Archives for August 2016

Bulletin Insert: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)

Social Media Sunday

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.54.28 AMOften, worshippers are asked to put away their devices during worship service, but you won’t hear that on Social Media Sunday. Why? Because Jesus said so.

Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

With over 2.3 billion users of social media* around the globe and 1 million new social mobile users added each day*, going into the world to share good news requires using new tools to be where people are.

Social Media Sunday is the day set aside for Christians everywhere to use digital devices intentionally to share their life of faith with the world. Started at Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Connecticut in 2013, Social Media Sunday has grown over the years since to include people of faith everywhere.

In 2015, thousands of people participated by sharing status updates, check-ins, photos, videos, and links on their social media accounts. The date for Social Media Sunday has been permanently set for the last Sunday in September.

How can you be a part of digital evangelism today (and every day)? Check out the ideas in the graphic at right.

Whatever you do, include the hashtag #SMS16 with your post! Simply type #SMS16 anywhere in your post or in the description of a picture or video you share.

There are more ideas and over a thousand friendly people ready to answer your questions on the Facebook group for Social Media Sunday, https://www.facebook.com/groups/SMS15/.

Join and learn more about how you and your church can use new tools on #SMS16 – and every day – to share the good news and be the Church online.

*Social Media statistics found here: http://bit.ly/2c9F6wR
** Graphic shared with permission from Joelle Colville-Hanson, Director of Evangelical Mission at Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. 

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

Bible Study, Proper 20(C) – September 18, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

 Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

There are times of great suffering in which we may feel that all hope is lost and that there may never be joy in our souls again.  This may be triggered by the loss of a loved one or from a tragedy in your local community or nation.  There are painful events in our lives that shake us to our core and may even bring questions to our faith, diminishing our sense of hope.  At other times, it may feel like our prayers in these times are not being answered.

Jeremiah asks:

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

Laments such as this are important to place before the throne of God, as we complain to a compassionate God who deeply cares about us and that which troubles us. There are times in our lives that we need to reclaim the old tradition of lament, a significant tradition that is largely absent in our common life as the Church. Often, we need to air our grievances before we can begin to see hope again.  Sometimes, we even need to get angry at God.  God can take it.  God will also use our vulnerability that we have expressed as a means to bestow grace upon us.

Through this we remember that there is hope in the resurrection, that there is a balm in Gilead, and that God continues to restore all things through Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect one or two painful times in your life.  How did your relationship with God feel in those times?
  2. How comfortable to you feel complaining to God, or getting angry with God?  How well do you practice lament?
  3. How has God shown you through your pain that there is hope rather than hopelessness, light rather than darkness?  How have you been reassured of God’s goodness and mercy?

Psalm 79:1-9

This psalm is also another prayer of lament to God, likely written in the wake of some sort of national tragedy that had befallen God’s people.  This takes a different tone that the above lament from the Prophet Jeremiah.  In this lament, the author is calling out to God, asking for God to punish those who have unleashed evil upon the people and God’s temple.

One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is that they show us the whole range of human emotion in our spiritual relationship with God.  The fact is, sometimes we do have vengeful feelings and we do wish for God’s wrath to be unleashed on someone who has done a great evil.  This psalm serves as a reminder that these feelings of anger in response to a wrongdoing are nothing to be ashamed of, but rather are a natural part of our human experience and thus are appropriate to bring to God in prayer (regardless of what God chooses to do in response to that prayer).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you ever been wronged in such a way that you feel vengeful toward another person?
  2. How do you address those feelings in prayer?
  3. How do you come to terms with the reality that vengeance belongs to God and not to us?
  4. Can you shift your focus, and begin to pray for the person who wronged you?

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Speaking of prayer.  In the first letter addressed to Timothy, Paul writes that we should include everyone in our prayers, naming supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings as different categories of prayer.  We are called as Christians to pray for our neighbors, to pray for our enemies, to pray for our leaders, to pray for our Church and our world, and…everyone.

He writes:

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Look back at the questions about lamentation and praying to God about someone who has done evil toward you.  There is a significant shift in what happens when you get the anger out of your system and instead begin to pray FOR the person (or people).  What would it take for you to begin to pray for God’s mercy to be upon them?  Can you intercede for God’s saving grace to be with them?  What do you think changes in you when you do that?
  2. Who do you pray for on a daily basis?
  3. What kinds of prayer do you offer to God in your daily prayers?
  4. How might this passage inform your practice?

Luke 16:1-13

“You cannot serve God and wealth.”  It must be getting close to stewardship “season.”  Our use of money seems to be indicative of the nature of our relationship with God.  Perhaps it is not just money, but all that is ours.  “Ours” is the operative word here.  Wealth can become a false idol, a violation of the First Commandment, when we turn to the love of money over the love of God and money.  This happens when we willfully forget that God is the source of all good things and that all we have is but a gift from God.  They are not ours, rather we have been graced with the ability to become stewards over that which is God’s.

God calls us to be faithful stewards.  Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”  This could be understood to mean faithful stewards may be entrusted with even more.  Another reading is that if we cannot be trusted with something small, why would we ever be trusted in something more significant?  Our faithfulness relies in remembering who God is as the creator and giver of all good gifts.  We are recipients, not entitled to what we possess.  This is important for us to remember, lest the things we believe are ours begin to possess us.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does this passage challenge you?
  2. Do you sometimes feel entitled to the things you have, or do you recognize that they are gifted to you?
  3. Have you ever thought about writing a gratitude list each day?  It is amazing how this practice can bring the issues of this passage into perspective in your life and how it can inform your payer practice.
  4. What are some of the pressures and stresses that make being a faithful steward difficult?  How can God help you through those struggles in order that you might maintain faithful stewardship?
  5. Do you feel that your use of time, talent, and treasure rightly reflect your relationship with God and the gifts that God has given you?  (Remember the biblical principal of the tithe: 10% of the “first fruits” given to God in gratitude.)

Written by Rev. Paul Castelli, AF.  Castelli is a priest in the Diocese of Michigan, serving as Priest-in-Charge at St. George’s Episcopal Church. He is a vowed member of Anamchara Fellowship, a dispersed Celtic monastic community in the Episcopal Church, serving on the community’s prayer book committee. He is also working on his thesis for an STM from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Paul lives with his wife, Mechelle, and their three pets.

Download the Bible Study for Proper 20(C).

Bible Study, Proper 19(C) – September 11, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10 

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

This week’s readings feature harsh words from the prophet Jeremiah, “they are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” And the prediction of ominous consequences, “the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black…” The anguish of the prophet Jeremiah seems to mirror the anguish of God witnessing the actions of people who seem bent on self-destruction.

It would be difficult to miss the parallel to today’s world as we suffer the consequences of our actions related to race, gender, the environment…the list could be quite long! In the context of the Hebrew Scriptures, it is that God who brings devastation down on the people. In today’s world, we realize that the consequences we suffer stem from our collective actions as failing stewards of God’s creation, not from a vengeful God.

  • How do you react to Jeremiah’s harshness in these passages? How do they make you feel?
  • Do you believe that Jeremiah’s prophesy is inevitable? Is there still opportunity to make things right?

Psalm 14

As if Jeremiah wasn’t bleak enough, Psalm 14 starts with: “All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.” However, if you read closely you will notice that “the fool” says these things – it is “the fool” who denies God’s existence and acts accordingly. And it is God, despite the acts of the “faithless” – those “evildoers who eat up my people like bread” – who remains a steadfast refuge, one who stands in the company of the righteous and the oppressed. In fact, the psalmist claims that in their very acts of oppression, the fool experiences the folly of denying God and the terror of the consequences of their actions. “See how they tremble with fear, because God is in the company of the righteous.” The psalm ends with a reaffirmation of the power of God, a call for deliverance, and a prayer for God to restore the fortunes of the people.

  • Are the behaviors described in this psalm a description of individual behaviors or societal ones?
  • When the psalmist calls for God to “restore the fortunes of his people,” do you think this is a prayer for ALL people, or just those who did not deny God’s existence?
  • Do you think it is possible for all such “foolishness” to one day come to an end or is it human nature to act in ways apart from God?

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Into the darkness of this week’s readings comes the light of 1 Timothy proclaiming that our God is merciful, that despite our former “foolishness” or denial of God, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The writer even uses himself as an example of the power of the love and grace of Christ to reform and renew a person’s heart and soul.

  • How have you experienced strength and renewal through Jesus?
  • In what ways can you use your story to share with others the powerful message of renewal and hope?

Luke 15:1-10

Luke 15:1-10 includes one of the most well-known stories of Jesus, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which expresses the deep joy a shepherd feels when he locates that one sheep who wandered off. The parable is rich in meaning about the importance God places on embracing those who have fallen into the ways of “foolishness” described in Psalm 14 above.

  • At what times in your life have you been the lost sheep? How did your community or family welcome you back? How did God welcome you back?
  • How can your community orient itself toward this ministry of finding and welcoming those who do not know God or have turned away from God?

Written by Wendy Johnson. Wendy is the Digital Missioner for Formation for The Episcopal Church. Previously, she served as the Communications Manager for Episcopal Migration Ministries and communications director for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. She has served as a youth minister for 16 years, working in several congregations and at the national, regional, and diocesan level. She lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Download the Bible Study for Proper 19(C).

Bulletin Insert: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Welcoming Sunday

Welcoming Sunday. Homecoming Sunday. Back to Church Sunday. Welcome Home Sunday. Registration Sunday.

The names vary, but the intent is the same – events and activities slated for that one Sunday in each congregation that marks the conclusion of summer and the beginning of the new program year.

As you celebrate this day, here are some resources and ideas for the upcoming program year:

Acts 8 Movement has developed a series of videos, commentaries and resources for congregations, available here.

You’ll find a host of Evangelism and Welcoming Resources for Episcopalians at our new Evangelism Initiatives page: everything from a Hospitality Audit to Neighborhood Prayer Walking kits; quick links to parish marketing tools and community organizing tips; plus links to websites, books and articles.

Bible study resources from the Episcopal Church are great for small groups ages youth through adult.

Engage the ‘ministry of welcome’ more deeply through Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Episcopal Church’s refugee resettlement service.

Learn how the Episcopal Church is engaged in the ministry of public policy advocacy by joining the Episcopal Public Policy Network. 

Videos that teach, prompt discussion for all ages, and spread the word about the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Videos and updates are available to discuss the ministry and adventures of the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corp (YASC).

The Episcopal Church publishes new resources throughout the year. Check back regularly at www.episcopalchurch.org. We welcome your ideas! Send them to us via email, publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org, find us at Facebook.com/Episcopalian, or by using #Episcopal.

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

An Act of Love, Proper 22(C)

[RCL] Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10 

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” This is according to G.K. Chesterton, who found Christians, including himself, did not put their faith into action. But even the curmudgeon Chesterton would agree there was a notable exception.

Francis of Assisi, the saint who launched a million birdbaths, hundreds of thousands of statues, and the occasional service of Blessing of the Animals was, for Chesterton, the one Christian who actually lived the Gospel.

Francis was the son of a wealthy textile merchant and as such part of the new Italian middle class that was coming into its own. His father’s wealth and Francis’ own natural charisma made the young man a leader of the youth of his town. Francis gained a rock-star like following by the early 1200’s. He remains famous today not because of his own words and actions so much as because his words and actions conformed so closely to those of Jesus.

As a boy Francis dreamed of earning glory in battle. He got his chance at an early age when he enlisted, along with the other young men of Assisi to fight in a feud against a neighboring city-state. Assisi lost the battle and Francis was imprisoned for a time. Defeat in battle and serious illness in prison caused Francis to turn away from his visions of glory on the battlefield.

Francis’ path toward God took a series of turns closer and closer to God, rather than an all at once conversion. However, the course of Francis’ life was profoundly changed by at least two formative experiences. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis saw a beggar outside of St. Peter’s Church. The Holy Spirit moved Francesco to trade places with the beggar. Francis exchanged clothes with a beggar and then spent the day begging for alms. That experience of being poor shook Francis to the core.

Later he confronted his own fears of leprosy by hugging a leper. Like trading places with the beggar in Rome, hugging a leper left a deep mark on Francis. Shaped by his experiences with the beggar and the leper, he had a strong identification with the poor. Francis cut himself off from the opulent lifestyle of his father and sought out a radically simple life.

By the time of his death, the love of God had compelled Francis to accomplish much toward rebuilding the church. He could look on thousands of lives transformed by his call for repentance and simplicity of life. Yet, Francis of Assisi was simply a man transformed by the love of God and the joy that flowed from a deep understanding of all that God has done for us.

Francis approach to his life of Christian service fits with Jesus words to us in today’s Gospel reading when tells those who follow him that they are to serve with no thought to reward. Jesus said, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’ Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?” Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”

So when you come in from doing something for God, don’t expect a reward, only more work. It’s a wonder the crowds followed Jesus at all. But what exactly is the work of God? In what way are we to serve him? We have the example of Francis, to add to that of Jesus’ own life and ministry. Yet, how can we in our own time and place attempt to live more fully into the Gospel?

First, there is no getting around the fact that the Bible knows nothing of professional clergy serving a congregation. The Bible teaches that all Christians are ministers of the Bible by virtue of their baptism. Then as ministers, each of us has a wide variety of jobs to do in the kingdom of God based on the gifts God has given us. While congregations benefit from the ministry of priests and deacons, the real work of the church happens when the people in the pews live out their faith in their day to day lives. This includes many thankless tasks, showing love and mercy in even small ways and even if no one notices.

You know how thankless these tasks are because you have the same issue at home. Do you get thanked every time you do the dishes? Or cut the grass? Or wash the laundry? Or make your bed? Or do your homework? Probably not. But permit time to pass without doing the dishes, cutting the grassing, washing the laundry, making your bed or doing your homework and you are sure to hear about it. These are thankless tasks and you take them on with no thought to getting praise for doing them.

Notice that in this Gospel reading, Jesus tells of the servant who does what he or she is supposed to do in response to the disciples asking for more faith. First he tells them the parable of the mustard seed and how the tiniest amount of faith is enough to accomplish great things for God. Then he goes on to describe the thankless task of serving God his Father. It is in serving God that we find our faith strengthened.

We are not to serve others for the thanks we get. We are to serve others as serving Jesus, because that is the life God calls us to, knowing that we will benefit more than the people we help. We will benefit in increased faith and increased love. Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to trust that he could hug a leper, though he was terribly afraid. In the process, he found the faith to work among lepers. And so, again and again, his steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God more. It is the same for us. Each step of faith strengthens our trust in God to follow even more boldly.

To come back around to G.K. Chesterton, he advised, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” That was Francis, living out a love affair with God. When it is me and you living into the love of God, then Christianity will have been tried and not found wanting, nor will it be a series of thankless tasks.

Walking the life of faith then is not done in search of thanks or praise, but is simply an act of love. Then you and I can join Francis in saying that we are merely servants doing what we were called to do. We call ourselves servants knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

Frank Logue is the Canon to the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. He serves on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and on the Advisory Group on Church Planting. Frank blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Download the sermon for Proper 22(C).

Bulletin Insert: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)

Welcoming Week and Episcopal Migration Ministries

IMG_1005On any given day, in a number of American communities, in local non-profit organizations large and small, smiles and laughter can be heard in classrooms where newcomers practice English conversation.

“Good morning, how are you?”  I am fine, and you?” “I am well. It is a nice day.”

Down another hall, you might visit an office, where a case worker meets with a young family as they balance their monthly budget. There is cause for celebration: the father and mother have not only found work and good childcare, but their monthly income exceeds their expenses.

Outside in the parking lot, colors and shapes and textures fly about amid a gathering of women, who sit, talking and laughing, as they weave. American weavers alongside Bhutanese weavers. Volunteers join in the fun, ‘ooo-ing’ and ‘ah-ing’ at the creations of hats, and gloves, and scarves. As each piece is finished, the volunteers tag it with a price. This colorful effort is a microenterprise, providing the Bhutanese women a source of income and a community of friends.

This is the work of welcome, the ministry of refugee resettlement. Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement service of The Episcopal Church, works in partnership with 30 local affiliate organizations, who in turn work with countless community partners, volunteers, and congregations, to welcome refugees to their communities as neighbors and new Americans.

September 16-25 is national Welcoming Week, a time for all Americans to celebrate with our immigrant and refugee neighbors the spirit, determination, grit, and the contributions they bring to our communities. Join in one of hundreds of Welcoming Week events being hosted across the country, or reach out to your nearest refugee resettlement office to ask how you can be part of the work of welcome.

See yourself in that English classroom, encouraging students as they improve their conversation skills. See yourself teaching a financial literacy class, assisting your new neighbors as they learn to open a bank account, balance their checkbook, and pay their bills. Or, find yourself outdoors in the crisp fall air, joining in the celebration of a weaving circle.

Welcoming Week is a time for all of us to celebrate how each of us, born in this country or new immigrants pursuing the American dream, contributes to weaving the beautiful tapestry that is America.

Happy Welcoming Week!

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

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

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half page, color, two-sided

black and white, full page, one-sided
black and white, half page, two-sided

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

What Separates Us From Each Other and From God? Proper 21(C)

[RCL] Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

From the earliest of times people have told stories about the wicked getting their come-uppance. It’s rooted in the now-popular belief in karma, although the idea of revenge, implicit in the way many now use the term isn’t quite what it means in Eastern religions.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not about ultimate revenge. I hope that’s not too disappointing. It’s more a case of “you just don’t get it do you?”

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a novel about a rich cotton mill owner in Victorian England, or more precisely the north of England. The name given to the ‘fictional’ city where the mill operates is a disguise for Manchester, perhaps the center of industrial growth and the exploitation of cheap labor before laws were introduced to protect working class people and banning child labor. The book was adapted for television by the BBC and shown in America on PBS.

At the heart of the story is the inability of the young mill owner and his hard mother to see beyond profit. The workers are a commodity. Their suffering is irrelevant. They are only visible when they make a nuisance of themselves: when they strike.

Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, although some authorities think his audience had changed and that he was talking to a group that didn’t believe in eternal life, except in the form of Sheol, a shadowlands for the dead. They were called Sadducees and numbered in their ranks the ruling classes and the wealthy merchants. He re-tells a popular story of a rich man and a beggar. The picture Jesus paints vividly is one his audience immediately recognized. They lived in a culture where rich and poor lived in close proximity to each other, where beggars were part of the scenery as were stray dogs. Both beggars and dogs were held in contempt. Beggars were thought to be those abandoned by their families, or who were suffering for the sins of their parents or even great-grandparents. Dogs were regarded as slightly domesticated vermin.

The rich man was clothed in purple clothes. No cloth was more expensive than that dyed purple. Purple dye was only affordable by the very rich or by Roman officials and patricians. You may remember Lydia, the seller of purple, who befriended St. Paul? The rich man dined sumptuously, just as centuries later mill owners dressed fashionably and had tables, copied from those of the aristocracy, groaning with food, while their workers could scarcely prevent their children starving.

Lazarus lay at the entrance to the rich man’s house. He was covered in sores; sores that even the dogs wouldn’t lick. Did he have leprosy, the most feared disease of the ancient world? Dogs love to lick scratches and wounds, but not these. Like the Lebanese woman in another incident, he wanted to “gather up the crumbs under the table.” The rich man swept past this grotesque “scum of the earth” until one day Lazarus was gone; he was dead.

The story now takes as unexpected turn. The rich man in Sheol is tormented by flames. At first his thoughts are still of himself. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a sip of water. Lazarus is still an object, perhaps no longer a beggar but still a servant. Abraham replies that a great gap now prevents the rich man from communicating with his people, the Chosen People, and those numbered among the chosen can’t reach towards those in Sheol. A new barrier has been erected. No longer is it between the rich and the destitute, but now between those chosen by God and those who have rejected that calling by rejecting someone, who despite his abject poverty, was a fellow Jew.

The story twists again: “`Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Now an added layer is added to the story. It’s still about the blindness of the rich to those whose lives depend on the work they provide or the charity they exhibit. The Rich Man suddenly becomes rebellious Israel, a people who have disobeyed God’s laws, refused the vocation to which they have been called, and wouldn’t change their ways even if a prophet rose from the dead. Here Jesus may have meant that they wouldn’t believe even if Abraham or Moses, or Amos or Hosea rose from the dead. In retrospect we identify the resurrection of Jesus with these words.

What are we to learn from Jesus’s story? Beware of gulfs. Beware of being so impressed with your own views, your own possessions, you own intelligence, that you can’t be reached by love and in particular, God’s love. Be careful about that sort of self-justification that thoroughly separates us from God and each other, so that another or others become invisible and in your eyes, die. Note, we may think we have good reason for separating ourselves.

The Rich Man may have told himself that Lazarus was undeserving. The mill owner thought that profit was essential for the economy, for his business and for the workers. We may think we have good reason for creating space between ourselves and those who would take advantage of us, or whose views are abhorrent to us, as well as the more obvious candidates, those people who don’t look like me, sound like me, vote like me, and perhaps worship like me.

However, are we incapable of resisting creating “great gulfs” or walls because we resist believing the one who rose from the dead?

Perhaps our unbelief is nuanced. Perhaps we deploy that ancient sentence, “Well, that’s all right in theory but it doesn’t work in practice: it’s all wonderfully lovely. I only wish it worked.”

The road to Sheol is paved with nuanced intentions.

Written by The Rev. Anthony Clavier. Clavier is Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, IL.

Download the sermon for Proper 21(C).

God is Good, All the Time, Proper 20(C)

[RCL] Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

There is a wonderful scene in C.S. Lewis’s famous novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Lucy, the youngest the children to cross into the magical world of Narnia, converses with Mr. Beaver. In this magical land of talking animals and evil queens, Lucy feels both wonder and fear after hearing about Aslan, the original Lion King, who rules over the lands of Narnia. Lucy inquires of Mr. Beaver, “Is he quite safe?” to which the industrious rodent replies with an air of indignation “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe! But he’s good.”

Much like Lucy wants to know that the ruler of her mystical realm of Narnia is safe, we want our God and our faith to be safe and comforting, making no great demands of our time or treasure. But if we pay close attention to our Gospel for today, we quickly realize that Jesus is far from safe, but is always good and full of surprises.

Jesus had been traveling around Jerusalem, preaching God’s realm, healing the sick, curing the infirm, raising the dead, and generally stepping on the toes of the good religious leaders around Jerusalem. The Scribes and Pharisees grumbled about his dinner companions being less that savory characters, but instead of answering their criticism Jesus told a series of Parables:

A man had one hundred sheep. One wondered off, got itself lost and the man, leaving the ninety-nine hunts high and low for the lost sheep. When he finds the sheep, he gathers his friends and rejoices. God is not safe, but is always good and seeks us even when we wander.

A woman had ten silver coins. One mysteriously disappears, so she lights a lamp and turns her house upside down until she finds it. When she finds the coin she throws a party with all her friends, costing more than the coin’s worth. God is not safe, but is always good and finds a reason to celebrate.

A father had two sons. One demands his inheritance while his father is still very much alive, runs off to the city and squanders his money. Realizing the error in his ways, he heads home. His father seeing him far off welcomes him home and throws a party to celebrate the miraculous return of his presumed dead son. But his older brother, faithful, generous, and devout wanted none of it. “This son of mine that was dead is now alive, the one who was lost is now found,” says the father. God is not safe, but is always good and forgives even when we cannot.

A dishonest manager is about to be fired for misappropriation of company funds. Because he doesn’t want to do manual labor and is too proud to ask for charity, he goes around to all the vendors who owe his employer money and reduces his portion of their commission and cuts their interest rates. He does this so that they would be hospitable to him when he loses his job. He transforms a terrible situation into one that benefits him and others. In doing this, he actually builds relationships with the vendors instead of simply collecting bills and commissions. Surprisingly the employer commends the manager for his shrewdness, his initiative and his wisdom in business. God is not safe, but is always good, full of surprises and turns our world upside-down.

This is not what many of the religious people of Jesus’ day signed up for and neither did we. We want a God who is just and fair. We want a God who is predictable and follows the rule of law. But instead, what Jesus points to is the realm of a God who seeks the wanderer, celebrates the lost, forgives the proud and repairs broken relationships. This is a God who is certainly not safe but is always good.

Throughout the Bible, and particularly in today’s Gospel about the shrewd steward, we are confronted with a God who takes our norms, our expectations, our perceptions and our preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. Jesus praises the manager’s insanely irresponsible behavior and exhorts us to act more like the manager!

Can you imagine if we, as a church, followed that advice? Can you imagine if we imitated God’s goodness instead of being safe?

  • What if, as a community of faith, we chose to offer forgiveness, love, and welcome to anyone without conditions or requirements?
  • What if we welcomed everyone to feed from the richness of Christ’s table?
  • What if we shared the joy of our worship, fellowship, and companionship outside the walls of our church?
  • What if we became agents of love and mercy in our community?
  • What if we lived as people of resurrection in a Good Friday world?  
  • What if we stopped worrying about what is safe and started doing what is good?

How would our church be different? How would our worship be different? How would our relationships be different?

Jesus invited his hearers to step out in faith and to see an outrageously generous God squander that generosity on each and every one of us. Are we not called to do the same? It will certainly not be safe, but is good and God is good!

As followers of Jesus this is the God we proclaim.

We proclaim a God who is always ready to overturn our understandings and widen our circles. Our society often prizes safety over welcome, fear over compassion, division over unity. We are sometimes too often willing to sacrifice love, compassion, and caring on the altar of safety. But God insistently and consistently points towards the good, and good is not always safe.

Jesus in his life and ministry chose always to do the good at the risk of being safe.

  • Safe says, “Stick to what you know.” Good replies, “Put out into deep waters. Imagine the possibilities.”
  • Safe says, “Follow the rule of law.” Good replies, “Seek compassion and mercy.”
  • Safe says, “Keep score. Hold grudges.” Good replies, “Love your neighbor. Forgive.”
  • Safe says, “Worry about yourself” Good replies, “Consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air.”
  • Safe says, “Take care of our own.” Good replies, “Just as you do to the least of these you do to me.”
  • Safe says, “Come down and we will believe.” Good replies, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
  • Safe says, “King of the Jews.” Good whispers, “Resurrection!”
  • Safe is tempting, but good is eternal.

The Good News for us is that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus the good-doer. Those footsteps may lead us to places we may never dream or imagine we would go, but we go risking and knowing that God always walks with us, always forgives us, always love us.

God is good, all the time.

All the time, God is good!

Amen.

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

Download the sermon for Proper 20(C)..

Will you seek God today? Proper 19(C)

[RCL] Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Will you seek God today?

The quote “What you seek is seeking you,” made popular by a 13th-century Sufi mystic and theologian, holds true in our relationship with our Creator God. There is something in all of us that innately seeks out our Creator, just as the Creator seeks us.  Since the beginning of time God has revealed God-self as One who is seeking communion with God’s children.

In the creation story in the garden of Eden we read about God walking beneath the trees seeking out Adam. ‘They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day… Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:8-9). It’s hard to believe that an all-knowing God did not know where Adam was to be found. But in God’s searching and seeking, in asking “where are you?” it had nothing to do with the physical location, but perhaps more of Adam’s spiritual location.

In this creation story and all throughout scripture we find God seeking man. Luke 15:1-10 teaches us about the joy God gets, when what God seeks is found.

In the parable of the lost sheep the tendencies of sheep to wander off to “greener grass” leads to its separation from the flock and its shepherd.  As it is with humans we stray and wander away from our Creator’s guidance and direction thinking we can do it on our own or that it’s by our own strength and wisdom we are able to navigate this journey.

The story is told about sheep in the Highlands of Scotland and how they often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they cannot get out of, just to get to sweeter grass. But in jumping down ten or twelve feet for sweet grass they were unable to jump back up. After a couple days and eating all the grass, the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress and in those moments of distressed bleating the sheep is seeking the shepherd. The shepherd knowing it’s sheep the best, will wait until each animal was faint before pulling them out.

The story continues, proving that the shepherd is being strategic in the saving the sheep because if the sheep aren’t faint the likelihood of them jolting over the precipice when the attempt to save them is made, causing them to jumping to their death is extremely high.

Perhaps some believe God deals with them in a similar fashion, waiting until we are faint, down, and out before intervening. Like the good shepherd however, God is always strategic in God’s seeking of us and God is always working in our best interest.

The shepherd knows that if the sheep are separated from the flock and the shepherd both parties aren’t whole and can’t operate as they are meant too.

As it is when we are separated from right relationship with God, we aren’t operating in our true, full purpose. That is why God seeks us to be in right relationship and delights in restoration. This seeking is not just for the lost, but for every child of God wherever we find ourselves.

All over scripture we read of God seeking God’s children. In John 4:23, God is seeking “true worshipers that will worship God in spirit and truth.” In Psalm 14:2, the psalmist pens that “The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” And 2 Chr 16:9 says likewise “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him.” And in the gospel from Luke 15 we find God giving us a clear view into God’s heart and God’s intentions by comparing God-self with a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to seek the one lost (Luke 15:4-7), and with a woman combing through her entire house on the search for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).

Throughout Scripture we encounter a God who is on a mission, a seeking God, seeking God’s children. A God who is all powerful, omnipresent, and self-reliant. A God who knows all and sees all. A God who parts water and who’s voice the wind obeys, that same God seeks us all, and rejoices when we are found in God. Because we are precious and prized and the One who created us, sees us as rare and our value countless.

And the seeking goes both ways. “What you seek, seeks you.” Just as the sheep seeks the shepherd for help, and the coin reflects the light waiting to be found, something innately in us wants to be found by our Creator God to the point where we cry out like David to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps 51:11). A right spirit to be in right relationship with God.

In Psalm 51 David is honest and upfront about his wrong doings. He realizes that they separate him for God, and accepts full responsibility “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” David sets a great example for us to mirror. An example that shows us that repentance is the first step to restoring and renewing our relationship with God “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” David is appealing to the essence of God’s character. He’s appealing to God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy, rather than what he thinks he deserves or earned.

In Psalm 51 David models how we too can pray when we are seeking God’s cleansing and forgiveness from our transgressions, iniquities, and sins. Our sins separate us from God, but when we confess them, God is gracious and forgives us.

So no matter how far we wander away from God. No matter how far we fall. God still loves us, pursues us and seeks us. Hebrews 13 reminds us that God has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us.

God has made this evident is sacrificing Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins and sending us the Comforter – the Holy Spirit.

God never gives up on us. God never lets go of us. God is seeking us daily.

Will you seek God today?

Amen

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

Download the sermon for Proper 19(C).

Special Bulletin Insert: US Gulf Coast Flooding

Episcopal Relief and Development

SquareLogoIn mid-August, parts of the US Gulf Coast experienced historic levels of flooding, with at least seven dead, and tens of thousands unable to return to their homes. As of Monday, August 15, more than 40,000 homes and businesses remained without power, and over 10,000 homes were flooded. The National Weather Service has predicted more flooding to come and an expansion to surrounding regions along the Gulf Coast.

Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Team has been in close contact with dioceses in the region and is providing support for their local efforts. The immediate response will help provide basic necessities to those most impacted. Affected dioceses will then coordinate with Episcopal Relief & Development to meet needs in the coming months and years. Currently, the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, its churches and their ministries are reaching out to those in need of assistance, assessing what needs to be done and serving as best they can.

Download the bulletin insert as a PDF Document.