Archives for November 2015

Bulletin Insert: Second Sunday of Advent

Advent Challenge: Journey from Gratitude to Hope

December 6, 2015

Advent is a time of waiting and watching. We pray and sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” reliving the beginning of our sacred story, entering into that liminal and holy space of hope. Each year, we are secure in our knowledge of the story’s resolution. The Christ child will be born. God will come among us. Mary and Joseph will flee with the infant Jesus as refugees, escaping the murderous King Herod, fleeing to Egypt in a reversal of the Exodus. The child who would become the Savior of the world will begin his life as a refugee.

This Advent season, our world faces the largest refugee crisis ever known – 60 million displaced, nearly 20 million of whom are refugees, half of whom are children. Four million Syrian refugees have fled civil war and terrorism in their country, and the number continues to grow. Here in the United States, refugees, especially Syrian refugees, have received increasing attention in the media. Programs funding refugees are in jeopardy of being cut or severely limited, which would result in this most vulnerable population of new Americans having limited access to food, housing, health care and the other basic needs they need to get on their feet during their first few months in the United States.

In response, the United Thank Offering board is challenging Episcopalians to take part in an important part of refugee welcome in the United States through its 2015 Ingathering Challenge, which will support Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement service of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Deemed the 2015 Advent Challenge: Journey from Gratitude to Hope, United Thank Offering will match the first $30,000 given by December 31, 2015 that is marked “EMM-UTO.” The challenge will continue throughout December 2015.

Known worldwide as UTO, the United Thank Offering grants are awarded for projects that address human needs and help alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally in The Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Heather Melton, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Missioner for United Thank Offering, noted, “Episcopalians are encouraged to begin using their United Thank Offering Blue Box as an expression of gratitude this Thanksgiving and to continue the journey with United Thank Offering and Episcopal Migration Ministries through Advent toward the hope Episcopalians embrace through the birth of the Christ child.”

To Donate
Checks or online donations should have UTO-EMM in the memo line/comments section.
Donations are also accepted online at https://episcopalchurch.thankyou4caring.org/ just select UTO from the drop down menu and then put EMM in the comments.

Submit checks to:

United Thank Offering
DFMS – Protestant Episcopal Church
P.O. Box 958983
St. Louis, MO 63195-8983
Check notation: UTO-EMM

OR
United Thank Offering
The Episcopal Church
815 Second Avenue
New York City, New York 10017
Check notation: UTO-EMM
Download bulletin insert as PDF:

 

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

My Soul Magnifies the Lord, Advent 4(C) – 2015

[RCL] Micah 5:2-5a; Canticle 3 or 15 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

“My heart exults in the Lord … My strength is exalted in my God …”

Sound familiar?

Today we hear the Magnificat, that great song of Mary that the author of Luke and Acts has blessed us with.

But this quote isn’t from the Magnificat. It’s not even from the gospels. It’s from the Book of Samuel. It’s sung by another pregnant woman, Hannah the mother of Samuel, the great priest and prophet.

Hannah was unable to conceive and bear children because we are told, “The Lord had closed her womb.” In time, however, she does conceive and when she dedicates her son – her only son – to the temple, to become a priest she sings a song. Luke uses this song as a model for Mary’s song.

In both the mighty are laid low, and the lowly are raised up. God is active and acting in the world. And so these women sing, “My heart exults in the Lord!” “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

That’s an arresting phrase: My soul magnifies the Lord. MY soul magnifies the Lord. This is sometimes translated as “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” which means sort of the same thing. But there’s something more profound in saying “my soul magnifies the Lord.”

The more traditional (Rite I) version of the Magnificat has yet another translation that opens up an even deeper level, a more profound paradox.

It reads, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and then a little later it says, “For he that is mighty hath magnified me.” I magnify the Lord, but the Lord also magnifies me. It’s a double magnification and it’s maybe a little “through the looking-glass.”

But that’s where we are in Advent. Advent prepares us for Christmas, which takes us through the looking glass. There, everything looks familiar but everything is utterly and profoundly different. Because God has become incarnate, enfleshed, one of us, and that changes everything.

At the beginning of the service we prayed “that when Jesus comes he will find in our hearts a mansion prepared for him.” That should sound familiar too. In John’s great mystical account of the God-magnifying life of Jesus, Jesus says that he goes to prepare a mansion for us (“in my father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2) And now as we are on the cusp of welcoming God (again) – recognizing God as living and moving and acting among us (again) – we are told to prepare a mansion for God. You know the song: “Let every heart, prepare Him room.” We are told to prepare God a space, so that God might be born again in us. So that we might be born again. Our souls, our bodies, our very being will thereby magnify the greatness of God.

We delight in singing about the mighty works of God this time of year. We find it easy and comforting to sing about what God brings about in the world. We sing about God bringing joy and peace. Mary’s song invites us to consider not only the what, but also the how. The Magnificat can be read as an invitation to sing along with Mary about our part in that divine action. This is what Jesus’ incarnation tells us. It’s what Mary is telling us. That God goes about bringing peace, and joy, and love, and hope to the world through us. By magnifying God’s grace and spirit through us.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” can mean that through me, through you, through us others can see the Lord more clearly. Through me and through you, through the way we choose to live our lives and practice our faith in the world people can catch a sustained glimpse of that peaceful kingdom. They can experience the righteous reign of God’s justice and peace. They can share in God’s dream of shalom.

Through each of us, through our words and our actions, through all that we do, we magnify God. We magnify God’s being with our own bodies. We magnify God’s action with our own practices. We magnify God’s word with our words in the world.

God is the one who acts. We magnify that action and give it hands and feet and hearts and minds. We collaborate with God in the divine actions of lifting up of the lowly, feeding the hungry. A good question to meditate on in the remaining time before Christmas might be: how do I magnify the Lord?

That’s a big question. It’s easy to think that it’s too big for any one of us to handle. But another important lesson the Magnificat teaches is that you are enough. Whoever you are, whatever you have or haven’t done, you are enough. The song of Mary reminds us that all of the scripture points to the little, the lowly, the “who me?” as the vehicle for salvation.

Bethlehem is nothing special. Hannah is a long-suffering, put upon other wife who endures the incessant teasing of the wife who is able to bear children. Elizabeth was also thought to be barren, and endured disgrace because of it.

And Mary is no one. An underage woman from a nowhere town – Nazareth (“what good can come from there?”) – engaged to someone we’re told is from the house of David but that doesn’t really make Joseph all that special; a lot of people were distantly related to David.

All throughout scripture whenever God wants to do something it’s the little, the ordinary, the unexceptional that God uses. When God wants to create God reaches into the mud. When God wants to raise up a king for Israel, God chooses the youngest of many children, the one sent out to watch the flocks. When God wants to redeem all of creation God enters that creation fully and completely as one of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet, a human child.

It is through human beings, through human flesh, the substance that is also the vehicle for all sin in the world. It’s through this fragile and easily broken substance that salvation happens. It is through us that God works. Through us that God is magnified.

In Acts, St. Paul says that “God is that in which we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Mary reminds us that we are how God lives and moves and brings about God’s will in the world.

It is not through magic, but through a human being. Through Mary, and her child Jesus, and with the help of the Holy Spirit through apostles, prophets and martyrs – and even through us – that God transforms God’s dream of shalom into the reality of God’s realm of justice and peace.

And just like Mary and Hannah, though little, we are enough. Each of us is enough to magnify God. Imagine what would happen if we let God work. If we truly made room for God to be born in our hearts. If we let God magnify the good work that God has begun and is already doing in each of us. What if we joined together with others to magnify that work? Imagine the world that would be born from that.

As we prepare to welcome Christ once more into our hearts and our homes, may our souls magnify more and more the glory of God and our hearts exult in the goodness of God, this day and always.

Amen.

Download the sermon for Advent 4C.

Written by The Rev. Richard Burden, PhD
The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden was called as Rector of All Saints Parish in 2014. Born and raised in Colorado, Richard received a BA in Theatre Arts from Colorado State University, an MA in history from the University of Colorado at Denver and a PhD from the University of Chicago, where he studied Christian conversion in early 20th century China. He began his first career as a bookseller working at the Tattered Cover in Denver, and after a journey through academia he discerned a call to ordained ministry which led him to the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, in Berkeley, CA. Richard was ordained in 2009 and was first called to the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington to serve as Priest in Charge, and also to help develop a groundbreaking program of leadership and congregational development known as The Network for Pastoral Leadership. In 2013, he began to sense God calling him in a new direction, this time to New England. He is a Fellow of the Beatitudes Society. He says, “I went into ordained ministry because I wanted to be a catalyst for individuals and communities to become the people that God needs them to be and to do the work God so urgently needs them to do.” With his spouse Monica, he is also a parent to two school aged children. His recorded sermons are available at allsaintsbrooline.org, you can contact him through the All Saints Brookline Facebook page, twitter @allsaintsbline, and instagram.  

Bible Study, Advent 3(C), December 13, 2015

[RCL] Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Zephaniah 3:14-20

In these final verses from his book, the Prophet Zephaniah gives us an exultant vision of the restoration of the People of God. The Lord has “taken away the judgments against [them];” that is, he has pardoned them and released them. And that is only the beginning. In a particularly striking verse, the prophet evocatively describes how, just as Israel should rejoice in the Lord, the Lord will rejoice over them. And yet, this restoration still remains, for the prophet, a promise to be fulfilled in the future. In a series of first-person declarations, the Lord promises that he “will” save his people, turn their situation around, and make them great among the nations, and all before their very eyes. Coming at the end of a book of woes and denouncements, this closing passage truly seems like a light at the end of a tunnel.

  • How do these promises and joys relate to us, the Church, now that the Gentiles have been grafted into the People of God?
  • Where do we, as the Church, see ourselves in the story of Israel?
Canticle 9 – Ecce Deus Isaiah 12:2-6

One of the unusual features of the Revised Common Lectionary is its occasional use of a canticle rather than a psalm in between the first two lessons. This canticle from the Prophet Isaiah builds on the themes of the first lesson. Like the passage from Zephaniah above, it comes at the conclusion of a series of judgments and woes, painting a picture of joy and restoration. Isaiah sings of healing waters for a thirsty people, giving us another, equally evocative, picture of the promised day we hear about in Zephaniah. Isaiah, too, emphasizes the abiding presence of God among God’s people, dwelling among them, “the Holy One of Israel” “in the midst of [them].”

  • Where else in the Scriptures do we hear of life-giving or healing waters?
  • What is significant for us about the words “save,” “Savior,” and “salvation” in this song?
Philippians 4:4-7

This passage from the conclusion of St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi is, at the risk of being cliché, short but sweet. He exhorts those who hear him to rejoice, to be so gentle that it is obvious to everyone, to worry not, to be in prayer with God, supplicating, but, above all, giving thanks. Paul desires that the Philippians would let the peace of God, which is better than human intellection, wash over them, for it will stand watch over their hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Why does Paul tell the Philippians to do all of this? The answer is simple: because “the Lord is near.”

  • What does it look like to “rejoice in the Lord” in the midst of congregational (or even denominational) strife?
  • How do the People of God experience peace and joy in this imperfect time before the Lord returns?
Luke 3:7-18

I am reminded that St. John the Baptist is not a “nice” man. He has no problem with calling those who are drawn to him a “brood of vipers” when he questions their level of sincerity. His message is also not a soft one. The eschatological ax, he says, is ready to chop down not only the barren trees but also those that do not bear good enough fruit, after which they will be thrown into the fire. Likewise, while the wheat will be gathered safely into the barns, the chaff will be burned with “unquenchable fire.” And, according to John, there is nothing special about being a child of Abraham, a child of the promise. Yet, at the end of this passage, St. Luke calls all of this “good news.” And it really is. After all, the One who will burn the chaff with fire will also baptize the penitent with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This One is none other than the Messiah, whom the people coming to John are awaiting so eagerly that they hope that the Baptist himself might fit the bill. Yes, the Messiah will bring a fire of destruction, but also a fire of purification and renewal. Furthermore, there is time, right now, to repent and bear good fruit. No, John is not a “nice” man. But he is good, and so is the One he proclaims.

  • John is preparing the way for the Messiah; why does that include exhorting people to repentance?

Download the Advent 3C Bible Study.

Written by Donald J. Griffin

Growing up a cradle Episcopalian in the Dallas area, Donald Griffin first discerned a call to the priesthood when he was fourteen. Since then, Donald has sought to answer that call and follow the path he believes God has set for him. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Religious Studies, minoring in Philosophy and History. It was there that he fell in love with the woman he will be marrying in a few months. Having entered the discernment process my senior year of college, Donald was granted postulancy shortly after graduation and entered Nashotah House for his seminary formation. He has worked as a counselor at diocesan camp, a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas (while completing CPE), and a seminary intern at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Donald has become very interested in theology, the practice of pastoral ministry, and how the two intersect, particularly in the liturgy. He is looking forward to seeing where the Lord will lead him next.  

Bible Study Advent 2(C), December 6, 2015

(RCL) Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Baruch 5:1-9

Baruch paints quite a picture of what can be for Jerusalem. She can put aside her sorrow and affliction and see her children gathered from the ends of the earth, remembered before God. With the days of sorrow and affliction far behind, God’s chosen people reap all sorts of benefits. The ground is made level so that they can walk safely with God; trees have sheltered them from the sun. It’s not clear whether this is expected to happen now for Jerusalem and Israel or if this is simply a promise of distant things to come. What is clear, however, is the source of all this goodness. Baruch says time and again that this is all from God and in God’s glory.

  • During the season of Advent, what is it that we anticipate from God?
  • What are the ways we respond to blessings from God which make our lives easier?
Canticle 16

With his tongue newly loosened at his agreement to name his son John, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and breaks into prophetic song. In it he foretells the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promises. The people will be saved from their enemies and set free to serve God. Zechariah recognizes that his son, John the Baptist, will pass on this knowledge to the people of God. He will let them know that their sins are forgiven and that their lives, once dark, will show forth with God’s light. Zechariah speaks aloud the prophecy of God, but he does so by observing the ways in which God is working miraculously in his own life: with the birth of his son and the coming of the Messiah.

  • What are the ways in which God is working in your life today?
  • What promises do you think God is working to bring to fullness?
Philippians 1:3-11

Paul gives thanks for the community of faith and for their fellowship in the Gospel. He prays joyfully, because of their communion, their participation, in the Good News. He goes on to say that his prayer is that their love will overflow or abound. But he doesn’t stop with love. As admirable as love may be, his prayer is that their love will lead to “knowledge and full insight.” Their love will help them discern what is right, so that they can produce “the harvest of righteousness” which comes through Christ.

  • What are the actions that come as a result of love for God or love for neighbor?
  • What knowledge, insight, or discernment have you found or might you be able to find as a result of abundant love?
Luke 3:1-6

In Luke’s introduction of John the Baptist he connects pieces of prophecy to the actions of John in “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The prophecy is fulfilled only because of John’s actions in baptism and preaching repentance. For Luke, preparing the way of the Lord begins first and foremost with an acknowledgment of the ways in which the people have fallen short of the glory of God. All flesh being able to see the salvation of God starts with the recognition that they hadn’t been looking to God in the first place.

  • What are the sins for which we need to repent in order to make the path back to God straight?
  • How can repentance and the knowledge that we are forgiven through Christ help us to see God more clearly?

Download the Advent 2C Bible Study.

Written by Ian Lasch
Ian Lasch is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Georgia. His wife Loren is an Episcopal priest and member of the VTS Class of 2008. Their joyful son, Elias, was born in December 2014. Ian previously worked as an Arabic translator, and has a deep love for Cleveland and Charlotte sports.

 

Rejoice and Seek, Advent 3(C) – 2015

[RCL] Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

“The rural quiet you encounter at Mepkin Abbey is a thingish presence, the texture of all that can be experienced. To pass through the gates is to move into ‘another intensity,’ a spreading flatland park of live oaks that dips suddenly into the waters of the Cooper [River], which run beside it for three miles: imperceptible in its flow and impenetrable at its surface.”[1] These are the images Dr. Frank Lentricchia uses to describe the Trappist Monastery Mepkin Abbey near Charleston, South Carolina. The contemplative monk, Thomas Merton, visited Mepkin. Many seek this place today for a deeper encounter with God. It is an enchantingly sacred wilderness.

John the Baptizer is in the wilderness by the Jordan River, “imperceptible in its flow and impenetrable at its surface,” preaching repentance and baptism. John’s words to the crowd are harsh, rather uninviting, and somber rather than joyful. “You brood of vipers! Even now the ax is lying at the root of the tree.” (Luke 3:7ff) Theologian Joseph Fitzmyer said, “John’s words are a warning against their smugness of salvation, which is their undoing.”[2] This is the poison or venom in their destructive behavior.

John’s images are the opposite of what many expect to hear for Rose Sunday on the Third Sunday in Advent. This is traditionally is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin, “Rejoice!” taken from Philippians 4:4. John the Baptizer in Luke 3 sounds more like he is raging and not rejoicing. John is raging in order to punctuate the importance of his message of repentance, the importance of seeking and returning to God. John baptizes with water. The Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John preaches that Jesus’ baptism will have the two-fold benefit of purification and refinement. Repentance in John’s mind resembles the actions in Luke 3:11: share your coat, do not overcharge, do not extort money, and do not bring threats or false accusations. In other words, do share but do not swindle, strong-arm, or support scare-tactics. John’s words invite the crowd to examine their personal actions that stand in the way of a deeper relationship with God and humanity.

The African American artist Jonathan Green is one of American’s great painters. He has ties to the community near Mepkin Abbey. The head of the monastery commissioned Jonathan Green in 2006 to create a work of art honoring a newly discovered burial ground on the monastery’s property, holding the graves of Africans and African Americans from the time during and after slavery. As Jonathan and Abbot Francis walked the grounds of this once rice plantation, Jonathan thought about his spiritual awakening growing up with the Gullah community off the Charleston, South Carolina coast. He reflected on his experience of “seeking,” the Gullah community’s process for preparing early adolescents for baptism. These adolescent “seekers” entered the wilderness for a week as part of their rite of passage. Seekers took a vow of silence, only speaking with a community elder during their wilderness experience. The seeker picked a tree in the forest where she or he went to meditate, pray, and meet the elder. Seekers could not kill any insect or perform any “worldly” task during this period of fasting and prayer. After a week, the seeker re-entered the community, telling those gathered about a transforming encounter with God. After meeting the approval of the community, the adolescent entered baptism at a time in the near future. As a teenager, Jonathan, walking in a similar path of his ancestors, made his way to living waters wearing “regular clothes.” Immediately after his baptism, a group shuffled the newly baptized from the congregation’s sight. They returned wearing shiny white robes; symbolizing leaving behind a “regular life” while embracing a new life is Jesus Christ. One observer noted, “There was a great difference in their looks when they came into the church the second time.”

John the Baptizer invites all who seek a deeper relationship with God to examine what stands in the way of that relationship. Perhaps the joy or rejoicing in John the Baptizer’s rhetoric is that our present condition does not have to be our future reality. John admonishes the crowd not to rely on their status or smugness of salvation but to repent. Repentance is sharing, being honest, and exhorting or encouraging others in John’s eyes. Consider thinking about repentance as meaning, “to look anew.” What does it mean to look anew at life? The Trappist monks at Mepkin looked anew at a once abandoned rice plantation to see a monastery of prayer and worship. The artist Jonathan Green visited that monastery to look anew at a “spreading flatland park of live oaks” to create a breathtaking painting pulling together his encounter of “seeking” Jesus Christ with the voices from the African cemetery. Listen to God’s call to examine our lives. John’s delivery is deafening. His message is clear. Be open to God’s Spirit of transformation and await the coming of Jesus Christ.

Download the sermon for Advent 3C.

Written by The Rev. Jemonde Taylor
The Rev. Jemonde Taylor is the eleventh rector of Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. Jemonde serves the Diocese of NC by being a part of Diocesan Council. He is a consultant to the Office of Black Ministries of The Episcopal Church. Prior to serving Saint Ambrose, Jemonde was priest missioner at Saint Michael and All Angels Church, Dallas, TX as a part of the Lilly Program. Jemonde studies the spirituality, worship, and history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and leads pilgrimages to Ethiopia for Epiphany.


[1] Ferraro, Thomas J. Catholic Lives, Contemporary America. Frank Lentricchia. “Making it to Mepkin Abbey.” p. 110.
[2] Fitzmyer, Joseph, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX of The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985), 467.

Finding Balance , Advent 2(C) – 2015

[RCL] Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 4 or 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

I’m reading a book right now by a person who really irritates me. I’m not sure that is the right description. She bothers me; she gets under my skin; she makes me cringe. I’m actually surprised that I’m even reading the book. I’ve never met her but I saw her at a conference once. I thought she was pushy and obnoxious. She interrupted people. She talked over people. She made off-hand comments that I thought were inappropriate. So when, for a variety of reasons, I had to read this person’s book, I thought to myself, “Oh great, this is going to be like listening to finger nails on a chalk board.”

And in some ways it has been a grating experience. Her writing is not really my style. She speaks in broad generalizations. She makes bold pronouncements about people and their spiritual lives. Her confidence can sound like superiority.

But here is the thing that caught me completely off guard: she is often right about what she is saying. I got to one section on the ways in which our spiritual lives are out of balance, and I had to put the book down. This person I had thought of as an obnoxious know-it-all had hit the nail on the head. She actually just knew. She was describing many of the ways in which my life was out of balance. I didn’t particularly care for the source or for the way she said it but I had to acknowledge a hard truth: my life is often out of balance and she made me confront this hard truth about myself.

Here’s the part that got me. She said,

“With the invention of the light bulb, balance became a myth. Now human beings could extend the day and deny the night. Now human beings could break the natural rhythm of work and rest and sleep. Now human beings could begin to destroy the framework of life and turn it into one eternal day, with, ironically, no time for family, no time for reading, no time for prayer, no time for privacy, no time for silence, no time for time . . . Our time gets totally out of balance. We spend it all on friends, or we spend none of it there. We spend it all on work, or we spend it all on our compulsions. We spend it all on the body, or we spend none of it on the body. We spend it all talking, or we spend none of it talking . . . We wake up one day and realize we haven’t heard from old friends for years; we haven’t been to see our ageing relatives for months; we don’t know the names of our cousins’ children anymore; we haven’t written a personal letter for years; we haven’t sat in a large easy chair and read a good novel for ages . . . and life is flying by. All skewed.”[i]

Ouch. This hurts. I still don’t like the way she puts things. But, if I’m honest, I have to admit, she is pointing out a hard truth. About myself. About the way I spend my time. About the way life seems to be flying by. It’s a hard thing to hear, but it is true. I can’t get out of it by saying I don’t like the person who says these things or the way she says them. If I’m really honest I have to admit it: “she has got my number.”

We are in Advent, now, and that means we are in the time of the Church year when we get to meet another person who may really irritate us: John the Baptist. When it comes to people’s lists of favorite saints, I don’t think John the Baptist would at the top of anyone’s. St. Francis, maybe, with love of animals and creation. Peter, whose hard-headedness is sort of endearing or can make us feel like geniuses compared with him. But, as I said, not many people really like John the Baptist. He’s an unsettling Old Testament type of prophet who comes on the scene proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Talk about spoiling the Christmas mood. We wouldn’t want to invite John to our holiday parties. He would seem an obnoxious and self-righteous intruder in the midst of our holiday cheer.

And yet, the Church says every year, we need to hear John the Baptist’s message because the season of Advent is not the season of Christmas. It doesn’t matter that in our contemporary culture we start celebrating Christmas right after Thanksgiving, with its relentless marketing and endless soundtrack of carols. In the Church year, it is Advent, and that means we have to confront John the Baptist. Bah, humbug. Right?

But here’s the point: as irritating as John the Baptist may be, as much as he may get under our skin, he has an important message for us. At least, that is what the Church is saying. It is saying that before we rush to the joy of Christmas, before we receive the great mystery of God with us, we have to prepare for this event through a time of self-examination and penitence. That is, we need to set aside some time to examine our spiritual lives, to look with utmost honesty at all the ways our lives are out of balance, to look at all the ways we are involved in self-destructive behaviors, and to try clean out the spiritual trash, to try bring about some harmony in ourselves and in our world. As John says, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” So in Advent, we hear John’s message as an invitation to spiritual reflection. Just as we might clean our house in preparation for a special guest, so the Church asks us to take stock of our souls and to be at our best when the special day arrives.

The writer who got under my skin, who got me thinking about John the Baptist and self-examination, is a religious writer named Joan Chittister and the book I am reading is on Benedictine spirituality titled, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily. Benedictine spirituality, which has had a great influence on the Anglican tradition, is a spirituality of balance and harmony and wholeness. Benedict is saying that all facets of our daily lives can be holy and sacred: what is needed is to bring all these things into harmony: a balance of work and prayer and study and leisure and service. As Chittister says, our time:

“was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others, and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced . . . No one thing got exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbed the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life was made up of many facets and only together did they form a whole.”[ii]

And then, after she lays out this beautiful ideal of spiritual harmony and balance, she let’s us have it. Like John the Baptist, she starts pointing out all the ways in which our lives are out of balance these days. Here she is on our tendency to slump in front of the TV at the end of the day rather than to do something that truly feeds our souls:

“We all tell ourselves that things are just too hectic, that what we really need is play, not holy leisure. We all say we’ll do better tomorrow and then do not. We all say that the schedule is too crowded and the children are too noisy and the exhaustion is too deep. But, if we do nothing to change it, the schedule just gets worse and the noise gets more unrelenting and the fatigue goes deeper into the bone. The fact is that it is our souls, not our bodies, that are tired. The fact is that we are so over-stimulated and so under-energized that the same old things stay simply the same old things, always.”[iii]

Easier just to slump in front of the TV and delude ourselves by saying that tomorrow will somehow be different.

Like I said, “Ouch”! Who really wants to hear this? But, is it true? Are our lives really out of balance? Do we need to confront this hard truth about ourselves?

Here’s the good news, here’s the hope: we can get our lives back into harmony and balance. And here’s even better news, it doesn’t call for extraordinary feats of spiritual gymnastics. Benedictine spirituality, Anglican spirituality, is not saying that you should add more things, super-spiritual things, to your “to-do” list. Rather, it’s saying that you can and should rethink your whole list. Here is how Chittister puts it:

“people with a sense of Benedictine balance see that life is a medley of multiple dimensions, each of which must be developed. They have become more than either their work or their play. Nothing consumes them and everything taps something new in them. They walk through life smelling the flowers. They need enough money, some play, good work, steady friends, spiritual growth, intellectual stimulation, and harmony with nature . . . they make time for every facet of life. They live a rhythm of life that includes the natural, the spiritual, the social, the productive, the physical, and the personal. They can tell you each week what they have done in each area. They live life well. They are in fact fully alive.”[iv]

That sounds like a pretty good vision of spiritual wholeness and balance. Actually, that sounds like a classically Anglican vision of spiritual wholeness and balance. In any event, it sounds like something many people are longing for these days.

The hard truth is that for many of us our lives are out of balance. Perhaps that’s why we need people whose style we find grating to point this out for us. Perhaps that’s why we need confront John the Baptist every Advent. If we are to prepare for the coming of the Lord, we need to spend some time examining our lives and trying to get things in order. The painful truth is that life feels out of balance for many of us today. The promise and the hope, however, is that we can do something about it. We can change, and we can find a rhythm of life that makes time for every facet of our lives. Through humility and prayer and study we can move to a greater sense of wholeness and harmony in our lives. Advent is a holy season set aside for this type of spiritual reflection. The really amazing news is that even as we engage in this process of seeking wholeness and balance in our lives, we are also preparing for the greatest of all spiritual gifts: the gift of God coming into our lives once again at Christmas.

Amen.


[i] Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St Benedict Today (San Francisco: HarperOne Reprint Edition, 2009), 75-76.
[ii] Ibid., 74.
[iii] Ibid., 106.
[iv] Ibid., 77.

Download the sermon for Advent 2C.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Joseph Pagano
The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is associate rector at St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis, MD. His ministry at St. Anne’s is focused on Adult Christian Formation, Outreach, and Pastoral Care. Dr. Pagano’s gifts for preaching, teaching, and care are all grounded in joyful and grateful service to God, to the Church, and to the world. He received a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Marquette University. His research interests focus on theology and contemporary society, science and religion, religious pluralism, and the theology and ethics of H. Richard Niebuhr. He holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. He previously served parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Baltimore, Maryland. He also served as Assistant Professor of Theology at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and currently serves as an Affiliate Faculty Member in the Theology Department at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Pagano is married to the Rev. Dr. Amy Richter and is delighted to serve with her at St. Anne’s. They have co-authored two books, A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love, and Love in Flesh and Bone.

Bible Study, Advent 1 (C), November 29, 2015

(RCL) Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:14-16

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Two things strike me about this sentence. I am assured that God is good, and will fulfill the promises made. Simultaneously, I am struck by the frustration of the Israelites, and indeed of us today, with having to wait upon the Lord.

  • What are the promises God has made to you?
  • For what are you waiting for God to fulfill?
  • How can we rest in the assurance that God will fulfill and bring to fruition the promises God has made?

Let us rest in the faith and reassurance of those promises.

Psalm 25:1-9

In the first lines of this psalm, we get a great prayer of trust – “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.” What a great way to begin a prayer! The psalmist also shows their own humanity and doubt in the very next line, “let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” The story of our walk with God in faith is often one of trusting even in the face of doubt.

  • When we come to the end of our day, can we too say, “In you have I trusted all the day long”?
  • How would it feel to continually put our trust in God?
  • What would this challenge in us?
  • How might our lives be transformed?

Perhaps we would find that “all the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness” – what a gift that could be.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This letter is written by Paul to one of the early church communities. I wonder, in our position as members of the Anglican Communion, how often we think this way of our fellow churches. I suspect the practice of writing encouragement to one another has ceased, partly because we are in a world where written letters are not the fastest forms of communication – and partly because we simply forget to encourage and thank God for one another. Following God’s call is difficult. We need to lift one another up, to encourage one another in our callings, even when we don’t immediately see eye to eye.

  • How might we lift up one another?
  • In what ways can we encourage one another in our callings and ministry?

May we abound in love for one another and have our hearts strengthened in holiness. 

Luke 21:25-36

It is hard for me to read this gospel lesson of the signs of the coming of man and not connect it to some of the doom and gloom teachers and preachers who love to talk about the end of time and draw lines in the sand over who will be saved. After reading it through a few times, though, I find this passage not to be about living in fear but rather about standing in our truth as Christians. Jesus’ instructions are not to spend time worrying and preparing for this coming, but rather to “stand up and raise your heads” when these things come to pass.

  • Are we ready to stand strong in our faith? Why or why not?
  • “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” How can we hold more firmly to the everlasting words of Jesus and let go of the things that will pass away?

 Download the Advent 1, Year C Bible Study. 

Written by Jazzy Bostock

Jazzy is a sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising Native Hawaiian woman, in her first year at seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. She is grateful for the opportunity God has given her and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.

Be Alert, Advent 1(C) – 2015

[RCL] Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

“Be on your guard,” our Lord advises us in no uncertain terms in today’s reading from near the end of the Gospel of Luke. Odd advice, we might be tempted to think, at the beginning of yet another Advent season – a time when we are more inclined to anticipate the joy of the coming Christmas season than to be on guard against unspecified perils. Still, mindfulness is indeed Jesus’ admonishment to us this day. Pay attention to the details – to the signs about you. “Be alert.”

And, it is perhaps good advice after all.

The world is still full of surprises and not all of them are pleasant. Just catch the latest news on the internet or television if you have any doubts on that score. The “distress among the nations” of which our Lord also speaks in our Gospel account is with us still, though the names and boundaries of the nations in question may have changed a bit over the years. Conflicts and wars remain with us today as in centuries past. The “fear and foreboding” of which Jesus warns are as real and deep as ever.

Indeed, they are palpable even in the midst of our sacred Advent season, as airliners are threatened by terrorist bombs in lands faraway and gunmen massacre innocents on the streets of Paris and on campuses and street corners in our own cities.  The machinery of evil may have changed over the centuries but the technology of the human heart remains the same as it ever was.   And, in times such as these, it is easy to become — if you will excuse the infelicitous expression — gun-shy; to hunker down and love only those we already love; and trust only what we know for sure — even when it is manifestly not so.

Yet it is just at times such as these that God so often insists upon challenging our deepest anxieties and prejudices and surprising us yet again with divine mercy and redemption. That is also the message of today’s Gospel narrative. Even in the midst of the world’s confusion and chaos, Jesus reassures us, “The kingdom of God is near,” as difficult as it may sometimes be to discern its presence. Rather than hunker down, “Stand up,” commands our Lord, “and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Our Lord too lived in turbulent times not so different from our own – born of destitute and near-homeless parents forced to seek shelter for the night in a backyard village lean-to of all places – not exactly the palace of a prince or king. Yet, the surprise of Christ’s incarnation forces us to look again in our own age at the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars;” and to consider anew the signs of God’s intimate involvement in the world about us.

Advent is the season when we learn to overcome our “fear and foreboding” and once more open our hearts to others just as God has disclosed and demonstrated his love for us in Christ. Advent requires a certain element of mindfulness – of keeping awake and alert to the universe around us – and to the cosmos within us. It requires as well, a certain sense of recognition and acceptance of others with all their spiritual baggage and insecurities – no small order in an age of polarization and mistrust.

Of course, being on the spiritual welcoming committee has never been an easy task. Who or what are we waiting for, we might well ask. Who or what are we welcoming? Refugees perhaps, from lands far different than our own? Homeless beggars at freeway on-ramps? Christ after all came in a manner completely new and unexpected. Would we have recognized him at rest in that feed-trough outside Bethlehem so long ago? Would we have known to welcome him? His coming is still hotly debated and even denied, his very existence a sign of contradiction for many.

He brought joy, but we still know sadness. He brought life, but we still know death. So, putting out the welcome mat and hanging the “Open for Business” sign in the window of our hearts can seem a scary proposition this Advent season or anytime. As we secure our airports, screen our visitors, and look over our shoulder it can become all too easy to forget about welcome and human commerce altogether.

The near-apocalyptic scene painted in our Gospel account of confusion and distress has become an unfortunate reality in too many parts of our world today. Sometimes even our neighbor can seem the enemy. Come to think of it, perhaps we need to install a metal detector here at the entrance to our church building. One cannot be too careful these days.

Good thing God did not – and does not — see things that way. Good thing God thought we and our world were worth yet another chance. Otherwise, we ourselves might still be left out in the cold and dark; left alone with our “fear and foreboding”; left alone perhaps in a smelly old barn bereft of angels, shepherds, and virgin mother.

So Advent is also a season of hope. It is a time that reminds us, in God’s scheme of things, the laws of entropy do not necessarily apply and the universe will not continue to get darker and colder forever. Our spiritual winter will come to an end. The fig tree – and dogwood as well – will again blossom and bloom. “Summer is near,” our Lord reassures us – even at the beginning of Advent. “Our redemption is drawing near.”

Perhaps only a genuine follower of Christ can remain vigilant and on guard for the coming of God’s kingdom in a world such as ours. Perhaps only a genuine follower of Christ, mindful of the incarnation, can hear of a spiritual summer of redemption and understand that – no matter the human or earthly season – Christ’s word and promise to his people “will not pass away.”

 

Download the sermon for Advent 1C.

Written by Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain and area dean at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook website page at www.anglicanbudapest.com

 

Bulletin Insert: First Sunday in Advent

Advent Resources

November 29, 2015

Photo: Lawrence Lew

Today the Episcopal Church celebrates the first Sunday of the season of Advent, which will continue for four Sundays, until Christmas Day. The word “advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming,” and during this season, the church enters a time of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ “in power and glory” (Mark 13:26).

This year’s Advent campaign for The Episcopal Church website and social media will be based on daily themes highlighting cultural practices and traditions of the season. Each day, beginning 1 Advent (Nov. 29) through Christmas Day (Dec. 25), history and information, family-centered projects, music, recipes, prayers, and other resources that focus on the day’s particular theme will be offered on episcopalchurch.org and throughout our social media outlets. Take part here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/adventreflections (note: this link will not be live until November 29, 2015)

Additional Advent Resources:

Voices of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love. Join young adults from around the church in prayer and reflection during the season: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/yacm/ 

Society of St. John the Evangelist #AdventWord2015: http://ssje.org/adventword

Episcopal Relief & Development Advent Toolkit: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/church-groups/advent-toolkit

d365.org Following the Star: http://d365.org/

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 11/29/15
half page, double-sided 11/29/15

black and white, full page, one- sided, 11/29/15
black and white, half page, double-sided 11/29/15

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

Bible Study, Proper 29, November 22, 2015

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132: 1-13, (14-19); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

2 Samuel 23:1-7

“These are the last words of David,” the writer tells us. Whether they were composed by King David himself or (more likely) a group of compilers later, these verses tell a very different story of David’s life than the chapters of 1 and 2 Samuel that precede them. King David was an adulterer and a murderer, yet he is called “the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.” The oracle invokes God’s covenant with David, and indeed, David’s utter dependence on the Strong One of Israel. The language of verse 4 and verses 6 and 7 is particularly rich in vivid imagery. Comparing the king to the sun (vs. 4) was common, especially in Egypt.

We read these verses on the final Sunday of the church year in anticipation of the coming of David’s descendent Jesus Christ, the One who truly rules over people with justice.

  • Given what you know of David’s reign, how do you make sense of this oracle’s optimism?
  • In light of what you believe and hope for in Christ’s reign, how do you make sense of the destruction of the godless in verses 6 and 7?
  • How might this reading help us prepare our hearts for Advent?
Psalm 132: 1-13, (14-19)

‘Let us go to his dwelling-place; let us worship at his footstool.’ Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting-place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy. For your servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.” (Psalm 132:7-10)

The Revised Common Lectionary allows ending the psalm after verse 13, but do read the whole song through for this study. Notice that the first several verses describe King David’s determination to carry out his oath, and that the final eight verses detail God’s oath to David and his descendants. Verses 7 to 10 form a hinge between the two oaths, calling on the victorious God to arrive in Zion and calling on the faithful to worship God there.

We hear echoes of the First Reading in this passage: God’s covenant with David and his descendants, God as the Strong and Mighty One, and security in God’s care for some, but destruction for David’s enemies.

  • What has God promised you?
  • How have you seen those promises fulfilled, even if only in part?
  • What promises have you made to God?
  • Are there any you would like to reaffirm now?
Revelation 1:4b-8

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

As grand as these verses are, they are not just abstract poetry. They were written by an historical person to first-century communities of Christ-followers. Scholars disagree about whether the book of Revelation was composed before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE near the end of Nero’s reign or in the final decade of the century. Regardless, John’s audience was living with conflict and the real threat of oppression, if not martyrdom. Faithfulness to Jesus was costly!

John speaks as a messenger from God the Almighty and from Jesus Christ.

  • In verse 5, John uses three titles for Christ: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. What do those titles say about Jesus Christ?
  • How might this understanding of Christ have impacted John’s audience, given their contexts?
  • There are many today who are persecuted for their faith and for their identities. Call to mind any recent news stories you know, or read World in Prayer (http://www.worldinprayer.org) for specific parts of the world in turmoil today.
  • How might your relationship with God deepen through encountering their stories?
  • How might you be called to participate with them in God’s work of renewing the world?
John 18:33-37

Jesus’s accusers want to destroy him, so they have politicized the charge in order to draw Pilate, a mid-level bureaucrate, into their religious dispute. The scene before us appears to be one man standing helpless against a batch of influential religious leaders who happen to have the ear of the politician in charge. But is it?

Pilate wonders if Jesus is a threat to Rome or indeed, to his own power. Jesus stands firm in his refusal to engage the specific political charge, saying only, “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, I would not be in this situation.” Jesus’s resolute calm in the face of Pilate’s questioning must have frustrated the Roman governor.

There’s a kind of delicious paradox here. The man who looks like he holds all the power is exposed as one who can’t even get a straight answer out of the prisoner. The Judean leaders who presented Jesus to Pilate are left standing outside while Pilate shuffles between them and Jesus. The one who was dragged in and is on trial for his life is, in truth, Ruler of Everything.

  • What kind of king is Jesus Christ?
  • What signs of Christ’s rule do you see today?
  • How are we called to live in light of Christ’s rule?

Download the Proper 29B Bible Study.

Written by Charlotte Wilson

Charlotte is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of California and a third year seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. As a spiritual director and minister, she delights in accompanying others as they encounter God in expected and unexpected places. Charlotte finds joy in reading, hiking, knitting, and hanging out with her family and friends.