Archives for February 2015

Bulletin Insert: 4 Lent (B)

Share the Journey with Syrian Refugees

March 15, 2015

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The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori  (Photo courtesy of Episcopal Migration Ministries)

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
(Photo courtesy of Episcopal Migration Ministries)

During the week of March 15, the international community marks the fourth anniversary of the conflict in Syria. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, 9.5 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes – and of those, 3.7 million have fled to neighboring countries.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society has been engaged in the ministry of welcoming immigrants and refugees for more than a century, walking with refugees and immigrants as they begin their new lives in our communities. Through the combined efforts of the Office of Government Relations and Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society helps Episcopalians support and welcome Syrian refugees today. One way to do that is through the “#Share the Journey” campaign on social media.

On September 13, 2013, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the conflict in Syria, saying: “The death and violence that have been wrought on the Syrian people are a humanitarian tragedy of the first order. … The Episcopal Church and its people continue to pray for the people of Syria, of all religious traditions and none, and we call on the world to help find responses that will result in more abundant life for every citizen of that nation.” Read the entirety of the Presiding Bishop’s comments on Syria.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Office of Government Relations together with Episcopal Migration Ministries offer a variety of ways for individuals and congregations to share the journey with displaced Syrians: learn more about the crisis; listen to their stories; advocate on behalf of Syrian refugees; hold a Sunday forum or youth discussion group; partner in refugee resettlement. For details, please visit http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org.

“Congregations and individual Episcopalians have important roles to play in welcoming refugees to our communities,” said Allison Duvall, manager for Church Relations and Engagement for Episcopal Migration Ministries. “Providing financial and material support for newly arriving refugees is critical, but far more important is the personal, relational aspect of resettlement ministry. In the end, it comes down to community, to friendships, to knowing and welcoming our newest neighbors, to hearing their stories and to being in relationship.”

To find out more about more about becoming part of the ministry of welcoming, please contact Allison Duvall, aduvall@episcopalchurch.org.

Prayer for Syria
By Episcopal Migration Ministries

God our strength and our redeemer,

We ask for your loving presence and for your peace to be with the people of Syria, of all religious traditions and of none. Be with those in positions of leadership, that their decisions may hasten peace and bring an end to violence. Be with those who are in fear for their safety and their lives. Be with those who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones. Give them strength and courage.

And be with us, as we listen and discern your call to us. Equip us and empower us to be witnesses to your love as advocates and as servants, as ministers of welcome and of hope for Syrians and all those displaced by war and violence.

In your Holy name we pray, Amen.

 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 3/15/15
half page, double-sided 3/15/15

black and white, full page, one-sided 3/15/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 3/15/15

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

Jason Poling

Jason Poling, from the Diocese of Maryland, is seeking a Master of Sacred Theology degree at General Theological Seminary in New York City. He and his wife have two girls in middle school. Pray for him.

Read Jason’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 5 Lent (B).

Read Jason’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 6 Easter (B).

Bible Study: 5 Lent (B)

March 22, 2015

Jason Poling, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’” (John 12:23-25)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Few passages in the Old Testament are as important – or as difficult to understand – as Jeremiah’s prophecy about the “new covenant.” The writer of Hebrews cites this passage not once but twice (Chapters 8-10), a dense passage describing his/her understanding of the relationship between the old covenant with Israel and the new covenant with the church. Certainly this passage haunts Paul’s consideration of the matter in Romans 9:11. And according to many important manuscripts, which our Prayer Book follows, our Lord Jesus Christ himself alluded to it in what we know as the “Words of Institution” from Matthew 26:28.

The major challenge for us as Christians is to understand how God may institute a new covenant while not abrogating the old one. Certainly what Jeremiah is describing here – what Jeremiah says the Lord is describing here – is a new covenant in radical continuity with the old one. It, too, is with God’s people, their unfaithfulness notwithstanding. Yet what we read about here has important elements of discontinuity as well.

What are the elements of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants, as described in this passage and the verses around it?

The succeeding verses (35-37) seem to indicate that God’s promises are permanent. How may we understand this to be true if God is replacing an old covenant with a new one?

Psalm 51:1-13 and Psalm 119:9-16

The two psalms that may be read this week complement each other like a hand in a glove – or a broken leg in a cast. The epigraph for Psalm 51 states that David composed this psalm when his prophet Nathan enabled him to see the gravity of his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of husband Uriah to cover up his crime (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15). But all of us can relate to this psalm, even if our sins are less impressive. Who of us hasn’t had the experience of waking up – literally or figuratively – to the awareness that we have offended God, violated our own conscience, harmed others and sowed chaos in the world we live in?

In Form One of the rite of the Reconciliation of a Penitent in our Prayer Book, after confessing his/her sins to God, the church and the priest, the penitent person states, “I firmly intend amendment of life” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 447). Our passage in Psalm 119 offers welcome guidance for the person Jesus has picked up and dusted off. We are seldom so interested in keeping our way pure than we are after seeing the mess we’ve made of it by our sin. The author of this psalm describes God’s word not as something he accepts grudgingly, or in the absence of better options – no, God’s word is something in which he delights. What’s being described here is not what Dallas Willard has called “the gospel of sin management” (“The Divine Conspiracy,” HarperCollins, 1997); the psalmist is talking about living well, and about how God’s guidance enables rather than frustrates that valid human desire. That’s what Jesus’ uncle Zechariah celebrated in his song: “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).

Be honest: When you pick up the Bible, do you think of it as a source for living life well? If you do, did you always think so? If not, did you ever?

Are there times when, like the psalmist, you have delighted in reading scripture? Can you imagine that ever being the case for you?

Hebrews 5:5-10

Here the author of Hebrews has three high priests in mind: Melchizedek, the high priest described in Torah, and Jesus. Most of his hearers – people from a Jewish background who had come to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah – would naturally have been thinking of the high priest Moses described as the person who would make atonement for God’s people on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But the writer of Hebrews stretches back to some of the earliest stories in the Bible (Genesis 14:18-20) to recall the shadowy Melchizedek, described there as both King of Salem (in Hebrew, Shalem) and a priest of God Most High (in Hebrew, ’El ‘Elyon) to whom Abraham brought a tithe of the spoils from his victorious rescue of his hapless nephew Lot. The writer then says that Jesus is a high priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (verse 6; see also Psalm 110:4), bringing together nearly the entire sweep of biblical history in this claim about Jesus’ ministry.

Read Psalm 110. How would it have been understood by the people who first sang it? How do you understand it in light of what the author of Hebrews says in our passage? What’s similar? What’s different?

A few verses before our passage, the author of Hebrews says that because Jesus is the sort of high priest that he is, he is “able to deal gently” (verse 2) with us. How does verse 8 of our passage illuminate that statement?

John 12:20-33

A friend of mine who is a Presbyterian pastor has the second verse of this passage in the old King James translation inscribed on her pulpit, facing the preacher: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” (At my church we have inscribed John 13:27: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”) Her inscription is a good reminder to any preacher or teacher that ultimately, what draws any person to Jesus’ disciples is nothing other than Jesus himself.

In this passage we have gentiles who feared the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob coming to Philip not to see him, or Andrew, or any of the other disciples, but Jesus. To the degree we lead people to Jesus, we are his disciples. To the degree we fail to, we are simply indulging in religious exercises for our own sake.

Think about your congregation’s programming. How is it designed to lead people to Jesus himself? How might it be failing to do so because it only leads people to your congregation’s programming?

A second chance, a clean heart, 5 Lent (B) – 2015

March 22, 2015

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

In today’s psalm we prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

In Milwaukee, St. Luke’s Hospital is renowned for its cardiac care. Next door, there is a church that has a large lighted cross that can be seen by patients. Over the years, the church has received many letters from patients, saying they receive hope when they see the cross, especially lighted at night. The cross seems to have special meaning to many of the patients in the cardiac care unit, whose windows look out toward the lighted cross. Some of the people staying in that unit await heart transplants, and while they wait, day after day, sometimes month after month, they take comfort in the cross. The cross means for them new life, just like the chance for a new heart means a new chance at life, a second chance.

In today’s psalm, the writer tells of his desire for a second chance, a clean heart, a renewed spirit. Tradition ascribes this psalm to King David and says he composed it after he is confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery and then using his power to have a man killed to cover the king’s own wrongdoing. The writer of the psalm feels the weight of his sins keenly. He feels his sin as a disconnection from God. The image he uses to express his longing for reconnection, for restoration of right relationship with God, is his heart’s need for cleansing. Sin has soiled his heart, and so he cries out, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

What would we do with a clean heart, a renewed heart, a second chance?

In our Old Testament lesson, God says through the prophet Jeremiah that God will write God’s law on the people’s hearts and forgive their sins. In a passage from the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 11:19, God promises an even more radical surgery: “I will give them a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within them. I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

What would we do with a clean heart, a new heart, a second chance?

In Anne Tyler’s novel “Saint Maybe,” a character named Ian bears a terrible burden of guilt. He has too carelessly spoken words to his brother, expressing his unfounded idea that his brother’s wife is cheating on him. Ian’s careless speech, born of anger against his brother and sister-in-law, leads to their deaths, the leaving behind of their three children, and an aching pain in Ian that he bears part of the responsibility for how things turned out. He longs to be set free from his burden, to experience true forgiveness. Ian finds his way to a church where the minister tells him that he needs to take care of the three orphaned children. In taking on the raising of the children, Ian realizes that any forgiveness worth having needs to be linked to a change of life. The problem for Ian is that he sees forgiveness as something he must earn. He leads an upright life, but he cuts himself off from others, becomes distant from people, including himself. He wonders why, with all the good works he’s been doing, all the “atoning and atoning,” it still feels like God hasn’t forgiven him. He’s been busy trying to earn his forgiveness, and it’s not working. He lives in such a way as to avoid making mistakes. One of the children teases him, calling him, “King Careful. Mr. Look-Both-Ways. Saint Maybe.”

Ian feels he has a second chance, but he also feels he has to be very cautious. Since he thinks forgiveness depends upon himself, his own ability to make things right, he can only live in a closed and cut-off way, a way that prevents him from experiencing the fullness of life, from taking risks for the sake of love. He has become a man, in a very narrow sense, of upright behavior. He has even taken a job as a cabinet maker, taking refuge in inanimate objects so he doesn’t have to deal with people, not risking hurting or being hurt.

What we hear in our gospel lesson is that, in Jesus, we know someone who not only knows our sins, but who does something about them. When we meet him in today’s lesson, Jesus is on his way to the cross. And he gives this promise: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Sin is what separates us from God, others, ourselves and our world. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he will set in motion the reconciliation of all people, the forgiveness of all people, the drawing of all people to himself. It is a picture of reconciliation or of the healing of broken relationships, with God, with others, with our own selves. It’s not about giving us a chance to earn our forgiveness. Since our hearts need cleansing, God is going to do it. And through Jesus Christ, we can have a clean heart that can love again. For a second chance, and a third, and a fourth.

So the question is not, “What would you do with a second chance?” but rather, “What will you do with a chance to start over again, and another, and another?”

In giving us new life, Jesus also gives us a way to respond, a pattern of life: his own. And it is not about living in a cautious and closed-off way. Jesus’ way of life is a life of taking risks, of reaching out to others, of serving the poor, of working for justice, of being reconciled with others, of being like grains of wheat that multiply if they are willing to give up the certainty of being seeds for the adventure of growth and new life and the spreading of blessings.

What will you do with your clean heart, your chance to start over again?

Eventually, in “Saint Maybe,” Ian starts to discover God’s grace in the ordinary details of his life. He begins to be opened to the possibility of risk, of relationship, of healing. He discovers that the three children are not a burden – they are what give his life “color, energy, and well, life.” He falls in love and marries a woman, and together they plan for the arrival of their new baby. He uses his carpentry skills to build a cradle of fine wood for the baby. And in this effort, done in response to love, Ian discovers something new, and he takes a risk. In all his woodworking until now:

“he had worked with straight lines. He had deliberately stayed away from bow-backed chairs and benches that require eye judgment, personal opinion. Now he was surprised at how these two shallow U shapes satisfied his palm. . . . He took special pride in the cradle’s nearly seamless joints which would expand and contract in harmony and continue to stay tight through a hundred steamy summers and parched winters.”

Ian realizes through being forgiven and forgiving, through being given a clean heart and a second chance, and a third and a fourth, the importance of vulnerability, the importance of taking risks, the importance of relationship, his own ability to participate in love and new life and hope.

The response to being forgiven, to being given a clean heart, a new heart, and more chances than we can count, is not bed rest and caution, but a new exercise program, a program patterned after the life of Christ, walking in his way, following where he leads, being willing to spend it all, like he did for us, to take a risk, to give up the certainty of being a seed for the adventure of new life, new growth, new possibilities.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Md.

Bulletin Insert: 3 Lent (B)

Climate Change Crisis Forum and 30 Days of Action

March 8, 2015

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Earth_On_Stove

(image by Lesserland)

On March 24, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and the Diocese of Los Angeles will co-host a forum on climate change, one of today’s most critical issues. The 90-minute webcast of the Climate Change Crisis forum will stream live from Campbell Hall Episcopal School in North Hollywood, Calif., beginning at 11 a.m. (PST) / 2 p.m. (EST).

The forum will be moderated by Fritz Coleman, weather reporter for Los Angeles’ KNBC-TV news, and the keynote address will be delivered by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

After the event, a video of the forum will be available on demand on the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s website, along with resources to facilitate individual and group viewing, such as a bibliography, discussion questions and lesson plans.

The Climate Change Crisis forum will also kick off 30 Days of Action, an invitation for individuals and groups to address climate change – to learn, advocate, act, proclaim, eat, play and pray.

“The Climate Change Crisis forum’s 30 Days of Action plan is intended to help individuals bridge that space of feeling helpless due to the magnitude of the crisis, to feeling empowered by joining a movement to reform communal behavior through individual awareness and action,” explained Bronwyn Clark Skov, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s officer for Youth Ministries and Lifelong Christian Formation. “The activities for each day have been designed by an interdisciplinary team to appeal to a spectrum of generations, diversities, interests and abilities. As we take up the real engagement of the Fifth Mark of Mission – treasuring this vulnerable earth – we do so in a variety of ways using the gifts God has given.”

Sign up to receive daily email during 30 Days of Action, or for more information, please contact Bronwyn Clark Skov: bskov@episcopalchurch.org.
 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 3/8/15
half page, double-sided 3/8/15

black and white, full page, one-sided 3/8/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 3/8/15

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

God so loves the world, 4 Lent (B) – 2015

March 15, 2015

Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

John 3:16 – it appears a lot of places, and mostly not a quote of the text but just that citation of gospel, chapter and verse. Just the name “John” followed by the number “3,” a colon and the number “16.”

It appears on placards at sports events, on signs people post on their front lawns and inside the bottom rim of paper cups at fast-food restaurants.

The professional football quarterback Timothy Richard Tebow – you have probably heard him called Tim – has been known to print the reference in his eye black. This he did most famously in 2012 at what became known as “the 3:16 game,” when Mr. Tebow – then of the Denver Broncos – threw the ball a total 316 yards in a playoff upset against the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning the game 29 to 23.

Immediately afterward, “John 3 16” became the top Google search in the United States.

On Amazon.com today, you can find books titled “The 3:16 Promise” and “3:16: The Numbers of Hope.”

People seem to be really fixated with John 3:16 – and no wonder. The verse has caught attention of sports fans, casual readers and theologians alike.

Martin Luther famously called it “the gospel in miniature,” indicating that it is the very heart of our Christian faith.

It says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The very heart of our faith – that God loves the world.

The “giving of his Son” part will resonate with parents, who sacrifice for their children; with soldiers, who sacrifice for their country; and with anyone who sacrifices anything out of love for another.

And the idea that everyone may have eternal life – well, that’s the basic Christian hope, right?

This, too, will make sense in other contexts. For what parents want anything but the very best for their children? What manager wants anything but the very best outcome? And eternal life is the very best God has to offer.

The sacrifice, the giving of one’s best, these are all premised on one simple thing: love; God’s love for us.

When you think about it, God’s love for the world is nothing short of miraculous.

God created the world, of course – so that accounts for some of it. We tend to like the things we have created, such as when we bake a pie, or fashion a table out of wood or even draw a picture with crayons.

But we humans have continued to be such rebellious louts. We ignore God’s plan, we bargain with God’s commands and we fight against God’s justice – at least some of the time.

Martin Luther once said, “If I were as our Lord God … and these vile people were as disobedient as they now are, I would knock the world in pieces.”

And you might think God would do just that – knock the world in pieces.

Knock the Taliban in pieces.

Knock Congress in pieces.

Knock the whatever in pieces. You fill in the blank.

And that’s not all. Each and every one of us is quite capable of doing the most vile sorts of things – and sometimes we do. We trespass against God, we commit offences, we sin.

After all, who among us has not done what we ought not to have done, or left undone what we ought to have done? Who has not – from time to time – denied God’s goodness in others, in ourselves, or in the world around us?

Maybe God should knock us in pieces, too!

But in the person of Jesus, we find a God who is not much interested in retributive justice. Not much worried about punishing offenders. Not much invested in inflicting a penalty for wrongdoings.

No. We find a God who seeks to forgive, for whom restorative justice is the priority, who seeks to repair the hurt – not inflict another.

And this, too, arises out of God’s love for us.

God loves us too much to cause us to cower in fear.

God loves us too much to inflict corporal punishment on us.

God loves us too much to make us suffer – or to suffer any more than we already do.

And that is Good News for us, for all of Christianity, and for all of the world.

God loves us.

This doesn’t mean we should go around deliberately committing offences and expecting we be forgiven.

This does mean that when we cause offense, we will be forgiven by God – but we may also have to pay the earthly penalty for our actions.

When we do things we know are wrong, irresponsible and dangerous, we can pray for God’s forgiveness. But we can also expect that our society will demand payment of a penalty, and as Christian citizens of a democratic nation we should be prepared to pay that price, make the necessary apology, restoring what was taken or serve the very community we have harmed.

Because, as the blessed Apostle Paul says in today’s epistle, God “loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, [and] made us alive together with Christ.”

When we sin, we sin against God, ourselves and the Body of Christ of which we are a part.

Yet, when we stumble into the pit of sin, God loves us.

When we follow the path of righteousness, God loves us.

So our job as Christians is first to recognize that God loves each and every one of us, and just how much God loves us.

When we truly appreciate this deep and abiding truth, our lives change.

We take responsibility for our actions, and we seek healing for those against whom we have transgressed.

We admit we have done wrong, and we strive to do better.

And we strive to be the very image of God in which we are all created – by loving others as God loves us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Let us pray, work and give to make it so – by seeking not punishment, but reconciliation; by sacrificing for others; and by loving as best we are able.

 

— A priest of the Episcopal Church, Barrie Bates currently serves as interim pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Staten Island, N.Y.

The love that binds the universe, 3 Lent (B) – 2015

March 8, 2015

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

One summer’s afternoon in 1665, Isaac Newton took tea amid the apple trees in his family’s garden. At just the right moment, an apple stem’s dwindling hold on the tree branch could no longer withstand the pull of the earth. The apple dropped. Newton got bopped on the head, and a series of thoughts was set into motion that ended not just with gravity proven out mathematically, but with a whole new world view, now described as “Newtonian.”

Newton saw all creation as a vast machine. Newton knew that scientific methods could reveal more about this machine, and the preferred method for Newton was that we should study the parts of this machine of creation.

In the past several centuries, scientists and mathematicians have come to know more about the universe by using Newton’s method. But beneath the fabric of the Newtonian universe, more recently, quantum physics has revealed a very different world at the subatomic level.

Whereas scientists had previously noted the emptiness of space, the lack of matter, quantum physics has revealed connections. A famous experiment found that when two subatomic particles interacted, after they are separated, a cause on one of the particles still had an effect on the other. They remained connected in some way.

These recent discoveries at the subatomic level have revealed that, although the universe may be a vast machine, we can never understand the world through understanding the parts alone. The connections also matter – and perhaps matter even more than the parts alone.

While describing these discoveries briefly in a sermon makes the changes seem tame, for the scientists who have done the work, it is disturbing. They expected the subatomic world to be just as uniform and orderly as the one in which the apple dropped on Sir Isaac’s head. Instead they found uncertainty and unseen connections, which Einstein labeled “spooky.” These discoveries continue to challenge the worldview of Newton.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is countering one worldview with another – he takes on the worldview of Greek philosophers with the wisdom of the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul’s challenge to the wisdom of ancient Greece is not a new and more compelling wisdom, but foolishness. That’s the way Paul puts it: The cross is foolishness. He writes, though, that, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The city of Corinth is known to this day for a particular style of column with a fancy design at the top. These Corinthian columns held up great temples to the Greek and Roman gods. They were also the product of Greek and Roman thought. This was the sort of wisdom that Paul was seeking to overturn with his proclamation of the gospel.

Paul is writing to Christians. They have already become believers, but the church is facing problems. There are some who feel that they are smarter than others. So smart that they can bend the rules and still be OK. There are others with spiritual pride. And into a church facing these problems, Paul begins with a passage on the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. We get just the beginning of the case Paul will make in today’s reading. What he is doing is as revolutionary as Newton’s change of worldviews that we started with.

The paradoxes are wise foolishness and weak strength. At first, a paradox can sound like an oxymoron. An oxymoron has two ideas together that do not go together, such as “entertaining sermon.” A paradox is a statement with two apparently contradictory ideas that are somehow truer together. This is wise foolishness and weak strength.

Paul tells those who think they are wise that God’s wisdom is very different from their knowledge. He tells those who feel as if they have power or authority that God’s strength is very different from their ideas of power and might. The paradigm, the example, the key image to explain the paradoxes is the cross of Jesus. Paul begins:

“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”

Paul quotes here from the prophet Isaiah. As a good Jew, Paul understood the context for Isaiah’s prophecy. The leaders of Israel were facing a much superior Babylonian army. Isaiah called on the people to let God sort out Israel’s salvation. But those words of trusting God alone when an opposing army was on the march seemed like folly. Israel ignored the prophet and put their trust in an alliance with Egypt, which, to them, seemed like the smartest course of action. God responded through Isaiah that the wisdom of the wise would be destroyed. When push came to shove, Egypt did not, in fact, have Israel’s back. Babylon won, and Israel was taken captive.

For Paul this situation is happening all over. The Corinthian Christians are not putting their faith in God alone, but are leaning on that old Greek standby, human wisdom. Paul sees this as something overturned in the crucifixion.

Because as Paul notes, the cross is folly. The idea of God suffering and dying was ludicrous. A suffering and dying God was an oxymoron at best and an affront to reason and wisdom to be sure. Anyone knew that if there is a God who created all that is, such a powerful God could not be harmed by mere humans.

But with wise foolishness, God did not just sit back and watch the drama of the creation unfold. In Jesus, God became man and entered into creation. In doing so, God became vulnerable in Jesus, the Son.

This action on God’s part is not just some new teaching or clever idea. The Incarnation is a world-changing intervention into human history. By reason alone, it would have been utter foolishness for the One who could be above and beyond creation to enter in. By reason alone, Jesus’ death revealed his weakness. But when we see by the light of faith, Jesus had a choice; he did not have to be faithful unto death. Jesus could have fought the violence of Rome with violence all his own. Instead, Jesus continued to love humanity, even when the cost of that love was suffering and death. And the Holy Trinity subverted all of human wisdom and power in overturning death with Jesus’ resurrection.

This is where the two threads of the sermon get entwined as we have explored the worldview of Newton and a quantum universe, then we looked at the worldviews of Greek thought alone or the power of God as revealed in the cross of Christ.

Notice that in Newton’s way of seeing the world, we are a vast machine of separate, though important, parts. This way of viewing the world ended with people feeling very separate, very isolated alienated from one another.

In a quantum universe, essential connections are revealed. Rather than being lots of empty space, the universe is full and connected, and the connections matter. This is the paradox on which the building blocks of the universe stand, that despite the fact that we do not see the connections, all is connected.

This we see even more clearly in the cross of Christ. We do not see a disconnected God, off distant in the heavens. We find Jesus having emptied himself, being born as a human and suffering and dying on a cross. God was more essentially connected to us than we had ever imagined.

And in the cross of Christ, this wise foolishness, we discover the strength of God’s love, that God would be willing to take on human weakness and would continue to love rather than fight back. It is a love that God calls you to enter in. This love of God is the connection that binds together all creation. Paul knew that this would sound like foolishness to some, but those who have experienced that connection would understand as wisdom.

This is why Jesus distilled all of Jewish Law to “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He knew that love was the very real connection already binding us together. Paul taught us a worldview with that strong weakness and wise foolishness of the cross at its center. This undying love of God is the building block on which the universe stands.

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

 

Michael Toy

Michael Toy is a third-year student in the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing his research on the intersection of theology and media. Michael currently serves as the social media intern at Trinity Episcopal Church of Princeton.

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

Read Michael’s comments on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for 5 Easter (B).

Bible Study: 4 Lent (B)

March 15, 2015

Michael Toy, Princeton Theological Seminary

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Numbers 21:4-9

This passage finds the people of Israel after they have left Egypt and journeyed through the wilderness. Bullied by the Edomites, the Israelites become impatient on the circuitous route and repeat their malcontented refrain: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” God responds by sending poisonous snakes among the people, killing many. The people come to Moses and ask for him to intercede on their behalf. The serpents were themselves the affliction, and in an act of ironic salvation, the Lord uses a serpent of bronze to become the instrument of healing for those bitten.

Upon a first reading, this punishment hardly seems to fit the crime the Israelites commit. But this event is not an isolated incident. The people have complained before, and in fact, they refused to enter into the Promised Land for fear of its occupants. How is this story harmonious or dissonant with your conception of God’s justice? Is all suffering some kind of divine discipline or punishment?

Though the people of Israel are unhappy with Moses and God, the one thing that is never in doubt is God’s presence among the people. When the people complain against God, the Lord hears. When the people repent, God hears and responds with healing and relief from suffering.

Can you think of a time you felt that God led you to a place of wilderness?

In what ways has God delivered you from bondage as God delivered the Israelites from Egypt?

Wherever you are on your life journey – whether feeling the joy of healing and wholeness or in the miserable trek through wilderness – how and where do you see God accompanying you?

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

This psalm of thanksgiving recounts the deliverances of Israel by the Lord. The refrain in this psalm is “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy, and the wonders he does for his children.” Though the people of Israel were perennially disobedient and rebellious, when they turned to God, the Lord had mercy and saved them. The actions of God elicits a response from the psalmist, who commands the people of Israel to give thanks to the Lord and to “tell of his acts with shouts of joy.” For the psalmist, there is no way to repay God’s mercy, but the response is thanksgiving and proclamation of God’s actions.

In what ways has God done wonders for you?

What are the “foes” from which you have been redeemed?

How can you follow the instruction of the psalmist and proclaim these blessings and grace?

Ephesians 2:1-10

The author of Ephesians eloquently paints a picture of death and renewal in this passage. Before there was death, but now, through Christ, there is life. Before “we were by nature children of wrath,” but now we are seated in the heavenly places with God’s own son. All of this is accomplished through God’s grace, not out of any human work. This passage is often quoted to emphasize that humans do nothing to earn God’s love or grace, yet at the end of the passage the author states that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

There is nothing that humans do to earn God’s love, grace or mercy, but that does not mean that good works are irrelevant. It is a matter of order. First and primary is our identity in Christ Jesus. Second, stemming from our identity is the way of life that God has prepared for us. The reason that Christians do good works is not in order to earn God’s love or mercy but rather in response to God’s action. Our good works are not in pursuit of a reward, for we have already received the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of God’s grace?

Identities such as parent, child, spouse, employee or employer come with certain duties. How does your identity in Christ bring new or different duties?

Though our identity as Christians has shifted from death to life, that hardly means Christians are now perfected. In what ways do you recognize a movement from pursuing “the desires of flesh and senses” to the way of life that God has prepared?

John 3:14-21

One of the Jewish religious leaders, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night for fear of his peers’ judgment. It is in this conversation that we find perhaps the most well-known Bible verse of all time, John 3:16. This statement of God’s love and promise of eternal life in Jesus is tied by John to the serpents in today’s reading from Numbers 21. Just as the instrument of affliction became the instrument for healing to the people of Israel, so through Jesus death itself becomes the vehicle for imperishability. Death, the very enemy of life, has become the portal into eternal life.

In each of these passages, we see the people of the Lord have been delivered from death and brought into life. The merciful and salvific actions of God were never in response to the good works of the people, but rather stem from God’s identity and God’s grace. Now the Christian’s identity is that of one saved by grace from the grave, from affliction and the desires of the senses. From that identity, we live into the way of life God intended, doing good and proclaiming God’s goodness.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night for fear of his peers. But as it is written in this chapter, those who do what is true have no reason to hide in darkness but to come to the light. It is not easy proclaiming God’s goodness in a modern world that has little value for religion. Yet we are commanded to proclaim God’s goodness in thankfulness through word or good deeds.

In what situations or circumstances are we likely to mute our proclamation, whether through word or deed? In the workplace? In our social circles?

How can we find the strength to live into our identity as the people of God?

Death is still a frightening force in the world. What about death scares you?

What strength do we find in the Gospel of John that those who believe in God’s Son will not perish but will have eternal life?

Bible Study: 3 Lent (B)

March 8, 2015

Christine Havens, Seminary of the Southwest

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’” (John 2:14-16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Exodus 20:1-17

This week’s Old Testament reading is the first instance in the narrative of the exodus of Israelites from Egypt in which the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) appears. It appears again in Exodus 34, immediately following the making of the golden calf, when Moses carries the tablets down from the mountain.

In this narrative, the people are privy to God’s voice, are present for the thunder and sounding of trumpets that herald the Lord’s approach; Moses brings the people to meet God (verses 17-20). After God has spoken the ordinances, which might be a better word than “commandments,” the people decide that they want Moses to act as mediator between themselves and the Lord (verses 18-19), because direct contact with God and his voice is too awesome, too overwhelming. The sign was both a gift and a test designed to help them keep from sin.

The Decalogue is not an everyday occurrence in our liturgy; it appears as an optional opening to the Liturgy of the Word in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 324). When was the last time you recited the Decalogue? Perhaps as part of the liturgy on the First Sunday in Lent?

Exodus does not record any response of the people as they heard God’s words; do you consider the Decalogue a conversation? Why or why not?

The Book of Common Prayer adds a response for the people (p. 317); read it and discuss whether this changes the “commandments.”

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 seems to be a work of contrasts, two discrete pieces, according to some scholars. The first six verses are labeled as a hymn to the sun; the remainder of the verses are devoted to torah (not only meaning “Law,” but also “instruction” and “learning”), having no clear connection to the beginning.

Have you ever read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Here are the first lines of Sonnet 116, one of his most familiar, and often encountered at weddings:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

One feature of the Shakespearean sonnet is that the final two lines (the couplet) take an unexpected turn from the first verses.

Read the psalm and then read the sonnet; consider the form of each. How are the two similar in form? Is there a turn in the psalm? If so, where does it come, and why might the psalm’s writer use such a turn?

Reread today’s Old Testament reading. Does the Decalogue share anything in common with Psalm 19? If so, what?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

My church is located on the border of the University of Texas campus. This year, we celebrated Mardi Gras with a lawn party, complete with a live zydeco band. I volunteered to hand out beads to passing students and others, inviting them to not only to receive ashes with us the following day, but to come and join us for homemade gumbo and grilled sausage, free – no strings attached.

I’m a nerd, but like many, worry about making a fool out of myself, being considered weird, and thus being ostracized because of that perception. However, I jumped at the chance to wear green, gold and purple clothing, don my pinstripe blazer decorated with moons and stars, and grab my mask and drape my many beads around my neck.

As I began to ask passing people if they would like some beads, I was quiet and still, but as the afternoon wore on, I began to dance to the music, wave at passing cars and those on the opposite side of the street – reveling in the joy of it as people smiled, even though some of those smiles were the “I’m embarrassed for you” type of smile. And many passersby crossed the street or deliberately did not disengage from their cell phones. I handed out beads for three hours and felt more exhilarated as time passed – foolishness held no fear for me as the momentary community ebbed and flowed. Those who were “wise,” who considered those who believe to be “fools,” missed something precious.

And so, in the midst of the solemn season of Lent, as we read Paul’s words about human wisdom and God’s wisdom, ask yourself, “Where is the foolishness of the cross in my life?”

John 2:13-22

Today’s gospel is the Johannine version of Jesus’ interaction with the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers within the Temple in Jerusalem. Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John’s christology places the event early in the narrative, right after the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs the changing of water into wine, the first sign.

Jesus’ zealous actions provoke the Jews present to ask for a sign “for doing this.” What gives him authority, in other words? Are they looking for a miraculous sign? Would they have heard about his actions in Cana?

Is it wise or foolish to look for signs as proof, as a reason to believe, to have faith in God or in Jesus? You might consider this a foolish question, but think about your own spiritual journey. Was there a moment or a time in your life when you turned away, when you doubted? What brought you back to God? A physical experience? Something you saw? Words from scripture? Something you heard?