Archives for July 2016

The Power of the Spirit, Proper 16 (C)

[RCL] Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Today’s readings and Collect can be seen as a unit teaching us about God’s power and how it works in us. The opening Collect (prayer) in the Episcopal Church says: “Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples…”

This power is based on the unity of the gathered, not a majority of the divided. It is a power that expresses itself in service, mercy, healing, reconciliation, and includes all of us.

Jeremiah learns about this power when he is called to be a prophet. He protests that he doesn’t know how to speak well, and is merely a boy, but God tells him he is chosen for a life filled with the Spirit. He is to go and proclaim the truth everywhere, and is assured God will put the right words into his mouth. So, in the tradition of the great Biblical prophets Jeremiah goes to “destroy and overthrow; to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah teaches us that God’s power is not always found in those who are mighty, wealthy or politically adroit. Like David against Goliath, God can use even a boy, and one not gifted with glibness to do God’s work.

God’s power sustains us. This is a teaching from the appointed Psalm 71, verse 6: “I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.” And so, Jeremiah, throughout his prophetic witness is upheld, as is Jesus while he fasts in the wilderness, and Paul as he is shipwrecked and later imprisoned.

The passage from Hebrews develops this theme of God’s power in an eloquent set of verses that illustrate our relationship with the old covenant now supplanted by the New Covenant based on the “sprinkling of blood,” and then ends with the assurance that “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”

The Gospel Lesson focuses on the healing of a woman on the Sabbath. Jesus’s rebuttal to the leader of the synagogue is practical: “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?” But behind his action and the exposure of hypocrisy is the destruction of an old sacrificial system that operated the other six days of the week. Jesus heals her and asks for nothing except to praise God, which the woman freely does.

It is no longer necessary to obey all of the strict purity code, to make the necessary sacrifices. Now one simply puts one’s trust in God and the power is unleashed, sometimes dramatically, sometimes quietly, but always as needed.

As the national political campaign cranks up and we are bombarded with political ads and slogans that weary us all, it helps to remember that God’s power does not require gigantic sums of money, the latest and fastest technology, or the “packaging” of candidates for office.

Instead, as believers we have access to the power of the Spirit to fill our hearts and minds with God’s love and promise. As the world careens along with chaos and disorder unending, God offers us the power God gave to Jeremiah, the promise to have the right words and actions given to us to do the work of an evangelist.

In our communities, among the people we see every day, are those who thirst for something other than cynicism and despair, but may not know it is there for the asking. A few weeks ago we were reminded to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Those who do so know they can walk through times of difficulty without being overcome.

Here are some pointers to help us remember how and why we are empowered:

(Note: you may wish to elaborate on two or three of these or select one especially appropriate to the context).

  1. We received power in our Baptism through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. One of the Baptismal prayers asks that we might receive inquiring and discerning hearts, courage to will and persevere and the gift of joy and wonder (Book of Common Prayer, p. 308).
  2. We were sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
  3. We do not do serve as a solo act. We are supported by a community of fellowship, love, and prayer, and the power vested in that community is nothing less than the risen body of Christ.
  4. We are given the power of the Holy Spirit for one reason; we are empowered for God’s service and promised that power will sustain us all the days of our life.
  5. The weekly coming together of the faithful is for renewal and strength to be servants in the world and to each other.
  6. Even though we may from time to time fall away from our relationship with God, God never abandons us. When we return to God in penitence we are restored and strengthened again.

So, we are called to show forth God’s power to all peoples. Churches are places from which God’s power and compassion emanate to a hurting and chaotic world, badly in need of God’s mercy and love. We are the people called to that service. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 16 (C).

Ben Helmer is a retired Episcopal priest living in Northwest Arkansas.

Bulletin Insert: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jonathan Daniels

Jonathan DanielsJonathan Daniels’ name resonates as one of the civil rights heroes and martyrs of our time. Giving his life at the early age of 26, Jonathan Daniels dedicated himself completely to his work, both inside and outside of The Episcopal church.

Born March 20th, 1939 in Keene, New Hampshire, Daniels grew up devoutly religious. Drawn to the rich system of traditions and rituals, Daniels became a practicing Episcopalian early in his life. This same desire for tradition, order, and organization led him to attend the Virginia Military Institute where he eventually graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1961. A fellowship that would finance his graduate studies then led him to Harvard University’s English literature department. Not long after entering Harvard, Daniels discovered that his true calling was for ministry, so he left graduate school to pursue the priesthood.

Less than a year later, Daniels began his studies at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the epicenter of a world of social activism. Meanwhile, the southern portion of the United States found itself in the midst of chaos with protests, killings, and racism running rampant. Minister and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. called upon northern clergy to go to Selma, Alabama, one location experiencing some of the worst of these atrocities.

Jonathan Daniels decided to answer this call and moved to Selma, Alabama in the early 1960s. His time there changed his life forever. He became passionate about civil rights work and was involved in as many ways as he could.

In August of 1965, he participated in a voters’ rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama where authorities arrested him. On Friday, August 20th, 1965, he was released from the county jail without warning and without bail. Daniels and other released activists walked across the street to buy soda at the corner store. Thomas Coleman, local and volunteer deputy sheriff, blocked their way and ordered them off the property while wielding a shotgun. He aimed his gun at 17-year-old Ruby Sales, an African-American activist. Daniels instinctively pulled her back and stepped into the line of fire, dying instantly but saving Ruby’s life.

Coleman stood before an all-white jury facing charges of manslaughter, not murder, and was acquitted of all charges.

While Jonathan Daniels’ life was cut dramatically short by an act of violence, his heroic legacy of selflessness and compassion lives on in schools, history, and the Church, even today. The Episcopal Church made Jonathan Daniels an official martyr of the church and added him to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts calendar of commemorations in 1994, designating August 14th, the day of his arrest, for his feast.

Sources:

Photo courtesy of The Archives of The Episcopal Church

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

 

Bulletin Insert: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Clare of Assisi

St. Clare of AssisiSaint Clare, born Chiara Offreduccio in 1194, founded what become the Order of Saint Clare (the Poor Clares), a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition. She wrote the order’s rule of life, believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines written by a woman.

Saint Clare was born in Assisi, the oldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, and his wife Ortolana. Clare’s father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother, Ortolana, belonged to a noble and devoutly Catholic family.

As a child, Clare was devoted to her faith and prayer life. At the age of 18 she heard Francis preach and begged him to allow her to join his order. The following Palm Sunday, Clare met Francis at the chapel of the Porziuncula where her hair was cut and she placed her possessions on the altar as an offering.

Francis placed Clare temporarily in a convent of Benedictine nuns. When her friends and family heard about her actions, they attempted to force her to return home. However, she clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair, and proclaimed that she would have no husband but Jesus Christ. Francis soon assigned her to a small dwelling beside the Church of St. Damian at Assisi to house what became known as the “Poor Ladies of San Damian.” As women continued to join Clare, they embraced the Franciscan rule of absolute poverty, engaging a life of begging and works of mercy for the poor and the neglected. Clare soon accepted the role of Mother Superior and for the next 40 years served as a servant to the poor and her sisters, ready to do whatever Francis directed.

After Francis’s death in 1226, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order, writing letters to abbesses in other parts of Europe and thwarting every attempt by each successive pope to impose rules on her order that mitigated the radical commitment to corporate poverty they had originally embraced.

Clare died 1253. She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1255 and is commemorated in The Episcopal Church on Thursday, August 11.

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Clare, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sources: Holy Women, Holy Men, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, wikipedia

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

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

Bible Study, Proper 15 (C) – August 14, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah’s poetic lament is a masterful piece of irony that can be read on different levels. In its literal imagery, it speaks of the disappointment that must have been as well known to farmers in ancient Israel as it is in our own time: after days and weeks of tedious labor, one may find that the crop that appears is valueless. In metaphorical language that was common in the ancient world, though, planting and tending a vineyard could represent courtship. A man wooing a woman to be his wife did so, at least in part, in the hope that she would be a faithful and fruitful partner, bearing many strong children for his heritage. Verse 3 begins to reveal this bitter undertone, alluding to a relationship gone sour when it was founded on great hope.

If we read the “characters” in this story as the best man (the prophet, singing of his friend’s plight), the bridegroom (Yahweh) and the faithless woman (Israel), suddenly the prophetic intent of Isaiah’s poem becomes painfully clear. Speaking through the singer, Yahweh challenges the hearers to choose sides, to judge whether the relationship has been neglected. Tthe story is told in such a way that almost anyone would sympathize with the disappointed suitor – setting the faithless people up to pass judgment against themselves! In verse 7, the identities are made clear, and so it the indictment: the vineyard will be destroyed, abandoned, because “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”

  • In our human relationships, do we sometimes “get what we have coming to us?”
  • Is that a reasonable model for the way in which God relates to God’s people, or not?

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

The collection of the Psalms is so ancient that we can never really identify the composers or the dates of their composition. Still, they often give internal hints that provide a historical context. It is important to the setting of this psalm that verse 2 calls for the Lord to act “in the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manesseh.” These were among the smaller tribes of the northern kingdom – that portion of the Hebrew people who became identified as Israel when the Davidic monarchy broke apart. They cry out for rescue of “the vine” brought out of Egypt; here is the metaphor of planter and vineyard again!  In the psalm, though, we hear the distressed cry of God’s people when they find themselves indeed being broken down (v. 12), ravaged (v. 13), and burned like rubbish (v. 15). These references can almost certainly be connected to the invasion of the Assyrians who conquered and largely destroyed Israel in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

Paired as they are in the Lectionary, the Psalm offers us “the other side” of the relationship described in Isaiah.  Now Israel really is suffering the punishment threatened in the prophecy, and they are raising – perhaps belatedly – a cry for mercy, restoration, and salvation.

  • Why do we so often find ourselves with “20/20 hindsight?”
  • How often is it really the result of naïvete?
  • Are there times when we persist in acting in self-interest, until we discover that we have brought pain on ourselves and others – and realize it too late?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The lessons from the Old Testament have been rather troubling, speaking of disappointment, estrangement, and retribution. The writer of Hebrews looks back through the checkered history of the Jewish people from a post-Resurrection perspective and calls his readers to recognize God’s work even in the bleakest of times. In relating the stories of Abraham, Moses, and all the lesser heroes of Israel, the author acknowledges their suffering. The author weaves the thread of heroic faith throughout, though, reminding his audience that faith always leans forward into the unknown because of an unshakeable trust in God’s goodness.

Jesus, by the example of his human life and by his divine transformation of shame and violence into victory over death’s finality, became “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2) Each believer is now called to run the race with renewed assurance and hope, but we are also surrounded and encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” who lived faithfully in their own times, by the signs and promises they had received.

  • What is the source of faith?
  • Is its origin in logic? Is it based on our own experience?
  • Does faith come from accepting the teaching or testimony of people we consider to have wisdom or authority?
  • If all those sources of validation were stripped away, on what would you base your faith?

Luke 12:49-56

Ouch! Jesus is not offering us much comfort and assurance in this passage. Within the book of Luke, chapter 12 falls within the long “journey narrative,” in which most of Jesus’s teaching and his confrontations with the religious establishment occur at various stages along the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. We are caught up in the growing intensity of his ministry and Luke’s dramatic foreshadowing of the crucifixion that awaits him.

Here we return pointedly to the prophetic theme introduced in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80. Jesus challenges us very directly to see beyond our rosy expectations and recognize the conflict inherent in being his followers – a conflict between God’s reign and the world’s values, between human loyalties and the call to follow something greater.

Our own expectations are not so different from those of Jesus’s original hearers, who were holding out hope for a Messiah in the form of a great conquering warrior who would at last restore the kingdom of Israel on earth and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Our modern version is the tendency to see Jesus as a benign, peaceful, and loyal friend who comforts and defends us. While he is all that, he is representing himself very differently here!  His reference to bringing fire to the earth, and to bringing division rather than peace, tells us that a moment of crisis, of judgment, and of commitment awaits every believer who intends to take Jesus seriously.

Fire does not always imply destruction, but might also be an instrument of refinement – purifying, strengthening, and catalyzing us into a new being. Jesus’s baptism of fire and crisis of decision can mean his own impending trial and execution, or it can mean the turning point in our own lives when we are called to choose a path of discipleship that will bring with it some form of pain as well. Ultimately, like all of Jesus’ teachings, this lesson points us toward the full fruition of God’s kingdom – that redemption and salvation Jesus came to accomplish — and calls us to live in hope and preparation for that time.

  • How do these lectionary readings, taken together, bring a Gospel message that encompasses both judgment and hope, retribution and mercy?
  • How do they ask us to broaden our understanding of faith?
  • How do they show us a more vivid, more faithful way for living our own lives, within our own relationships?

Download the Proper 15 (C) Bible Study.

Jennifer Shadle is a transitional Deacon and a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Colorado. Before recognizing the call to ordained ministry, Jennifer taught vocal music and music history at the secondary and collegiate levels, most recently at Colorado State University-Pueblo. As a seminarian, she takes delight in the liturgy and worship of the Church, theology, and pastoral ministry. She is completing a Concentration in Hispanic Church Studies, and hopes to serve in a multicultural parish setting or to develop a missional ministry among immigrant populations.

Bible Study, Proper 14 (C) – August 7, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we are inherently a people of sin. Sinful in what we do and sinful in how we worship no matter how hard we try. We can ask ourselves, “Is our worship acceptable to God?” When we experience God’s grace we can’t continue to mistreat each other or ignore injustices. Religion itself does not put us in His good grace. Grace isn’t cheap nor is it easy, and it’s not something we get for just sitting in a pew. It’s time for us to look deep into our hearts and know the truth.

  • How can you help the oppressed?
  • In what ways can you be more obedient to God?
  • What is your heart telling you?

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

This Psalm talks about the relationship we have with God as we struggle with the significance of our worship. We all struggle whether we realize it or not. We often just go through the motions of prayer and praise, sometimes just on Sundays. Read Psalm 50 as a way to give thanks to our Lord and find a way to move closer to God.

  • In what ways can you deepen your worship?
  • What is your relationship to God?
  • Why are personal sacrifices of importance? 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

We can be assured of the faith we have for the abilities God gives us. Faith is real and it moves us forward even in the uncertain times of today. Our faith is not simply hoping for something, faith is real. Although it cannot be seen, faith is there. All we need is faith. Hold fast, obey God’s commands, and believe that God is always there for you.

  • What are some examples of having faith in God?
  • Can we improve our commitment to God?
  • How has faith helped you in your life?

Luke 12:32-40

Faith frees us to give so don’t stock up on material possessions for yourself. We can forget ourselves through giving. We give money at church to make us more generous not poorer. God’s blessings are promised for those who are ready and judgment for those who aren’t. Being ready means living as we are taught and doing it daily without fear. Give and be generous. This will prepare us for God’s kingdom.

  • Where your treasure is your heart will be, what is your treasure?
  • Could you live without your possessions?
  • How could you be more generous?

Download the Proper 14 (C) Bible Study.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Keleawe Hee. Malcolm Keleawe Hee is a Native Hawaiian Episcopalian who was recently ordained to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Hawaii. He has been an educator for 28 years.

Bible Study, Proper 13 (C) – July 31, 2016

[RCL] Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Hosea 11:1-11

It is striking to see the emotional vulnerability and passion of God in this passage. Forget any notion of God as a distant, unaffected observer. God desires us with a powerful passion. Israel is the wayward son who continually breaks relationship with God, and God’s heartache is almost palpable in today’s passage from Hosea. It’s as if God is saying, “Israel, you are my son that I lead out of the wilderness, and you keep wandering off to worship other gods. You are breaking my heart. But I will not give up. How can I forget my beloved child?”

God’s words are just as true for us as they are for Israel. Are we not the children of God, who were brought of the wilderness through the waters of baptism? But sometimes we falter. We lose sight of whose we are and where we are headed as God’s beloved children. Our wandering is the same as Israel’s: being oblivious to the love of the God who pursues us with such abandon. But our hope is also the same as Israel’s: trusting in the God who graciously pursues us rather than ourselves or anything else in whom we might be tempted to put our trust.

  • How have you felt God pursuing relationship with you this week?
  • How can you practice placing your trust in God?

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
I recently worked at a summer day camp where I helped small children get acquainted with the swimming pool. They ranged from five to eight years old, and many of these children had never been swimming before. Each child sat on the edge of the pool and waited for their turn to be carried through the water of the pool. What amazed me was the rapid progress some of these children were able to make in their comfort level in the water. Some of the children trusted me enough that they would allow themselves to be turned onto their backs to float. They believed I was trustworthy which enabled them to trust that they would be carried through the water.

The waters of our lives can be deep and downright frightening. But if we trust that God is good, we can allow ourselves to be carried, even in the roughest of waters.

  • Do you believe that God is fundamentally good as the psalmist says?

Colossians 3:1-11

This section of Colossians is concerned with a radical reorientation of personal identity. Imagine you meet someone for the first time. You begin to introduce yourself, but instead of starting off with where you were born or what you do for a living, you tell them that you are a part of Christ. Your identity as a part of Christ is so fundamental that it becomes the primary factor in how you think of yourself. That’s what the author of Colossians is describing when they write “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

It is this identification with Christ that frames our lives. It is the basis for our ethical lives: we are in Christ and, as a part of him who is true and good, the only thing that makes sense is to shed all of the parts of our lives that do not reflect who he is.

  • What does it mean to shed the parts of your lives that do not reflect Christ in us? 

Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus’s warning could not be more timely.

I recently heard a bishop say that the largest religion in America is consumerism. He asked us to pause and reflect on the fact that all of our national holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc. are dedicated to shopping. Our national holidays are occasions to buy more things that we most likely do not need. And then we work more to get more money to buy more things we don’t really need. The cycle continues until we find ourselves robbed from actually living our lives, reduced to anticipating the next purchase.

But this isn’t life. Jesus’s warning is good news that invites us to actually live the life that God intends: a life of self-giving love in relationship with God, our neighbors, and creation.

  • In what ways do you give into the need for an “abundance of possessions?”
  • What is one way you can become “rich toward God?”

Download the Proper 13 (C) Bible Study.

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.  

Great Cloud of Witnesses, Proper 15 (C)

[RCL] Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

In today’s Epistle lesson, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to persevere in our life of faith, no matter what difficulties we face. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” The writer says, you have begun a good thing in becoming Christians. I want you to finish strong in what has been started in you.

A priest from the diocese of Maryland says, “I like to run. I’m not fast, but I enjoy running. Participating in marathons has given me an experience I have enjoyed about running. In marathons, the best runners in the world and normal mortals like myself get to compete in the very same race. I think that’s neat. I will never find myself on the same tennis court with Serena Williams. If I were ever to toss a football, none of the Green Bay Packers would be there to receive it. But, when I ran the Chicago marathon, I (and 25,000 other runners) lined up at the same starting line as runners who held the best marathon times in the world. We ran the same course. We passed the same cheering crowds.”

“But I suppose it’s the finishing that really makes the difference.  The elite runners were crossing the finish line when I was about half way through the course.  They had about two hours to enjoy refreshments and rest, while I still had about thirteen miles of one foot in front of the other to reach my goal, and was wondering if I would really make it. But the beauty of the event is that for many of us, just finishing the race is the accomplishment, the goal.”

Very few have to run a marathon — participation is for fun. But the author of the letter to the Hebrews asks us a similar question: Will we finish the race that is our life with faith? Will we persevere? Or will we run off course, or give up? And the race is hard. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us, if we follow him, if we stand up for what is right, we will experience conflict.

The writer of Hebrews, like a good coach, gives four pieces of advice about how to finish the race. To finish the race: recall who surrounds us. Remove what ways down on us. Rely on strength within us. Remember who goes before us. Recall who surrounds us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The epistle writer wants us to picture ourselves as athletes in an arena. As we strive toward our goal, to finish with faith, in peace and holiness, we run surrounded by people. The people in the stands are people who have demonstrated faith — faith that persevered, people who by the grace of God overcame great obstacles, and finished the race. These are people of the Bible, the men and women of the Church throughout the ages, people known personally by you and by me whose witness encourages us.

They are witnesses, not just spectators. There is a huge difference. A spectator watches you go through something. A witness is someone who has gone through something herself, and the root meaning of the word witness, from which we get the word “martyr,” is someone who may have given his life going through it. We have witnesses cheering us on, not just spectators, people who have gone through what we struggle with, people whose testimonies of the strength God gave them can, in turn, give us strength and courage. We have witnesses rooting for us, weeping with us when we stumble, calling to us when we wander, urging us to finish the race.

Our coach tells us also to remove what weighs down on us. Have you ever seen a track stars running a race wearing winter parkas, or with weights tied to their ankles, or carrying a backpack full of bricks? “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” says our coach. What attitudes and actions, what past behavior and present entanglements weigh us down? What weights of sin and brokenness do we carry that cause us to stumble rather than sprint? We can set those weights down. God is ready to take them from us. God is ready to forgive and heal whatever we let get between us and God, whatever has come between us and other people, whatever wrongs we do to ourselves.

Our coach also tells us to rely on the strength within us. We are told to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” When the going gets tough, when the road is difficult, when the miles drag on, obstacles come up around every bend, when every stretch of the road seems like another steep hill to climb, we can rely on spiritual resources within us — spiritual resources we develop in training: in gathering with other Christians, in hearing and reading God’s word, in participating in the sacramental life of the church.

The word “perseverance” can also be translated as “patient endurance.” Endurance is one thing. We can endure and whine and complain all at the same time. Patient endurance looks like praying without ceasing for ourselves and others. It looks like encouraging others even in the midst of difficulty. It looks like saying something kind, or saying nothing at all when something unkind comes more readily to mind. It looks like giving of ourselves generously, even when we’re not sure what’s ahead of us and our inclination may be to think of ourselves first.

Most important of all, remember who goes before us.  We can look “to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can and will finish the race strong in faith if we look to Jesus, if we keep our eyes focused on him, not being distracted by other things along the way that can cause us to lose our direction or footing and stumble. Jesus has gone before us, has shown us the way that leads to victory.  If we keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him, we will not only make a good beginning in faith we too will finish and win the race.

In the race of our life, we have people cheering us on. We have someone willing to take on our burdens. We can train for patient endurance. We have a guide who leads us and will not leave us.  Let us keep running until the prize is ours and we hear God say to us, “Well done!”

Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 15 (C).

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.  

Transforming Our Vision, Proper 14 (C)

In June 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced a new charity initiative for billionaires: the Giving Pledge. So far, Gates and Buffett have received pledges from 137 billionaires from around the world who have pledged to donate at least half of their fortunes to charity. Five years in, a total of 365 billion dollars has been pledged.

365 billion dollars is a lot of money, so much that it’s hard to conceptualize. It’s more than the total cost of damage from Hurricane Katrina, at 108 billion dollars; but far less than the total cost of The War on Terror since 2001, estimated at 1.7 trillion dollars. The total US budget for 2015 amounted to 3.7 trillion dollars—or about 10 times the amount this group of billionaires was able to pledge, for just one year. 365 billion wouldn’t even cover the amount our government spends annually on discretionary items, like education, transportation, and the National Parks.

Of course, 365 billion dollars will make a difference in the lives of many people. This money will filter through charitable organizations and eventually work its way down to people on the ground, people who are hungry and need a meal, or homeless and need a place to sleep, or sick and need help paying for medical care. But 365 billion dollars isn’t enough to fundamentally change the persistent patterns of need in the world.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, reflecting on the charity initiative in his blog, thinks that this demonstrates that America has entered another gilded age, similar to the end of the 19th century, when “robber barons [like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers] lorded over the economy and almost everyone else lost ground.” The robber barons of the past, like the tech billionaires of today, could afford to give away huge chunks of their fortune and still maintain their relative position and power. The gap between the rich and everyone else, after flattening out somewhat in the middle of the 20th century, continues to grow bigger and bigger, approaching what it was in that previous gilded age.

Now against charity, as Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, there is no law. However, there is a difference between the popular idea of charity, and charity as a theological virtue. The theological virtue of charity that we are called to as Christians goes deeper than merely taking out our checkbooks and donating money to a good cause. Charity, or Caritas, is that selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving­kindness we see in Jesus—it’s the way Jesus loves us, and the way we are called to love others. Of course, it’s easy to see how caritas could lead us to the modern kind of charity: one way we can behave with loving­kindness toward our neighbors is by giving them money to help them when they are in need.

But that is not where caritas ends. A Christian heart truly possessed of caritas begins to wonder, sooner or later, why the needs are so endless: why are there so many mouths to feed? Why are there so many people without a place to sleep? What are the conditions that create so much suffering in the world, and can we do anything to change those conditions?

Such questions can be dangerous. As Roman Catholic Bishop Dom Camara of Brazil once said: “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a communist.” Communist is a dirty word, of course, because as a political and economic system, we know that it doesn’t work. Capitalism does better in some ways, but without protections can run roughshod over the poor and weak.

In the end, the hope of the poor will never be in a human political system—human systems always have a tendency toward corruption. No, the place we find hope, the place we are called to live into, to build up, as we listen for and respond to the cries of the poor, can only be the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says to his followers: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus’ central message during his life on earth was this: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s coming. It’s near. And Jesus’ hope was that God’s Kingdom would transform life on earth, in the here and now, bringing God’s reign of justice and peace into the everyday lives of the poor people he lived among. In the prayer Jesus taught, we ask “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s the earth that needs transformation into the way of God’s Kingdom.

The same concerns are echoed in the reading from Isaiah. In the very first verses, Isaiah accuses the leaders of Judah: “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”

Sodom and Gomorrah were evil places, but not for the reasons you might have heard. According to the prophet Ezekiel, Sodom’s sin was not about sexual violence. Rather, in Ezekiel’s words: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” If that’s the definition of Sodomy—that they had plenty of food for themselves, but didn’t share it with those in need—then who are the Sodomites of our day?

Isaiah accuses the rulers and elite in Jerusalem of behaving like the people of Sodom. They don’t try to “rescue the oppressed,” they don’t “defend the orphan” or “plead for the widow.” They try to win God’s favor by making all the proper sacrifices in the temple, but it doesn’t matter. The only way to please God is to seek justice for the poor.

Justice is at the heart of Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, there will be no suffering, and the resources God has given us will be shared equitably so that everyone has enough. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we live under the charity, the caritas of God. And as we imitate God’s loving­kindness toward us, as we are charitable toward others, our caritas must lead us inevitably towards justice. When we give to the poor, we move closer to them. When we serve them, we are able to listen to them. And in their cry, we hear God’s voice—and God’s voice cannot help but change us, transforming our vision of what the world ought to be, and inspiring us to strive for the justice of God’s kingdom.

Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 14(C).

Written by the Rev. Jason Cox. Rev. Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

Listen to Love, Proper 14 (C)

[RCL]  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

There once was a wise communications professor who had her students engage in an observation exercise. She handed out a picture of an elderly man sitting on some front steps. A young woman stood to his right, looking down toward him, and a child stood in front, facing both of them.

The professor asked the students to tell her what they thought was happening in the picture. “The child and woman are caring for the old man,” one person suggested. Another said, “The child is listening to a story while the mother watches.” “Maybe they are just passing the time waiting for someone to come out of the building,” was another guess. All sorts of stories came up until the professor finally pointed out what was really going on.

“The elderly man and the young woman are listening to the child telling them something. All the signs are there: the way the young woman is fondly looking down toward not just the old man, but specifically at the child. The man is watching the child intently. Notice the child’s hands? They are spread out away from the body and the body is leaning toward the two adults, like the child is emphasizing something and there’s a big smile on their face.” She concluded, “Communication is happening all the time, we just have to pay attention to the signs. We must be watchful and alert like Sherlock Holmes, noticing things that in normal life we gloss over.”

The Christian life is similar as we cultivate the Kingdom of God. We are both communicating our faith in our actions (showing where our treasure is) and also watching for where God is (waiting for the master to return from the banquet). We must ask ourselves whether or not we are being intentional about either. Like the professor in the story said, we are communicating all the time. The question is, “What are we saying as a Christian people?” Whether or not we think anybody is listening, God hears us, and that is the most important measure of all.

In our reading from the prophet Isaiah today, the prophet conveys God’s message to Judah and Jerusalem—a call to repentance. God has been watching the messages they have been sending through their patterns of living: giving lip service through their prayers, sacrifices that are not really sacrificial, festivals that hold little meaning to the heart. God sees a people who are glossing over the work of the soul. The effects have clearly been detrimental to the society. They commit acts of evil. They do not seek after justice. The most marginalized in Israelite society—orphans and widows—are abandoned.

How little have we learned? In our modern society, we can hear God crying out through the oppressed, through the orphans whose parents have been killed by the evil of gun violence, through the refugee widows of wars in foreign lands, and through the sacred places that have been violated by another’s judgment. The signs are all there and God is calling out to us, “Look! Watch! Be ready to do your part!” Are we willing? Are we obedient? Do we have the depth of faith, as a Franciscan blessing charges us, to be foolish enough to think we can make a difference in this world, bolstered by our love of Jesus Christ? The questions are difficult, and the answers take courage.

There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy!’ It is funny, for sure, but it also points to the heresy of believing that as long as we’re being nice people doing nice things, then we are good Christians, or more accurately, nice Christians. To be a follower of Jesus—to be a disciple—requires so much more. A transformed life means that you can never go back to simply being nice. It implies that the church has a deeper quest than humanitarian groups and clubs. Those are good things and we should be part of them, but that is not why the Christian church exists.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, is quoted as saying, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Think about that. We exist to benefit non-members. The people who are not us.

According to our Catechism, found on page 862 of The Book of Common Prayer, ‘Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This assurance gives us the faith to share this promise with those who are outside our walls – those who are the reason we exist. Our Baptismal Covenant on pages 304-305 in the Book of Common Prayer reinforces this as it asks us to persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord, proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and especially strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. This is a tall order, but we don’t have to strive alone: we have God and we have each other.

We may wonder how we can join in God’s work outside our church walls when we feel that what we are already doing so much within. Perhaps looking outside is overwhelming and we do not know where to begin. Most of all, it is sometimes difficult to find or interpret the messages that we are receiving. In his book Seek God Everywhere, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello suggests:

In all actions, in all conversations, Ignatius [of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus] felt the presence of God and contemplated the presence of God. He enjoyed that mysterious gift of seeing God. So we are entitled to be called contemplatives in action if in all things and all actions we feel the presence of God and contemplate the presence of God. We can see that this is not the same as doing the will of God in everything.

To find God, to see God in all things, or to be a contemplative in action means much more than doing God’s will in everything. To feel and contemplate his presence is the experience of devotion, peace, quiet, and consolation… How do we attain this grace of finding God in all things? In all the documents I have read there is a key word: solely, only, or entirely. That is the key word — doing it only for God.

When we become quiet, when we become still, we are finally able to listen to God. Only then can we act. We hear the crunch of the master’s sandals on the road and begin to light the lamps. In Paul Showers’ children’s book, The Listening Walk, a young girl enjoys taking walks with her father and their old dog, Major, who does not walk very fast. “On a Listening Walk I do not talk,” she says. “I listen to all the different sounds. I hear many different sounds when I do not talk.” At the end she tells us, “You do not even have to take a walk to hear sounds. There are sounds everywhere all the time. All you have to do is keep still and listen to them.”

All we have to do is be still and listen to God, to listen to Love. God will take care of the rest. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 14 (C).

A native of Spokane, Washington, The Rev. Danae Ashley is an Episcopal priest who has served parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is currently serving part-time as an Associate Priest on staff at St. Stephen’s in Seattle. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and seeks to use art, music, drama, poetry, and movement in counseling, spiritual direction, and creation of ritual, especially for pregnancy and infant loss. Danae is a trained facilitator of the Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI), Prepare-Enrich, and Positive Discipline parenting workshops. She is proud to be part of The Young Clergy Women Project and has written for their online magazine Fidelia’s Sisters and their Advent devotional published by Chalice Press, as well as being a contributing writer to the Episcopal Church’s online ministry “Sermons that Work.” Danae is one of the contributors of the upcoming book Still a Mother: Journeys through Perinatal Bereavement that will be released in February 2016 by Judson Press. Her favorite past times include hiking with her husband and beloved dog, reading, traveling, visiting with family and friends, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.  

 

Rich Toward God, Proper 13 (C)

[RCL] Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Right now in the world there is lots of tension on the issues of income and wealth inequality. I am not an economist or social scientist so I will not get into these complicated aspects. However, This Sunday’s scriptures do offer us some reflection from a Christian perspective.

Jesus has taught us the two great commandments; the first is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus tells the two brothers who are in dispute of the family inheritance. Jesus reminds them that life is not about owning, or possessing things abundantly. We are to love God wholeheartedly and not to worship possessions as idols.

To emphasize his point, Jesus tells these two brothers the parable of a rich man whom he also calls as a fool, the “rich fool”. This rich man had the blessings of abundant harvests. The produce is so abundant that he does not have enough space to store them. With this abundance, what does this rich man do? The scripture tells his only concerns are “I” and “my.” In his whole thought process, it is only he himself that is in the center. It shows he only loves himself.

We have a few issues here: greed, rich, and fool.

In the Epistles to the Colossians, the author admonishes that “Put to death, whatever in you is earthly: … greed (which is idolatry). (Colossians 3: 5)

Greed is defined as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed” by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Is desiring for more of something than is needed really bad? Don’t we all want to have abundance? Don’t we all want to have a little leftover money to cushion ourselves in times of need? Isn’t that why we contribute to pension fund, to have 401K, 401C, for our retirement?

I don’t think it is when one prepares for rainy days, or stores up one’s abundance that causes Jesus to call us fools, or does he condemn wealth.

It is the selfish and excessive desire for oneself that becomes greed. It is the way we treat our abundance and our wealth that matters to God.

Jesus further says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  These people end up with spiritual death.

Who are those who are not rich toward God?

Often times, when we mention rich, we think of money, wealth. In the Bible, there are at least fifty times that money, wealth, possession or finances have been mentioned. They are mostly based on the basic commandments that “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we love God, we are rich toward God. When we love our neighbor, we are rich toward God. It is because we show gratitude to God of the blessings bestowed to us.

This rich man forgets about God, the one who gives him all the blessings he has. God gives him the talents to grow the crop and receives the produce abundantly. Whatever God gives will eventually be returned to God. Isn’t that what the Teacher tells us in Ecclesiastes?

“I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18) He can’t take all the possessions with him, neither can we.

Isn’t this rich man a fool by hoarding all the produce and thinks he can enjoy it into eternity? He does not know his last day on earth is coming soon. And neither do we.

This man’s rich in produce can be rich toward God by showing God his gratitude. He can show God his gratitude by sharing his abundance with his neighbors who may not have such blessings but are struggling in their lives. He forgets he should love God with his whole heart, whole mind, whole spirit, and whole strength. He forgets he should love his neighbors as himself.

Isn’t this one of the issues of the inequality of income and wealth of the contemporary world? The rich hoard the abundance without showing their gratitude to the creators. Not only do they not love their neighbors by not helping them out but they oppress them so as to hoard more wealth.

Who doesn’t want to be rich? Who doesn’t want to be the 1%? Isn’t that why we want to go to Ivy League schools, to study hard and to work hard and be successful? However, when we get rich, will we be the rich fool? Or will we rich toward God?

The following list has been around in the cyberspace and is something that captures what Jesus said in the Gospel. I would like to share part of it in conclusion.

Things God won’t ask on that day:

  1. God won’t ask what kind of car you drove. God will ask how many people you gave a lift to who didn’t have any transportation.
  2. God won’t ask the square footage of your house. But God will ask how many people you welcomed into your home.
  3. God won’t ask about the clothes you had. God will ask how many you helped to clothe.
  4. God won’t ask what your highest salary was. But God will ask if you compromised your integrity to obtain it.
  5. God won’t ask what your job title was. God will ask whether you performed your job to the best of your ability.
  6. God won’t ask how many friends you had. God will ask how many people to whom you made sure you were a friend.
  7. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived. But God will ask how you treated and behaved with your neighbors.

Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 13 (C).

The Rev. Dr. Ada Wong Nagata is Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour (COS), San Gabriel, a multicultural congregation with English and Cantonese, and English-only services. Ada served seven years as Convener of Chinese Convocation of Episcopal Asiamerican Ministries (EAM), recently finishing her term. She is the Chair of Chinese Ministry Advisory Committee in Diocese of Los Angeles. Ada earned her Doctor of Ministry from Episcopal Divinity School in 2015. Ada loves hiking and often does her meditative walk.