Archives for October 2016

Bible Study, Advent 1(A) – November 27, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122

Isaiah 2:1-5

The great vision of Isaiah paints a vivid imagery of what Jerusalem would be: a place of refuge where nations flock and learn the truth. Undoubtedly, the passage is an articulation of Isaiah’s hope for peace in the midst of tumultuous times. One day, people would know the sovereignty of God and as a response they would go to Zion the sanctuary of the faith where the absolute trust in God will heal all relationships marred by mutual distrust and fear. According to Isaiah, God will be at the center of the movement towards lasting peace. The instruments of destruction will be the very means of construction, and there the unconquerable conviction of people towards a world free of war and suffering will finally find its fruition.

It is admittedly an idealistic vision, and some who take pride in their realism will surely question it. Yet one of the indisputable responsibilities of Christians is to work for peace. Christians should be part of the solution in resolving conflicts, and the first ones to pursue peace in strained personal or corporate situations. By doing so, we take part in the good work of building the kingdom of God in our present circumstances.

  • Is it possible to have peace among nations and individuals without God?
  • What current issues in the world today challenge the fragile peace among peoples?
  • How have you been an agent for peace in your own community?

Psalm 122

The psalmist begins with the words, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord.’” The happy tone of the psalm is understandable for the Israelites embark on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The moment that their “feet are standing within the gates” of the holy land, they feel exuberant and joyful. Such is the love they have for the city that they pronounce peace, unity, solace, and prosperity within its blessed walls.

In our context, the church symbolizes the new Jerusalem; a city acting as light in darkness, inviting all to feel the presence of God in the midst where truth is found and all are assembled for the sole purpose of praising God.

  • When hearing an invitation to go to church, do you feel the same anticipation expressed in the psalm?
  • Do you always pray the same things as the psalmist did for the church?
  • How have you been empowered by your involvement in the church?

Romans 13:11-14

St. Augustine was walking in a garden oblivious of the beauty around him for his heart was in turmoil. He felt miserable for he consistently fails to live the good and moral life he desperately longs for. Then a still child-like voice ushered him to “Take and read.” He grabbed a copy of one of Paul’s writings and his eyes rested upon the words: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” He did not need to read further. A calm assurance unlike anything he ever felt before unraveled his heart and caused him to believe.

The conversion story of St. Augustine is a good starting point to understand how even a difficult passage which sets a standard of morality can settle in a person. Though there are some people who insist on the verbal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as the basis and finality of conversion, several passages in the bible like this one beg to disagree.

Discipleship is a process of becoming. It is an act of conforming ourselves to be Christ-like through the Holy Spirit. The willful response to the call to be holy is the natural consequence of faith, an expression of love, and the evidence of it. A personal transformation should be seen. So to carry the cross in our daily lives means striving to “lay aside” every deed that is contrary to the character of Christ, and to put on the “armor of light”, that is to put our utmost effort to protect ourselves from being drawn into the false cloak of darkness, thriving in excessive indulgence and all forms of depravity.

  • Just as Augustine was inspired to follow Christ after reading this passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans, have you had a similar experience when reading the Scriptures?
  • Since being a Christian bids you to gradually become Christ-like everyday, what personal challenges or inner conflicts have you encountered in the process?

Matthew 24:37-44

The act of vigilant waiting for the unexpected manner of Christ’s coming has been re-echoed throughout the New Testament writings. However, this particular passage in Matthew’s gospel is unique in its comparison of the Day of the Lord as similar to the narrative of Noah and the flood.

One can imagine that Jesus’ return would bring shock and desperation among the people like the inhabitants of the earth during the time of Noah, since he built the ark in clear and cloudless days enduring the mockery of his neighbors. Thus, the emphasis of the dominant theme in this particular passage: being vigilant in the faith; to hold fast to the end without wavering.

  • Christians live in the present without losing our sense of eternity, how do you stay vigilant in the faith?
  • Is vigilance more difficult in our society, which is focused more on individualism and consumerism?

Written by Sunshine Dulnuan. Dulnuan is a second year seminarian at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Philippines. She believes that studying theology is a great privilege, especially spending time with the intricate nuances and seeming contradictions in the comprehensive study of God. She plans to further her studies in Systematic Theology after graduating Seminary. She was named Sunshine because of her father’s favorite singer, John Denver.

Download the Bible Study for 1 Advent, Year A.

Bible Study, Christ the King – November 20, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Jeremiah 23:1-6

In this passage, Jeremiah was writing during a time of conflict and fear. Nations were at war and invading each other, and Judah as a nation was right in the middle of it all. Jeremiah’s message, however, was directed not at other nations but at the monarchy of Judah, the southern kingdom of what once was a united Israel. The kings of Judah, according to Jeremiah, were harming the people with their policies and with their lack of reverence for God.

Jeremiah and God tell the kings that this harmful behavior will not be allowed to go on forever and that God will intervene to set things right. The people scattered by war will be brought home. The people confused will find guidance. Jeremiah writes that God “will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” (23:4). In other words, God will raise up leaders who are real leaders, God will raise up shepherds who are true shepherds, and God will raise up kings who are good kings.

Jeremiah turned his attention not on the nations threatening Judah but rather on the monarchy of Judah. In the midst of conflict, what makes it hard for us to look at ourselves and see our own role and mistakes in the conflict?

  • What are the qualities of a good leader? A good member of Congress? A good governor? A good priest? A good bishop?
  • Most importantly, what are the qualities of a disciple of Christ?

Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79), Song of Zechariah

The Song of Zechariah has traditionally been said or sung at Morning Prayer for hundreds of years. It has a very hopeful feeling at the beginning that sets a wonderful tone for the day ahead.

God has come to the people and set them free! God has promised to show mercy to us and set us free from the hands of enemies, and finally the mighty savior has been raised up for us. We are free to worship God without fear, and we are free to be holy and righteous all the days of our life. Sweet freedom!

The second part of this canticle suddenly shifts to “you.” Who is being addressed? The canticle is addressing John the Baptist, who has just been born.

John the Baptist’s father is praising God and telling his infant son of the joys and dangers of the road ahead. John will go before the Lord and give people the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of their sins. John will be a prophet. Being called a prophet is a bittersweet thing, however. The life of a prophet is hard, for it means speaking the truth as a humble servant of God and often being rejected. John the Baptist leads people to repentance, but he lives in the wilderness and is imprisoned and executed by Herod.

  • When we sing or say this canticle together, we remind ourselves that God has raised up salvation for us in Christ, but we are also remind ourselves that this is not an easy road. God saves us and sets us free, but we must walk in God’s way.
  • How can you live like John the Baptist and live his message today?
  • How do you experience the freedom given by God, a freedom that frees you to worship God and to be holy and righteous?

Colossians 1:11-20

In this letter there is an explanation of what Christ has done for us, and it explains how we should act in the world to live out Christ’s salvation. This passage contains a hymn to Christ starting at verse 15, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and going until verse 20, “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (The People’s New Testament Commentary, p. 627).

Can you imagine singing it? Try setting the text to a tune you know: a traditional hymn, chanting, or a contemporary song. The text seems less like a “lecture” on who Christ is, as if it were just listing a bunch of facts about Christ that we need to memorize.

Now the text rejoices: Christ is the image of the invisible God! All things were created through him and for him, and through Christ all things in heaven and on earth may be reconciled to God through the peacemaking of the cross!

That is definitely a hymn of praise. It conveys a strong message, and it helps us to be more joyful in how we give thanks. All these facts about Christ lead us to be joyful and to be strengthened for the journey.

  • What are some of your favorite hymns? How do you feel when singing them? Do you sing them when you are stressed, angry, sad, hurt? Try writing out the text of a hymn to see what it teaches you and what gospel truth it proclaims.
  • Try writing a hymn like this one. What do you love most about Christ? How do you know Christ in your own experience? What images or stories from Scripture come to mind when contemplating Christ?

Luke 23:33-43

On this last Sunday after Pentecost we are reading the story of Christ’s crucifixion, and we are calling today “Christ the King Sunday.” What are we saying about Christ as a king by reading about the crucifixion today? What is being said about kingship?

First, there is the sign that was nailed to the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.” Rome did not do this as a confession of faith. They were showing through a brutal act what happens to the leaders of nations who stand in their way, and they were showing what would happen to anyone who stood up against them. Ironically, Rome is only partly right. This is the King of the Jews, but this is also the King of the Gentiles (and thus King of the Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians – and everyone else).

Second, this is a king whose characteristics are not agreed upon. One of the criminals mocks him, and the other defends him. Some mock him as a Messiah while others confess him as the Messiah. Compare the image of Christ in the Book of Revelation, as the conquering hero coming in glory, to the image of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, as the suffering Messiah. These different images of Jesus show that his kingship is not like earthly kingship in its pomp and extravagance but is still kingship in its power.

Third, what does Jesus say from the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” and “Truly, I tell you, you will be with me in Paradise.” This is a king who does not seek vengeance but reconciliation. (See Colossians 1:11-20, the epistle reading for today.) This king does not tell Rome, “What you’ve done to me, I will do to you,” but rather asks that they be forgiven. Instead of condemning the thief who mocks him, Jesus turns to the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and gives him a promise of hope and peace.

  • What qualities from your list of leadership qualities for today’s Jeremiah reading are shown here in Jesus?
  • What images of Christ in the New Testament or church tradition speak most to you? What images do not speak to you? What can you learn from both sets of images?
  • How does one forgive such injustice and brutality? How can reconciliation and hope be brought to a world in need?

Written by Joseph Farnes. This Bible Study originally ran on November 24, 2013.

Download the Bible Study for Proper 29(C).

Bible Study, Proper 28(C) – November 13, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Isaiah 65:17-25

In this passage, we encounter the prophet Isaiah speaking to the Jewish people who have returned from their exile in Babylon. Despite the fact that they were no longer exiled, Isaiah’s audience was not particularly well off. Instead of returning to the sparkling city that was prophesied throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the Jewish people in the generations following the exile had not recovered and still lived in a dilapidated, crumbling Jerusalem, a Jerusalem that was far from what they have been expecting.

Yet the prophet Isaiah has a message of hope for the post-exilic Jews, a message that can offer us hope, too. We hear the message that the Lord God will “create new heavens and a new earth” (v. 17) and “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (v. 25). This message is one of restoration, of newness, and of peaceful coexistence, but it is also a radical promise of an entirely new creation. The same God who created the world and brought abundant life out of a formless void will once again create order and beauty out of disarray, confusion and trials.

  • What sort of practices do you have in your spiritual life that help you feel refreshed, restored and renewed?

Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12)

In this song of praise, we once again hear the perspective of the post-exilic Jews who have been through trying times but who have also heard the promise of restoration and are still awaiting this future day of transformation. This text is a vision of what the people will say to God on the day when God’s promises are fulfilled.

The line “Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation” (v. 3) presents a particularly striking image. Although drawing water may be a foreign chore to us in the present day, it would have been a task all too familiar to Isaiah’s original audience. This task of drawing water, one pot or bucket at a time, would have been tedious and labor-intensive but was utterly necessary for living; water must be drawn for drinking, cooking and agriculture. This task was absolutely essential and, although perhaps difficult, had a life-giving result. Like the chore of drawing water, our relationships with God can be this way, too. Despite toil and struggles, we have the hope and promise of eternal life and salvation through relationship because, as the prophet promises, it is God who saves us.

  • What are challenges in your daily life that give you the opportunity to “draw water with rejoicing”? That is, where in your life can your struggles and frustrations lead to a deeper, life-giving relationship with God?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

It is quite easy to moralize this passage and use it to pass judgments on others, especially since it contains phrases like “Anyone unwilling to works should not eat” (v. 10). Yet, this passage also offers us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be in community, particularly to consider the difficulties and frustrations of life in a Christian community.

How, then, should Christians treat each other? We are called by God to love our neighbors as ourselves, but what does that mean? For Paul, in communication with the Thessalonians, this means to not be idle. When we are idle, we place a burden on other people. If I don’t clean up after myself, someone else will have to. In choosing idleness, I am making a choice for myself but also a choice to burden those affected by my actions.

But idleness can also affect our relationships with God. When we are idle, we are not giving our best to God, which does a disservice both to God and to ourselves. We are shirking our calling as children of God, called into loving relationship. Instead of idleness, we must choose to be active in our relationships, with God and those around us, giving the very best of ourselves to those with whom God calls us into relationship.

  • Are you idle or active in your relationship with God?
  • If you are idle, what can you do to be more active? If you are active in your relationship with God, how do you sustain that relationship?

Luke 21:5-19

Throughout the gospels, we witness Jesus critiquing the temple and its authorities: This is the same temple that was cleansed by Jesus and the same temple where Jesus denounced the scribes. The corruption of the temple authorities, those who are supposed to be religious and societal leaders, is leading people away from right worship of God and must be destroyed in order to bring people into right relationship.

As this passage continues, Jesus warns his followers of the difficulties that are in store for them: arrest, persecution and betrayal. It certainly doesn’t make the path of discipleship sound appealing. Yet as difficult as this passage can be, it ends with a promise: “But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (v. 18-19). By the time this gospel was written, the temple in Jerusalem had, in fact, been destroyed and Jesus’ words had been fulfilled. And if Jesus was right about the temple, can’t we also believe his promise that, if we follow him, not a hair on our heads will perish? In the face of corruption, Jesus is a trusted name, and by following him, we can rest in the promise of new life.

Like the temple scribes in Jesus’ time, we all have people or influences in our lives that can get in the way of our relationship with God.

  • Who or what stands in the way of your relationship with God?
  • In the face of trials and difficulties, how do you find God’s promise in your life?

Written by Jordan TrumbleThis Bible Study originally ran on November 17, 2013.

Download the Bible Study for Proper 28(C).

Christ the King – Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost(C)

Recognizing the various approaches to Christ the King, here are several alternate sermons available for use on this Sunday:


[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

When you think of a king what image immediately comes to mind? A man wearing a crown and regal clothing? Perhaps someone who is powerful living in a royal palace?

In the time of Jesus, the ruling monarch of Rome had absolute power on earth and was worshipped as a son of the gods. Any challenge to Caesar’s authority would be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In ancient Israel the king was not only the head of state, but also served in the role as a type of high priest. Israeli kings were often considered messianic figures sent by Yahweh to deliver the nation from those who sought to oppress them.

The Jews of Jesus’ time continued to long for the day that a messiah would come and deliver them from their oppressors and restore the fortunes of Israel. First Century Jewish messianism was wrought with dreams of military victory over their Roman occupiers, the expulsion of all Gentiles from the Holy Land, and a newly established nation of Israel founded upon biblical principles. It is no wonder that the Roman overlords and King Herod, their vassal king, viewed potential usurpers with extreme caution.

It is into this political turmoil and heightened apocalyptic fervor that Jesus was born – and crucified. Jesus, a poor carpenter and itinerate preacher from a small town, could hardly be confused with being a king. Yet for a brief moment, his followers dared to dream that he may indeed have been the long-awaited messiah.

There was nothing regal about him at all. His rag-tag group of followers were from the lowest classes of society. He attracted Samaritans, lepers, demoniacs, tax collectors, fishermen, women of ill repute, the poor, and those marginalized by the ruling class of religious leaders. At best, Jesus could easily be confused with the many other zealots and rabble rousers that appeared on the scene during Rome’s occupation of Palestine. Adding more irony to the situation is the fact that Jesus’ parentage was questionable due to the fact that Mary became pregnant before marrying Joseph. Everything Jesus owned he wore, down to his worn-out sandals.

Under Pontius Pilot, the Roman governor stationed in Jerusalem, Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, a form of punishment reserved for the lowest classes of criminals and traitors. It was the most ignominious form of capital punishment. The sign on the cross proclaiming Jesus as “This is the King of the Jews” was not honorific, but was meant as a joke and an insult. Simply put, it labeled Jesus as a mere traitor and reminder to future rebels what awaited them if they resisted the Roman Empire. Jesus hung with criminals on the outskirts of Jerusalem, naked and bleeding from his wounds, a pitiful sight meant to instill fear among the Jewish population. To the average person, Jesus was no king, but a man whose life and ministry was cut short. But Jesus’ journey to kingship begins on the Cross in accordance with God’s will for humanity.

The Church has done a disservice through the generations in the manner in which it has proclaimed Jesus as King of Kings. Early religious artwork portraying our Lord shows him dressed in the simple clothing of his time, but as the Episcopate became temporal rulers, and the Church gained status in the eyes of emperors and kings, the image of Christ began to take on a more grandiose look. He was portrayed wearing the regal robes of rulers and potentates. By doing so, secular rulers used the image of King Jesus to justify their own dynastic rule – ones that were often despotic and cruel.

The Church became complicit in supporting these secular rulers, and Church rulers often were just as powerful and cruel in their own right. As the Church amassed great armies, King Jesus became a warrior king, leading his faithful troops into battle against the infidels. Jesus, the King of Kings, was no longer a simple poor itinerate rabbi from Palestine who took mercy on the poor and outcast, and submitted to death on the cross, but he now took on the look of European monarchs – white, wealthy, dressed in flowing robes, and wearing a jeweled diadem. Sadly, this is a far cry from who Jesus truly is and the message he proclaimed that resulted in his crucifixion.

Jesus’ journey to kingship was no easy endeavor. Our Lord had to learn humility through obedience to God’s will – obedience even unto death on a cross. Jesus is no ordinary king who rules over his subjects with absolute authority and power. He is the Suffering Messiah, one who came into the world and dwelt among humanity, being tempted in all things without sin.

Jesus earned his kingship by first becoming a servant of all. “If you want to become great,” he taught his disciples, “you must first become a servant.” Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, washed his disciples’ feet, fed the hungry, took pity on those who suffered, ate with sinners, forgave sins, spoke out against injustice, challenged the status quo, welcomed the social outcasts, and took on the mantle of poverty and obscurity. Although he existed in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but became human and lived among those deemed unworthy and marginalized by society.

If we profess Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, do we then live as his subjects? Is Jesus’ kingship just an honorific we bestow upon him without allowing him to have any real influence on the day-to-day actions in our lives, or do we really live as if he is our sovereign – seeking his will in all aspects of our lives? If Jesus who is King and Lord identified with the least in this world, are we willing to also identify with the least as well?

Jesus was not elevated to king status in order for us to dress him in regal roles and place him far above humanity. Rather, his kingdom is not of this world. The least in this world are considered the greatest in his kingdom.

Our king is no ordinary king. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. God has put all things under subjection to his Christ who is under God so that God may be all in all. Glory to Christ the King who through sacrifice and humility has shown us the way to God. Amen!

Written by The Rev. Timothy G. Warren. Warren is the founder and pastor of St. Francis Independent Old Catholic Church, an emergent outreach ministry in California’s High Desert Region, and President/CEO of LifeSkills Development, a nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to at-risk young adults.

Download the sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost(C), Christ the King.

Bible Study, Proper 27(C) – November 6, 2016

[RCL] Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22 or Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Lately there have been disastrous shakings of earth and sky as hurricane season is upon us. Many have lost their homes, and hundreds upon hundreds have lost their lives. The prophecy of Haggai is directed towards the “remnant of the people,” those that are left in the midst of ruin and turmoil. Their temple is in ruin, and the glory of their city lies in rubble. Haggai prophecies into destruction, calling the people three times in this passage to “take courage.” God promises to be with the remnant on the liminal edges of potentiality and possibility, just as God was with them as they fled Egypt and walked into the unknown. “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”

  • What in your life, region, or community currently lies in ruin?
  • How is God empowering you to “work, for I am with you” for the restoration of what is damaged?
  • In the midst of instability and chaos, what does courage mean to you?

Psalm 98

Saint Augustine famously said, those who sing pray twice. This Psalm of exaltation and praise calls the people to join with creation in the celebration of what God has done for them. Why are we to sing to God? Because God “has done marvelous things.” God “remembers his mercy and faithfulness” to the people, thus we are called to remember what God has done for us and join in creation’s hymn. Psalm 98 calls the people to “shout with joy,” and “lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.” This Canticle highlights the goodness of embodiment, reminding us of the importance of utilizing our voices, talents, musical abilities, and creation in communally celebrating God.

  • Have you ever “shouted with joy” towards God?
  • Has singing out loud in prayer ever been a challenge for you?
  • If you were to compose a “new song” directed towards God right now, what might it say or sound like?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Where we perceive we are headed often shapes how we live in the present moment and understand ourselves. Many of us carry scars on our psyches that leave us feeling fractured from the God of our present and future. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians speaks to the people in the midst of their anxiety over “the day of the Lord.” Paul calls the people not to live in anxiety or be “quickly shaken.” Paul’s letter ends with a call to comfort and rest in the God “who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.”

  • What images of “end times” were prevalent in your childhood?
  • What shaped and formed your ideas about “the end”?
  • What gives you comfort and hope?

Luke 20:27-38

The Sadducees approach Jesus in this story in an attempt to trip him up. They project the current customs of human life onto the life of the resurrection. Jesus reverses their logic, stating that the “children of the resurrection” do not die, marry, or are bound by the laws of mortality. Throughout Christian history there has been a tendency to divorce spirit from the body, and to consider marriage or sexual relationships contaminating or desacralizing: this passage has been used in this manner. This passage attests to the life present in the resurrection; Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham are all listed as distinct living persons. Christian doctrine has been committed to the embodied and personal nature of the resurrection; yet Jesus is clear in this passage, the resurrected life will be quite different from the present life.

  • What elements of embodied human life speak to or foreshadow the “life to come”?
  • What does your relational life (be it friendship, family, a spouse, or an intimate partner) speak to you about the meaning of human life? How does that meaning relate to life in the resurrection?

Written by Leigh M Kern. Kern is a transitional deacon working at Saint James Cathedral in the diocese of Toronto and Anglican Church of Canada. She is on the Primate’s Commission on Justice and Healing. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she also served in New Haven as a chaplain working with people living with addictions and poverty. In her free time Leigh enjoys print making and writing music.  

Download the Bible Study for Proper 27(C).

Faithfulness to the Vision – Special Election Season Sermon

[RCL] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

How might we as followers of Jesus faithfully respond to an increasingly contentious political season? We find light shed on this rather contemporary issue from an ancient source in the little studied biblical book of Habakkuk. The prophet tells how God meets out justice at a national and even global scale and the part that then leaves for you and me.

Habakkuk is shoe-horned in to the back of the Hebrew scripture along with eleven other slim books known collectively as the Minor Prophets. The Minor Prophets  are called Minor as the books are shorter, but no less important. Through Habakkuk, we learn more about God’s and the little book packs a wallop because the prophet has some things to say about God’s justice that are not so easy to hear.

Habakkuk is what you get when you cross a more traditional prophet like Amos or Isaiah with the not-afraid-to-complain-about-God-to-God’s-face character of Job. Like Amos or Isaiah, Habakkuk is righteously indignant about the moral decay of the world in which he lives. Habakkuk looks at the utter unfairness and sometimes downright evilness he sees all around him and he cries out to God with words that sound like they come from one of David’s Psalms of lament. The prophet says,

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

Habakkuk is sick and tired of being sick and tired at the status quo he sees in Israel. Habakkuk wants God to shake things up, stop the violence, and make a dramatic stand for the poor and the oppressed. Then we get God’s reply to Habakkuk. God answers saying,

Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.

God goes on with a typical response to a prophet. God tells Habakkuk that the Southern Kingdom of Israel, which sees itself as invincible, will fall in battle to the Chaldeans. The people pervert justice and promote strife and contention. The people have turned their backs on God. So God will let a great enemy overtake the people. This is the type of judgment we read in other prophets, major and minor.

The difference with Habakkuk is that this time the prophet gets mad at God’s answer. Habakkuk hears that God’s justice will come in the form of the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of his barbarous hoard out of Chaldea. Habakkuk says this is no justice at all.

God says he will rouse the Chaldeans against Israel. That would be like telling people during the Cold War that God will rouse the Russians to sweep across America, taking it in battle. In fact, this is probably as scandalous to Habakkuk as claiming that God’s justice was coming to America through the work of terrorists.

What kind of justice is this? The prophet wants to know and he is not afraid to challenge God for a better answer. Habakkuk changes his approach saying, “why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?”

God doesn’t make the peeved prophet wait for long. Habakkuk writes,

“Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”

God says that there is a greater vision of justice still coming. We have to wait for the greater justice. In the meantime, the righteous are to live by faith. But the translation faith is not completely right. Faithfulness is another translation more in line with the meaning of the Hebrew. Faith is agreement to a belief. Faithfulness is the practice of being faithful. More than just head knowledge, faithfulness comes with action.

Let’s stop to see what Habakkuk learned. God metes out justice on a global scale in two ways. The first is that some justice is hard-wired into creation. You cannot oppress your people forever. If you have an unjust nation, that nation will fall. It’s just the way the world works. As Habakkuk finds out, the unwanted side effect is that the nation that replaces the unjust one is often unjust as well. This fact of how the world works has been proved again and again through history. Great nations rise, become unjust and fall only to be replaced by yet another unjust kingdom. It’s a fallen world and any political system falls short of the peace and justice for all creation which God’s promised kingdom will bring.

That brings us to the second form of justice. God promises that the future will bring an age of perfect peace and justice. God says that even if this vision seems far off, to wait patiently for it. There is a better way coming. We have to hold fast to that vision even when what we see all around us is an unjust world.

Habakkuk shows us that while we are not responsible for the great world events that can swirl around us, we are responsible for being faithful. Just as Christians were called to faithfulness when the Roman Empire in which they were citizens wanted to persecute them. We are called to look to the coming Kingdom of God, say our prayers and vote for the candidates who we hope will come closer to helping that vision come to pass. Christians will say their prayers and come to different conclusions. This has always been so. The coming justice that is the Reign of God does not depend on us alone, or even us primarily. God is bringing justice both through the way the world is wired and through the coming kingdom. That greater justice is God’s concern, not ours.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to faithfulness in how we treat others matters even more than how we vote. We do this by respecting the dignity of those with whom we disagree. God’s will shall work it’s way toward justive even if we select the evil of the lessers for any given office. For the justice we long for can work through our votes, but the reign of God does not ultimately depend on any given election. What does depend on us is our own faithfulness in the meantime. How do your conversation and your social media posts reflect your faith? How might you better live in to Jesus’ call not just to love God, but to love your neighbor as yourself?

We are challenged by our faith in Jesus to find work toward a way of living that is different because we have glimpsed God’s vision for our world. Even with little bits of faithfulness, we might see our world transformed to something closer to God’s vision. If all Christians would muster the faithfulness to see Christ in others, especially those who favor a candidate we loathe, those wave of internal changes could turn back the angry tide. While I can’t change others, I can at least seek to be faithful, trusting God to handle the larger issues of justice. Amen.

Written by The Rev. Canon Frank Logue. 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 election season sermon for Proper 26(C).

Bible Study, All Saints (C) – November 1, 2016

[RCL] Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Visions and dreams in the Bible are fascinating, perhaps because they are often considered sacred. At the time that Daniel was living, these visions were interpreted to be about politics, foretelling a possible future. Daniel decided to write down his dream and also to seek out someone else to help him make sense of what he had seen.

  • Do you interpret your dreams?
  • What might God be telling you in your dreams?
  • Who do you trust to help you interpret things in your life? 

Psalm 149

The beginning of this psalm is all about joy and rejoicing. Praise God with song, and dance, and noise. So often we get used to the quiet in our liturgy, and we forget that it is okay to bring our shouts to God as well. God asks for us to love with all that we have, and that includes dancing with our bodies and shouting with our lungs. We are told that ‘the Lord takes pleasure in His people,’ and we should take pleasure in God too!

  • How can the praises of God be in our throat?
  • What are you afraid to bring to God, and how might you think of it as worship?

Ephesians 1:11-23

This letter to the Ephesians suggests that we “might live for the praise of Christ’s glory.” I am always struck in reading through this set of letters how important it is to encourage one another in faith. Christianity is not undertaken alone, but rather is the work of community – it takes all of us speaking words of encouragement to one another so that we might not forget Christ and what He has done for us.

  • Who is someone you can pray for, to encourage them in the faith?
  • What do you think is ‘the hope to which we are called?’ 

Luke 6:20-31

On this All Saints celebration, the words of the beatitudes are particularly striking, specifically in the places where Jesus mentions “for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” We are connected to those who came before us, and it can be powerful to remember our place. I am reminded that each of us walks on the shoulders of our ancestors, and brings to life a legacy much larger than us. We walk in the footsteps of giants – not just in the ones who came before us in our family, but also in the ones who came before us in our story of faith. A beautiful song by Sweet Honey in the Rock, is called We Are.

“We are our Grandmother’s prayers. We are our grandfather’s dreamings. We are the breath of the ancestors. We are the spirit of God”.

We are in a moment of time now to think not only of the ones whose footsteps we walk in, or whose shoulders we are carried on – but also to think about the legacy that we are leaving for the next generation.

  • What are we doing to the prophets of this age?
  • How will we carry our future generations on our shoulders?

Written by Jazzy Bostock. Bostock is a self-described sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising, Native Hawaiian woman attending seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. She is “grateful for the opportunity God has given me to be here, and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.”

Download the Bible Study for All Saints, Year C.

Special Bulletin Insert: Responding to Hurricane Matthew

Episcopal Relief & Development urges prayers for communities in the Caribbean and along the US East Coast in the potential path of Hurricane Matthew.

Episcopal Relief & Development is reaching out
to partners in the hurricane’s path. Following the storm’s impact, local churches are best-positioned to aid in assessing damage, confirming the safety of members and others in their communities and using available facilities and resources to respond to immediate needs.

Your contribution to the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund helps Episcopal Relief & Development support Church and other local partners as they provide critical emergency assistance.

You can download the bulletin inserts HERE.

Bible Study, Proper 26(C) – October 30, 2016

[RCL] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Habakkuk’s prophecy begins with pointed questions addressed to God. Habakkuk sees injustice all around. He cries to God, but feels that God does not listen, or does not save. To hear Habakkuk tell it, God even makes Habakkuk witness wrongdoing and evil, and nothing is done about it. In short, Habakkuk is a prophet for our times, who seethes at injustice and isn’t afraid to demand where God is. The whole first chapter is a description of just such a trying situation. Far from giving up in frustration or surrendering to injustice, however, Habakkuk resolves to remain faithful. In return, God promises justice, and that the proud will be humbled, and the righteous will live.

  • What situations or issues today make you wonder where God is?
  • Just as Habakkuk resolved to stand at his watch-post, how can you remain faithful to God and God’s mission in the face of injustice?

Psalm 119:137-144

In this section of Psalm 119, the Psalmist is vexed that God’s word is not being followed properly. God and God’s decrees are described as good, upright, and just. For the Psalmist, following God’s word is both an obligation and a delight. Despite being “small” and “of little account,” the author of this song to God follows God’s word, and prays that all creation will do likewise. Moreover, the Psalmist seeks understanding of God’s word, and that understanding is equated with life. God sits in righteous judgment of all, but many simply do not realize, or do not understand. Yet even in distress, the author revels in God’s commandments.

  • In what ways do we fail to recognize God’s justice and faithfulness?
  • What is the benefit of recognizing oneself as “small” and “of little account” in relation to God?
  • What understanding might we pray for, in relation to God’s will for us and for the world?

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

In the beginning of his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives thanks for the faithfulness and love found in that community. He says that he holds them up as an example to everyone he meets, and also that he continues to pray for them, that they might continue along the path that they seem to be on. In addition to faith and love, however, Paul prays for resolve for them, and works of faith. He prays that these will occur by God’s power, but it is clear that he thinks these a naturally outgrowth or next step following from faithfulness. It is by resolve and good works that Paul says the name of Jesus will be glorified in the community.

  • Is there someone whose faithfulness and love you admire? Have you thought about praying for them, that they might continue on this path?
  • Have you ever asked anyone to pray for your faith, or that you might be more loving?
  • What works do you feel that God may be leading you to? How might you work to glorify the name of Jesus in your community?

Luke 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is an interesting one. Jesus simply happens to be passing through Jericho when he sees Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree and tells him to come down so that Jesus can stay at his home that evening. Zacchaeus, of course, is a rich man and a tax collector, and for this reason is a known sinner in the community. He has profited off of his neighbors. And yet, Jesus still comes to him. In the end, Zacchaeus gives away half of his possessions to the poor and pays back anyone he has wronged, but he promises to do so only after he encounters Jesus. Jesus uses Zacchaeus as an example, proclaiming that he, too, is a son of Abraham. While we often speak (and rightly so) of a preferential option for the poor. Zacchaeus, however, is something of a counterexample, showing us that while we should indeed privilege the marginalized, that does not necessarily mean that we should marginalize the privileged.

  • How do we as Christians bring the Gospel to all, even those we might think to be sinners?
  • What privileges might you have that could be used to spread the Good News?

Written by Ian Lasch. Lasch graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in May 2016. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate in the same month through the Diocese of Georgia, and now serves as the Associate Rector for Formation and Fellowship at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis, MO.

Download the Bible Study for Proper 26(C).