Archives for April 2015

Bulletin Insert: Pentecost (B)

Day of Pentecost

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May 24, 2015

“The Descent of the Holy Spirit” stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1892,  St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Irvington, N.Y. (Photo by Robert Fertitta)

“The Descent of the Holy Spirit” stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1892, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Irvington, N.Y. (Photo by Robert Fertitta)

Today the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Day. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word Pentēkostē, which means “the 50th day.”

In the Old Testament, “Pentecost” refers to  the Feast of Weeks, a seven-week agricultural event that focused on the harvesting of first crops. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, also used the word “Pentecost” to refer to the 50th day after the first day of Passover.

In the New Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the coming of the Spirit shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:1-6, NRSV).

Christians came to understand the meaning of Pentecost in terms of the gift of the Spirit, and the Pentecost event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise concerning the return of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking in tongues, a manifestation of receiving the Spirit, is interpreted by some to symbolize the church’s worldwide mission, and the Day of Pentecost is thought to be the origin of sending the church out into the world.

The Day of Pentecost is identified by the Book of Common Prayer as one of the feast days “especially appropriate” for baptism (Book of Common Prayer, p. 312). Because of this, Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday”  (“White Sunday”), a  term used to describe the white baptismal garments worn by those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost and then worn to church on the Day of Pentecost.

Collect for Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 227).

 

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Bulletin Insert: 7 Easter (B)

The Feast of Thurgood Marshall

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May 17, 2015

Thurgood Marshall as an attorney for the NAACP, Sept. 17, 1957  (Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran,  courtesy of U.S. News & World Report)

Thurgood Marshall as an attorney for the NAACP, Sept. 17, 1957
(Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report)

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

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

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

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

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

The Archives of the Episcopal Church features a page on Thurgood Marshall as part of an ongoing exhibit “The Church Awakens: African-Americans and the Struggle for Justice.”

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

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

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

Collect for Thurgood Marshall

Eternal and ever-gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood with exceptional grace and courage to discern and speak the truth: Grant that, following his example, we may know you and recognize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, who teaches us to love one another; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 375).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
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Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

One in the Holy Spirit, Pentecost (B) – 2015

May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

There’s no better time to celebrate the diversity of the Kingdom of God than on the Day of Pentecost. Separately, our differences are too diverse to list, but put together, our individual uniqueness creates a beautiful kaleidoscope we call the Body of Christ.

Sadly, today we see people and nations torn apart by racism, religious chauvinism, man-made borders and cultural bigotry. We have become a culture of us-versus-them, where the “other” is to be feared and never trusted. This is not a new occurrence, but one would have hoped that humanity would have learned from its past mistakes and recurrent genocides over the ages; however, here we are in the 21st century, repeating history again with chilling efficiency and cruelty.

Pentecost is a reminder that God’s Holy Spirit is given freely to all people with no respect for race, culture, socioeconomic standing, gender or any other distinguishing mark used by people to differentiate one person from another. In God we are one.

On the Day of Pentecost, reported in the Book of Acts, people gathered in Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire. They represented competing economic interests, diverse cultures, a myriad of languages and different religious traditions. Nevertheless, God’s grace was given freely to all who heard the message preached by St. Peter, and thousands converted to Christ. These aliens who converged on Jerusalem returned to their homes and spread the message of Christ, and the church began to spread like a wildfire engulfing dry brush.

From its inception, the church was a diverse group of people who hailed from a variety of cultures and languages. It was in the midst of this great diversity that God sent the Holy Spirit upon his church and started a movement that would change the history of the world forever.

The message of Christ hasn’t changed, but those who claim to be his followers have often failed miserably in living up to that message. The greatest temptation facing Christians isn’t necessarily losing their passion, but rather, losing sight of the fact that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. In God’s kingdom there are no illegal aliens or undocumented workers. We who have died with Christ in baptism are resurrected to be a new people bound in love and service to one another.

The Holy Spirit is given freely, without respect for citizenship or socio-economic class, and God continues today to pour out his Spirit on all humanity.

The Holy Spirit works as a transformative agent in the lives of believers. Just as Jesus glorified humanity when he ascended to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God.

In the fourth century, St. Basil wrote:

“Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God ‘Father’ and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.”

In order for this transformation to take place, we must be willing to die to ourselves and surrender ourselves to Christ and God’s will for our lives.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit whose fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. These fruits are the qualities of Jesus that the Holy Spirit develops in our lives as we grow in our faith. That’s who we are and who we are to become as Christians. The Holy Spirit transforms the believer into the image of Christ and obliges the Christian to share in the Church’s apostolic and missionary activity. Just as the disciples’ bold and fearless witness at Pentecost led to the conversion of more than 3,000 people, so too are we called to bear witness of God’s love for the world today. This love is freely given to all humanity.

The Holy Spirit compels us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name.

An elderly man of some affluence once asked a pastor how he could possibly learn to serve the least in society. The pastor answered, “You will be able to serve others when you see the crucified Christ in every person you meet, regardless of their social standing.” That is a tall order to fulfill, but not an impossibility for those who allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to work in them.

Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the blessed Sacrament.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the blessed family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.

Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on peoples of every language at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit today continues to draw people from every culture, language and ethnicity into the family we call the church catholic. Pentecost is an awe-inspiring day of joy and celebration on many levels. Through the Holy Spirit, we welcome strangers into our midst and become family, and we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives and become transformed into the image of Christ.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost renew us today and stir up within us those spiritual gifts which God has so richly and freely given to us when we were baptized into Christ’s holy church.

 

— The Rev. Timothy G. Warren is a vocational deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, Calif. He is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry that reaches out to at-risk young adults and families in the High Desert Region, Calif.

 

To Be One, 7 Easter (B) – 2015

May 17, 2015

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

“That they may be one.”

We might be tempted to say, “Who are you kidding, Jesus? It didn’t happen in your time, did you imagine it would ever happen in ours?”

But Jesus told his followers that they should be one in this world, in their culture and their time. It goes along with Jesus always reminding them that the Kingdom of Heaven is here – not something that will come in the next world. So, this may be one of the most puzzling verses in the gospels, and Jesus says it several times, in several different ways. He says it always as a very positive statement, not as a question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they became one as you and I are one?” He says it as if he expects this to happen. He says it as if he thinks we understand what he’s talking about.

Either Jesus is wrong, or we’re wrong. Well, let’s take a vote on that!

How many of you think Jesus doesn’t quite understand the penchant for human beings to be divisive?

Now, how many of you think we may be misunderstanding what Jesus means when he calls us to unity?

It’s pretty much a guarantee that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. It’s probably our misunderstanding of “unity” and “respect” that is at stake here. We may not even understand truly what it means to “be one as Jesus and the Father are one.” It’s hard enough to understand the vagaries of human nature, as evident in our lack of understanding of people and cultures who are different from us. How can we ever understand the theological implications of the unity within the Trinity? And we are supposed to emulate that?

In a 1997 edition of the magazine Christian Century, the Rev. Dean Lueking wrote an article that put this conundrum very well:

“Nevertheless, that they may be one still haunts as well as inspires. It is wearisome, deadly wearisome, to endure church battles that split not once but repeatedly. The blight of triumphalism, of power games, and the obsession with always being right still throw up huge, offensive roadblocks against Jesus’ prayer. Such sin drags us back to the Upper Room, to dull disciples among whom we now sit, to the grief of our Lord over our tearing apart the seamless robe of unifying love in which he would wrap us.”

Lueking is focusing on the tearing apart from our own church battles. Jesus included not only those, but also the tearing apart of cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. Oneness with God means being at one with all God’s gifts: cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. To tear apart one bit of our gift is to put a tear in the beauty of oneness with God and oneness with each other.

If we begin just with our problems of division as churches, we see how quickly we destroy what we often hear called “unity within diversity.” In our churches today we speak often of the importance of working ecumenically – respecting differences in things such as theology, liturgy and tradition. But in some denominations, ecumenism means that we all hope those who are different will “come home,” so to speak, to rejoin our way of doing things so we can all be the same.

Being the same is not the basis of unity. Love is the basis of unity.

When St. Paul said there was no more male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, he certainly didn’t mean that men and women morphed into some other form of human being or that Jews and Greeks would suddenly become one new nationality. He meant that each of us in our uniqueness would look with love on all the other precious creatures of God. He meant that we would see beauty in the gifts others have and join together to build the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps Jesus was praying that we would be able to worship God in many different ways, many different liturgies, and many different traditions – that our unity would be in the fact that we share our love and praise of God with others and invite them to seek our God with us.

This kind of love is hard when we put barriers in place to make sure those who join our particular brand of religion, so to speak, all behave just as we do. These barriers can be like the unspoken rules about who is of the right social class to join us, or as obvious as ignoring those of a different race or culture.

To the division we find in church, we must add the divisions we find in many other places of our lives. Watch any news program today and we find ourselves immersed in the evils of war, poverty, fanaticism and greed. We’re becoming used to seeing horrific killings brought right into our living rooms from across the world. How do we feel when we see this? Are we horrified enough to go right to prayer, not only for those being killed, but for those doing the killing? Or do we immediately lump those doing evil with every other member of their tradition? Do we pray that those doing evil will somehow be guided toward repentance? Do we do pray enough for each other when much smaller aggravations happen in our church lives?

The love that exists among the Trinity is not a stagnant, complacent love. It’s a love that not only draws the Trinity into one, but also burns outward to include all creation. Jesus offers this love to be our reservoir of strength and truth, that sacred place where we gain the words and guidance we need as we build God’s kingdom here on earth.

If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we’ll hear that the same vibrant, outpouring love that is God, is there for us. All we need to do is believe it and then let it guide our words and actions.

Who knows? One of us might be called to do something public – to write, to join an activist group, to lead others in helping those less fortunate, to get involved in challenging harmful political issues. Others of us will lead by our prayers and our lives lived through love.

We can do this if we are willing to be transformed by God’s grace. Transformation also comes through the love of the Trinity for us. Next Sunday, Paul reminds the Romans that the Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words. There is a well of strength for us who work in the world that will never go dry. Imagine how we would live if we really believed and acted on the fact that God’s Spirit prays for and through us even when we have no energy or understanding ourselves. There could be no greater gift.

Then the following week, on Trinity Sunday, Paul tells us that we are adopted children of God and heirs with Jesus. We will also read that wonderful imagery of Isaiah where the angel touches his mouth with the burning coal and he steps forth when God calls, answering, “Here am I: send me!”

All this is our heritage. These gifts are ours if we only believe it and open our hearts and minds to God’s guidance and strength. It’s pretty powerful stuff, all these things we learn in scripture, and it’s not just words of history or good thoughts. Jesus is the manifestation of God that we may see and touch the One who loves us.

We are called to love. In our baptism we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We promise to make the Good News known to all. And we begin all this by sharing the breaking of the bread, given for all without exception.

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

Bulletin Insert: 6 Easter (B)

Ascension Day

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May 10, 2015

“Ascension" by Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums, from Folio 13v of the Rabbula Gospels, a 6th-century illuminated Syriac Gospel Book

“Ascension” by Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums, from Folio 13v of the Rabbula Gospels, a 6th-century illuminated Syriac Gospel Book

On May 14 the church will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, which is observed 40 days after Easter Day, marking the conclusion of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and his ascension into heaven.

Celebration of this holy day dates back at least to the late fourth century, and scriptural references to Jesus’ ascension occur in both The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Mark:

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1: 6-11, NRSV).

“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19, NRSV).

The Ascension of Jesus is also professed in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed:

“He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (Book of Common Prayer, pp.120, 358).

Collect for Ascension Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 226).

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
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half page, double-sided 5/10/15

black and white, full page, one-sided 5/10/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 5/10/15

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

Bible Study: Day of Pentecost (B)

May 24, 2015

Jessie Gutgsell, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Acts 2:1-21

Here we have the familiar and yet still hard-to-believe story of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles. It comes in the first section of Acts where the focus is largely on Peter and his ministry. The second major section of Acts (starting in chapter 13) will turn to focus more on Paul’s missionary journeys.

In this story, the Spirit comes with the sound like a rushing and violent wind (verse 2). The spirit descends in tongues of divided fire onto the apostles’ heads, and they begin to speak in different languages. Then a crowd gathers and begins to hear about God’s amazing power and deeds all in their own language. (See verses 6 and 11.) The primary reactions to this are amazement, confusion and a “sneering” kind of doubt. (See verse 13).

I could see these categorizations being the same today with people’s different reactions to amazing acts of the Spirit. We hear in verse 13 that people start to audibly doubt the situation, blaming alcohol for the craziness of the moment. But then Peter responds with his first public speech. He bases his words largely in scripture, quoting Joel in our portion for today, but also Psalms and other books later. Something that’s incredibly significant about Peter’s speech is that he quotes Joel in verse 18, saying that everyone, regardless of status or gender, will receive the Spirit and prophesy. Peter’s speech goes onto to explain that the Spirit will come, and then he briefly discusses the end times. Peter, quoting Joel, uses powerful imagery about the last days before Christ’s return, saying that the moon will be turned to blood and the sun to darkness (verse 20). But those who believe in Christ and have received the Spirit will be saved (verse 21).

What would it be like to hear about God’s deeds and power in our own individual languages? Maybe this means more than just languages that we speak, but also the different ways that we experience communication in non-verbal ways. How do you imagine that you would hear or experience the Spirit speaking?

Reflect upon verse 18 that all will receive the Spirit and prophesy. Are there people who you sometimes think have not received the Spirit and should not prophesy? Perhaps this verse will challenge that?

I mentioned the three responses to an amazing act of the Spirit: amazement, confusion and a sneering kind of doubt. Which of these responses do you normally experience? Do you experience one more than others or none of them?

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

This is an exuberant psalm of gratitude and praise for our Creator God. The psalmist reflects upon God’s magnificent creation of the earth. One can easily conjure up luscious images of God creating the earth and its inhabitants with joy. (See verse 27 about the Leviathan.) God created everything, and verse 28 tells us that all the earth and creatures look to God for their sustenance and preservation. As we will hear in Romans, we get the message that the earth, the animals and humans are all in this experience of life and existence together. We have all come to being through one creator. God send God’s Spirit through all that lives, grows and dies, and that Spirit will renew the earth (verse 31).

The psalm ends with the psalmist almost unable to contain his praise: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being” (verse 34). How wonderful and right that marveling at God’s handiwork in creation would lead the psalmist to such praise. The speaker then reveals that he speaks his words to glorify God, to rejoice in God and please God (verse 35). If only we could all take such delight in God’s creation – both the earth and our fellow humans!

If you were to write your own psalm of praise to God for creation, what would you say? For what would you give thanks to God?

In verse 34, the psalmist says that he will sing to the Lord and praise God while he has his being. In what ways do you show your praise? Do you sing? Do you dance? Do you write? How can you show your praise and gratitude in more ways?

Romans 8:22-27

This has long been one of my absolute favorite passages of scripture. There is so much communicated in these few verses: the pain of ecological damage to the earth, the struggle of being human, the doubts about how to pray, and the awesome power and presence of the Spirit. Romans is one of the last-known undisputed writings by Paul. Read in this context, Paul’s words become that much more poignant.

Here in these verses we see that Christ’s return has not yet come. We live on this earth in a spirit of anticipation. This anticipation requires a hope for what we cannot yet see or maybe even imagine (verses 24-25). And while we wait, it is not just humanity that struggles “with sighs too deep for words,” but also the very earth and “whole creation” (verse 22).

This message may sound depressing, but the power and presence of the Spirit is assured in verse 26 when we hear that the Spirit will help us in our weakness. We may not know how to pray, or even how to deal with the destruction we see around us, but that third person of the Trinity will intercede for us. These verses give us the permission to grieve for life’s difficulty, but they also give us the responsibility to hope and trust in God and God’s will. And if you were to keep reading onto the next verse of Romans (8:28), you would read that all things will work together for good for those who love the Lord.

For what losses and disappointments do you sigh in a way that is too deep for words?

When you are struggling, try to remember Romans 8:26, that the Spirit will intercede for you in your difficulties. Perhaps this will give you comfort.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

These words from the Gospel of John come in the last section of the gospel. They are in the middle of what has become known as the “Farewell Discourse” (Chapters 14-16). The Last Supper has just occurred in Chapter 13, and Jesus’ trial and execution immediately follow our selection for today. These emotion-filled words come in what could be thought of as the calm before the storm. The overriding message of these passages is similar to what we hear in Romans: The world will be oppositional, life will be hard, but we will not be alone.

In this somewhat lengthy discourse, also known as the “Johannine Pentecost,” Jesus names the fact that the news he’s delivering is not easy to hear (16:6). He communicates that he must go away and that it is to everyone’s advantage that he goes away (16:7). Imagine the dismay and emotion of the disciples upon hearing this news!

Jesus continues to discuss the future, explaining that the disciples will not be alone once Jesus leaves. Jesus introduces the idea that “the Advocate,” or the Holy Spirit, will come only if and after Jesus leaves (16:7). The next words are staggering in their honesty and their poignancy: The Spirit will come and prove the world wrong. The Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin and about judgment. When the Spirit comes, it will guide us into “all the truth” (16:13).

These words, even though they are hard to hear, also bring tremendous hope. These are the words that we can turn to when we are struggling with the hardest things we have to face in life, when we question why there is so much violence and injustice in the world. Jesus never claims that it will be easy, but he does say that we will have to testify with the Spirit to what we have seen and done, and that we will not be alone in this journey.

In what ways do you hope that the Spirit will “prove the world wrong”? What areas of life seem particularly detrimental and unfair?

Consider the title of the Spirit as “Advocate.” The Spirit is also sometimes known as “the Comforter.” In what ways can you relate to this person of the Trinity with these identity designations?

Read the passage in an imaginative way, trying to imagine that you’re one of the disciples hearing this farewell discourse from Jesus. What are your emotions? Your reactions?

Bible Study: 7 Easter (B)

May 17, 2015

Steven M. Balke, Jr.Virginia Theological Seminary

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Trying to discern God’s will for our lives is a serious matter. We make decisions and choose courses of action all the time that we hope are for the best, but many of us would desperately love to know what God would have us do. Whether we are casting lots, randomly picking passages out of the Bible, or reading tea leaves, we are grasping at trying to make sense of our lives and to find some sort of profound guidance in an otherwise swirling sea of potential good choices and bad choices.

It is helpful to look at the approach the Apostles took in choosing their new member. Yes, they dearly wanted to know what God wanted them to do, but they tried to be in a kind of model of mutual discernment with God. Acts states that they prayed over their choice and worked to discern from all of their options down to two people, then they left room for God to work in their lives. It was a careful balance of not trying to wrestle control away from God but also not washing their hands of any responsibility. May we all strive to make decisions in such a way, holding lightly both the importance of our own discernment with trust in God’s grace.

When do you find yourself trying to wrestle control of your life away from God?

When do you find yourself letting go of responsibility for your own decisions?

How can you try to hold self-reliance and trusting in God in balance?

Psalm 1

When trying to discern God’s will in our lives, there is a danger in thinking that outcomes are God’s judgment upon us. We are taught throughout the Bible that great blessings flow upon those who make choices that are pleasing to God, and great disaster befalls those who make choices that are displeasing to God. A side effect of this is a great number of people who feel like bad things happen to them because they did things in their lives that God did not like and God is punishing them for it. This can be disastrous for a person’s sense of well being as well as corrupting of his or her relationship with the church.

In our eagerness to see God’s will at work, we need to be careful in assigning God’s motivations to events. Instead, Psalm 1 teaches us that our own motivations to follow God lead us to delight. The psalm is an insight into our relationship with a God who loves us dearly and always wants what is best for us. God loves us, so if we “meditate day and night” on what God wants for us, God is watching over us.

When have you felt like suffering was a judgment against you?

Where have you seen other people struggle with feeling like God is punishing them?

How can you be a part of sharing God’s love with those who are suffering?

1 John 5:9-13

The Johannine community from which this letter came was surrounded by very God-loving people who were also deeply divided with one another about how best to go about loving God. This letter came from a people who believed that they had discerned God’s will in the best way that they could and were trying to share what they had discerned with those around them. Other Jewish communities and fellow Christian communities alike sometimes took the approach of excommunicating them, cutting off their relationships, or undermining their teachings; yet the Johannine community’s proclamation of God’s love for us and God’s promise of eternal life through Christ survives to this day.

Sometimes after carefully discerning what you think is right, some people are still going to disagree with you and challenge you. This is particularly true when trying to discern what God would have us do. Struggling with doubts in the face of such adversity is understandable. When in doubt, know that if the path you have discerned has led you to proclaiming God’s love in word and deed, has led you to be a more loving person to those around you, or has helped open you to believing in God’s promise of life everlasting, then you can be confident that you have not been led astray from God.

What do you do when others challenge what you feel is right?

When have others saved you from making a mistake that you thought was right?

What can you do to discern the difference between the two?

John 17:6-19

In his book “Thoughts in Solitude” (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1958), Thomas Merton offers a very useful prayer for those trying to discern:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This prayer includes the statement that we do not really know what the future holds for us or what God’s plan is, but that if we do our best to try to do what we think our part in it is, that God will be pleased with us for trying. Merton can express this in good confidence because we learn much of what God expects from us in the actions of Christ in the gospels.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ disciples make lots of mistakes; they try very hard to do what they think is best but fall short of perfection, just like the rest of us. In the end, Christ still calls them his people, still loves them, and still wants them to receive eternal life just for believing in him.

God does not expect perfection from any of us. If we try our best to discern God’s will in our lives, God will love us for doing our best. In the midst of a world where there is too much going on to make sense of it all and too many things vying for our attention all the time, remember to think of God’s love and our own call to love, and you will be dwelling in the world but being a part of what God wants for this world.

When do you find yourself discerning what God wants from you?

When do you find yourself discerning what God wants for you?

How can you be what God wants for the world?

Moving toward Christian unity, Ascension Day (A,B,C) – 2015

May 14, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“Lord, is it time?” How many questions like that do we ask on our journey in faith?

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, while the apostles were still looking for deliverance from political domination and oppression, they asked, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is a question many believers ask today.

Jesus’ answer is simply to say we are asking the wrong question. It is not for us to know the time, nor whether God favors Israel and will restore it to its former glory. Rather, we are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has done, including fulfilling the Law and the prophets by his suffering and death.

The Ascension makes Jesus a universal figure, drawing us all to him, and sending us to be witnesses of the Good News. There is no time to ponder; now is the time to act – together.

Recently, a small town found itself in the midst of a struggle over religion – not unusual for small towns. The struggle had to do with who were the real Christians. One group organized a Jesus parade for the day before Easter. The organizers were mostly made up of folks from the more conservative and evangelical churches. When the mainline church groups went to register, they were told they couldn’t participate because their sign that proclaimed diversity and inclusiveness in Jesus was “too controversial.” So the mainline churches stayed away.

While nobody wanted a religious war, there did seem to be a line drawn between those who interpret scripture with proof text methods and those who interpret it in context. Those on the sidelines took some pleasure in the divide.

The universal ascended Lord confronts both of these groups of Christians to come together, challenging us to move away from the things that separate us and move toward the things that unite us.

Throughout the Book of Acts the apostles face difficulties, including their own divisions over how to interpret and share the Good News. The author of Acts doesn’t gloss over these sharp differences, but in the end shows how the unity of the gospel can be found when we allow ourselves to be drawn to the ascended Jesus rather than claiming the way we know him is the only way. As Peter learns after the Resurrection, God shows no partiality.

In today’s reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul prays that “the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [we] come to know him.” In a time when our loyalties are challenged and divided by legislation, politics and religion, it is good to remember that the ascended Jesus prays for us and offers us wisdom and revelation, free from our own prejudices and fears, unbound so we can witness freely to all about the Good News of the gospel.

During these great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, there is time to reflect on the universal ascended Lord and the gospel message. It will not be the same message in every place or every context, but it will be the Good News that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

As we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, keep in mind that we all share the Good News. How we express it depends on the time and the place.

Regard the ascended Lord as empowering. Our divisions in the Christian community disempower us. Jesus’ work is to redeem messes, personal and public. While we have a large responsibility in that work, we are never alone. The ascended Jesus prays for us, sends us the power of the Spirit, and guides us to do that work.

So ask Jesus to guide your thinking and actions in ways that bring about unity and overcome division. Ask Jesus to unburden your heart and mind of prejudice and hurtful thoughts that encourage separation among believers. Ask the ascended Lord to empower you to be a disciple, a candle of light in the darkness of division. Then wait for your orders.

The apostles depended on the risen and ascended Jesus to sustain them in very difficult circumstances. He promised them he would be with them, always. We inherit their difficulties and their promise. Most of all, we live in the light of the ascended Lord who sends us the Holy Spirit and will one day make us one.

 

— Ben Helmer is a retired priest living in Holiday Island, Ark. He has been affiliated with diverse small congregations for over 40 years.

Love one another, 6 Easter (B) – 2015

May 10, 2015

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

The 15th chapter of John’s gospel is filled with love. These few verses appointed for today form the first part of the three dimensions of a Christian’s life, and all three are centered in love. It’s a remarkable section in a profound and moving chapter. The word “love,” both as noun and verb, is repeated nine times in only eight verses. There is no way one can escape the theme of this chapter.

Something both beautiful and heartbreaking unfolds here. Christ lays his heart bare to his friends and disciples. “I have chosen you,” he tells them, “you didn’t choose me,” and he repeats, “I have loved you.”

But he makes it clear that this relationship is not just two-sided. The source of all this love is God the Father. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” These are powerful words, and when one truly hears them, they can force the soul to kneel before her maker.

And then Jesus uses that enduring metaphor: abide in my love. Stay, remain within it, live in my love. The verb, meno in Greek, “abide” in English, has a continuing connotation. This is not a short-lived experience; this is for life. “Abide in my love.”

Such a powerful state of being does not happen in isolation, or simply as an act of the will. It is very closely related with a requirement that Jesus makes into a condition for love. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

And here’s the rub. Without keeping God’s commandments, we cannot have love and we cannot remain in this love. Keeping God’s commandments presupposes obedience, and this is something our culture rejects. Obedience is not what Americans admire. Obedience is for the weak, not the strong. Knowing how we react to obedience, Jesus keeps referring to himself. His life was one of total obedience to the Father. And no one who knows the story can ever call Jesus weak.

Jesus obeyed. He kept in constant connection with his father through prayer, through loving communion. Even when he was abandoned in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, he remained in obedience to the will of the Father. The cup was not taken away; it was drunk to the bitter dregs. And still he obeyed, because he knew that, despite everything, the Father loved him.

What is the commandment that we must obey in order to abide in the love of Christ? Jesus now directs us from himself and through himself to others: to love one another. All the ritual and sacrifices of animals and strict adherence to the minutia of the Law are as nothing; what matters is how we treat one another. The writer of the First Epistle of John testifies to this also: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” It is circular.

Obedience to God’s commandments bears fruit. The first fruit of abiding in love is that we have joy. The joy of knowing we are loved by God in Christ – not some easily earned emotion, but a state of being. Joy comes from the conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

“And I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,” Jesus tells his disciples. A few year later, Paul will list the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. These are the conclusions of a man who had suffered immeasurably because of his love for Christ. And yet because he knew that he was one with Christ, abiding in his love, the fruits that resulted are these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Such attributes are not earned, they are not taught; they spring from abiding in Christ’s love – otherwise, a man who had suffered so unjustly would have been filled with bitterness. But Paul was not.

The verses we are studying today, focused as they are on love and obedience to God’s commandments are not meant only for the disciples, for those who were Jesus’ friends. They are meant for us also. We have not been left out in the cold. The great Epiphany came to Peter during his visit to the gentiles of Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius. After Peter preached a sermon on the meaning of the Good News, the Holy Spirit visited all those who were present, not just the Jews but also the gentiles. They were astounded, the writer tells us, that the Holy Spirit descended on them also.

And Peter had the good sense to realize that the love of Christ is for all. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” he asked himself. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, has matured tremendously and has learned to obey. In this instance, in the house of Cornelius, he obeyed the Holy Spirit, understood about the all-embracing love of Christ, and he, in turn, embraced the others, the gentiles. The early Christians were known for loving one another. We are called to do the same.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

Bulletin Insert: 5 Easter (B)

The Episcopal Public Policy Network

May 3, 2015

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The Presiding Bishop joins Episcopal Public Policy interns and Office of Government Relations staff on Capitol Hill, 2013 (Photo courtesy of the Office of Government Relations)

The Presiding Bishop joins Episcopal Public Policy interns and Office of Government Relations staff on Capitol Hill, 2013 (Photo courtesy of the Office of Government Relations)

The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) is a nationwide grassroots network of Episcopalians concerned with issues relating to justice and peace who are ready to take action. Members of the EPPN engage in direct advocacy with federal and local policymakers to support public policy that lifts up the vulnerable among us.

In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of all human beings. As advocates for justice, members of the EPPN answer this call through public policy advocacy. The EPPN moves beyond the traditional avenues of Christian charity to the work of justice – changing the systems that necessitate charity.

EPPN members are equipped for advocacy by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Office of Government Relations, located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Its policies are specifically focused by General Convention on federal advocacy. EPPN members use their collective voice to advocate for a variety of critical issues, such as conservation of natural resources, climate change, living wage, LGBT equality, global health, gender equality, racial justice, humane and proportional immigration policies, and peace.

Jayce Hafner, Domestic Policy analyst for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society,  testifying before the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 in support of the Clean Power Plan  (Photo courtesy of the Office of Government Relations)

Jayce Hafner, Domestic Policy analyst for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, testifying before the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 in support of the Clean Power Plan (Photo courtesy of the Office of Government Relations)

The EPPN uses many avenues to advocate its positions to policymakers, including email, phone calls and social media. And the EPPN online action center helps ensure that every voice counts.

Members of the EPPN regularly receive policy alerts and calls to action; status updates for ongoing legislation; background on legislative issues and the church’s positions; advice on techniques for effective advocacy; and notices of upcoming opportunities for advocacy in Washington, DC, and locally.

The EPPN urges all Episcopalians to raise their voices to ensure that the policies of the United States respect the dignity of every human being.

For more information about joining the Episcopal Public Policy Network, please visit http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/home or contact Lacy Broemel, manager for Online Communications and Operations: lbroemel@episcopalchurch.org.

To find out how to convene an Episcopal Public Policy Network in your state, contact Charles Wynder, Jr, missioner for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement: cwynder@episcopalchurch.org.

 

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