Archives for October 2014

Reaching out to ‘the least of these’, Christ the King (A) – 2014

November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

There is something terribly sad in today’s gospel reading, something so easy to miss that it eludes most of us. That’s probably because this is such a tempting story. It is one of the most straightforward of all the New Testament’s accounts of judgment; and one of the most fun.

Here, judgment is connected to actively reaching out to those in need, specifically to “the least of these,” to those who are at the bottom, those who are the most helpless and who have no other champions – to those with no one else to care for them. These are God’s favorites, the ones God sees in a special way.

And it’s really clear that those who are condemned are not condemned for doing bad things, or for acting unjustly or cruelly. Instead, they are condemned for the good they did not do. You can’t sit out the Christian moral life. There’s just no way, by avoiding engagement, to thereby avoid judgment. “Well, I never intentionally hurt anybody” cuts no mustard at the Great Throne Judgment.

All of which can tempt just about any preacher to shout, “So get out there and serve Jesus in your neighbor. Do good and save your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same time.” Which can make a heck of a sermon, and one most church leaders aren’t opposed to preaching from time to time. Good stuff. Can’t hurt.

But today let’s talk about what’s so sad in this story.

Notice that those who have been gathered up at the right hand of the Lord – those who are called blessed of the father, the ones we want to be – have only one thing to say to Jesus. They say, “Lord, when?”

“When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”

“When?” That’s it; that’s all they have to say.

This is dreadfully sad because of all the loss, and all the struggle and all the pain that question implies. These folks, the sheep, the saved, the good guys, they were right, they did all of the correct things, but they missed the greatest joy of it. They missed seeing the Lord. They overlooked the hidden presence of God in the faces of those they served.

One of the reasons we have this parable may be to help us avoid that loss, to remind us what reaching out and caring and serving can be about at the level of greatest depth. Because it’s very clear: No matter how right you are, no matter how much you serve the presence of Christ in others, if you don’t pay special attention, if you simply don’t look for the Lord Jesus in those you serve, then, like the saved people in the parable, you won’t see him. And most of the joy is lost. Most of the joy of doing good and being right and saving your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same time, most of that joy, is lost.

After all, reaching out in love to the presence of Christ in others, especially in both “the least of these” and in those closest to us, this is quite often a great big pain. It takes a lot of time, and there’s almost never any indication that anything of lasting benefit has happened.

What’s more, “the least of these” are usually at least partially responsible for whatever problems and needs make them the least. And most of the time they don’t look or act or smell the way we imagine Jesus should.

Frequently, they aren’t very nice, and worse yet, they seldom seem to appreciate whatever good we do try to do for them. So, doing good, reaching out to feed, clothe, visit, heal and otherwise minister to “the least of these” tends to frustrate us, and we tend to get burned, and to get burned out.

And much the same sort of thing can happen when the ones we reach out to are not some distant “them,” but are, instead, the people we live with and around, the people closest to us.

One would think that actually serving Christ shouldn’t be as hard, and as disheartening, as it often is. But there we are. After all, just because we’re doing something for religious reasons doesn’t mean that, all by itself, whatever we’re doing will look or feel religious or that it will effect us in a particularly religious way.

Cleaning the kitchen in the church, or anywhere else for that matter, is still cleaning a kitchen. Being nice to a difficult person because you are convinced that Jesus wants you to, is still being nice to a difficult person. Spending time or money or energy out of Christian conviction still means that you no longer have that time or that money or that energy.

The Lord calls us to serve him, in our neighbors, in our brothers and sisters, in the least of these, and – often the most challenging – in those closest to us. That call is real; there are no excuses. But the Lord also calls us to see him in the face of our neighbors, and of our brother and sister, and – we can’t forget – in the least of these. This is a spiritual call, a call to discernment as much as it is a call to action and to service.

There’s not a secret or mysterious way to do this. Here are two quick ideas: First of all, in order to see the Lord, we have to look. At the people around us. Deliberately. All of the time. We need constantly to look as we remember what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what we hope to come from it. We need look on purpose.

Second, if we want Jesus to show himself to us, it can really help if we ask him to. Sometimes we have to ask him a lot. That’s one reason why reaching out to others in a way that is not wrapped in prayer, any act of ministry that is not consciously and deliberately offered to God with the request to be shown how the Lord is in it, while certainly not wasted effort, is terribly incomplete.

If our prayers during the day and about the day do not beg the Lord for a look at his face, or a glimpse at his Kingdom in all that is going on around us, then we are cheating ourselves, and living barely on the surface of a much deeper reality.

To try to live the life Christ calls us to live without placing all of that in the middle of some disciplined reflection, prayer and study, this is to risk missing the best part of it all. It is to risk missing the presence and Word of Jesus that can transform a mundane task into an opportunity for insight and for joy – that can make doing the things we are called to do a path deeper into the mystery of God’s life, and of our own.

This story of judgment is more than a call to serve. It’s more than a call to be good, and to do the right thing. Sure, it’s that, but it’s much more.

It’s also a call to look, to notice, to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God in all that we do. It’s a call, above all, to see.

 

– The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

Bible Study: Christ the King (A)

November 23, 2014

Donna StanfordBishop Kemper School for Ministry

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

In this lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, Ezekiel delivers the dual message of God’s judgment and salvation. God warns that he will condemn the irresponsible “fat and strong” shepherd-kings of Israel (v. 16). Because the shepherd-kings neglected their duties, the weak sheep-people of Israel were scattered into exile in Babylon (vv. 12-13). God will also judge the sheep-people themselves, promising to feed with justice the corrupt “fat sheep” people who have mistreated their fellow “lean sheep” people (vv. 20-22).

The counterpoint to God’s judgment of Israel is God’s message of salvation. God promises that He will engage in a search-and-rescue mission. As the good shepherd of Israel, God will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (v. 16). He will gather the people from exile, feed them with good pasture and make them lie down in good grazing land (vv. 13-14). God will re-establish his flock in Israel, and He will be their God (v. 24).

Why should the exiles believe Ezekiel’s message of promise?

As in Psalm 23, this passage from Ezekiel uses the imagery of God as shepherd and the people as his flock. What has been your experience of God’s deliverance when you felt distressed, sorrowful or forsaken?

Psalm 100:1-4

In Psalm 100, the psalmist marries the image of God as king (“serve the Lord,” “come before his presence”) with the image of God as shepherd (“we are … the sheep of his pasture”) (vv. 1, 2). God is recognized as sovereign over creation (“all you lands”) and over Israel (“he himself has made us,” “we are his people”) (vv. 1, 2).

What response does God as shepherd-king deserve? Because he has created us, we belong to him (v. 2). We are to offer our whole selves to God in service. Our proper response to God’s goodness, mercy and faithfulness is worship – joyful praise and thanksgiving (v. 3). We are to “enter his gates,” “go into his courts,” and “call upon his Name” (v. 3). We are to enjoy His presence in our lives.

How do you open yourself to God’s presence?

During worship, do you glorify and enjoy God? If not, why not?

Ephesians 1:15-23

This pericope, or passage, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians may be divided into three sections.

Verses 15 and 16 are a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the report Paul received about the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and about their putting love into practice.

Verses 17 through 19 are Paul’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. Paul names God as “the Father of Glory,” which refers to God’s power. Paul asks God to give the Ephesians wisdom and insight into God’s saving act through Jesus Christ. Paul affirms that God’s power is working in those who believe.

In verses 20 through 23, Paul declares that Christ’s resurrection and glorification is evidence of God’s power at work in Christ. The exalted Christ is depicted in royal terms. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (v. 21). The name of Christ is “above every name that is named” (v. 21). The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated – God has put all things under Christ’s authority. The pericope draws to an ecclesial conclusion. Not only was God’s power at work in Christ’s resurrection and glorification, but God’s power is still at work in Christ through his body, the church (vv. 22-23).

Is your faith cerebral assent to a creed or a whole-hearted trust in God that motivates how you live your life?

Have you observed God’s power at work in Christ through the church? Give specific examples.

Matthew 25:31-46

This passage is the end of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. The apocalyptic images reflect Christ’s kingship and his roles as judge and shepherd.

Jesus, referring to himself as the Son of Man, relates that when he comes in glory with his angels, he will be enthroned as king (v. 31). All human beings will be gathered before him (v. 32). Exercising his royal authority, Christ the King will separate the people, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (v. 32). Both the “sheep” and the “goats” will be surprised by the King’s judgment (vv. 37, 44). Neither group sees themselves as the King sees them.

Christ the King invites the “sheep” or the “righteous” to inherit the Kingdom of God that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v. 34). The righteous will enjoy eternal life (v. 46). He calls them, “blessed by my Father” (v. 34). On the other hand, the “goats” or the “accursed” will be condemned to eternal punishment (vv. 32-33, 46).

What distinguishes the blessed from the accursed? As described in the Beatitudes, the blessed act with unselfish, loving kindness toward needy people. The righteous welcome strangers, give clothing to the needy, visit the sick and imprisoned without knowing that they are ministering to Christ (vv. 35-36), while the accursed selfishly ignore those in need (vv. 42-43).

Do the apocalyptic images of Christ as King and judge disturb you? If so, why?

Does this parable contradict the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works?

‘Conversations with Scripture: Acts of the Apostles’

“Conversations with Scripture: Acts of the Apostles.” C. K. Robertson. New York: Morehouse, 2010. 129 pp.

“Conversations with Scripture: Acts of the Apostles.” C. K. Robertson. New York: Morehouse, 2010. 129 pp.

“Conversations with Scripture: Acts of the Apostles” (Church Publishing, 2010) by C. K. Robertson presents a well-researched, yet highly readable exploration of the story of Jesus’ earliest followers, from their call to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” through their initial days of concord and numerical success, to the challenges they faced as unfamiliar newcomers entered the scene and the coming of a champion who, against the odds, became the church’s chief protagonist. Complete with discussion questions, this is a helpful resource for individuals and small groups alike.

“Conversations with Scripture: Acts of the Apostles” can be ordered here.

“Robertson has created that most difficult of things – a genuinely engaging commentary. His judicious blend of sound scholarship, peppery insights, and conversational language makes for an informative book upon a book that is as refreshing as it is as rare.” — Phyllis Tickle

“This insightful study of the triumphs and struggles of the early church is especially relevant for Christians today, and equally engaging for individuals and small groups. It reminds us again of the practical lessons we can draw from our rich and ancient heritage.” — Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona

‘Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers’

“Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers” (Church Publishing, 2014) by Ian Markham and C. K. Robertson is an accessible Q&A introduction to the Episcopal Church, providing a quick, easy and non-threatening way to learn about some of the most central and compelling elements of Christian faith. A wonderful resource for today’s busy lifestyle, it is ideal for use with new members, as a confirmation resource and in youth and adult study groups. “Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers.” Ian Markham and C. K. Robertson. New York: Morehouse, 2014. 104 pp.

“Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers.” Ian Markham and C. K. Robertson. New York: Morehouse, 2014. 104 pp.

“Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers” (Morehouse, 2014) by Ian Markham and C. K. Robertson is an accessible Q&A introduction to the Episcopal Church, providing a quick, easy and non-threatening way to learn about some of the most central and compelling elements of Christian faith. A wonderful resource for today’s busy lifestyle, it is ideal for use with new members, as a confirmation resource and in youth and adult study groups.

“Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers”  can be ordered here.

“Insightful and helpful introduction to the Episcopal ethos – who are those strange folks, why do they think the way(s) they do, and act the way they do – in church and in the world? Even the cradle-born will learn something in these pages, and all will find fodder for reflection and motivation in the questions that follow each section.” — the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop  and Primate, the Episcopal Church

‘The Book of Common Prayer: A Spiritual Treasure Chest’

“The Book of Common Prayer: A Spiritual Treasure Chest.” C.K. Robertson. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths,, 2013. 208 pp.

“The Book of Common Prayer: A Spiritual Treasure Chest.” C.K. Robertson. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2013. 208 pp.

“The Book of Common Prayer: A Spiritual Treasure Chest” (SkyLight Paths, 2013) by C. K. Robertson offers a unique presentation of selections with facing-page commentary. Organized by themes such as “Blessings in Times of Joy and Pain,” “Called to Serve” and “Praise and Petition,” this volume in the SkyLight Illuminations series provides spiritual riches for all who are interested in deepening their life of prayer, building stronger relationships and making a difference in the world.

“The Book of Common Prayer: A Spiritual Treasure Chest” can be ordered here.

“A gift to the larger ecumenical community. The Book of Common Prayer … continues to offer spiritual formation to Christians of many traditions … this remarkable guide will enrich our pursuit.” — Kathryn Mary Lohre, president, National Council of the Churches of Christ USA

“One of the great classics …. Christians of every tradition can appreciate its majestic yet concise style, and draw upon it for inspiration and insight. Most welcome and of benefit to those seeking to deepen their Christian faith.” — The Rev. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP, associate director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.

“A fresh new set of insights …. A wellspring of encouragement to go deep and wide with this treasure trove of Christian roots and wings. I commend this work and all its potential for invigorating worship and transforming our experience of liturgy.” — Archbishop David Moxon, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See; director, the Anglican Centre in Rome

“Warmly and brilliantly guides us through the spiritual riches of one of Christianity’s most sublime religious texts. Anyone who seeks wisdom, hope and a deeper, more authentic prayer life, both individually and communally, will find this resource immensely rewarding.” — The Rev. Peter Wallace, producer and host, Day1 radio program; author of “The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically”

‘Barnabas vs. Paul’

To Encourage or Confront?

“Barnabas vs. Paul: To Encourage or Confront?” C. K. Robertson.  Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2014.

“Barnabas vs. Paul: To Encourage or Confront?” C. K. Robertson. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2014.

“Barnabas vs. Paul: To Encourage or Confront?” (Abingdon, 2014) by C. K. Robertson, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu, offers a fresh portrait of Paul, whom we only think we know, and of Barnabas, an otherwise unheralded apostle. The story of these partners in ministry, inseparable colleagues until a conflict tore them apart, will challenge the assumptions we have and bring these great pioneers to life.

“Barnabas vs. Paul” can be ordered here.

“Popular perceptions of Barnabas and Paul are often misleading and prejudicial. In his readable and absorbing book, Robertson has restored the truth about these two Christian workers who – in their distinctly separate ways – cleared the way for the growth of the church and the advance of the gospel around the world.” — Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, USA

“Do you have ears to hear and eyes to see? Leave your preconceptions at the door and learn who Paul and Barnabas really were, and what they actually espoused. Read Robertson’s account of early Christian struggles and see the parallels with your own faith community and its environs. Read and learn to be dangerous – and reinvigorated for what you’ve been sent into the world to do and be!”
— The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Episcopal Church

“St. Paul will never have a better apologist than Canon Robertson; nor will there ever be a more insightful and thorough application of a Paulinian apologia to the practical work of the contemporary Church than this one. One may not agree with all the lines and conclusions of Chuck Robertson’s argument, but no one can unsay his thoroughness, the ease and depth of his scholarship, or the sincerity and usefulness of its presentation here. This is an ideal volume for private reading as well as for group study.” — Phyllis Tickle, author of “The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why”

‘Transforming Stewardship’

Transforming Stewardship

“Transforming Stewardship.” C. K. Robertson. New York: Church Publishing, 2009. 177 pp.

“Transforming Stewardship” (Church Publishing, 2009) by C. K. Robertson, part of the “Transformation” series, considers holistic, practical ways for church leaders to address visionary budgeting, newcomer recruitment and retention, leadership development and congregational vitality. “Transforming Stewardship” is a proven resource in congregations throughout the church.

“Transforming Stewardship” can be ordered here.

‘A Dangerous Dozen’

Twelve Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo

“A Dangerous Dozen: 12 Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo.” C. K. Robertson. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2011. 208 pp.

“A Dangerous Dozen: 12 Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo.” C. K. Robertson. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2011. 208 pp.

“A Dangerous Dozen: 12 Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo” (SkyLight Paths, 2011) by C. K. Robertson, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu, introduces readers to twelve fascinating — and at times intimidating — Christian change agents who were unafraid to ask what God would have them do in the face of life’s realities — and unafraid to go ahead and do it. Their words and actions challenged the status quo, and in so doing they showed the face of Jesus to the Church and to the world.

“A Dangerous Dozen” can be ordered here.

‘Hazardous Saints’

Christians Risking All, Changing Everything

“Hazardous Saints: Christians Risking All, Changing Everything.” C. K. Robertson. New York: Church Publishing, 2015. 32 pp.

“Hazardous Saints: Christians Risking All, Changing Everything.” C. K. Robertson. New York: Church Publishing, 2015. 32 pp.

“Hazardous Saints: Christians Risking All, Changing Everything” (Church Publishing, 2015) by C.K. Robertson is an exciting new six-session DVD series with accompanying study guide. A wonderful resource for adult and young adult study groups in mainline Christian churches, clergy and lay leadership teams, such as vestries and boards of elders, and retreat planners and those interested in learning more about some remarkable models of the faith.

“Hazardous Saints” can be ordered here.

 

 

Bulletin Insert: 22 Pentecost (A)

Veterans Day Weekend

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

November 9, 2014

(Photo by Mike Mozart)

(Photo by Mike Mozart)

In observance of Veterans Day, November 11, the Rt. Rev. Dr. James “Jay” Magness, the Episcopal Church’s Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries, and the Rev. Dr. Wollom “Wally” Jensen, Canon to the Bishop, offer a special message:

“This year marks the beginning of the centennial of the outbreak of World War I. Much will be written, much will be debated and much will be remembered about that Great War and the terrible slaughter that stained the face of Europe and left the whole world forever diminished. Beginning with a murder in Sarajevo and ending with an unjust peace in a rail car at Versailles, the sacrifices of poets and artists, musicians and architects, physicians and farmers, rich and poor, brave and faint of heart seem to have been in vain. Today our world continues to be marked by the sacrifices of warriors at the altar of death, and there seems to be no end to violence and destruction in sight. But as the poppies grow blood red anew each year in Flanders, so hope for peace continues to spring like white lilies afresh each year in the hearts of women and men of good will around the world. May each of us commit ourselves to the enduring work of peace-making and the work of relationship-building.

“This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of our men and women served in that war, and over 56,000 lost their lives in combat-related deaths. While many members of our church and the greater Christian community have expressed a wide range of opinions about this war, we will do well to remember that those who served in Vietnam have similar points of view. Therefore, this would be a good year to thank these veterans for their acts of courage, love of country and willingness to sacrifice, always a virtue of faith.

“While remembrance is important, the act of remembering is insufficient. We have among us a significant number of combat veterans, many of whom have invisible though enduring wounds, which must be recognized and healed. It is not enough to thank a veteran for her or his service as though we were wishing them a ‘good day.’ It is incumbent upon each of us to engage in ongoing care for veterans and to ensure that we provide meaningful assistance in rebuilding their lives and their futures. Providing shelter for the homeless, medical care for the ailing, spiritual care for those who have lost hope, and jobs for those who are unemployed are the responsibilities of a grateful nation to those who have stood the lonely watches, born the heavy burdens and carry the wounds of war for each of us.

“In large measure, we who are part of the community gathered around Word and sacrament, and who are disciples of the One who gave himself for us, are called to serve those who have served us. We can begin with remembrance. First, to remember that in caring for the veteran we are not celebrating war. Second, by remembering that the sacrifices made by veterans and their families are sacrifices made on behalf of each one of us. Third, by remembering that though we have asked our sons and daughters to endure the unspeakable, we all stand in need of the reconciliation and forgiveness that comes from the One who gave his life for each of us.”

Collect for Peace
By the Rt. Rev. Dr. James Magness and the Rev. Dr. Wollom Jensen

Lord, we pause on this Veterans Day weekend to remember those who have served this nation so well. We honor their many sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families, friends and loved ones as well. Today we pray for that time when all will beat their swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and none will neither study nor practice war anymore. Give to each of us the heart of peace, the determination to work for it, and the courage to defend it. Grant us humility in our relations with all people, and give us the gift of trust that our faith in you may be fulfilled, and bless us with your peace that passes all understanding. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 11/9/14
half page, double-sided 11/9/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 11/9/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 11/9/14

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