Archives for August 2015

Bible Study: Proper 20(B), September 20, 2015

(RCL) Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a; Mark 9:30–37

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:35–37)

Proverbs 31:10–31

How did this description of “a capable wife” strike you? For some, it may seem a model of self-sacrificing generosity and a poetic celebration of the valuable roles women played in ancient society (and still play, in many cultures, today). For others, it may reek of patriarchal inequality and seem of little relevance given our changed understanding of marriage and gender roles. When a single passage can provoke such differing responses, it is worth pausing to consider the ways our own experiences and personal histories shape our understanding of the text.

As a case study, reread verse 21. To most Episcopalians, the first half of the verse might provoke chuckles: “She is not afraid for her household when it snows…” Good, we might think. Glad there is no irrational fear of white stuff falling from the sky! To others, who may have experienced dangerous cold with inadequate clothing or shelter, the wife’s ability to provide plush (and warm) clothes for her family would hardly seem a laughing matter.

  • What verses in this passage seem most relevant to your life today?
  • What verses seem least relevant?
  • How might someone read those same verses and have an opposite reaction?
Psalm 1

From the very first verses, the psalm connects happiness with faithfulness to the law. Those whose “delight is in the law of the LORD” and who “meditate on his law day and night” shall be like fruitful trees, the psalmist tells us, whereas the wicked are “like chaff which the wind blows away.” Righteousness and wisdom are the foundation of happiness, according to Psalm 1.

But why do bad things happen to good people? Or to ask the more exacerbating question: why do good things happen to bad people? It would be a mistake to dismiss the psalmist as naïvely arguing that faithfulness to God guarantees an easy life. (The psalms are not the place that folks peddling a toxic Prosperity Gospel would have you look, for they are replete with lamentations of the faithful who suffer amid humiliation and defeat.) So the question becomes this:

  • What sort of happiness does faithfulness to the law of the Lord in fact provide?
  • How does that vision of happiness contrast with our contemporary culture’s understanding of happiness?
James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a

This is a beautiful passage that, like Psalm 1, speaks of the value of submitting to God. The author identifies conflicting wisdoms that might govern the actions of those he addresses. There is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” wisdom that leads to “envy and selfish ambition” in the individual and “disorder and wickedness of every kind” in society. Against this, there is “wisdom from above” that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits…” Trouble arrives, he tells us, when we act based on earthly wisdom and not out of faithfulness to God.

The Letter of James was controversial for much of Christian history, largely because its emphasis on doing good works seemed to clash with parts of Paul’s writings that emphasized salvation by faith alone and not by works. (Other parts of the Pauline corpus—e.g., Romans 2:13—sound like they could have come straight from the Letter of James.) This passage can help us understand that faith in God and charity towards our neighbor are inseparable. It is our faithful adherence to the “wisdom from above” that spurs us to act gently, justly, and in ways that will yield “good fruits.”

  • Can you think of a conflict in your own life or in the life of your congregation?
  • How does your sense of that conflict shift as you imagine seeking to work through it according to the heavenly wisdom that this passage describes?
Mark 9:30–37

After describing the disciples’ continued misunderstanding of Jesus’ passion prediction, this passage shows us their misunderstanding of Jesus’ values. Just as the psalmist and the letter of James advocate prioritizing heavenly wisdom, Jesus treats others according to a heavenly ethic and wisdom, not according to the hierarchical norms of society. The disciples’ concern for “who was the greatest” reflects their earthly priorities, and Jesus shows how a heavenly ethic reverses earthly expectations. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” Jesus says. He illustrates his point by taking a little child (in an age when such children had little social status) and telling his disciples that service to such a child is indistinguishable from service to him. A child without status can be a proxy for God. 

  • In our churches, do our children’s ministries demonstrate that we’ve embraced Jesus’ teaching?
  • Jesus used the little child as a stand-in for all those without status and power. Who in our communities (and, beyond them, in the world) are the powerless or neglected, and what would it mean for us to treat them as though they were proxies for God? 

Download the Bible Study for Proper 20B Bible Study.

Written by Robert Pennoyer, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

Robert Pennoyer is a third-year seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, where he is also a member of the Institute of Sacred Music. He is a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. He lives in New Haven with his wife and their one-year-old daughter.  

Bible Study: Proper 19(B), September 13, 2015

(RCL) Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12, 14-17; Mark 8:27-38

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Proverbs 1:20-33

What a challenging passage: on first glance it appears as though Woman Wisdom, the female personification of wisdom found in the book of Proverbs (and elsewhere), is merely scolding humanity for ignoring her calls. If we take a closer look, we can see that Woman Wisdom inserts herself into the center of commerce and community life of the city (vs. 20-21), where people are the most distracted from choosing the “fear of the Lord” (vs. 29). It is interesting to note that she feels that people lose sight of following God when they are attending to business and engaged in their daily tasks.

  • In what ways do our daily tasks and work distract us from following the way of God?
  • In what ways might you act or behave differently in your work or daily tasks if you were following the way of God while engaged in those tasks?
Psalm 19

This Psalm makes everything seem easy. If you follow the Law of the Lord, you are blameless in the sight of the Lord and are without sin. Easy as pie. Verse 8 tells us that the “law of the Lord is clear”, which is true sometimes, but other times it is not so clear.

  • What are we to do when the law of the Lord is not so clear?
  • What tools have you found helpful in discerning a course of action when you are finding the law of the Lord hard to decipher?
  • What are some of God’s “laws” that are very clear for you?
  • Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you doubted your understanding of God’s laws? What was that experience like?
James 3:1-12

Here we have another very challenging passage from the book of James, warning readers about the power of words and speech. James cautions us that the tongue controls the entire body and has the power to guide the whole self toward goodness or away from goodness. If we use our mouths to proclaim the goodness of God on Sundays and to talk badly about our coworkers come Monday morning, which way are our tongues guiding our whole selves? James says that the same spring can’t produce fresh water and brackish water; the brackish water will always contaminate the clean water, and no amount of clean water can completely dilute the contaminated water.

  • We have been meditating, in today’s readings, about the law of the Lord and how to follow the way of the Lord in confusing and unclear situations. What would it look like to be guided by our own speech and tongue?
  • What would you change about the way you use words in order to guide you into a closer relationship with God and closer to God’s goodness?
Mark 8:27-38

One general theme from the readings today is following in the way of the Lord in both action and speech. We have been asked to consider wisdom in our daily life and work. We have been told that the law of the Lord is clear, and that those who follow it are blameless. We have also been told that the tongue controls the entire self and that it can guide us into goodness. Each of these passages challenges us to avoid taking the easy and thoughtless way out of a situation, and choose God’s way. Here Jesus lays this message down loud and clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” The way of the cross is costly and Jesus never attempts to hide this fact from his followers.

  • What are some gospel truths that you think are worth setting aside your own comfort, or even your own life for?
  • In what ways have these passages encouraged you or challenged you to consider what it means to follow Christ differently?
  • What situation in your life or community might Jesus be calling you into? In what ways is that a comfortable call? An uncomfortable one? 

Download a copy of the Bible Study for Proper 19B Bible Study.

Written by Maggie Foster, Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP)

Maggie is a third year seminarian at CDSP, a postulant from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and an Ohio State Buckeye. She is interested in ministry that finds a way to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people living in poverty. She lives in Berkeley with her fiancée, Andrea and their dog, Jasper.

Bible Study: Proper 18(B), September 6, 2015

(RCL) Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go– the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:27-29)

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

All the readings for this Sunday seem to point toward mercy and justice, reminding us of the first petition of the Collect: “Grant us…to trust in you with all our hearts.” So many times in our interactions with others, especially with strangers, we find it difficult to trust. We have learned that it can be foolhardy to give someone the “benefit of the doubt,” to enter a relationship by suspending judgment and assuming the person’s motivation is good unless we are proven wrong. The ancient wisdom of Proverbs reminds us that rich and poor, neighbor and stranger, even the just and unjust are all creatures of God. Perhaps our daily encounters do require us to be prudent, and we can blend prudence with a gracious recognition of our shared humanity. We can choose to act with justice and compassion, and to value integrity over prejudice or greedy self-interest.

  • Besides physical and material support, how can we “share our bread with the poor”? Describe an occasion when you have observed someone giving generously of his or her time, attention, labor, or some other resource.
  • What would you be willing to do or say to defend a stranger against injustice?
Psalm 125

“The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the LORD stand round about his people…” In the language of the Psalms, God’s power in creation is often mirrored in God’s mercy and protection for God’s chosen people. However, our worldview is often at odds with such a straightforward equation. We have seen too much human domination and cruelty in history and in recent events that makes us dubious, and we can’t help thinking it a bit naïve of the Israelites to proclaim, “The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway” over those who are just, good, and true of heart.

But read this psalm again, and notice how much is expected of the faithful: they are to trust in the Lord, not put their hands to evil, and remain true of heart. It is those who turn aside – who do not look to God for their guidance and strength – who follow crooked paths and end up among evildoers. Here we find an expression of wisdom, possibly even born of hard experience, rather than naïveté. No, we can’t go through life expecting God to keep a protective bubble around us; that would be belief in magic, not faith in God. Perhaps the psalmist is saying that our trust in God should be for our spiritual protection against our own selfish tendencies, more than against any outward enemies.

  • Who do you think is to blame, when calamity befalls a person or group of people? Is the answer always clear?
  • In what ways might God be standing guard over us, if not to prevent us from suffering the pain and injustice inherent in human existence?
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17

Scholars have long debated the identity of both the author and the intended audience of this epistle, but its message remains strong and clear: one who claims to have faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord must live in a way consistent with that faith. When we genuinely trust God’s power and love, we cannot turn our backs on the poor or show favor to the rich based on superficial distinctions.

Debating the relative importance of faith and good works is like asking the old question about the chicken and the egg – indeed, neither is viable without the other, and so we must look to the true source of life in both. Some people receive and respond to God’s love in an outpouring of faith that then is expressed through their sharing of that love with others. Some people act in just and compassionate ways out of an intellectual commitment that gradually deepens into faith. What James warns his readers about is the ‘disconnect’ – we cannot say we have faith and then act unlovingly without violating our own integrity. It is in this sense that he challenges them, “Can faith save you?” The superficial faith that does not urge us to action for the sake of God’s reign and love of God’s children is truly dead and useless.

  • Think of a time when you met a person whose socio-economic condition was greatly different from your own. How did you feel? How would it feel if your positions were reversed?
  • What actions might you take to express your faith as you now understand it? In what ways might your faith grow if you take those actions?
Mark 7:24-37

What an odd, even awkward pair of stories we read in this Gospel lesson. There is no escaping the fact that they do not present Jesus in the best light, and they were preserved by the earliest Christian communities and included by the author of this first written account of the Good News. We must look a little deeper to find their significance to early Christians, and their importance for us.

Mark weaves the idea of a “Messianic secret” throughout his story of Jesus’ ministry. God is already present and powerfully active in the world, as seen in Jesus’ miraculous healings and exorcisms; but we must also accept that God’s full restoration of creation – the perfection envisioned by ancient prophets – is yet to come at a time we cannot foresee. Through that lens, we might view the stories of the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man as prophetic symbols of God’s power to transform and restore the world’s division and isolation.

Mark tells a story in which Jesus has gone a long way from home, and by implication a long way from the Jewish population, the children of Israel for whom his ministry began. When a Gentile woman seeks him out and asks his help, he replies in a way that sounds rude to us but would in fact have made perfect sense in the context of the first-century Church. Jesus had come to the “children” first, but then had extended his compassionate ministry beyond his own ethnic boundaries. Told from within a community of Gentile Christians, this encounter with a desperate mother presents Jesus as validating and blessing their faith, even against the background of a strained history.

Jesus moves on, but in an even wider circle beyond his Galilean base. In this companion story, we find echoes of the same themes – Jesus takes the deaf man aside, away from the crowd; he performs the requested cure, without seeming effort or even difficulty. Finally, he tells everyone to keep quiet about it but they proclaim the news far and wide. Here is the Gospel: the power of God is present, among us, and cannot be contained even though it has not yet been fully revealed.

  • Where are our blind spots, and what messages are we not willing or able to hear? Do we need to understand this passage as an invitation to move outside our own boundaries or our ‘comfort zone’?
  • It is hard to keep quiet when we have good news to tell. What kind of joy or gratitude do you have in your heart that wants to be shared? Can you see God present and working in your life somewhere? Do you hear God calling you into something new? Try to articulate those experiences.

Download a the Bible Study for Proper 18B Bible Study.

Bulletin Insert: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Welcoming Week

September 13, 2015

“Refugees and migrants become strong members of local communities, and a blessing to their neighbors.” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in her 2015 World Refugee Day message

The week of September 12-20, 2015 is National Welcoming Week, a nationwide annual event highlighting the contributions of immigrants and refugees to American communities. The United States draws strength and vitality from its tradition of welcoming new Americans.

Did you know…

  • Refugees and immigrants were responsible for 28% of all business start-ups in 2012.1
  • 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by refugees and immigrants or their children.1
  • Over half of all tech start-ups in Silicon Valley have refugee or immigrant founders.1
  • Immigrants were involved in the founding of many prominent American companies, including Google, Yahoo, and eBay.
  • Refugees and immigrants contribute as much as $10 billion to the U.S. economy each year.2

During National Welcoming Week join Episcopalians from across the church in appreciation of the gifts of our new American friends and neighbors and in working to ensure that all of our communities are welcoming communities.

Find a National Welcoming Week event in your area: http://bit.ly/NationalWelcomingWeek.

Join us!

Every year the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, in partnership with local resettlement organizations, Episcopal faith communities and volunteers, welcomes more than 5,000 refugees from war-torn locations across the globe.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society has resettlement partners in 30 locations across the United States. We provide refugees with the items and the services they need during their transition to their new lives in the United States, including housing, food, furnishings. We also work with new Americans to make sure they are oriented to their new communities and can access services like English classes, job training, school, health care and other services available in the community.

Individuals, families, and congregations of all sizes can join and support this life-saving ministry.

Click here to see if one of our resettlement partners is located near you: http://bit.ly/EMMpartners. If there is no agency in your area, contact Allison Duvall to connect with a local opportunity for engaging and supporting new Americans.

More information:

Allison Duvall, Manager for Church Relations and Engagement for Episcopal Migration Ministries, 212-716-6027, aduvall@episcopalchurch.org.

1Partnership for a New American Economy

2United States National Research Council

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 9/13/15
half page, double-sided 9/13/15

black and white, full page, one- sided, 9/13/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 9/13/15

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

What do you believe?, Pentecost 20, Proper 21 – 2008

[RCL] Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25: 1-8; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

What do you believe? This question may seem very simple to answer at first. But if we are being truthful, it is not an easy question to answer unless, of course, we have memorized the answer from catechism or intentionally discerned the answer and have practiced articulating it to others.
The gospel today demonstrates why it is important to know the answer to this question. Without knowing exactly what you believe, you are sure to be caught in the situation that the priests and elders are in as they are confronted by Jesus. It would have served them well if they had been prepared and could answer confidently. But more importantly, they would have brought together the community if their interests were not self-serving, selfish, and without integrity.

Based on where we are in our corporate lives in the church, articulating our beliefs has become essential. But before we can be building blocks for growing a larger community of faith, we must know what it is in our hearts and souls. This is not to say that our focus should remain there, only that it must begin there. In the end, we are still called into a corporate life in Christ where, together with our sister and brother believers, we continue the work of building up the Kingdom of God in our world.

If Paul’s letter to the Philippians has any ring of truth for us today, then there cannot be community without unity in a corporate belief. Paul tells us that we must be of the same mind as Jesus, and the only way to accomplish that is through love, humility, and reconciliation – not through conceit or selfishness.

It is very difficult to be a community in our world today. Yet it is essential for a holistic, healthy, and happy life. The world we live in today causes us to struggle for balance between the individualism that is encouraged by society and our desperate need to belong. We struggle to reconcile ourselves and be at peace in a world that is connected by technology but knows little about anyone outside our circles.

Let us not trivialize Paul’s message – love, humility, and reconciliation are not just buzz words. They are deeply connecting words that speak through our hearts and souls. They are foundational words used throughout the gospels as Jesus models love, humility, and reconciliation for us.

These characteristics are evident in the parable we heard in today’s gospel. The father, who is the owner of a vineyard, has two sons, and he asks them both to come to work with him. The first son refuses to honor his father’s request but he changes his mind, repents, and then goes to work in the vineyard. The son has a change of heart that he acknowledges through his repentance – a sign of humility, love, and his willingness to discern and reflect reconciliation. The second son says he will go to work but he does not. His actions are an example of selfishness and lack of integrity.

Jesus does not just tell the story about the father and his two sons, but further describes community-building to the elders and chief priests in the temple through their own attitudes about John the Baptist. Jesus tells them that they had a chance to hear what John had to say about justice and righteousness, but they chose to remain fixed on their laws and those things that secured their power. He confronted their selfishness and lack of integrity directly while simultaneously demonstrating that this did not build up the community of faith.

Jesus uses the faith of the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard John’s message and changed their ways to show community-building at its best. They model the personal responsibility we each have to change, seek justice, listen, and hear the truth in differences. The prophetic words of Ezekiel say clearly that those who have considered and turned toward a change for justice and willingness to hear truth in difference will live. They will find a new heart and a new spirit.

As we listen to these readings and discern our own hearts and souls, we begin the process of answering the question, “What do you believe?”

Listening and hearing our readings in the context of celebrating our corporate lives is another step. The next step requires that we share our hearts with each other and then with everyone we encounter in our lives. This doesn’t mean that we “evangelize” to everyone everywhere. But as St. Francis is attributed as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

What do you believe? It needs to be evident in the way we live and relate. Living with integrity means that there is no break between our words, actions, and faith. Living with integrity means that we can discerns God’s voice in those expected and unexpected places and that we not only listen but are willing to change as we grow in our personal and corporate faith.

We want to be people who, when asked who we are, can reply with confidence because we know our hearts and souls and live accordingly. We want to be a people who dismantle injustice and practice humility as we listen to the Spirit’s call on our lives. In short, we want to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We just need to begin with knowing what we believe.

Written by the Rev. Debbie Royals
The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member. E-mail: debbieroyals@sbcglobal.net.

God’s Story, Our Story, Proper 19 (B) – 2015

(RCL) Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

On October 1, 1996 a book called The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks made its debut. Almost ten years later, on June 25, 2004, the movie adaptation came out with the story coming to life through actors Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, and James Garner. The story is about an elderly couple that is dealing with the wife’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease. She lives in an assisted care facility and her husband visits her regularly, always with a notebook in hand. What the story reveals, through a series of flashbacks to when they were young, is that the husband is reading, from his notebook, their love story over and over again, in hopes that his wife will remember some of it one day. It is a sweet, poignant story that those of us who have experienced loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia can certainly relate to.

The wife in the story does not remember who she is and so the husband reminds her over and over again. He tells her who she is and who they are together. Their story is important, not only to her, but to him. It is gives him meaning and purpose in the midst of tragic circumstances.

How often do we need to be reminded of our own stories? As we continue to grow and change as people faced with a variety of circumstances, we can lose sight of our true selves and need to be reminded. This happens in all aspects of our lives, including our faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples that he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts of his time. Then he will be killed and after three days, rise from the dead. Jesus knows his own story and he does not make excuses about it. In fact, in the Greco-Roman world, knowledge of one’s own death was a sign of wisdom or of someone with great powers. Jesus is matter of fact about his story because he is focused on serving God. He is connected to our experience of human life and clearly sees the lay of the land, but it does not deter him from obedience to God and understanding his belonging in God’s story.

Later, he asks his disciples, the crowd, and ultimately us, two very important questions that the Common English Bible version puts this way, “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?” Another way to understand it is from the Bible version called The Message, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Remarkable questions. Jesus wants to know our stories and the answers to these questions reveal who we truly are and what we believe about our stories.

Those answers also reveal who we believe Jesus is. Do we believe in the story that he tells—the Jesus that Peter says is the Messiah? Do we believe in the Jesus that will be rejected by so many and left to die on a cross, only to be resurrected? Do we believe all of these stories? Do we believe in the ministry of suffering and self-sacrifice? It’s a tough one. Either Jesus is crazy, a con man, or what he says is true.

In your own life, when Jesus looks at you and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” How do you respond? When a friend or neighbor or colleague asks, “Are you a Christian?” What story do you tell? When we “get around [our] fickle and unfocused friends,” as Jesus says in a Bible version called The Message, are we embarrassed of the way Jesus is leading us in our lives?

The Gospel today has an interesting interpretation in The Message. Jesus says, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.” This is clearly a different message than what we hear from the world around us and from our human nature that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. God is calling us into living a different way; to be part of a different story than the one the world is telling us.

The idea that suffering and self-sacrifice are incompatible with faith is a danger. There is nothing in the scriptures that says that God will remove all the trials of our lives if we pray hard enough. Instead of asking for the trials to be lifted, perhaps we need to recognize where God is present in them. In these instances it is about prayer being a conduit for opening ourselves to what God wills and not trying to force God to do our will. Even though our desires to turn God into a magic puppet come from a deep place of longing, if we’re honest, when has that ever been successful?

God is asking us to offer our whole selves—our time, our talents, our treasures, and especially those parts of us that are suffering—and to trust that we will be led into a more meaningful life than what we could come up with ourselves. That’s a big commitment, but we can choose to make it on a daily basis, so it isn’t as overwhelming. It is the little things that we do that create the tapestry of life that we look back on. They may not be noticed in the moment, but they are felt over a lifetime.

In the book The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, Flannery O’Connor puts it this way:

Just being who you are
not justifying or apologizing
it sounds so easy
it’s a life work
not to get caught in
producing
performing
proving
keeping accounts of indebtedness
waiting for gratitude, reward
ambition
manipulation
staggering self-pity
but cultivating
the habit of being.

It is cultivating a habit of being that seeks God first for advice and not our friends. That prays first, then responds. That embraces silence, instead of trying to fill it. That opens the heart and notices God’s abiding. That tells God’s story, hearing it echo in our own.

Like the couple in The Notebook, may we remind each other of God’s love story when we lose our way and may we have the courage to keep writing it, bit by bit, as we are transformed. AMEN.

 

Download the sermon for Proper 19B.

 

The Rev. Danáe Ashley has served parishes in North Carolina, New York, and Minnesota. She is currently the Associate Priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate.

Learning from Proverbs – Proper 18(B) – 2015

(RCL) Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Is this in the Bible? I hope everyone is thinking—no! It’s a proverb, of course, but one of Benjamin Franklin’s, not from the Old Testament. However, it could have been one as the book of Proverbs is full of earthly and spiritual wisdom.

We may think of proverbs as clever sayings thought up by people like Ben Franklin, who was a master at crafting these sayings. Parents have a million of these sayings at their disposal. It must come with becoming a parent. Saying such as, “Don’t make that face, it will stick that way.” “Don’t go out with a wet head, you’ll catch cold.” “Little pitchers have big ears.” I’m sure you could add many, many more, and aren’t they fun! For the next three weeks we will be treated to a different type of proverb, these are focused on wisdom – words that are not just clever clichés, but rather those that make us think seriously about how we live in our world and interrelate with each other.

Today, in a very concise and clear set of verses, we consider justice and poverty, which is very topical considering what’s happening in the world around us. As with most proverbs, these get quickly to the point, which makes them very memorable. “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…” “Those who are generous are blessed …” When we think about the former, we should be reminded that not only do those who sow injustice eventually reap the punishment of calamity upon themselves, but sadly, they also reap calamity immediately upon those they persecute. We might usually think about the justice that will be dealt upon those who do wrong when we read scripture verses like these. But don’t we also wonder sometimes why punishment doesn’t seem to come quickly enough (according to us!) to those who deliberately do evil to others. It doesn’t seem fair that those who are unjust seem to get away with their crime against God’s people. People often say things like, “Why did God allow those young girls in Nigeria get kidnapped and tortured by the Boko Haran?” We may even say things like that ourselves. Why isn’t God’s justice immediate and complete?

Why, indeed, but we must remember one of the great gifts God gave to us as human beings is free will. If God had a finger in everything we do, if God pushed and manipulated us as a puppet maker can manipulate the strings of a wooden puppet, then perhaps the world would be full of nice people going about their business like – well, like puppets. We wouldn’t have to think. God would never cause us to do evil if God was the puppet maker. So we have to remember that we live in a very natural world. We live in a world full of human beings who are all made in God’s image and likeness, but all with the free will to behave as they choose. Too many people today forget that most wonderful section of Genesis where God says, “Let us make humankind in our image and likeness.” Part of that is remembering that within God is ultimate and perfect freedom and so we have the freedom to choose to do good or do evil.

Justice will come, but we may not know how those who do evil will be judged or what the outcome will be. It must be enough that we trust God and know that God loves all of us, good, bad, or indifferent. God also hopes that we who try to do good will pray for those who do evil. We will work however we can to show the world that love can overcome hate, generosity can overcome greed, the mystery of prayer can overcome evil.

But, it’s not all grim. We aren’t always faced with evil that we must suffer under or overcome. There is a very positive side to the proverbs. Parents also have those positive proverbs like, “You will always be my baby” or “You’ll understand when you’re older.” In our reading today we find the proverb that says, “Those who are generous are blessed…” Yes, the generous themselves are blessed by grace, but also those who are the recipients of our generosity are blessed. There is a beautiful interaction there of blessedness. A woman therapist wrote in a blog that as she was waiting in a grocery checkout line one day, she made eye contact with another woman. They didn’t know each other, but they both smiled and in that moment, the therapist wrote, “I felt such love for her as a fellow human being. There was something beautiful in our acknowledgement of each other.”

We also must know many people who have touched our own lives with love and blessing. So many people touch our lives with their kindness, with the little things that have “made our day” as we so often say. Teachers often are the ones who help us change our lives. Many fall in love with those who have kindled a spark of something special within us. There is so much good in the world if we can only turn away from the news headlines and look into the eyes of our fellow human beings.

The Jewish people use the word mitzvah, which is often translated good deed. And rabbis will tell you that it means more—it comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection or commandment. Connection is a lovely translation. Whenever we share with the poor, speak out against injustice (especially when the injustice is right in front of our eyes), or respond with love to another, we are establishing a connection. That connection is not only between us and another person, but also between ourselves and God.

“The Lord is the maker of us all…” We dare not forget this, but isn’t it a much better mitzvah for us all to look on each other with the same love with which God looks on each one of us!

 

Download the sermon for Proper 18B.

 

Written by The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz who is currently a bi-vocational vicar in a 9 parish rural ministry team in North Devon and as a relief milker for 2 area dairies. Serves as Rural Dean for the Torridge Deanery, Diocese of Exeter. She was formerly on the faculty of the School of Theology, Sewanee, teaching contextual education and rural studies. She offers workshops and consultations for small churches and dioceses and is passionate about agricultural and rural small church issues.  

Bulletin Insert: Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Union of Black Episcopalians

September 6, 2015

The Reverend Alexander Crummell

On Sunday, September 6, the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) celebrates the life and legacy of their notable saint, The Reverend Alexander Crummell. This day is also designated as UBE Sunday to commemorate the racial justice ministry of this organization which was an outgrowth of the Rev. Crummell’s advocacy.

Born March 3, 1819 in New York City, Alexander Crummell struggled against racism all his life. As a young man, he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York and rejected for admittance to General Seminary. Ordained in 1844 as a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for England after being excluded from participating in diocesan convention.

After receiving a degree from Cambridge, he went to Liberia as a missionary. A model Christian republic seemed possible in Liberia. He traveled extensively in the United States urging blacks to immigrate to Liberia and support the work of the Church there. On returning to Liberia, he worked to establish a national Episcopal Church. Political opposition and a lack of funding finally forced him to return to the United States.

He concentrated his efforts on establishing a strong urban presence of independent black congregations that would be centers of worship, education and social service. When southern bishops proposed that a separate missionary district be created for black congregations, Crummell created  a national convocation to fight the proposal. The Union of Black Episcopalians is an outgrowth of that organization.

His faith in God, his preseverance in spite of repeated discouragement, his perception that the Church transcended the racism and limited vision of its rulers, and his unfailing belief in the goodness and greatness of black people are the legacy of this Afro-American pioneer.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to teach the Gospel to those who were far off and those who were near.  Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Psalm and Lessons:

Psalms: 19: 7 -11  Lessons: Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2: 7 -11, 17-18;  James 1:2-5; Mark 4:1-10, 13-20

Prayers of the People:

Presider: Gracious God, you fill us with faith and courage to confront the world’s injustice and to carry your abundant love to all the world: Hear us as we pray, saying: We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Litanist:  Raise up evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, who will preach the Gospel to those who are far off and to those who are near, and bring the unsearchable riches of Christ to all people.

We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Direct the counsel and knowledge of all leaders, Almighty One, that they may confront injustice and racism with words and acts of wisdom and compassion.

We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Visit with your healing power all who live in places of thorns and threat, violence and racism, the rocky soil and scorched earth of poverty and injustice: Sow your seeds of love into the soil of good hearts, that the earth may bring forth an abundant harvest of justice and truth.

We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Revive our souls, O Gracious One, and fill our communities with perseverance and enduring faith, that with warm, emotional and impulsive energy we may reclaim neighborhoods in kindness and in peace.

We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Into your abundant heart, O God, we offer the cares of our hearts as we pray in intercession, especially for ___.

Hear our glad shouts of thanksgiving and praise as we bring to you the gratitude of our souls, especially for ___.

We entrust into your eternal love all who have died, especially ___.

We give thanks to God in prayer; fill us with your Spirit.

Presider: Loving and gracious Father, you called your faithful servant Alexander Crummell to bring leadership and hope to your Church through the gifts and spirit of the African race: Fill us with your Spirit, that we may continue the work, building institutions and relationships of justice, truth, and reconciling peace, through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

UBE logoTo learn more about UBE or support their ministry of racial justice and reconciliation:

Union of Black Episcopalians
701 Oglethorpe Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
www.ube.org

 

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 9/6/15
half page, double-sided 9/6/15

black and white, full page, one- sided, 9/6/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 9/6/15

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

Bulletin Insert: Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Blessing of Backpacks

August 30, 2015

Photo: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, AR

As the summer winds down and the school year begins, Episcopal congregations across the country are blessing backpacks, gathering school supplies, and enjoying other activities that bring us back together.

At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Little Rock, Diocese of Arkansas, students of all ages can receive a blessing upon their backpacks at a Sunday service. Rev. Joanna Seibert of St. Luke’s said the purpose of the service is to honor children as they go back to school. “It’s to let them know that the church community is praying for them and it’s recognition that the children are a part of our community. It’s to let them know they are not alone.” Not only does the congregation participate in a blessing of the backpacks, but the congregation also fills backpacks for a local food bank that distributes food to school children in backpacks each day.

Christ Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie, NY, Diocese of New York, in collaboration with Freedom Plains United Presbyterian Church, Lagrangeville, NY, distributes backpacks filled with school supplies to local school children during the annual event, “Backpacks, Supplies and More.” The event takes place on the Christ Church campus which is transformed for the day with face painters, bouncy houses, a fire truck, a police dog, and more. In addition, the Poughkeepsie-Arlington Rotary cooks free hamburgers and hot dogs for all who attend the fun-filled event. Donations from both congregations and local community partners are used to purchase bulk school supplies, plus donations in the form of supplies are given by local residents, county employees, and local businesses. In its eighth year, this ministry builds connections within the community, and helps students to be prepared for a successful and joyful school year.

Does your congregation participate in backpack stuffing for the community or host a blessing of the backpacks? If so, share your photos and story with The Episcopal Church here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/form/photo-submissions. Remember to include the name and location of your parish.

Photo: Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, IN

Photo: Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, IN

Prayer for returning to school written by Wendy Claire Barrie, Director of Children, Youth & Family Ministries at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, New York City:

God of Wisdom, we give you thanks for schools and classrooms and for the teachers and students who fill them each day. We thank you for this new beginning, for new books and new ideas. We thank you for sharpened pencils, pointy crayons, and crisp blank pages waiting to be filled. We thank you for the gift of making mistakes and trying again. Help us to remember that asking the right questions is often as important as giving the right answers.

Today we give thanks for these your children, and we ask you to bless them with curiosity, understanding and respect. May their backpacks be a sign to them that they have everything they need to learn and grow this year in school and in Sunday School. May they be guided by your love. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, who as a child in the temple showed his longing to learn about you, and as an adult taught by story and example your great love for us. Amen.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 8/30/15
half page, double-sided 8/30/15

black and white, full page, one- sided, 8/30/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 8/30/15

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

Bulletin Insert: Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Hurricane Katrina Tenth Anniversary

August 23, 2015

Photo: Christ Church Cathedral, Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana

Ten years ago, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the US Gulf Coast as a Category 3 storm. Over 1,800 people lost their lives, and one million were displaced from their homes, some for years following the storm and others permanently.

In the aftermath, Episcopal churches organized food and volunteers, providing pastoral care as well as links to relief and recovery services. Regionally, churches hosted and cared for evacuees, aiding them in finding temporary housing and employment. Long-term program partnerships in Louisiana and Mississippi helped people rebuild their lives and revitalize their neighborhoods through case management, gutting and rebuilding homes and making mortgages accessible and manageable. Hurricane Katrina also marked the beginning of what is now Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program, which equips and inspires Episcopal congregations to increase their resilience and care for their vulnerable neighbors.

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Episcopal Relief & Development presents its #Katrina10 story series, offering in-depth perspectives from area residents as well as the organization’s partners and staff. These stories unfold through the month of August on Episcopal Relief & Development’s 75th Anniversary story section: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/75stories.

Hurricane Katrina transformed The Episcopal Church’s understanding of its potential role after emergencies, and it also ransformed how congregations view mission, outreach and membership. A new initiative, Called to Transformation, helps congregations identify and utilize their gifts to enhance local ministry and mission. Churches are celebrating these ministries on the Episcopal Asset Map, a searchable online tool that shows the locations and strengths of thousands of Episcopal institutions.

“There is a growing awareness in The Episcopal Church of how an asset-based approach can unlock potential and inspire action, not only in a disaster response context but in responding to everyday challenges and creating thriving communities,” said Katie Mears, Director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program. “Hurricane Katrina put a spotlight on problems that we continue to struggle with, but it also showed us how to create solutions. I think we honor those whose lives were impacted by Katrina when we build strong, diverse communities that care for those most vulnerable.”

Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi

Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi

Please continue to pray for and support communities affected by disaster, especially on this tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Visit Called to Transformation to discover tools for building resilience in your congregation, and share your successes on the Episcopal Asset Map.

 

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 8/23/15
half page, double-sided 8/23/15

black and white, full page, one- sided, 8/23/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 8/23/15

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