when we see others through the love of God.

For the owner of Padre’s, a 100-year old adobe building that has been a feed store and a funeral home before becoming a priest-owned bar, this book is perhaps inevitable. He did, after all, spend the eve of his ordination with buddies attending a Village People concert. But there may be something important about the life of faith that needed saying for which this is the right vehicle of that particular grace.

The book contends in its preface that “we have drawn lines in the sand between the sacred and the secular … for approaching the altar rail or bellying up to the bar. … God makes no such distinctions.” The essays then work to break down those dividing walls. This will not be everyone’s cup of lager, but Miller is a skilled essayist whose laugh-out-loud funny writing conveys God’s undeserved love in a unique way that will resonate with many a reader who won’t make their way through most spiritual writings.

Bulletin Insert: 3 Pentecost (A)

Independence Day

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

June 29, 2014

(Photo by Josh Meek)

(Photo by Josh Meek)

On Friday, July 4, the Episcopal Church joins the nation in celebrating Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776.

Collect for Independence Day 

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 242).

Collect 17: For the Nation

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 258).

Prayer 18: For Our Country

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 820).

Psalm 145:1-9, Exaltabo te, Deus

I will exalt you, O God my King,
and bless your Name for ever and ever.

Every day will I bless you
and praise your Name for ever and ever.

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
there is no end to his greatness.

One generation shall praise your works to another
and shall declare your power.

I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty
and all your marvelous works.

They shall speak of the might of your wondrous acts,
and I will tell of your greatness.

They shall publish the remembrance of your great goodness;
they shall sing of your righteous deeds.

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.

(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 801-802)


Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 6/29/14
half page, double-sided 6/29/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 6/29/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 6/29/14

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

Bible Study: 5 Pentecost, Proper 10 (A)

July 13, 2014

Debra Goebel, General Theological Seminary

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21).

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Genesis 25:19-34

Our narrative opens with Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage. After many prayers, Rebekah, who was barren, miraculously conceives twins who “struggle together within her.” In great pain, Rebekah inquires of the Lord why she should be subjected to such suffering.  The Lord reveals to Rebekah that she is carrying within her womb the founders of two nations and that the younger twin would one day rule over the older.

We are told that the first twin to be born was named Esau (representing the Edomite’s) and that the second twin emerged from the womb gripping his brother’s heel. He was named Jacob, meaning “one who supplants.”  Jacob’s name would later be changed to Israel.

The boys grew to be very different men. Not only did they look very different, but they acted differently as well. They represented two very different lifestyles, which were in conflict. Esau was a skillful hunter, while Jacob was a shepherd. Esau’s livelihood depended upon a wilderness inhabited with game, while Jacob’s livelihood required pastureland for his flocks. Shepherding would naturally yield a far more consistent source of food for a growing population, therefore, it is possible that pastureland had begun to encroach on hunting lands. Perhaps this is why Esau returns home from hunting one day, unsuccessful and famished.

When Esau asks for some of the stew Jacob is cooking, Jacob demands that Esau first sell him his birthright, which was his inheritance as firstborn son. Esau, on the point of starvation, asks what good this birthright would do him if he died of hunger. If it was the case that the game, which was vital to Esau’s livelihood, was becoming scarce due to the increase in pastureland, this land that Esau stood to inherit no longer held any value for him. Esau agrees to sell Jacob his birthright in exchange for a meal.

Jacob and Esau were twins. They were different in so many ways, and yet they shared the same parents. The same can be said of the two nations they came to represent. They were different in many ways, and yet God was the God of both.

God is the God of all. God sees us all as brothers and sisters. Many times we know this in our heads, but it can sometimes be difficult to feel it in our hearts! When have you struggled to feel that God was also the God of someone very unlike you? What might help you to feel more like a brother or sister to someone quite different from yourself?

This story is about more than two brothers who are very different. It is about the struggle that occurs when the needs and desires of two dissimilar lifestyles come into conflict. Where have you observed this in the world today? How might there be harmony between them without one overpowering the other?

No doubt there are people in your family who live very different lifestyles from your own. Do you sometimes wish they would live a lifestyle more like yours? Conversely, do you sometimes envy their lifestyles? How might you honor your own without being critical of others’, or wishing you lived more like they live?

Psalm 119: 105-112

In these lines, the psalmist professes a deep faith in the Lord and the righteousness of God’s law. He does not view these laws as oppressive, but the means by which God might provide humans with a just, orderly and safe society. Humankind cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. The psalmist describes God’s laws as a “light to my feet,” “my heritage forever” and the “joy of my heart.” Humans cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. God’s decrees are not a burden for the psalmist, but the means by which God might lighten the sometimes heavy load of being human. Yet it is the psalmist’s experience that others act maliciously toward him. He is “severely afflicted” because “the wicked have laid a snare” for him, intending it would seem to kill him. He asks God to “give me life!” The psalmist declares that, regardless of the cruelty shown to him by others, he will uphold the oath he has sworn to the Lord and “observe” God’s “righteous ordinances” “forever, to the end.”

There are many places in the world where violence, injustice and chaos rob people of their sense of security and their futures. Try using the themes expressed in these lines to write a prayer for those suffering under repressive governments and systems.

Have you ever experienced injustice or a malicious act by another? How has this experience diminished or strengthened your faith? What aspects of your faith were helpful in dealing with this situation? What things were not so helpful?

What precepts of your faith are a “light” to your feet, guide your way, give you stability when the world around you seems to be in chaos?

Romans 8:1-11

Paul proclaims Christ’s victory over sin and death. Through Christ’s obedience he has spared us condemnation for what we were unable to achieve ourselves. According to Paul, our inability to keep the Law of Moses weakened the Law to the point of it being unable to offer salvation, leaving us subject to sin and death.

According to Paul, God sent Jesus to do for us what the Law could not because of our own shortcomings, not because the law was in any way inadequate. Jesus conquered our sin, and through this victory, freed us from its power so that God’s purpose might be fulfilled for everyone who walks “according to the Spirit.”

Paul tells us that to set our minds on “things of the flesh,” that is, our own destructive desires, can only result in death. However, to set our minds on the Spirit is “life and peace.” Paul reminds us that we are in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells in us. Therefore, even if our bodies are “dead because of sin,” our spirits are still alive because of Christ’s Spirit, which dwells within us as righteousness. It is only possible for us to be in “the Spirit of Christ” because the “Spirit of Christ” is us. Paul adds that because Christ is raised from the dead, that is, because he is immortal, his immortal life is in everyone in whom his Spirit dwells.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel as though Paul is handing me pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I need to get all the pieces in the right places before I can see the big picture. I think the picture Paul wants us to see might look something like this: God gave us some rules to live by in order to provide us with a safe, just society, keeping us in good relationship with God and one another.

Yet because of human weakness, we were unable to obey these laws. In fact, our disobedience amounted to misuse of the Law and made things even worse. The Law could not then fulfill God’s purpose. It did not give life, but death. In order for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, therefore, God sent Jesus Christ who would achieve what the Law, because of our own sinfulness, could not.

According to Paul, Jesus does not replace the Law, but fulfills its purpose – just as a doctor does not replace a medical textbook, but fulfills its purpose. A medical textbook can describe symptoms and recommend treatment, but if it is misunderstood or misused, it can do more damage than good. A doctor can actually save lives; he or she fulfills the purpose of the textbook by understanding it and using that knowledge to heal others. I believe this is the picture that appears when we assemble all the pieces Paul has given us.

What does it mean to you to have the Spirit of Christ “in” you? What does it mean to you to live “in” Christ?

Scripture is often misunderstood and misused, and therefore unable to fulfill God’s purpose. How does the “Holy Spirit” overcome this?

How has your understanding of scripture changed over time? How has this change impacted your life “in” Christ?

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In Chapter 13 of Matthew we can imagine Jesus standing in a boat a little off shore but still within earshot of the crowds. On the beach, they eagerly await his message. What were they hoping to hear? Whatever it was, Jesus tells them in his parable that the message he will deliver will take root in very few of them.

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the “seed” represents the Kingdom of God. Jesus is represented as the sower, and people as various locations where seeds may fall. When the sower drops a seed on a path, it is exposed and quickly snatched up by a bird. When he drops a seed on rocky ground, it begins to sprout, but without depth of soil soon withers. A seed dropped among the thorns is soon choked and dies. But a seed dropped on fertile ground yields a bountiful harvest.

Jesus proclaims, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Well, it seems further explanation was necessary.

A little later in the gospel, we hear a slightly expanded version of the parable. Jesus explains that the seed sewn on the path, which is snatched away by a bird, depicts how the “evil one” may snatch the Kingdom from one’s heart if one does not properly understand it. The person who is like rocky ground receives the word with joy, but without proper roots, his or her faith cannot withstand the challenges of life. The person who is like a thorny bed yields nothing because the cares of the world are more important than God’s Kingdom. But the seeds that are sewn in good soil, that is, in people who have understanding, produce a tremendous yield.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been all four of these places at various times in my life! I’ve been the path, when I was so wrapped up in where I wanted to go that I never even attempted to understand what God was putting right in front of me. I’ve been the rocky ground, when I neglected to nourish the things that were most important in my life so that they withered and sometimes died. At other times I’ve allowed my daily anxieties, like thorns, to choke out the truly wonderful things God has given me. And yet God, with loving persistence, never ceases to broadcast his unlimited bounty of seeds! God knows that there will be times when I am a rich loam and a seed takes root and grows.

How have you been a well-trodden path, rocky ground, a bed of thorns, and good soil? What were the circumstances in your life at those times? What might have made a difference in how receptive you were to Christ’s Word?

What makes “good soil”? Do you believe people are just born with it, or can good soil be developed?

How does it make you feel when others appear to be rocky ground or beds of thorns? Do you become frustrated? How can we faithfully proclaim the gospel without being pushy?