Archives for January 2015

Jason Cox

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

Sermons (in liturgical order):

6 Easter (A) – 2014
Christmas Eve (A,B,C) – 2014

Bulletin Insert: Last Sunday After Epiphany (B)

World Mission Sunday

February 15, 2015

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

Children from the Holy Cross school in Grahamstown, South Africa  (Photo by David Copley)

Children from the Holy Cross school
in Grahamstown, South Africa (Photo by David Copley)

Each year on the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, the Episcopal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday.

The purpose of World Mission Sunday is to focus on the global impact of the Baptismal Covenant’s call to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305), and to raise awareness of the many ways in which the Episcopal Church participates in God’s mission around the world.

Currently, the Episcopal Church supports missionaries in many international locales, including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Kenya, Mozambique, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania and Uruguay.

“World Mission Sunday gives us an opportunity to remember that all humanity is created in God’s image and that we are called to reflect on how we are living into our baptismal vows and to engage concretely in mutual and interdependent relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted the Rev. David Copley, the Episcopal Church’s officer for Mission Personnel.

Copley, who has served as a missionary in Liberia and Bolivia, shares his unique perspective on mission in a sermon featured this week on the Sermons That Work website, the Episcopal Church’s website of free, online congregational resources.

“We do not ‘do mission to or for others,’” Copley writes. “Mission is not an activity in which someone is ‘sent’ and ‘received,’ mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess.” Copley continues:

“Mission is about being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship, in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

“Where one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we are all in pain.

“While we see glimpses of this connection at times of great joy and time of great sadness, our challenge is to see this connection every moment of every day. The challenge is to feel this connection to our sisters and brothers when we are engaged in our daily life, whether this is buying fair-trade coffee or lobbying for equal opportunities and better living conditions for those who work in factories around the world making the clothes we wear.

“World Mission Sunday reminds us that we are all intimately connected to one another. The girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria are our sisters and daughters. The families who live in hunger in Sudan are part of our family. The children who are not able to go to school in West Africa because of Ebola are our children, just as much our flesh and blood as our families at home. …

“Lifting up placards and declaring our solidarity with one another at time of crises acknowledges our unity together and is important for us to do. We are also invited by God to lift up our hearts, our minds and our very being to connect with our global family.”

Read Copley’s sermon in its entirety at http://www.sermonsthatwork.com.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 2/15/15
half page, double-sided 2/15/15

black and white, full page, one-sided 2/15/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 2/15/15

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

Bulletin Insert: 5 Epiphany (B)

The Feast of Absalom Jones / Black History Month

February 8, 2015

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Portrait of Absalom Jones by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

Portrait of Absalom Jones by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

On February 13, the church celebrates the feast day of the Rev. Absalom Jones, who, in 1804, became the Episcopal Church’s first African American ordained priest. Jones co-founded the Free African Society in 1787, a nondenominational mutual-aid society designed to assist freed slaves. By 1791, the Society had evolved into the African Church, which was received into the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1794. The diocese renamed the church St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, and it became the first black Episcopal parish in the United States – and remains an active parish today.

In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford designated February as Black History Month, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In celebration of the long history of inspiring contributions by the Episcopal Church’s black clergy and congregations, The Archives of the Episcopal Church offers a detailed timeline of these milestones as part of its exhibit “The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice.” Highlights from the timeline include:

1624: The first African slaves were baptized in the American Colonial (Anglican) Church.

1702-1780: The Society of the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) began work among African Americans throughout the American colonies.

1794: St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church became the first black parish accepted into the Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

1804: Absalom Jones was the first black priest ordained in the Episcopal Church.

1865: As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, General Convention formed the Freedmen’s Commission to aid freed slaves in education and evangelism.

1874: James Holly became the first black bishop in the Episcopal Church.

1878: The Bishop Payne Divinity School was established in Petersburg, Va., to train black men for the priesthood. It remained open until 1949, when its enrollment declined due to the integration of most Episcopal seminaries.

1884: The first black delegates were sent to General Convention.

1906: The American Church Institute for Negroes was established to support secondary and college educational institutions throughout the South.

1962: The Ven. John M. Burgess was the first African American to be elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and the first African American bishop with authority over both black and white congregations. He became the first African American diocesan bishop in 1970.

1964: General Convention adopted a policy prohibiting racial discrimination in Episcopal churches.

1968: The Union of Black Clergy and Laity (UBCL) formed an ad hoc committee to oppose racism within the Episcopal Church, which, in 1971, became the Union of Black Episcopalians.

1970: Charles Willie became the first black Episcopalian elected as vice president of the House of Deputies.

1976: Dr. Charles Radford Lawrence, II, became the first black – and the third layperson ever elected – president of the House of Deputies.

1989: Barbara Harris was consecrated as the suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, becoming both the first woman and first black woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.

This information is taken with permission from “The Church Awakens,” an online exhibit of the The Archives of the Episcopal Church.

For more information about Black Ministries in the Episcopal Church, please contact the Rev. Angela Ifill, aifill@episcopalchurch.org.

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 2/8/15
half page, double-sided 2/8/15

black and white, full page, one-sided 2/8/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 2/8/15

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

Bible Study: Last Sunday After Epiphany (B)

February 15, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Mark 9:2-5)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

2 Kings 2:1-12

There are two stories in this beautiful passage from Second Kings. One is the dramatic story of Elijah’s ascent to heaven, rich with imagery of God in the whirlwind, of chariots of fire and waters parting. It is a tale of prophets that connects Elijah with Moses and precipitates speculation about the nature of Elijah and his eventual return. The story within the story is Elisha’s grief: his desire to accompany Elijah on his final journey, even though he knows how the journey will end. Elisha’s determination to stay in the moment with his beloved teacher, against the counsel of the company of prophets who insist that the moment is passing, and his desire to inherit a double share of his teacher’s spirit are both touching and also prophetic. The ecstatic vision of the chariot of fire and the whirlwind subside; the passage ends with Elisha losing sight of Elijah and tearing his clothes in grief.

Many of us have taken or will take this final journey with a loved parent or mentor, or know someone who has. In what ways is the story of Elisha’s companioning Elijah to his ascent to heaven like a scene from hospice care? Consider the characters and their reaction to the situation. Elijah, Elisha, the company of prophets, God in the whirlwind, all have a part to play in the drama.

The prophet Elijah has been associated with the Messiah in both Jewish and Christian traditions. How does the concept of Messiah differ between Jews and Christians? How does Elijah relate to your conception of the Messiah?

Psalm 50:1-6

In these lines from Psalm 50, we hear an image of God as creator and judge. There is a way of thinking about God called “apophatic theology.” Sometimes called “negative theology,” this thinking holds that all of our names for God are inadequate. Since we can never name the unknowable and unnamable, the only way to describe God is by what God is not. Images or names such as Lord, Judge, Shepherd, Comforter or Slayer of the Wicked are all inadequate, only part of the vast greatness of God. The consuming flame and the raging storm in this passage are reminiscent of God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3. These images, along with the whirlwind in today’s passage from Second Kings, are considered apophatic images of God.

With your Bible study group, make a list of all of the names and images of God that you can think of from scripture. Add as many names and images as you can from your experience or imagination. In what ways do these names describe God? In what ways do they fail to describe God? Which of your images are concrete (called “cataphatic” in theological terminology)? Which of your images are apophatic?

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul is defending his authority as an apostle and leader of the church in Corinth against a new group of missionaries who have led some church members to reject Paul’s leadership and message. When Paul describes the gospel as “veiled,” he is referring to the veil that covered Moses’ radiant face when he brought the covenant from God to the people of Israel in Exodus 34:33. Earlier in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul has spoken of his boldness as a proclaimer of God’s word, contrasting himself with Moses who veiled his face. Paul asserts his strong message and style of leadership as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. Using images of light, Paul is direct and unequivocal in his assertion that the glory of God shines through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In what ways is the image of light as a metaphor for God’s teaching like the images of the whirlwind, the consuming flame and the raging storm in today’s lesson from 2 Kings and Psalm 50?

Does Paul connect Jesus with Moses and Elijah? How? Does he connect himself with the line of prophets?

What “god of this world” might blind us from seeing the Good News of Jesus Christ as preached by the apostle Paul?

Mark 9:2-9

In the story of the Transfiguration, Mark describes a mystical experience. Imagine the terror of Peter, James and John as they try to make sense of an experience that is unknowable and unexplainable. Mark clearly links Jesus with Moses and Elijah, those prophets who stand in God’s presence and can communicate God’s word. It is interesting to note that the Gospel of Mark does not include an appearance of Jesus after the tomb is discovered to be empty, so that some scholars consider the Transfiguration to be a resurrection appearance. The voice of God from the cloud and the injunction to “Tell No One” about what they have seen echoes the Elijah’s Ascent-to-Heaven passage from Second Kings that we heard earlier today. God’s faithfulness is a theme of the story; God has never left God’s people without a prophet to lead them, without help or hope.

Have you ever had a mystical experience when you felt that you were in God’s presence? Can you describe the experience? Were you afraid? Did you think of any biblical stories, prophets or images? Or was your experience beyond description?

One interpretation of the Transfiguration is that it is a glimpse of the end time, a promise of a kind of life that we cannot imagine, that is not visible to our earth-bound eyes. How do you imagine the Kingdom of God? What glimpses have you had of the ways in which the Kingdom of God is not comparable to anything in our human experience? What characteristics of the Kingdom of God can translate to earthly life? How?

The experience of the Transfiguration reminds the disciples of the transcendent glory of God. The voice from the cloud bids the disciples to listen to God’s beloved Son, Jesus. How might the apostle Paul have preached on this passage? How does it speak to you?

How does this passage mark a turning point from the liturgical season of Epiphany, with its emphasis on miracles and the Good News of God’s kingdom, and the season of Lent, with its emphasis on Jesus’ journey to suffering and the cross?

Bible Study: 5 Epiphany (B)

February 8, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:30-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31

This passage is from Second Isaiah, written toward the end of the Babylonian exile. The prophet promises the people of Israel that deliverance from exile in Babylon is coming soon. The message is of consolation and the greatness of God the king and creator, a powerful God who is in control of history and events. The passage is lyrical, a series of rhetorical questions and images that show the power and wisdom of God the creator. Verses 21-24 describe a powerful maker of the world and its people who also controls their history. Verses 27-31 reassure God’s people that God is aware of their situation and will renew the strength of those who wait faithfully.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Try setting some of the passage to music, as G.F. Handel has famously done for the preceding passage Isaiah 40:1-11. Or try a dramatic reading with several people. Enjoy the language and the message of renewal.

Does God control history? Yes? No? To some extent? How? The incarnational theologians say that God entered history by becoming incarnate in Jesus. How does that idea relate to this passage from Isaiah?

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise incorporating themes and motifs from Isaiah 40. The emphasis is on God the creator. Praise of God’s power and wisdom is joined with praise of God’s care for the lowly. God’s people are called to sing and make music in praise of God, who loves and cares for creation. We are reminded that God and God’s people are in relationship. The joyful expression of faith brings God delight.

Look for motifs from today’s passage from Isaiah in the psalm. Notice the difference in voice. The passage from Isaiah is spoken from the point of view of a teacher and prophet; the psalm is the voice of the faithful listeners, the people of Israel. Try writing a dialogue or responsive reading based on the two passages.

Write a psalm of praise using your own images of care for creation. You might read your psalm as the Prayers of the People or as a blessing during a worship or prayer service, or for an opening or closing for your Bible study meeting.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

The passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians expresses Paul’s thoughts on evangelism and on being paid by the church community. Today’s verses and the ones preceding them make it clear that the apostles in the early church expected to be supported by the community (v. 14). When Paul speaks of placing an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ in verse 12, he is worried that the financial burden of his support might prevent some from joining the church community. Paul has two motivations for preaching the gospel – his own free will and commission by God. For a true servant of God, doing God’s will by proclaiming the gospel is its own reward. Paul writes of being all things to all people, speaking to different groups in terms they can understand, so that he can convert more people, win more souls to become members of the community. Thus he proclaims the gospel for the glory of God and to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.

What are the implications of lines 19-23 for preaching and evangelism in Paul’s time? In our time and place? What does evangelism mean to you?

Do you belong to a church community that supports its clerical leader financially? Does this affect the relationship between the proclaimer of the gospel and the community? Does it affect the way the gospel is proclaimed? Are there other models for support of the clergy? Is it possible or practical to proclaim the gospel with authority without material reward?

Mark 1:29-39

At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been the talk of the town. News of his healing and exorcism has spread from Capernaum throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. He is in great demand, having healed the mother-in-law of his friends Simon and Andrew, and has cured many diseases and cast out many demons for the people who have gathered to ask for his help.

Remember that when Jesus and his companions arrived at the synagogue in Capernaum in last week’s reading, Jesus taught with authority, proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom on earth, before he got sidetracked into healing and exorcism. The next morning, after praying by himself, Jesus’ sense of purpose is renewed. When the disciples come to tell him that everyone is looking for him, he tells them that it is time to move on to the neighboring towns to proclaim the message “for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus’ mission is to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God.

What is the relationship between proclaiming the message and casting out demons? Is one more important than the other? Should Jesus stay in Capernaum and continue to heal and exorcise? Or is that a distraction from his mission? Can you think of a contemporary scenario similar to Jesus’ dilemma?

What is Jesus’ mission? Refer to Mark 1:1, Matthew 4:23-25 and Luke 4:42-44. Consider the irony that Mark’s readers and we know Jesus’ significance while his disciples do not. How does knowing his identity change your response to his decision to move on from healing in Capernaum to proclaim his message?

Our global Family, Last Sunday After Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 15, 2015

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Today, the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, the Episcopal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Today is a day when we are called to celebrate that we are a missionary church. Today is a day when where are all called, through our baptismal vows, to seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being, to continue in the apostle teachings and to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

Today is a day when we remember that through our baptism we are reborn into the family of Christ as children of God.

In our gospel reading today, we are reminded of the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, and therefore, we are reminded of our relationship with God, as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. One reason why World Mission Sunday is important is that we are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and mutually responsible for one another.

In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutual interdependent on one another.

This congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress talked about moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and instead focusing on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the senses in which we use the word “mission” in describing something we do for somebody else.

Perhaps one of the most revealing comments in the final document is: “Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united obedience to the one God whose mission it is. The form of the Church must reflect that.”

If we truly believe that we are children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have a most profound responsibility, not only to our family of birth but also to our brothers and sisters around the world.

We see glimpses of this connectedness, often in times of tragedy. On April 15, 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, there was an outcry across the world, and we saw many people become a part of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, including First Lady Michelle Obama. The cry was, “Bring back our girls,” not “those” girls or “their” girls, but “our” girls.

More recently, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, the global community again rallied together, announcing “Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – to show solidarity with the murdered staff of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

There are times in our collective consciousness when we know that we are all intimately connected, part of the same global community and children of God. Within the church, many people experience this during major feasts and seasons of the year, when we can feel the prayers of millions of people during Lent, or Easter or Christmas. The wonderful thing about being an Episcopalian and a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion is that we also know that we are connected by the Book of Common Prayer, in which, although it has been culturally adapted and written in many languages, our foundational prayers are the same and are said by over 80 million people around the world every Sunday.

How would it look if this sense of oneness, this sense of being part of a global family was something we felt on a more regular and intimate basis?

The Episcopal Church is a missionary church; our corporate name declares that, in that we are the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Our Baptismal Covenant declares that in what we say we believe, and how we say we will act.

The Episcopal Church continues to send out missionaries around the world, both young and young at heart. With the Young Adult Service Corps there is an opportunity for those between the ages of 21 and 30 years old to journey to another part of the Body of Christ and to see the Holy Spirit moving around the world. The Episcopal Church also offers opportunities for older adults to serve throughout the Anglican Communion.

While our parishes, dioceses and denomination send out missionaries around the world, we are all called to participate in this ministry. We are all called to pray alongside, to mutually support, to advocate for, to be with, to share stories with, to listen to, and to worship together with our sisters and brothers around the world.

As we were reminded in that 1963 congress, we do not “do mission to or for others.” Mission is not an activity in which someone is “sent” and “received,” mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship, in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

Where one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we are all in pain.

While we see glimpses of this connection at times of great joy and time of great sadness, our challenge is to see this connection every moment of every day. The challenge is to feel this connection to our sisters and brothers when we are engaged in our daily life, whether this is buying fair-trade coffee or lobbying for equal opportunities and better living conditions for those who work in factories around the world making the clothes we wear.

World Mission Sunday reminds us that we are all intimately connected to one another. The girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria are our sisters and daughters. The families who live in hunger in Sudan are part of our family. The children who are not able to go to school in West Africa because of Ebola are our children, just as much our flesh and blood as our families at home.

Our challenge, as it is every day of every week, is how do we live into this “Christian reality” of life? How do we live out our baptismal vows faithfully? How can we learn to be a global community as God has called us to live into?

On a practical level we can certainly become more informed:

  • We can listen to the world news and become educated about our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
  • We can learn about the work of the Episcopal Church’s missionaries through its website.
  • We can advocate for the poor and connect with the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
  • We can give through Episcopal Relief & Development.
  • We can pray for our brothers and sisters.
  • We can visit, share our stories and listen to the stories of others.

Lifting up placards and declaring our solidarity with one another at time of crises acknowledges our unity together and is important for us to do. We are also invited by God to lift up our hearts, our minds and our very being to connect with our global family.

Today is World Mission Sunday; we are invited to live into our baptismal vows and to engage concretely in mutual and interdependent relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world.

 

— The Rev. David Copley is the Episcopal Church’s officer for Mission Personnel. He was a missionary in Liberia and Bolivia and priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia before accepting his current position.

Bible Study: 4 Epiphany (B)

February 1, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:23-26)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

This passage defines the nature of a true prophet. A prophet is a gift from God. A true prophet is obliged to speak God’s truth – good news or bad – and must be heard and heeded by the people of God. A true prophet may not speak in the name of other gods, nor speak in God’s name what God has not commanded. In this sermon to the people of Israel, Moses reports God’s promise to raise up for them a prophet like him from among their own people. Christians have long interpreted Jesus to be this prophet – the “one like me from among their own people” – as is evidenced in the Gospel of Matthew’s strong identification of Jesus with Moses. In Acts 3: 22-23 ff, Peter reminds the congregation in Jerusalem of this promise, specifically naming Jesus as the appointed prophet and Messiah. He also reminds the congregation of their roots as people of Israel: “You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors” (Acts 3: 25).

In the name of what other gods might a false prophet speak? How can we distinguish between God’s commands and what God has not commanded?

Can you think of any prophets in our times? Someone you know or someone you’ve encountered in books, the news, social media?

How does the description of a true versus false prophet apply to the qualifications and trustworthiness of our community and religious leaders?

Psalm 111

Imagine this psalm as a response to the excerpt from Moses’ sermon that we read in today’s passage from Deuteronomy. The gathered people respond as a congregation with thanks and praise to God. In the opening verses, the people are thankful for God’s work and deeds, and for the gift of studying God’s word. On this day, they are especially thankful for God’s covenant with them, for the justice and steadfastness of God’s commandments, and for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Finally, they are ever mindful of the eternity of God. God’s righteousness and praise endure forever.

How does reading and meditating on this psalm connect worshipers here and now with the worshipers who might have heard Moses speaking in ancient times?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

This passage from First Corinthians offers a fascinating glimpse into Paul’s first-century Christian community. The earliest Christians were Jewish followers of Jesus. In most cases, they followed the Jewish Law. It was the Jewish custom to refrain from eating the meat that was sold in the marketplace, because of the possibility that it had been used in pagan sacrifice. Paul’s mission was to bring the Good News of Christ to the gentiles. This is not the only time in his letters when he addresses whether or not a gentile (or pagan or Greek) must conform to Jewish practices in order to be a part of the community of followers of Jesus. Paul says those who possess the knowledge of Christ’s salvation understand that food has no bearing on one’s relationship to God. However, it is best not to cause discomfort to those who are offended by eating food sacrificed to idols. So do not sin against Christ by wounding the consciences of others. Later in the letter (1 Corinthians 10:32) Paul is quite specific in his instruction to his mixed community of Jews and gentiles: Do not offend the Jewish believers by what you eat.

What does this passage say to you about dietary laws, respect and religious tolerance? Are there specific examples from your campus community, workplace or multi-faith community that apply to this discussion?

Do you think Paul is advocating an inclusive tolerance within the Christian community at Corinth? Why or why not? What are the implications for multicultural intra- and inter-religious relations today?

Mark 1:21-28

Today’s passage from Mark returns to the question raised in Deuteronomy 18:15-20: How can we recognize a true prophet? While the people gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum react with surprise and wonder to Jesus’ teaching, the unclean spirit recognizes him immediately: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The title Holy One of God is a reference to the prophet and healer Elisha (2 Kings 4:9). True to form as one who works and teaches in the tradition of the most honored prophets of the Jewish people, Jesus has authority to direct the power of God’s kingdom against the power of evil. “Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus commands, and the spirit obeys. While the scribes depend on their knowledge of Torah and tradition for their authority, Jesus preaches and heals with the authority of one sent by God. As his fame spread throughout Galilee, might the people have wondered: Is this the prophet from among their own that God promised in his covenant with the people of Israel?

Imagine a conversation between two witnesses to this day’s events in the synagogue. One is struck with awe and wonder: Surely this is the prophet promised by God in Deuteronomy! The other is a skeptic and warns against being taken in by folk healers and false prophets. Try role-playing or a debate between these two points of view.

What is the relationship between authority in teaching and the power to exorcise? Why do you think the evangelist Mark chose to introduce the public ministry of Jesus with stories of healing and exorcism?

Try bringing this healing story into the 21st century. What demons might a new prophet need to cast out? How might the Good News of the Kingdom of God have power over such demons?

Bulletin Insert: 4 Epiphany (B)

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

February 1, 2015

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

“Christ in St. Simeon’s Arms,” detail from stained glass in Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo by Lawrence Lew)

“Christ in St. Simeon’s Arms,” detail from stained glass in Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo by Lawrence Lew)

Each year on February 2, the church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, also known as the Feast of the Purification, and Candlemas. This feast commemorates the 40th day after Jesus’ birth, when he was presented in the Jerusalem Temple and Mary was purified in accordance with Jewish Law.

The Book of Leviticus mandates that, after childbirth, a woman must go to the temple to offer “two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt-offering and the other for a sin-offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean” (Leviticus 12:8).

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, when St. Simeon the Righteous saw Jesus in the temple and “took him in his arms and praised God,” saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30).

This blessing by Simeon is the basis for the canticle Nunc dimittis or “The Song of Simeon”:

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen
(Luke 2:29-32; Book of Common Prayer, p. 120).

“An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church” (Church Publishing, 2000) edited by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, explains that when the celebration of the Presentation was first introduced in Rome in the seventh century, it included a procession with candles and the singing of the Nunc dimittis, which is why this feast also became known as “Candlemas.”

Collect for the Presentation

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 239).

 

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Is there healing without curing?, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a conversation started or bring discussion to a deeper level. Luckily, there’s a game called TableTopics that is meant to get conversation started between two people or group. TableTopics is a clear cube filled with cards that have one question on each, and there are a variety of versions out there, including a Book Club version, Family version, and Spirit version. Each person in the group draws a card and reads their question, and all take turns answering. The Spirit version helps people get into deeper conversation that is helpful for exploring personal faith, as well as getting to know others better.

For example, one of the questions in the Spirit version leads to a discussion about the difference between being healed and being cured. Is there a difference between being cured and being healed? Can you be cured without being healed? Can you be healed without being cured?

When we are physically ill, we want a cure to make us feel better. But even though we may be cured of our ailment, it doesn’t mean that we are healed. Our understanding of healing, especially in our gospel stories, means something more: It means a restoration of wholeness, particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. When we are healed, even if we’re not cured of a physical ailment, we have the ability to rejoin our community in whatever way we can and be at peace on our path.

Throughout our lives, we meet people – and sometimes are the person – burdened with physical and spiritual illness. There’s a story about a woman who was in the hospital quite ill with cancer and estranged from her sister because of something that happened years before. She knew she was dying and talked to the hospital chaplain about her sister and how she was finally ready to stop nursing the grudge she had for all those years. She was ready to make amends. They prayed together about it and she cried because it hurt – not only to let the grudge go, but because she realized all the years and energy that had been wasted in maintaining that anger. When she was able to repent for her part in the estrangement, she was finally healed. She felt wholeness, even though her body was still sick. She felt right with God and restored to the community that she longed for.

When we are ready to be healed, it demands action on our part. It demands that we are ready to invite Jesus into that place that is wounded and help us. In our reading from the Gospel of Mark today, notice that Jesus doesn’t just seek people out who are sick; instead, they come to him, either on their own or through the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law is brought to Jesus’ attention as soon as they got to the house, and as soon as he healed her, she immediately goes about serving Jesus and the others of the house. She was restored to her community and to wholeness. Her healing demanded a response.

It is interesting that the word translated as “serve” here is the same that Jesus uses to describe himself as the “one who comes to serve” and also the same word used when the angels “waited on” Jesus in the wilderness. This example of serving embodies the ideal of discipleship as service to others, which was what Jesus was trying to get people to understand. It was because of the mother-in-law’s encounter with Jesus that she responded with immediate discipleship.

Although Jesus continues to cure many who were sick and to cast out demons, he did not allow the demons to speak because he did not want people to know he was the Messiah, the secret that is a big part of Mark’s gospel. His fame was already spreading from when he taught with authority in the synagogue at Capernaum and cast out an unclean spirit there. But Jesus’ call was always first and foremost to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God; everything else, including the miracle healings and exorcisms, was secondary. They just helped him establish “street cred” as someone not to be trifled with.

As it happens in human nature, people were getting caught up with the messenger and not the message. We’ve all been there. We get caught up in the hype of someone who is charismatic, and the next thing you know, you’re buying something, giving away your savings, donating a kidney, or whatever it is that person has seduced you into. Jesus was trying to avoid that reputation, in a way. He didn’t want to be seen as just another wonder-worker, because that was not his mission. His mission was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here, through God’s authority, not human authority.

It is in the third part of our gospel story today that Jesus teaches us something else that is very important. After all that healing and casting out of unclean spirits, Jesus gets up in the early morning and goes out to a deserted place to pray. Observing morning prayers was a regular part of Jewish religious practice, and we know that the desert or the wilderness in biblical tradition were places where a person would make contact with God; so it makes sense that Jesus does this. After all that pouring out of himself in the previous days, Jesus needed to get in touch with God again. Being battered with the intense and desperate needs of the world can make things a little foggy. We know how that feels. When your boss needs, your spouse needs, your family needs, your school needs, your church needs, your friend needs, it is easy to forget what God needs. So Jesus goes out to pray and be reminded of who he is and what his mission is by the one who sent him.

The translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this passage is particularly descriptive. It says, “And Simon and his companions hunted for him.” Jesus was being hunted like prey being stalked by a lion.

How many times have we felt that way? The needs of the world around us are overwhelming – we could help people all day and never fully satisfy all their needs. Jesus is showing us another way. He is teaching us when we should say no to something. He is teaching us how to discern what God is calling us to. If Jesus had come to solve all the aches and pains of people on earth, then we would be sitting here with a very different gospel and none of us would ever catch the flu or have arthritis.

Jesus gets his priorities straight by talking to God, and he realizes it’s time to move on and proclaim the gospel somewhere new. There will always be more need than one person can deal with, that’s why discipleship is important. The response to an encounter with Jesus is a converted life – a life in line with manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world, proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

The theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t heard the Good News yet. Isn’t it time that we followed Jesus and told them?

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is the part-time associate priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. She is currently working on becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist. You can learn more about her on the Soul Spa Seattle website.

Bible Study: 3 Epiphany (B)

January 25, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’” (Mark 1:16-17)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The Hebrew prophet Jonah has been sent by God to foretell the destruction of the city of Nineveh. Jonah is reluctant, and tries to escape God’s call. He boards a ship headed in the opposite direction; God sends a storm; the sailors throw Jonah overboard into the sea where he is swallowed by a great fish. In the belly of the fish, Jonah prays; and in his mercy, God delivers him from the great fish and sets him on dry land. Then Jonah answers God’s call and goes to Nineveh. The miracle is that the reluctant prophet is remarkably effective; as a result of his warning, the people repent and God forgives them.

The message of the book of Jonah is uplifting: God is willing to forgive those who repent. The importance of hearing prophets, of repentance and right action is affirmed: We can change God’s mind and save ourselves from calamity. Salvation is possible by our own intention and effort, with God’s grace. Jonah has answered God’s call and the results surprise him.

Can you think of a time when you have turned away from God’s call? Questioned God’s purpose for you? How did the outcome surprise you?

How does the story of the prophet Jonah challenge your assumptions about the God of the Hebrew Bible?

Psalm 62:6-14

This psalm might be called the Song of Jonah, as Jonah rejoices in his renewed trust in God and sense of purpose after he has been delivered from the great fish. The psalmist begins with personal experience; he affirms his trust in God. Then the psalmist’s voice turns to exhortation, urging the listeners to join in and find their safety in God. The psalmist offers a contrast, listing those temptations that interfere with trust in God. The message is that in God alone can we put our trust. The passage ends with a transition to a prayer, addressing God: “Steadfast love is yours.” It is a strong and poetic affirmation of faith.

How does the selection from Psalm 62 look back to the story of Jonah before our Hebrew Bible passage for today? How does the selection look forward to the events of today’s passage? Look for specific passages from the text to guide your answer.

How does the notion of salvation in this selection contrast with the notion of salvation in the passage from Jonah in today’s Hebrew Bible reading? Where do you stand on the issue of salvation by works versus salvation by grace?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

This poignant passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a prophecy in the tradition of the Hebrew Bible. Paul calls his readers to right behavior in the face of crisis: Time is growing short; the present form of the world is passing away. For Paul, he and his communities are living in an eschatological era that has been ushered in by Christ’s sacrifice. This passage falls in the middle of a series of directives concerning marriage in the end times. From how those who are married ought to behave – as if they have no wives – he broadens his instructions to those who mourn, those who rejoice, and especially those who deal with the world of possessions. He seems to forecast that the world will be turned upside down, and it is urgent for those who have focused on the things of the world to repent.

Do you find God’s call more urgent in times of crisis? How does your notion of salvation change under stressful, demanding circumstances? How does your notion of Godly behavior change under such circumstances?

What is your reaction to Paul’s injunction that those who mourn should be as if they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as if they were not rejoicing?

How does living as Paul directs in this passage – as if circumstances were not as they are – relate to your sense of call or vocation?

Mark 1:14-20

Jesus’ words in the first chapter of Mark, verse 15 – the time of the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news – echo Paul’s injunctions that we heard in today passage from First Corinthians. More rightly stated, Paul’s words echo those of Jesus, which echo the words of John the Baptist and the Hebrew prophets.

In all today’s readings, we have been urged to repent and believe in the Good News. Simon, Andrew, James and John react to God’s urgent call in the opposite way from Jonah in the Hebrew Bible lesson today. While Jonah responds to God’s call by running away to sea, these four fishermen are compelled by Jesus’ compelling charisma to leave their nets and their boats behind and follow wherever he leads them. Their trust in Jesus as God’s prophet is unconditional. This passage affirms the Good News that God calls each and every one of us to the work of God’s Kingdom, even if the end of the journey – indeed, the next step – is uncertain.

It can be difficult to believe in good news and to respond with trust. When have you responded to good news as Jonah did, by running away? When have you responded as the disciples did, by dropping everything and embracing the news? How did your response affect the outcome?

Look back to the psalm for today, and read it as if you are hearing the four fishermen praying after their encounter with Jesus. Return to the notions of salvation and repentance. Does the Good News of Mark’s gospel change your conversation about salvation by grace and salvation by works?