Archives for October 2015

Bulletin Insert: Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

FORMA

November 15, 2015

Forma is a grassroots association of dues-paying members, mostly Episcopalians and some kindred individuals and Episcopal institutions, that supports, networks, advocates for, resources, and celebrates Christian formation leaders in their Christian formation ministries.

SUPPORTS
Invites and encourages Christian formation leaders to pursue spiritual disciplines, theological studies, and other practices that ensure vocational excellence.
• offers thorough and professional quality certificate programs for Christian formation ministers
• hosts an annual conference at which members develop supportive relationships

NETWORKS
Creates a forum for Christian formation leaders to network and explore issues of lifelong formation ministry.
• maintains a digital communication forum and interactive social networking presence for Christian educators using methods that meet the needs of membership
• hosts an annual conference at which members meet ministry colleagues and engage opportunities for new learning in the field through keynote presentations and workshops

ADVOCATES
Focuses the larger Church on the lifelong Christian formation process, including advocating for robust and adequate resources for formation ministry.
• sponsors a presence on behalf of Forma membership at the triennial General Convention of The Episcopal Church
• shapes and endorses legislation that supports lifelong formation ministry, including the church-wide triennial budget and other General Convention resolutions
• promotes equity in the workplace for Christian formation leaders through education and church-wide legislation

RESOURCES
Uses available means to share resources and best practices for Christian formation ministry.
• catalogs, create, and share resources, strategies, and tools
• models effective practices
• participates in the development of an online formation resource hub
• hosts an annual conference that offers ministry development

Forma Cert SchoolCELEBRATES
Affirms and joyously lifts up our personal and communal formation ministries at church-wide and local events, on the internet, and one-on-one.
• dreams the present and future of Christian formation
• celebrates milestones and promotions of members
• consoles members at times of loss and difficulty

Annual Conference 2016
January 27-29, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
Keynote Speaker: Bishop Andy Doyle
For more information about the Conference and a full list of speakers and workshops go to: http://episcoforma.org/2016-conference/

To join Forma, to donate to the mission and ministry of Forma, for more information, and to discover the available resources, go to: http://episcoforma.org

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

Bulletin Insert: Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Veterans Day

November 8, 2015

In honor of Veteran’s Day, Bishop Jay Magness, Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries, reflects on the relationship between those of us who represent the country’s faith communities and our armed forces.

All too often the political and social mission that has become such an important part of our faith communities has placed us at odds with the armed forces. Today it is increasingly difficult to find men and women who have served in the armed forces. It is estimated that in the general population of our country less than 7% of our citizens have ever served in the armed forces.

Therefore, with so few active social and cultural connections with men and women in uniform, we are increasingly disconnected from them and from their experiences. The inclinations of our faith communities have changed considerably about whether or not we think our members should engage in military service.

It has been my experience that about the only time we engage in serious thought about the implications of military service is when a member of the armed forces who is in some way connected to one of our congregations is either seriously injured or killed. Even then it is such a strange and unusual occurrence that we do not know how to act toward the affected service members or members of their families.

Given the scarcity of both military members and veterans perhaps it is time for us to think about why anyone would volunteer to go into the armed forces. I believe that that there are three basic reasons. The first is for a sense of duty. For many of our fellow citizens the attacks of September 11, 2001 were for them what the December 7, 1941 attack upon Pearl Harbor Naval Base was for their predecessors. Within days after the 9/11 attacks near droves of young and capable American citizens came to the conclusion that their sense of duty levied upon them the requirement to volunteer to enter one of the branches of the armed forces as a way of doing their part to protect our country. Such responses to duty are virtues that form the basis of a person’s character.

A second reason that people volunteer is because they have a sense of service to the nation. Because they enjoy the goods of the nation’s freedoms, they reason that service is required. Many, if not most who volunteer because of this sense of service do so because they have been educated by parents and others that service is a civic responsibility. Like duty, service is a virtue that forms a person’s character.

I believe the third reason that people volunteer is because they envision becoming a member of the armed forces is their last resort; the only remaining life path that is open to them. Many, of these are men and women who enter the armed forces as directionless adolescents and who depart three or four years later as responsible adults. In my opinion, they then become living virtues and treasurers to our society.

The uneasy relationship between the faith communities and members of the armed forces has changed since the idea of compulsory military service was suspended.

Nonetheless, it is time for us to reconnect. On this Veterans Day 2015 unlike some of my friends in the faith community I am not all that interested in what we can do for service members and veterans. I am, however, very interested in what these persons can do for the faith communities of America. Service members and veterans, if given the appropriate recognition, honor, welcome, and permission can teach us so very much about the spiritual value of personal and corporate sacrifice.

We live in an age dominated by the values of personal achievement and material acquisition. It will do us well to hear the encouraging word that service members and veterans can teach us about the spiritual value of sacrifice.

But where will we begin? Perhaps the next time you see a wounded warrior instead of thanking them for their service, commend them for their sacrifice. Then be still and watch what happens between the two of you.

 

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

Penny for Your Thoughts, Proper 27(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 127, (19-22); Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Benjamin Franklin once said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Yet, despite the sage words from Mr. Franklin, pennies are often readily available; all one has to do is look on city streets – pennies are in abundant supply. People all the world over are happy to get rid of their pennies. Oftentimes, people won’t bother to pick them up when they have fallen.

The penny occupies a peculiar spot on any currency chart. It’s worth next to nothing, but not really. Because of the penny’s peculiarity, it’s difficult to divide. What’s 10% of a penny? Matthew 10:29 proves that one could have purchased two sparrows for one penny in Jesus’ time – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny.”

The term “a penny for your thoughts” was ‘coined’ in 1522, with Sir Thomas More’s book, Four Last Things. As with most idioms or sayings, no one is exactly sure who first said “a penny for your thoughts” But Sir More was the first to publish it.

Perhaps our widow, in this Gospel story from Mark, should receive some credit for the phrase, “a penny for your thoughts,” as well. Her bold, uninhibited vulnerability to offer all she had to live on was a true sign of sacrifice. In her adherence to Jewish law, she brought her tithe to the treasury – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Her revolutionary giving posture was to give 90% above the tithe – Now, how’s that for a stewardship model?

If she was anything like the other women portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. We know that this woman embodied faith to approach God boldly, perform loving acts for God, stand as an example of piety to be emulated, and speak truths when others would not. It could be suggested that she was a poor widow, because her late husband was a poor man. So to approach the treasury and pour out and offer all she had to live on, was to say, ‘this is all I got, it isn’t worth much, God, I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts.’

Those thoughts are embedded throughout Scripture. God’s thoughts towards her were that, she could live with the certainty that “Before God formed her in the womb God knew her, and before she was born God set her apart; God appointed her” and had a purpose for her. (Jeremiah 1:5)

She could lived with the guarantee and gratitude that God had her life all planned out because “surely God knew the plans God had for her, cause God said so, plans for her welfare to prosper her and not for harm, plans to give her a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Those thoughts are true for us as well. We can live in the assurance that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). And we can live with the knowledge that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Knowing the thoughts God has towards us is important to carrying out our ministry on this earth.

Our sister in this story pushed passed the shame of being a struggling widow. She broke open the doors that would have said your two cents aren’t enough; pennies cannot do a thing. She paid no attention to the offerings others had in comparison to her own. She understood there wasn’t a thing she could do, but by giving all she had to God that could change.

Similar to American art teacher and musician Judson W. Van DeVenter who penned the lyrics for the Christian hymn ‘I Surrender All.’ DeVenter said “For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life.”

Once those two coins hit the bottom of the treasury it ushered a new day, a new season in the life of the widow, because of her surrender, sacrifice, and sacramental giving.

Worship is essentially our response to God’s love, generosity and graciousness. Worship edifies our souls, and God delights in our worship. Remember our sister from Canaan whose daughter was tormented by a demon? When she went to Jesus and his disciples, Jesus didn’t even speak to her at first. His disciples tried to quiet her and send her away. It’s not until she bowed down and worshipped Jesus that Jesus responded to her. Our worship gets God’s attention. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Giving is an act of worship. The widow’s giving, and in our giving, we are worshipping God. Her selfless act of vulnerability, her posture of worship got Jesus’ attention. The Gospel states, once she gives all she had to live on, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more that all those who are contributing to the treasury.” Her worship received Jesus’ attention.

She gave all that she had to live on, so that the work of God’s kingdom could be done. Prior to getting Jesus’ attention, Jesus is telling his disciples about the pitfalls of “Scribe-like” behavior and cautions them to beware! To be clear, “Scribe-like” giving (not “Scribe-like” behavior) is important and helpful to the growth of the Church. When we give from a place of sacrifice and surrender, this is our devotion to God. God looks at the heart and wants for us to be able to trust God with all that we have for what we have are gifts from God.

Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr. states in his book, One Minute Stewardship Sermons, that ‘God is generous, giving, loving, forgiving, and gracious. God desires our loving response to His generosity.’ The oxymoron here is that God is generous even in our scarcity. Most often our loving response is not sacrificial giving similar to that of the widow. Out of her poverty she gave and took the huge risk of not being able to afford to live. One might look at her and begin finger wagging and calling her less than smart. How will she live, if she gave all she had to live on to God? It doesn’t make much sense. In today’s society that kind of giving may be frowned upon tremendously. Even sacrificial giving may be shunned because of the thrill of the accumulation of material possession in our society. But, this widow understood giving to God was a sure way for a substantial return on her investment.

Some biblical scholars believe however that her gift presaged Jesus’ own surrender and sacrifice to God’s will for His life. In this Gospel, our poor widowed sister reflected Jesus’ behavior, “though he was rich, yet for (our) sake became poor, so that by his poverty (we) might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Anyone can give out of their’ abundance and excess, but it takes a true believer to give out of his or her poverty. Sacrificing and surrendering of all that she had, this poor widow was able to attain all she needed to live on and her heart sang the words of Van DeVenter’s Hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

AMEN.

Download the Sermon for Proper 27B

For reference and further study

  • Cloughen, C. (1997). One minute stewardship sermons (p. 2). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub.
  • Harrington, Daniel J., and John R. Donahue. “The Scribes and the Widow.” Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1991. 362-365. Print.
  • Mays, James Luther. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000. Print.
  • Newsom, C. (1992). The Women’s Bible commentary (pp. 350-357). London: SPCK ;.
  • The Origin of the Phrase “A Penny For Your Thoughts” (2014, December 7). Retrieved October 18, 2015.
  • Who Said. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2015.

Written by The Rev. Arlette Benoit

The Rev. Arlette Benoit is a graduate of General Theological Seminary in New York City where she earned her Masters in Divinity with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She was ordained to the priesthood in June 2013 in the Diocese of Atlanta. Rev. Benoit now serves at St. Paul’s Episcopal Atlanta GA, as Associate to the Rector. While at seminary she interned with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries. She continues to be involved with the Office of Black Ministries, and assist and provides consultation for the planning of the S.O.U.L (Spiritual Opportunity to Unity and Learn) Conferences for youth and young adults, in addition to working with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop The Rising Stars (RISE) Experience — a new initiative aimed at countering the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Rev. Benoit was also recently appointed to serve as a Youth Ministry Liaison for the Office of Youth Ministries representing Province Four of The Episcopal Church.

Bible Study: Proper 27, Year B November 8, 2015

(RCL) Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi’s and Ruth’s family is on the brink of extinction. Both are widows, both destitute, and Ruth is a Moabite, a non-Israelite, an outsider. Naomi, too old to remarry and have children, sends Ruth to see Boaz, an extended family member, in the hope that Boaz will marry her and take them into his household. He does, and becomes the kinsmen-redeemer, and Ruth becomes King David’s great-grandmother.

A significant theme in the book of Ruth is that of outsiders being let in. The loving-kindness of Boaz for those whom he could easily have dismissed (Ruth was more closely related to another man in the community who wouldn’t take her in) is in keeping with Yahweh’s constant refrain throughout the Old Testament on the care for foreigners and the impoverished.

  • Who in your life could use some purposeful loving-kindness?
  • Who knows what that person, perhaps on the fringes of your social circles or family, could do for the kingdom of God, if you would but invite them in…

Psalm 127

Holy Scripture has a pretty radical view of our world’s dependence on God: if master builder and watchmen don’t have God’s assistance, their labor is a waste of time. Like the reading from Ruth, the Psalm echoes the theme of the Lord’s care and provision for God’s people. This Psalm in particular focuses on children, as the “Lord’s heritage,” as gifts of God: the means to sustain our very species is itself totally dependent on the Lord’s making prosper the fruit of the womb.

Our society at large does not have this view of children. What the Psalmist calls “gifts,” “happiness,” and a “heritage,” our society often calls “inconveniences,” “unnecessary expenses,” or an “obstacle” to your career. Even the most devout Christians fall into this type of thinking from time to time. If we’re honest, those thoughts cross our minds more than we’d like to admit.

Eventually we must come to a conscious choice:

  • Where will we be taking our cues from when it comes to how we think about children?
  • From the script of that new sitcom, or from our holiest text?
  • From the pulpit of pop culture, or from the mouth of God himself?

Hebrews 9:24-28

We can’t pretend that these ancient ideas about how to cleanse a community of the guilt of their wrongdoings are natural for moderns like us to comprehend, but we must try, if Jesus’ sacrifice is going to make any sense to us. Pardon the analogy, but if sin is pollution, then blood is a successful “clean up our streets” initiative. If sin makes us dirty, blood makes us clean. But whose blood, and what kind? That from a pure victim, offered to God by a priest. Like the high priests of old, Jesus appears before God in the most holy place, presenting not the blood of an animal, but his own blood, that which was spilt on the strangest of altars, the altar of a Roman cross. Paradoxically, He is at once priest and sacrificial victim, making a “perfect offering and sacrifice unto God.”

Jesus’ blood is re-presented to us when we receive the Eucharist, our principal act of worship where we proclaim our Lord’s death until he comes again. This is not easy to grasp, in fact, it is “foolishness to those who are perishing,” but it is inestimably worthy of your meditation and devotion. Christian, behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

  • How do you see this sacrificial act?
  • How does that inform your view of the Eucharist?

Mark 12:38-44

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea quotes Bede as saying that the allegorical meaning of the passage is that the “the poor widow is the simplicity of the Church: poor indeed, because she has cast away the spirit of pride and of the desires of worldly things; and a widow, because Jesus her husband has suffered death for her. She casts two mites into the treasury, because she brings the love of God and of her neighbor, or the gifts of faith and prayer; which are looked upon as mites in their own insignificance, but measured by the merit of a devout intention…she understands that even her very living is not of her own worthiness, but of Divine grace.”

More obviously, the literal sense contrasts the religious elite, who are corrupt and hypocritical and donate their money for the spectacle, with the humility of the widow who gave nearly nothing, and yet everything.

  • Since the Holy Scriptures are written for the Church, of which we are a part, what does Jesus’ praise of this woman inspire in us?
  • How can we imitate her humility?
  • What can we give to God, even out of our poverty?

Download the Proper 27, Year B Bible Study 

Written by Ryan Pollock

Ryan is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Dallas, TX and a middler seminarian at Nashotah House, where he is a choral scholar and a refectorian. When not engaged in seminary business, these days he can be found alchemizing in the kitchen or attempting to play heavy metal guitar in the basement. He is married to Jessica, an artist and photographer who is studying astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.  

They are resurrected in our hearts, All Saints’ Day, Year B – 2015

[RCL] Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 48; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

All Saints’ Day is one of the most underrated church holidays of the year. It is overshadowed by its more glamorous cousins, All Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving, similar to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week. But All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does because they are days that are about how some of the darker parts of human experience can be washed in holiness when they are brought before God.

All Saints’ Day is so important because it is the one church holiday set aside during the year to tend to our grief. We experience grief on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ and the grand theological ideas that accompany them. All Saints Day is for us, for remembering the people we loved, who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives and then died and left us behind.

Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences, and grief is often very lonely. Many of us have awakened on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marveled at how the sun can rise another day and the Earth can continue to turn after our world has been abruptly destroyed. We are grateful for all the concern friends and colleagues show us, but find it so strange to realize that while they truly felt sorry for us during the time they were in conversation with us or the moment they kindly took to send us a card or email, this event that turned our world upside down really meant very little to them.

We’re not angry at them. Of course no one would love or care for or agonize over our departed loved one the way our own family would, but it is just so surreal to realize that after someone says something kind to us about it, that person will go right back to thinking about what to put on the dinner table or whether to go to the movies that weekend. It is a realization that all of us have at some time or another that our own personal battles and tragedies and defeats really matter very little in the big picture of the world.

They matter very little 364 days a year in 99.9% of the places on this Earth. But our grief does matter on this day, in this place. On All Saints’ Day, in God’s Holy Church, the losses that we have borne over the years come front and center and are named for all to hear, on holy ground. On All Saints Day, our grief is no longer lonely and isolating, but we gather in this sanctuary and let our grief bind us together in a new and powerful way.

All Saints’ Day is an important ministry to us in our losses because it helps us reenter that place of mourning in a rhythm, year after year after year each November. As the green and life of the summer die and go to their winter rest around us, so we bring up the pain of loss on purpose in this rhythm, year after year. And each year that we revisit the loss, the pain softens and loses a little sharpness, begins to go to its own winter rest. Every time we name our loved ones among the saints, we honor not only their lives but our own long battle with memories both painful and joyful.

And it is so important to honor their memories. Most of our departed loved ones had a funeral to commemorate them. But the funeral happens right after the loss and often our emotions are completely chaotic, not to mention the practical circumstances we are trying to manage. If you have lost someone close to you, either due to sudden accident or long illness, you probably remember the days in the immediate aftermath as a haze of confusion. There are hundreds of details to attend to—notifying friends, organizing a service, pulling together money for a casket and burial plot, thinking about wills and estates, the volatility of family brought together in a pressure cooker of emotion. Frankly it is often not a time to treasure the memory of the departed. Many grieving families float through the funeral in a sort of disconnected shock.

This is where All Saints’ Day comes to our aid once again. There is no chaos, there are no arrangements to be made, no being singled out to sit at the front of the church in a black suit or dress, no finding directions to the cemetery. We are all in this together, and the ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. It’s the chance to be private about our grief, taking out our memories in the quiet of our hearts and turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect. But we all enter that sheltered and quiet heartspace of our own at the same time, in the same place. As you bring up the faces of your dearest departed before your mind’s eye, cherishing the chance to do so peacefully and uninterrupted, your neighbor is doing the same. We enter the valley of the shadow of death together, and walk through it in solidarity with one another.

There is someone else who is in solidarity with us in our grief, and that is Jesus. In our gospel today, we see him in the exact situation we have faced in our own lives—the inevitable but painful death of a loved one. Lazarus had been sick, they all knew there was a possibility he might die. But even Jesus can’t quite believe it at first. He doesn’t want to believe it, and asks if he’s been buried, hoping maybe the message has gotten twisted along the way and Lazarus is still just sick. “He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”

Jesus sees so much pain in his lifetime, and he bears it so bravely. He sees the suffering of his people crushed under the imperial rule of Rome, and he doesn’t cry. He sees five thousand hungry and poor on a hillside needing him to feed them, and he doesn’t cry. He sees people tormented by demons, bleeding or paralyzed or diseased for years, and he doesn’t cry. He continues his ministry and cares for them.

But here, at last, he breaks, and for the simple, everyday loss of a simple, everyday beloved friend. Nothing grand or dramatic. One of his best friends gets sick and dies, and Jesus weeps. And so perhaps on this day of letting our heartaches step out into the open on holy ground, we can be in solidarity with Jesus as much as he is with us. He always bears the burden for us. Maybe today we can say, “Jesus, we understand how you feel. We’re sorry you lost your friend. We love you. Come be with us for a while and we’ll all be in this together.”

Jesus brought his friend back, just as on the final day we will all be brought back to life by him to live with him and in him. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus up to new life? How did he bring him back from the dead? By calling his name. “Lazarus, come out!” Today, we’re doing the same thing. We’re calling out the names of the ones we loved who have passed on, and they answer. They are resurrected in our hearts, brought to life in this time and place. Whether on one side of the border between life and death or the other, we all want to be with our loved ones. As the communion of saints joins spirits across the divide today, we may realize that we are being called by name today as well, named and loved by the ones who have gone before us.

Download the Sermon for All Saints, Year B.

Written by The Rev. Whitney Rice

The Rev. Whitney Rice is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Indianapolis and currently the Priest-in-Charge of the Shared Ministry of St. Luke’s Shelbyville and St. Thomas Franklin. A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Yale Divinity School. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Bible Study, Proper 26(B), November 1, 2015

(RCL) Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

Note: All Saints Day supersedes Proper 26. This bible study is provided for mid-week study or reflection. 

Ruth 1:1-18

Naomi finds herself in a foreign land without any means of support. Her husband and two sons have died. At that time in history this situation meant a future of abject poverty and humiliation. The only hope for her daughters-in-law is to find new husbands. Naomi’s only hope is to return to her home in Judah. In Judah the LORD was providing food for his people. The tradition then was that a childless widow should marry her deceased husband’s brother. Naomi has no more sons. This is why she blesses her daughters-in-law and tells them to stay in Moab to be with their people and gods, and to find new husbands.

Orpah agrees in tears. Ruth however will not go. The writer of the book of Ruth gives us a beautiful song that expresses Ruth’s devotion to Naomi. She will not only accompany Ruth, she will be one of Ruth’s people and Yahweh will become her god. She submits herself to the LORD’s will. Naomi takes on the hope in the LORD that Ruth clings to.

  • Has there been a time in your life that you found yourself in a “foreign land” with no support?
  • Do you find hope in the thought that God considers you and will provide?
  • Is there someone in your life who is in the “foreign land” of illness, unemployment, or some other insecurity? Can you be a Ruth for them and share in the hopeful journey back to God’s grace?

Psalm 146

This is certainly a praise filled Psalm. The writer’s joy is spilling over. Doesn’t the section about all that the LORD does setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, etc. sound like the instructions Jesus gives to the disciples when he sends them out to do the work he commands them to do? Jesus empowers them to do the same things he has been doing. We, too, are called to do this work as we live into our baptismal covenant.

  • You may not feel you have enough faith to literally give sight to the blind, but can you show someone how your eyes have been opened?
  • What are some ways we in our church communities can watch over strangers?

Hebrews 9:11-14

In this epistle, the writer lays out the atonement understanding of Christ’s death. It is one that many of us in our modern world find hard to understand or accept. It probably made much more sense for the early followers of Jesus who struggled to understand why he was executed.

The tradition of animal sacrifice was well understood by the Israelites. In fact animal and even human sacrifice have been a part of many religions and cultures. There seems to be a universal mystical view of what we call a creature’s “life’s blood”. Further there is a sense that to kill an animal not to be used for food and shed its blood is a meaningful sacrifice. Many people have felt that this kind of sacrifice can restore our relationship with the creator.

First Testament texts call for the sacrificial animal to be perfect and of the greatest value, not one that is defective or ill. So for the early Christians it makes sense to see Christ as the perfect unblemished sacrifice. He was innocent and his death was a sacrifice on our behalf. Through it our relationship with God the Creator is restored. It is a hard teaching for us in our modern time but it is a powerful one we must consider.

  • Do you find the atonement view a difficult one to accept?
  • Is it hard to recognize that our sins are severe enough to need this kind of sacrifice from Jesus the Christ?
  • If you have ever felt that what you have done is unforgivable can you find comfort in this understanding of Christ’s death?

Mark 12:28-34

This passage is quite remarkable in many ways. Two extraordinary things come to mind right away. The first is that usually in the Gospels the Scribes or Pharisees come to listen to Jesus in the hope of hearing him say something blasphemous. If they ask questions it is to try to trick him into saying something that can be held against him. In this case the Scribe is impressed with how Jesus has been answering the questions. Jesus is worth consulting. He assumes that among the long list of laws of what is permitted, what is prohibited, and how to carry out rituals, there is one that is most important.

The second extraordinary thing is how Jesus sums up the whole intent of all the laws, rituals, and traditions. He cuts to the heart of the matter and reveals the big picture at the same time. By sighting these two commandments, God is one and you shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus points us directly to how God wants us to live. The scribe understands that this is the key. Jesus affirms the scribe’s understanding by telling him that he is not far from the kingdom of God. The profundity of this leaves everyone speechless.

  • Do you think that by affirming the scribe in this way, Jesus is showing us how to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth?
  • Have you ever had an impulse to act in a certain way and done differently when you remember these two commandments?
  • Can you imagine trying for one day to keep these commandments at the forefront of your mind? What would that be like for you?

Download the Proper 26, Year B Bible Study.

Written by Greg Hamlin

Greg is a lay leader seminarian at Bloy House in Southern California. He and his wife, Karen, are involved members of St. James’ Church in South Pasadena. They have two grown daughters. Anouska is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, and Natasha is working on a Marriage and Family Therapy degree at Fuller Seminary.  

Bible Study, All Saints Day(B), November 1, 2015

(RCL) Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32–44

Wisdom 3:1-9

This passage from Wisdom is read on All Saints Day and at many funerals because it gives comfort to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When we watch someone suffer and die it seems like disaster, destruction, or maybe even punishment. But the writer draws us up to a higher plain where we can see that their departure is a pathway to peace and great good.

The gift of All Saints Day is not simply to look back with nostalgia but to see a greater vision. Our loved ones who have died connect us to an eternal reality. By lifting our gaze to see them from God’s view we are given a “hope full of immortality.”

The great hope of this passage is God himself. It tells us that “the faithful will abide with him in love.” God is the ultimate reality. In God, instead of torment and death, there is grace, mercy, peace, and love.

  • How does this passage give you comfort as you think about those you have lost?
  • What is it like for you to imagine a place with no torment and only peace?

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is a beautiful picture describing the two-way movement in our relationship with God. The psalmist first grounds our relationship to this earth, where we are part of all God’s creation.

From this vantage point we are called to make our way up to the Lord. If we want to see God, how we live matters. Clean hands and a pure heart are required. I often soil my hands and heart, so this is troubling. As we seek God we come to understand that we are made clean through God’s salvation and thus can continue to move toward God.

The end of the psalm reverses this movement. Now instead of us going up to God, God comes down to us. As God’s people we are summoned to look up and see that our strong and mighty God is coming down to be with us. Through this psalm we see a dance in which we move to God and God moves to us.

  • What steps do you need to take in your movement toward God?
  • How can we, God’s people, open up our gates to welcome God?

Revelation 21:1-6a

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. One of the great gifts of the incarnation is that the one who calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, also understands the middle where we all live. For us mortals “the middle” includes mourning, crying, and pain. In the midst of the middle it takes great imagination to behold the possibility of a happy ending.

The people suffering under the cruel occupation of the Roman Empire were given an invitation through John’s Revelation to imagine a new world – a world where God lives with mortals and tenderly wipes every tear from their eyes.

  • If this is the end of your story, how can you write your present “middle chapters” in light of it?
  • What choices can you make to help you get there?

John 11:32–44

Jesus sees the big picture. He was able to live within the tension of the realities of death and a future resurrection. He knows Lazarus will live again. But when he sees his friends’ pain caused by their brother’s death, Jesus’ indignation drives him to both tears and action. Jesus shows how angry death makes him, how deeply he grieves for those who are hurt by it.

Isn’t this how we sometimes feel about death? Don’t our hearts break when death steals away those we love? We can proclaim “I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” (BCP, p 304) even while we are shattered with grief. This day on which we celebrate all the saints who have died can be a bitter reminder of all we have lost. Fortunately we have a God who will live with us in this place between death and life.

  • What is it like for you to have a God who is the resurrection and the life and who also truly empathizes with your sorrow?
  • How can being honest with God about your feelings help you walk through your grief?

Download the All Saints, Year B, Bible Study.

Written by Louise Samuelson

Louise Samuelson is a second-year seminarian at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. She is a candidate to the priesthood in the Diocese of Central Florida. Louise lives with her husband Frank who is also a candidate to the priesthood.

Bulletin Insert: Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost (B)

All Saints' Day

November 1, 2015

Detail from “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24) by Fra Angelico, National Gallery, London. Photo via Wikimedia.

All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 or the nearest Sunday afterward, is characterized by the Book of Common Prayer as a Principal Feast, “taking precedence over any other day or observance” (BCP 15).

The holiday is set aside to remember and commend the saints of God, especially those who are not recognized at other points in the church year. According to Holy Women, Holy Men, in the tenth century, it became customary to recognize on a single day “that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church” (Holy Women, Holy Men, 664). Over time, the day became associated with special remembrances of an individual’s family and friends.

While several churches abandoned the commemoration during the Reformation (1517-1648), the Feast of All Saints was retained on the Anglican liturgical calendar. All Saints’ Day began to assume the role of general commemoration of the dead: all Christians, past and present; all saints, known and unknown.

Though celebrations across churches are certainly varied, consistent themes arise. Because of the day’s association with the remembrance for the dead, many churches publish a necrology. This reading of the names of the congregation’s faithful departed may include prayers on their behalf. Such prayers are appropriate, as the Catechism reminds us, “because we still hold [our departed] in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is” (BCP 862).

candles-9235_1920The Book of Common Prayer recommends All Saints’ Day as one of the four holy days especially appropriate for the administration of Holy Baptism (HWHM, 662). This recommendation strives to make clear themes of newness of life, our membership in the communion of saints.

Finally, the day is often characterized by joyful hymns, including such favorites as “For All the Saints,” “Who Are These Like Stars Appearing,” and “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” These hymns share motifs of rest, fellowship, and continued, joyful service to God—salient indeed on this day, as we remember “those of dazzling brightness, those in God’s own truth arrayed, clad in robes of purest whiteness, robes whose luster ne’er shall fade”!

Collect
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 

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Bible Study, Proper 25(B) – October 25, 2015

(RCL) Job 42:1-6,10-17; Ps. 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

If any biblical character endured suffering, it was undoubtedly Job. He lost crops, property, family members, and his health. Job must have had that uncertain feeling that any of us experience when we lose someone or something important to us. Why would God let this happen? Where is God in all of this? Why have my prayers gone unanswered? These kinds of questions are often the first to come to mind, and often to our lips. Through all of Job’s suffering and questioning, he refused to “curse God and die” (as his wife suggested). Even sickness and death did not cause Job to lose his faith. He did, however, begin to send up many questions to God. His desire was to make his appeal to God, to defend his own uprightness. In the end, God poetically expounds upon God’s own creative acts and sovereign rule over creation. God gives no direct explanation as to Job’s suffering, but explains to Job that the Creator does not need to be defensive and explain what God allows to happen. The whole story ends with Job responding in humility, admitting that even many of his questions were misguided, and misunderstood God’s mysterious works. Job becomes even more humble than before: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is then rewarded with twice as much as he owned before as a sign of God’s blessing.

  • The story of Job doesn’t give us any direct answers to Job’s sufferings, other than that they were allowed. How do you wrestle with the mystery of suffering in the world?
  • God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone (Lam. 3:33). Why do you suppose suffering is allowed in our world?
  • God calls God’s people to be agents of healing. How are you active in relieving the suffering of others in your community?
Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22)

Saint Augustine referred to the Holy Trinity as “the highest origin of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and the most blessed delight.” God is not only love and goodness, but in God’s very being, is also beauty. All of God’s attributes make God desirable and worthy of all praise. God’s glory shines down upon us when we turn our hearts toward our Creator in worship. David expresses the worship emanating from his own heart in this beautiful psalm. He says, “Look to him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” I’ve always been fascinated by the imagery here. When a person looks toward God, they become radiant. What does this mean?

Recently, a friend told me about meeting a very holy and kind man, a man who lives his life steeped in prayer and contemplation. My friend described this man as “full of God.” There is something different about the presence of those who spend much of their time in God’s presence. Many who have met Mother Teresa report something similar. God seems to reflect God’s own beauty through those who are close to him. Jesus, the perfect image of God, reflected God’s glory in the Transfiguration to Peter, James, and John. The scene is (intentionally!) reminiscent of the Divine Glory revealed to Moses at Sinai.

  • Do you ever contemplate the beauty of God? How might imagination play a role in this form of prayer?
  • Of all people, Christians should be the most eager to embrace art, poetry, and music as expressions of the goodness and beauty of God. What form of art could you use to express your love for God?
  • Have you encountered times of “radiance” during prayer? How can time spent in God’s presence empower us to carry out the mission we are given in Matthew 28?
Hebrews 7:23-28

Hebrews gives us an abundance of rich sacrificial imagery. Our minds are directed toward the Jewish temple system of priesthood and sacrifice, and through that imagery we are shown a new reality. In contrast to the priests of Israel, Jesus’ priesthood is eternal in the heavens, where “he is able to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Elsewhere, the author tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. Christ’s sacrifice, however, was a once-and-for-all event that did take away sin. Not only did Jesus die for our sins and reconcile us to God; he also prays for us always. His is a ministry of unceasing prayer, intercession for the “church militant” – those of us living the Christian life, awaiting the New Creation. We enter into this reality every time we approach the altar for Eucharist. The Book of Common Prayer catechism says the Eucharist is “the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself” (p. 859). There are many theological points that one could make about all of this, but one thing is clear: all aspects of Jesus’ ministry are intended to bring us close to God and to keep us in his presence!

  • How often do you draw to remembrance an image of Christ praying for you?
  • Have you ever thought about this idea of a God who desires nearness with his people as a truth to be shared in evangelism? How would you share that message with someone who is open to hearing about your faith?
  • How do you understand Christ to be present in the bread and wine of Eucharist?
Mark 10:46-52

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus hears the cry of desperate, humble Bartimaeus, and encourages him to articulate precisely his need for healing. Bartimaeus wants to see again. Something has made him blind, and only Jesus can open his eyes. Graciously, in response to his humility, the Lord grants him sight. In Mark’s Gospel, this physical healing of blindness immediately follows an episode in which Jesus’ disciples show their blindness to the nature of Christian leadership. Vying for the most prestigious place in heaven, James and John ask Jesus to grant a request. “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Sound familiar?) And they reveal their thirst for power and glory. Jesus sternly corrects them, and goes on to explain the counter-cultural approach to leadership required by his disciples – absolute servanthood. A position of leadership under Jesus means a position of humble, self-giving service. Bartimaeus’ humble request is juxtaposed to the presumptuous request of James and John, as Mark calls his readers into a “teaching moment.” Christ desires humility, and he desires to respond with healing and blessing to requests that are made in absolute humility and dependence.

  • The Orthodox Fathers adapted Bartimaeus’ prayer into the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Have you ever considered making this short, humble prayer your own?
  • Jesus constantly reminds us that God desires our requests be made known to him. How do you ensure your requests are made in humility?
  • Humility is hard. Especially in a culture fixated on self-actualization and “climbing to the top.” What would a Christian model of leadership look like in the average workplace? How do you live out this model in your own life?

Download the Proper 25, Year B Bible Study.

Written by Cameron MacMillan

Cameron MacMillan is a senior year seminarian at Nashotah House, working on his MDiv degree, and is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Central Florida. Cameron and his wife, Hannah, are expecting their first child. He enjoys outdoor adventures with their border collie, Charleigh. good coffee, and writing creative non-fiction. Cameron’s passions are cross-cultural ministry, evangelism, and liturgical theology.

Healing our Blindness, Sermon for Proper 25(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22); Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was a nobody. He wasn’t just any nobody he was a nobody among the nobodies. People often walked past Bartimaeus and at best they thought of the blind beggar as a nuisance. Day in and day out Bartimaeus would make his way to his familiar spot. Feeling his way along the crowded streets of Jericho, Bartimaeus was invisible to the people who hustled by on the way to something glamorous and important.

You see Jericho wasn’t just any city, Jericho was a city for the important people, the well-to-do. Herod had his winter palace there and all the rich Roman families spent their winters in Jericho. Jericho was an oasis, a destination city. You couldn’t get to Jerusalem without passing through Jericho so anyone who wanted to be seen had to have an address in Jericho.

So every morning Bartimaeus made his way to the Jericho Road, knowing that the rich people, the military and the important people had to pass by on their way. Jericho Road was the place to be if you were a blind beggar. But even on the main road Bartimaeus was invisible. Occasionally someone would drop a copper penny or two in his bowl so that he could eat for the day. But deep down in his heart Bartimaeus knew he was someone. He knew that God’s love for him was deeper than his blindness. He was certain that even though people tried not to see him, God saw him and that was all that mattered.

Then something happened that changed Bartimaeus’ life forever. He heard that the Rabbi name Jesus was in Jericho. Rabbi Jesus had been preaching and large crowds of people gathered to hear him but Bartimaeus couldn’t get close. He had heard about Jesus, whispers here and there that Jesus could perform miracles, that he cured the sick and preached about God’s love.

Bartimaeus decided this was his chance, this was his time. Jesus was passing by and he mustered every ounce of strength he had and shouted “Jesus, so of David have mercy on me!” The good people following Jesus, even his disciples, told Bartimaeus to be quiet but he yelled all the louder; “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

It happened almost too quickly. The people parted and someone grabbed Bartimaeus’ hand and suddenly he was kneeling before Jesus. This man who for most of his life was invisible, this man who no one recognized, this nobody was standing before of Jesus. The words tumbled out of his mouth faster than his brain could process them; “My teacher, let me see again.” And with just seven words Bartimaeus could see!

The story of Bartimaeus is often held up as one of the great healing miracles of Jesus. In the gospels Jesus transforms the lives of those on the margins and draws them more and more into the center. But what if we saw this story as the crowd, the followers of Jesus, being blind and not Bartimaeus.

The crowd in our gospel saw this blind beggar as annoyance, disturbing Jesus as he preached God’s kingdom. Bartimaeus was an disturbance, a distraction from the ‘way things are done’, but Jesus skillfully moves him from the sidelines, recognizes his humanity and dignity and draws him closer to the center.

Bartimaeus wasn’t blind where it really mattered. Barimaeus had a perfect vision of what it meant to be a beloved child of God. Not only did he know that he was a beloved child of God he insisted on being treated like a beloved child of God. Not even the crowd could hold him back and Jesus recognizes him for his bravery.

We as the church can quickly become like the crowd; blind to the needs of those sitting right outside our doors. The Bartimaeus’s of our day do not necessarily sit with a bowl begging and blind, they are the ones in greatest needed reaching out along the Jericho road leading into our church. Like in our gospel we, the crowd, are the ones in need of having our sight restored, our blindness healed, our vision focused.

If we listen hard enough and look long enough we hear the cries of Bartimaeus still. Listen…

Jesus, son of David have mercy on us….

  • We are the ones who are blinded by a world who deems them of no account.
  • We are those who are blinded by a society that too often measures worth by the things we own and the cars we drive.
  • We are the ones who have been told time and again that we are of no value that we are outside the realm of God’s love and peace.
  • We are the ones blinded by the pain of grief and loss, broken relationships and failed dreams.
  • We are the ones blinded by a disease and crippled by a diagnosis.
  • We are the ones blinded by the word illegal and immigrant and refugee.

How do we respond to the many Bartimaeus’s in our own time? We show them to Jesus.

Notice in the gospel the crowd is the first miracle of healing. The crowd is given their sight and actually sees Bartimaeus. And once their blindness is cured the crowd didn’t pray for Bartimaeus, they didn’t form a committee, or call a meeting or even have a theological discussion on the merits of Bartimaeus. The crowd saw him and showed him to Jesus and let Jesus do the rest.

The same is true for us. We are called as followers of Jesus to first be healed of our blindness so that we can see clearly to invite others to share in Christ’s healing.

As Bishop Michael Curry said to the Episcopal Church gathered in Utah this past June; “Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front. Put forming our people as followers of Jesus – as disciples for real – at the front. And then put inspiring and enabling them to serve in their personal lives, and for us to witness in the public square in the front. That’s the church; that’s the movement.”

Once we as the church recognize those on the margins, those sitting on the sidelines, our faith demands that we show them Jesus and together be healed.

Because if you notice at the end of the Gospel story Bartimaeus didn’t go off and found “The Society for the Formerly Blind of Jericho”, he didn’t go dancing through the streets shouting from the rafters, he “regained his sight and followed in the way.”

In the end as Christians that is all that we can do once our vision has been restore and blindness cured, follow in the way of Jesus.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 25B.

Written by The Rev. Deon Johnson

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI for the last nine years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.