Archives for February 2016

Bulletin Insert: Fourth Sunday in Lent

International Women's Day

March 6, 2016

Some of the UNCSW Episcopal delegates gather outside the United Nations, 2015

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,  and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…

2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Our readings today include a passage from 2 Corinthians 5 reminding us that we are all a “new creation” in Christ. Regardless of our gender or any other means of self or group identification, we are all one and the same in the eyes of Jesus. It encourages us to not regard each other from “a human point of view,” since we would not regard Christ this way. Yet, in our daily, earthly reality, God calls us to love and care for one another from a “human point of view.”

A few years ago, business executive Sheryl WuDunn wrote the book Half the Sky with her husband, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The title comes from the Chinese proverb that “women hold up half the sky.” The main premise is that we cannot advance as a society, neither at a micro nor a global scale, until women and girls are empowered to live fully into this “human point of view”.

This Tuesday March 8 is International Women’s Day, offering us an opportunity to pray for and reflect upon how “half the sky” is doing. Do the women and girls in our lives have sufficient food, water, shelter and safety? Can they care for themselves, their families and their communities, by finding decent work at E SDG Poster_-Letter resizea fair wage and accessing essential services like medical care, education, child care and transportation? Are their voices heard, are they able to make decisions, be chosen as leaders and be represented by their leaders? Do they enjoy equal opportunities? How about women and girls worldwide, our neighbors on planet Earth, our island home? Such questions highlight whether women and girls in our communities are empowered. They are at the heart of the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (www.globalgoals.org), with targets for measuring their progress.

Empowerment of women, and how that links to a community’s sustainable development, is the theme for this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) (http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw60-2016). From March 14th – 24th, over 80 Anglicans and Episcopalians will gather in New York and at the Episcopal Church Center to participate in events and talk about women’s realities in their communities. Many will share their experiences and stories through blogs and social media. They will bear witness, too, to the benefits of spiritual empowerment and to our unity as sisters in Christ. One important instrument of this unity is the International Anglican Women’s Network (iawn.anglicancommunion.org).

This coming Tuesday, March 8, International Women’s Day, let us give thanks for our women and girls, and ask ourselves what we might do to improve the ways in which they live and move and have their being. Let us show them the same care as does our Lord Jesus Christ.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 3/6/16
half page, double-sided 3/6/16

black and white, full page, one- sided, 3/6/16
black and white, half page, double-sided 3/6/16

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

Bible Study, Lent 5 (C), March 13, 2016  

[RCL] Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8; Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21

The writer of this portion of Isaiah calls us to lift our vision far beyond our self-imposed limits to God’s care for us. Yes, there are the chariots and horses of military might. Yes, there have been hard times in our collective and individual journeys with God. But God is greater than all these things and there will be a time when everything will be made new and put right. We are invited to live into hope as we see the greatness of the God who is more powerful than all that we face.

  • How would your life look different if you trusted that the God, who created all things, was for you and with you no matter what your circumstances may be?
  • Can you think of a place in your life where God may be inviting you to restore your hope in God?
Psalm 126

There was a time when God’s people had been brought back from exile and Zion was being rebuilt. It was a time of rejoicing and laughter. The good news of how God had saved God’s people spread among the nations. The psalmist, recounting how God had acted in the past, has built up their faith to ask God to act in the present. We need our memories of God’s salvation in the journey of faith. Remembering how God has reached into our lives with living water in the past will enable us to persevere when we find ourselves in difficult and dry places in our journey with God and God’s people.

  • Can you recall a time in your journey with God when you felt like one of “those who dream,” when you were overjoyed with how God had brought healing and rescue in your life?
  • How might your faith be enriched if you were to periodically remember the moments in which you have rejoiced in God’s love for you? 
Philippians 3:4b-14

These words of Paul show a man consumed with a singular vision for his life. Here Paul sums up the impulse that shapes the contour of his life: to know Jesus Christ. For Paul, everything pales in comparison to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.” We hear this passage in the fifth week of our journey through Lent, a time where we seek to create more space in our lives to enter more deeply into our union with Christ. As we celebrate the love and life of God today, it is a gift to reflect on Paul’s passionate words.

  • Do you know Jesus Christ in such a way that everything else in my life becomes secondary to knowing him?
  • How might pressing on towards knowing Christ change your life?
John 12:1-8

Something that has always struck me about this story is not only the extravagance of Mary’s worship of Jesus, but the lingering effect of her extravagant and intimate worship. I wonder what it was like for Mary to walk through her village with her nard-soaked hair for the days after her anointing of Jesus. I’m sure that everyone who was near her smelled the sweet fragrance. I think of how our worship of Jesus changes and marks us in this world. We, too, are invited to be like Mary, whose worship of Jesus created an inviting fragrance for those around her. The more we see Christ, the more we want to offer our worship, and the more we are changed from having done so.

  • Can you identify anything in your life that may have caused you to lose sight of the worthiness of Christ to receive your worship?
  • What about Christ have you taken for granted?
  • How might intentional reflection invite your worship and change you in the process?

Download the Lent 5C Bible Study.

Written by Jamie Osborne

Jamie Osborne is a second-year seminarian from the diocese of Alabama attending the School of Theology, University of the South. Jamie and his wife, Lauren, live with their children in Sewanee, TN. In addition to nurturing those already in the Episcopal Church, Jamie has a desire to guide young adults and those who are unchurched/dechurched into a life of faith in the Episcopal tradition. He also spends quite a bit of time wondering what God might be calling the church to be and do in the midst of the cultural, technological, and religious shifts that are happening in the landscape of the United States and the world.

Gestures Made of Love, Lent 5(C) – 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8; Psalm 126

Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches. We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world. Someone has to make sure the budget balances.

This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.

We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas. And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behavior as individuals and communities.

But Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel. He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.

What makes Judas even more blameworthy – and even more of a warning to us – is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification. “We could have used that money to serve the poor!” He laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness. Have you ever seen this happen at church? Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places them in a position to score points on someone else. “I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.

Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing. In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action. That’s hard for us action-oriented Americans to take! All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the pledge campaign launched or the nave vacuumed or the food pantry stocked.

Or will they? Why does Jesus value Mary’s extravagant and loving but essentially useless gesture so much? Because the things that inspire us to greatness are often exactly that: useless gestures. Here’s an example of that phenomenon.

In June of 1941, Dmitri Shostakovich was a successful composer and the head of the Leningrad Conservatory’s piano department. He and millions of others were suddenly uprooted by the surprise bombardment of Leningrad by German forces, breaking the non-aggression pact Hitler had signed with Russia and beginning a siege that would last almost two and a half years. Although Shostakovich was evacuated, his heart remained with his besieged city, and he began writing what would become the defining work of his career. His massive Seventh Symphony began to take shape, music that told the story of war and sacrifice and heroism, inspired by and dedicated to Leningrad.

The siege wore on through the terrible winter of 1941. Once the starving residents had eaten all the dogs, cats, and rats in the city, they moved on to leather handbags and suitcases. By January 1942, they were subsisting on wallpaper paste and sawdust. Thousands of frozen, starved bodies littered the streets every day, and the survivors, barely clinging to life, soon no longer had the physical strength to clear the corpses away. The death toll climbed to 1.2 million.

In February, Shostakovich finished the symphony, and it premiered to worldwide acclaim in Moscow, London, and New York. But Shostakovich knew that the true premiere had not happened yet. The Leningrad Symphony, to truly come to life, had to be played in Leningrad.

The sheet music was smuggled into the city across German lines. Leningrad’s premiere orchestra, the Philharmonic, had been evacuated before the siege closed in, and the leftover Radiokom orchestra was all that remained. Of their ranks, 70 had frozen or starved to death in the siege, and only 20 were left alive. And yet, rehearsals began.

The musicians were utterly physically debilitated. They barely had the strength to lift their instruments, and rehearsals, limited to 15 minute intervals, were frequently punctuated by orchestra members fainting from hunger or cold. In fact, they never had the physical strength to play the entire symphony through at once until the actual performance.

In one incredible episode, a percussionist was reported dead, and the conductor, who needed him desperately for the symphony, went to the morgue to check. He saw movement in one stack of corpses, and it was his percussionist, still alive but too weak to protest being carted off with the dead. The conductor rescued him and he went on to play in the performance.

On August 9, 1942, the cobbled together starving orchestra in Leningrad performed the entire Symphony Number 7 for their audience of emaciated but defiant fellow citizens in an epic triumph of the human spirit. This was the exact date Hitler had boasted he would have a victory dinner in the Hotel Astoria to celebrate conquering Leningrad.

The symphony played by the starving orchestra – this is essentially a useless gesture. It did not shorten the siege or provide any food or help defeat the Nazi forces. In fact, three musicians in the orchestra died during the rehearsal period, their lives undoubtedly shortened by having exerted themselves physically to play.

But this useless gesture helped a city beaten down almost to death hold on long enough to be liberated. And we have to wonder if Mary’s useless gesture in our gospel story today functioned in the same way. This was Jesus’ farewell dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. He knew he was going to his death, and he knew it would not be an easy death.

Mary would soon face the grief of losing her beloved teacher and friend to an unjust, violent execution. They both had ordeals before them that were on par with or even exceeded what the besieged citizens of Leningrad underwent.

All of us, while perhaps not driven to the extremes that Jesus, Mary, and the Leningraders were, have faced times in our lives where our bodies, minds, and spirits are pushed far beyond what we think we can endure. Sitting by the bedside of a loved one as she slowly succumbs to cancer. Bearing the pain of a spouse with dementia no longer recognizing us. The moment when we hear that our child has been in a terrible car accident. Battling through the pain of a chronic illness or debilitating injury that renders our own bodies deaf to our commands and consumed with pain. These moments when comfort and reason and relief seem like bizarre and foreign concepts happen to all of us. And what gets us through those moments? Is it the moral pontification of Judas, the building up of our virtuous self-image through studiously practical good works?

No. What helps us survive is the useless gesture, the impractical moment, the unfiltered communication of love and joy and hope that we remember with photographic clarity – the first time our baby smiled at us, the look on our spouse’s face when we exchanged our vows, the warm arms of a parent or grandparent around us as a child. These small moments of devotion between people who love each other – these useless gestures – they are what sustain our courage when the chips are down, and that is what we see between Jesus and Mary in the gospel.

Because even the great inspiring moments of life, like the Leningrad performance of the 7th Symphony, are made up of a thousand small actions. The moment that inspired a city to triumph over fascism was built by one violinist raising his violin to his shoulder and mentally begging his trembling fingers to find the notes, by one trumpeter fighting through the lightheadedness that swamped him every time he drew breath deep enough to play, by one percussionist beating out the rhythm that echoed his own heartbeat that everyone else thought was extinguished.

These are gestures made of love. They are the hearts and spirits of musicians giving the feeble strength of their bodies for their city. And as they gave themselves to create the music, in their minds they didn’t see a vast metropolis. They saw the faces of their children, their parents, their wives and husbands.

When Jesus surrendered himself to the authorities, he did not see the broad sweep of the cosmos he was about to die to save. He saw your face.

So ask yourself: have you made an impractical gesture of love today? Have you done something useless that has no other value than to give of yourself to another? Search for that chance to make that useless gesture of love, because somewhere down the road, it may save someone’s life.

Download the sermon for Lent 5C. 

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, Lent 4(C), March 6, 2016

[RCL] Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32; Psalm 32

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord tells Joshua in this passage that the disgrace of Egypt has been rolled away from the Israelites, meaning that they no longer carry the lowliness of having been enslaved by the Egyptians. They are free, and they have made it out of the wilderness where they faced scarcity and the fear of not having enough. Now the Isrealites are free to eat of the abundance of the fruits of Canaan. Replacing the manna which sustained them for many years with much more pleasing food.

  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced scarcity?
  • What was this experience like?
  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced abundance?
  • How does being in a season of abundance feel different from being in a season of scarcity?
Psalm 32

This Psalm is a song of thanksgiving for receiving God’s forgiveness. The psalmist tells of the joy of being forgiven, and then encourages others to seek God’s forgiveness.

  • Tell a story of forgiveness from your own life; a time you forgave or a time you were forgiven.
  • How were you changed by forgiveness?
  • Why would you encourage others to seek or offer forgiveness based on your own experience?
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

This passage from the second letter to the Corinthians offers us another image of reconciliation. Paul says we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Yet, Paul subverts the traditional image of reconciliation, in which the one at fault would seek forgiveness, and tells us that God seeks reconciliation with us. We are thus commissioned a ministry of reconciliation.

  • What image of reconciliation does Paul say God offers us as a model for our own ministry of reconciliation?
  • What does Paul’s subversion of reconciliation tell us about God and our relationship with God?
  • How can we, as Christians today, carry on this ministry of reconciliation in the world?
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This well-known parable tells of two archetypal characters that are found in many stories across many cultures: the dutiful child and the irresponsible child. This story has frustrated real life dutiful children for generations, I’d imagine. But, when we look at this parable in relationship with the other readings appointed for today, we see a common theme: reconciliation. In this parable, the father lives in a constant posture of readiness to forgive his son if and or when he returns home. This is the same message we see in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: God is always ready to forgive God’s children no matter their indiscretion. It is probably true that most of us act at different times in our lives as both the dutiful and the irresponsible child.

  • Tell about a time when you were more the like the “prodigal son.”
  • Who welcomed you back with open arms?
  • What does this parable teach us about how we relate to God? To others?
  • What image of forgiveness does this parable offer us for our “ministry of reconciliation”?

Download the Lent 4C Bible Study.

Written by Maggie Foote

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

 

Bible Study, Lent 3(C), February 28, 2016  

[RCL] Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8

Exodus 3:1-15

Most Christians live their lives with a willingness to provide service to others as a pathway of serving God’s mission in the world. At the same time we are often psychologically torn or confused by not knowing if we are the right person for God’s mission. This uncertainty of emotion exists despite our realization of God’s call. Instead of believing we are enough, we often question our qualifications to participate or whether we’ll make a noticeable difference. We begin to ask ourselves, “Who am I that I should_______?” It is safe to assume that each of us can feel in the blank. Doubt is part of life. Remember we all are children of God and thus should be able to see the face of God not only in others but also in ourselves.

While studying urban education my teachers reminded us that students “are experts in their own experience”. These words from Lisa Delpit, inform and shape how I teach each day. More importantly I accept them in every aspect of life. We are all experts in our own experience therefore we bring our humanity to God’s mission and service of others. So the next time you hear that inner voice prompting you to say or do something and another one saying you need a workshop or a support team behind you, remember you are an expert in your own experience. You bring a human experience to a human situation and if God is truly the inspiration behind the action it will be okay. God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you.” Remember you are enough. And just as God states in the passage, “I am who I am.” You also are who you are and indeed you are enough.

  • Who are you in God’s sight?
  • How do you present yourself to others?
  • What are your spiritual gifts and are they enough?
  • How is God calling you to use your gifts?
Psalm 63:1-8

Where is God in our lives? Take a moment to think: when is God’s presence and absence felt in our lives? In this psalm, the psalmist is in LOVE with God. This is a love poem. The first verse talks about how the writer’s body physically pines for God, because they are parched and dying without God in their life. God sustains them with love and kindness and the writer believes this is better than life itself. The writer will praise God as long as they live, because God fills them and they are content. Even when the writer is scared, alone, confused and downtrodden God helps them and the writer clings to God for life. The writer is nothing without God and they know it, pondering on God’s goodness all night long, reflecting on the importance of God in their life. This is why the writer is seeking God.

  • Do we love God as much as this psalmist?
  • Are we as dependent on God?
  • If so, how are we seeking God in our daily lives?
  • What does it feel like to search for God and how would you describe it to others?
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Whether we like it or not, we humans are more alike than we will ever be different. Yet, there will always be differences. Our ability to address difference requires us to reflect God’s love and grace. Not only with others but also with ourselves. Accepting difference isn’t analogous with agreement. Accepting difference isn’t always comfortable. Accepting difference isn’t always easy. But we must accept that we are all from God and must call on God amidst these challenges and life’s difficulties. Knowing that, “God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Sometimes the most difficult acceptance we will have to make is with ourselves.

  • What differences do you most readily see between yourself and others?
  • What differences in others are easy for you to accept and still maintain a relationship?
  • What differences between you and others do you find difficult to work with?
  • Do you see God in the differences you see in others?
  • Do you see God in yourself?
Luke 13:1-9

We have a tendency to qualify our sins, when in actuality we are all sinners. The magnitude of sins does not require measurement in the eyes of God. We are all broken in our humanness and therefore we all need to repent and ask for forgiveness.

The parable of the fig tree symbolizes how quickly we are to prone to giving up on people, situations and circumstances without tending to the root of the problem. If we can move past the surface of what is or is not bearing fruit and address the foundation of a given issue then we are able to nurture the depths of diversity needed for healing and growth.

  • Is there a time when you gave up on something or someone and later wished you hadn’t?
  • Describe a time you needed care?
  • How are you nurtured?
  • What is at the root of who you are?
  • What are your support networks?

Download the Lent 3C Bible Study.

Written by Alexizendria Link

Alexizendria Link, a lay leader in the Episcopal Church has volunteered and worked with a wide variety of education, religious and non-profit organizations. She is a graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. She also served as a 2014 Black Theology and Leadership Fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary. Currently she serves as an Executive Council member for The Episcopal Church, on the Social Justice Commission in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the National Youth Advisor for the Union of Black Episcopalians. In addition, she is a full-time classroom teacher working with urban youth.

Ambassador for Christ, Lent 4 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32; Psalm 32

The Prodigal Son is a story familiar to all of us and movingly depicted in art, drama and dance. We like stories like this; ones with happy endings where people come to their senses and are restored to the family.

But that isn’t how it always happens, is it? We know of many estrangements between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. A mother recently phoned her ex husband whom she had divorced many years ago. She wanted to have his help to restore her relationship with her lost daughter; but, as her husband told her, “That ship has sailed.” Her daughter was no longer interested, and there was apparently nothing her mother could do to change that.

The parable emphasizes that God is not like that in how God loves us. God desires our return, which is one of the themes of Lent. We, like sheep, have gone astray.

Now, deep in Lent some of us begin to learn the cost. We are hungry for the bread of life; weary of the cheap and tawdry excesses that we choose because that is what we are taught is living by the world.

Today we are invited to holy living, a turning around, and a return to sanity; a restoration of our relationship with our creator and redeemer. Even though we took the cheap route and asked for grace in advance, even though we tried it all in our flagrant lives of spending and using the resources we should have husbanded and shared, there is a pull to return.

Perhaps you have decided Lent hasn’t worked out for you this year. There were too many distractions: projects at work, income taxes, wintery weather, stress, nothing offered at Church you were interested in – the list can be as long as you like. Maybe next year.

Or, maybe now? All it takes for the prodigal son is to turn around. Just one action changes everything. He has a speech rehearsed, but picture in your mind the father seeing his son from afar and running to meet him. Do you think he waited for the son’s speech? Of course not. He ran to him and embraced him. The time to talk came later. In one sequence from a ballet version of this story the son crawls up to his father, then the son climbs up onto him, and his father, who is wearing a voluptuous robe, embraces his son until he is completely enfolded in the robe. That is the vision that awaits us.

So, harmony restored and back in the fold, life for us can go on. But that is not why we have the story of the Prodigal Son today. The intention of this parable is more than just a restoration of relationships with a loving God.

The passage from Second Corinthians begins with the words:

“From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view… we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

This business of being reconciled isn’t about us as much as it is about what we are commissioned to do. We are to be ambassadors for Christ. Or, as we are instructed in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, we are “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever [we] may be.”

We cannot do this without our relationship with God and each other, and that restoration gives us the energy and guidance to do the work for which we were baptized. As is often said, “You may be the best Christian someone has ever met.” And then, like the father in the parable, we wait patiently, prayerfully, for the return of those to whom we are sent.

Lent is not just about each of our journeys and us. It is also about to whom we are sent and how we minister to the other, the stranger, the friend, the family member who see no need for a relationship with God or the community of faith. It is about having the strength to give a cup of cold water to the least and the lost. It is about sorrowing over what we have done to creation and finding ways to help restore it. It is about sewing seeds of hope in the midst of darkness and chaos.

So far Lent may have been nothing to you. But today determine it is the time for you to approach the holy table with repentance and faith that God meets you and will feed you with the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Savor this moment as a time when God is reaching out to you, hoping you will return. Let God’s arms enfold you, and feel the removal of all your sins. Then, having been fed the bread of life, walk out the door into God’s world prepared to be an ambassador for Christ. The Spirit will direct you to whom you are to go. Amen.

Download the sermon for Lent 4C.

Written by Ben E. Helmer

Ben Helmer is a retired Episcopal priest living in the Diocese of Arkansas.

 

Bulletin Insert: Third Sunday in Lent

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

February 28, 2016

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure that stands alone in its wildness, ecological integrity, beauty, and unique recreational opportunities. Our General Convention has tasked the Episcopal Church with safeguarding the sanctity of the Refuge, and as an Episcopalian, you can be a powerful voice in the effort to protect this incomparable landscape for future generations to enjoy.

The Episcopal Church has long opposed drilling in the Refuge not only because of our commitment to caring for God’s creation, but also because we stand in solidarity with the Gwich’in people, the indigenous Alaskans who live in the Arctic and are largely Episcopalian. The Gwich’in rely upon the Porcupine caribou herd for their daily subsistence, and the herd’s birthing patterns would be disrupted by oil exploration in the Refuge, ultimately jeopardizing the survival of both the caribou and the Gwich’in people.

“We are dependent on the Porcupine caribou herd for our survival and if the health of that herd is threatened, it threatens our way of life,” said Princess Daazhraii Johnson, a lifelong Episcopalian and former executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

In 2015, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation in U.S. Congress that would designate 1.5 million acres of wilderness along the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.  Such a designation would protect the Refuge against oil and gas development, preserving its pristine, fragile ecosystem from the roads, pipelines, and oil derricks that accompany such exploration. The Episcopal Church firmly endorses this legislation, and calls on all Episcopalians to advocate for its passage.

Learn more about protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Go to http://www.faithforthearctic.org/  and sign the faith petition supporting protections

To learn more about the Church’s environmental advocacy work, join the Episcopal Public Policy Network at: http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/app/register?5&m=29629

Episcopal News Service article on the Arctic Refuge: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/04/20/episcopalians-urged-to-act-to-protect-the-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/

For more information, contact Jayce Hafner, Domestic Policy Analyst for The Episcopal Church, at jhafner@episcopalchurch.org

 

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided 2/28/16
half page, double-sided 2/28/16

black and white, full page, one- sided, 2/28/16
black and white, half page, double-sided 2/28/16

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

Bible Study, Second Sunday in Lent (C), February 21, 2016

 [RCL] Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35; Psalm 27

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Abraham is suffering from tunnel vision. Although he is a spirit filled man who is devoted to God, Abraham’s vision is only focused on what is immediately in front of him. Abraham hasn’t yet submitted to God’s will and allowed God to open his eyes to see the effects of God unending love and possibility. Abraham’s myopia leads him to focus on the fact that he is childless and what he currently owns. Thus, God’s promise of offspring that would number the stars of the sky and ownership of vast amounts of land is beyond his human understanding. But this is the crux of the passage; Abraham is still walking by sight and not by faith. Submitting to God’s will necessarily means that we must also place full trust and faith in the Lord. The perfect and complete cure to human spiritual myopia is faith in the abundance grace of the Holy Trinity.

  • What are the material and earthly things that must be abandoned in order to walk by faith and not by sight?
  • What sources or people do you rely on for spiritual clarity of thought and guidance?
Psalm 27

Glorious is the Lord who is the rock of our salvation and our stronghold in times of distress. The psalmist seems to be deeply troubled in his reflection and plea for God’s mercy in Psalm 27. Troubled by the threat of armies, enemies and false witnesses God is the common denominator who can provide an escape route in the face of suffering, harm and persecution. In a cry for help and protection, the writer seeks the paternal attributes of God for protection and reassurance. If there is one psalm that accentuates what it means to the beneficiary of God’s grace on earth, Psalm 27 is it.

  • As we celebrate the joy of being members of the kingdom of God, how do we describe the common denominator in our spiritual life (God)?
  • Conversely, reflecting on our lives, how do you think God would describe us?
Philippians 3:17-4:1

Saint Paul, formerly chief persecutor now converted chief advocate for Christians offers a warning to “enemies of the cross of Christ”. That is, if you place your minds on earthly things, your glory will be shame and destruction. Saint Paul, to the members of the church in Philippi draws a divisive line between earthly gains and heavenly reward. The citizenship of value is not on earth but in heaven with our Lord of Savior Jesus Christ. The busyness of this world dictates that we are wrapped in trying to assert, redefine or identify the role in the communities in which we live. We assert our identity through citizenship, community, social groups, religion, family and friends. Our membership in these various groups drives our earthly existence daily.

  • How often do we consider what it takes to acquire and maintain membership in heaven?
  • What are the specific requirements that Jesus Christ demands from us to obtain the eternal citizenship in heaven?
Luke 13:31-35

George Webb in his hymn Stand up Stand up for Jesus was persuasive when he wrote, “from victory unto victory his army shall he lead, till every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed”. In our reading today, Jesus Christ faces familiar foes in the Pharisees. Even though Jesus is performing miracles to the benefit of the community, the religious elite wants no part of it or him. In response Christ is resilient, defiant and brave as he insists that God’s work is paramount to any request or law from the Herod or the Pharisees. Jesus’ stance is a reminder that in following him we are called to stand up for justice, love and the welfare of our surrounding communities. This may mean forsaking loved ones/friends, defying societal norms or doing the unpopular. It also means spirit-filled joy, countless blessings and an abundancy of grace.

  • In what ways do you see yourself following Jesus and standing up for Jesus?
  • How do you stand up for justice and love?
  • When is it difficult to do that? When might it be easy?

Download the Lent 2C Bible Study.

Written by Winston Arthur

Richard Winston Arthur is currently a candidate from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands. He is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Laura, have two kids, Symone and Richie. Before attending seminary Winston’s primary vocation was practicing law as in the areas of civil and commercial litigation. His call to ordained ministry is fashioned by my desire to serve Jesus Christ in all things. 

What Did They Do to Deserve That?, Lent 3 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8

What did they do to deserve that?

Jesus knew questions like this were on people’s minds when they came to tell him horrible news: Pilate – yes, the same Pontius Pilate who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus – slaughtered some Galilean Jews. Making Pilate’s appalling action even more offensive is that he did this terrible thing while they were offering their sacrifices in Jerusalem.

It’s Jesus who asks the questions on everyone’s minds: Is it because those Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans that this happened to them? Did they do something to deserve such an awful death?

And it’s Jesus who gives the answer: No.

Or when the tower of Siloam fell and eighteen people were killed, crushed because they stood in the wrong place at the time, is that because they were sinners? Jesus says no.

The question is this. Is God keeping track in some gold-leafed ledger who’s been naughty or nice and whether to respond with earthly punishments or rewards? The answer is no. Does God allow tyrants to kill people or tsunamis to drown people because they’ve done something to deserve it? No.

Another time some people ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither.” says Jesus, and he cures the man of his blindness. Jesus denies a correlation between the man’s problem and someone’s sin.

Yet, it’s a persistent question. And it goes with a persistent assumption, that somehow what people get in life is what they deserve – that there must be a connection between the sorts of people they are and the bad or good things that come their way in life. We’ve heard people say, “I wonder what he did to deserve that?” or make pronouncements, “this plague/natural disaster/fill in the blank is God’s punishment for their sin.”

Well, says Jesus, take it from me, that is not how it works. Sometimes we do suffer as a direct result of some wrong we have done, some bad decision, some action we’ve neglected to take and we suffer the consequences. Mistreat your body, and you will get hurt. Mistreat a friend, and you may damage your friendship. The negative consequences of our actions can be clear. But sometimes we’re confused, not when we can see how a mistake or bad action has led to suffering, but when we’ve been good, done right, tried hard, and still, nevertheless, we suffer.

As Christians, we really shouldn’t be so surprised when this happens. The idea that only good things happen to good people should have been put to rest when Jesus was nailed to the cross.

Christian faith is no magic protection against tragedy. The cross is our central symbol – the cross, where an innocent man died the death of a criminal. Nonetheless, Christians have long wondered why bad things happen to people, even good people. In his book The City of God, St. Augustine considered the great suffering that occurred when the barbarians sacked Rome, and he noted that when the barbarians raped and pillaged, Christians suffered just as much as non-Christians. Faith in Christ did not make them immune to pain and tragedy. Augustine wrote, “Christians differ from Pagans, not in the ills which befall them, but in what they do with the ills that befall them.” The Christian faith does not give us a way around tragedy. Faith gives us a way through tragedy.

So, no we can’t look at tragedy and assume that someone did something to deserve it.

“But,” Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

What kind of a reply is that?

Jesus is not saying that questions are bad or that ‘why’ isn’t a vital human question. Jesus is saying, don’t be distracted by the wrong question. To Jesus, the ‘why’ isn’t important. God made us in love and gave us free will, freedom to choose how to respond, how to act. In freedom, humans have written symphonies and started wars. God made a dynamic world in which natural things change and evolve into beautiful new forms of life and into cancer cells.

A good question to ask, according to Jesus, isn’t: what did she do to deserve that suffering? The much more important question is: how is your relationship with God? Jesus says don’t be distracted by looking at what happened to someone else. Don’t spend your time wondering what must someone have done to deserve what they are going through. Instead, look at yourself – while you still have time.

Jesus refuses to get caught up in the question of whether or not someone else deserves to suffer, and instead asks another question: What in your life needs repenting, acknowledging, and turning around? What needs to be turned over to God? What needs to be forgiven?

Things will happen. And while the gift of earthly life is still ours, we need to ask ourselves, how is our relationship with God? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Are we relieving the suffering of others or just pointing our fingers at them and trying to connect the dots between their suffering and sin?

Our own repentance is the issue, because deserving isn’t. The scandal at the heart of our faith is that God already loves us; that God doesn’t need a ledger or tally sheet because we don’t do anything to deserve God’s love. We have no favor to earn, because God already sees us as God’s beloved ones. All we have to do is live and explore the amazing mystery of our acceptance. We can’t lose God’s favor and make bad things happen to us because we don’t earn God’s favor in the first place.

Life is short. Don’t be distracted by the wrong questions. And don’t be disappointed if Jesus asks you to love God more than you love answers. Because Jesus will do that. When people asked him questions he often responded not with an answer, but with a story. Like he did in the next part of the Gospel lesson.

A man planted a fig tree. The fig tree used up a lot of nutrients but didn’t produce any figs. “Why should I let this do-nothing fig tree use up good soil?” asked the man. “Cut it down.” But the gardener replies, “Let it be for one more year. I will do everything I can for it. If it bears fruit, great! If not, cut it down.”

The gardener in this story is not efficient, practical, or exercising his authority to do what’s most logical. He’s going to waste more nutrients, efforts, and space on a tree that doesn’t show any signs of producing figs.

Does the fig tree deserve it?

That’s not the question. It’s just a story about a fig tree and an extravagant gardener who should remind us of another gardener from way back in the beginning, who just couldn’t help it when he picked up some dirt. God just had to form it into a human and breathe life into it. God just had to make it into someone to love, someone who would be free to choose to love in return. Maybe we can hear this gardener at work in our own lives, saying, “Wait. Give me another year. I’ll do all that I can to nurture this tree.”

Download to the sermon for Lent 3C.

Written by The Reverend Dr. Amy Richter

The Rev. Dr. Amy Richter serves as Rector of St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis, MD. She holds a PhD in New Testament from Marquette University and is the author of Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew. With her husband, the Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano, she is co-author of Love in Flesh and Bone: Exploring the Christmas Mystery, and A Man, A Woman, a Word of Love.

 

Bulletin Insert: Second Sunday in Lent

Episcopal Migration Ministries AmeriCorps Opportunity

February 21, 2016

Are you feeling a call toward humanitarian service but unable to commit to a year abroad? 

Are you passionate about welcoming and integrating new Americans in your community?

Are you looking for an opportunity to serve and make a difference in an organization, a community, and the world? 

Through an innovative new partnership, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement service of The Episcopal Church, is now enlisting AmeriCorps members to engage in the life-saving work of refugee resettlement.

This is an opportunity to explore your passion for service as a volunteer manager at one of 10 community-based refugee resettlement organizations in the following locations:

If selected to serve, you will build programs and networks that will raise essential volunteer support for new refugee arrivals.

This is exciting, energizing, and creative work.

IMG_0337 resizeYou will receive a living allowance plus benefits for full time service (1,700 service hours over the course of 11 months). At the completion of service, you will receive Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to pay educational costs at eligible post-secondary educational institutions or to repay qualified student loans. If you are over age 55, the education award is transferable to your child, stepchild, foster child, grandchild, or step-grandchild.

The Service Opportunity is available here: http://bit.ly/EMMAmeriCorps

The program is made possible through a partnership grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Administration for Children and Families (US Department of Health and Human Services).

If you have any questions or need additional information, contact Allison Duvall, Episcopal Migration Ministries Manager for Church Relations and Engagement, at aduvall@episcopalchurch.org, (212) 716-6027.

Joint TEC AmeriCorps logo

 

 

 

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