Archives for December 2016

Bible Study, Epiphany 4(A) – January 29, 2017

[RCL] Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Micah 6:1-8

God is clearly disappointed in Judah’s lack of faith in action in this passage from Micah who prophesied in late 8thC BCE to the elites of Jerusalem. It comes at a time when temple worship was at an all-time high, their coffers overflowing. And yet, there existed huge disparities in the social fabric of the kingdom. Micah’s voice is one that speaks out loudly against the injustice of land-grab schemes that exploited subsistence farmers, forcing them into survival loans with administrative elites, and leading to loss of land inheritances, creating a class of indentured peasants. “It’s just business”, the people say. “Aren’t we meeting our temple obligations and then some? God, what more do you want from us?”

It’s surprising how easy it can be to be lulled into believing we are meeting our end of the bargain with God, simply because that’s what we believe. Our pledge is paid on time; we come to worship without fail. Those actions are important as faithful members of our churches, but God shakes us free from our amnesia to remember we are also called to be faithful members of our communities and the world. Inaction in the face of injustice makes us complicit in those wrongs. Putting our faith into action, “walking the walk” in step with God and our neighbor is the “more” that is asked of us.

  • What are the things we offer up to God as evidence of our faith?
  • How can we transform our experience and participation in Sunday liturgy beyond the door of the church where it truly becomes the “work of the people”?
  • If we recognize practices in our society that prey on the most vulnerable among us, how might we as Christians respond?

Psalm 15

Who is worthy to enter into the temple? What are our credentials? What certifies our internal purity? This is the opportunity for reflection the psalmist offers to us as we seek an audience with the Holy One. The evidence we are asked to show is not focused on God directly, but rather through the lens of our interactions with others children of God.

Listed in the foundational qualities of those living a blameless life: truth telling, rejecting gossip and rumors, making it our business to put emphasis on the well-being of others, and reliance on God in all things – we can recognize our own Baptismal vows. This is not a badge we proudly display at the temple gates for proper ritualistic practice, but our evidence of living an ethical life. Engaging practices such as the Ignatian Examen or the 10th (daily review) and 11th (prayer and meditation) steps of the Twelve Steps of AA can be helpful tools for regular self-examination and for seeking God’s guidance as we seek to abide in the Holy dwelling.

  • How are we actively living out our Baptismal vows in ways that support our efforts to live “a blameless life”?
  • What practices of self-examination are present in your life today? How is God present for you in them?
  • We might also pause to ask ourselves where and how the psalmist points us toward examining where our own personal and societal actions may serve to include or to exclude others from full and joyous participation in the community. Is the price for their entrance different from what we ourselves expect to provide?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

It is intriguing to think about God as “The Fool”. The role of the fool in Shakespeare’s plays is much more than that of the man with the funny hat who plays the idiot, bumbling around, and amusing others at his own expense. The character of the fool is often employed to point to the absurdity of those in power and to introduce subversive themes to a plot. “That of course, is the great secret of the successful fool; that is, that he is no fool at all.” (Isaac Asimov)

Paul is spending all the equity he has garnered with the Corinthian community to unite them in the reality of God’s great foolishness enacted by Christ’s death on the Cross. Followers of the gospel Paul preached and taught are being confused and drawn away to follow dynamic preachers with a message more appealing than the embarrassment and shame of the crucifixion. Paul’s concern is not for himself but for the salvation of the beloved community who are diverted from their devotion in the God whose death on the cross and resurrection is the ultimate counterintuitive subversion.

  • What are some compelling messages preached by “experts” in our society that might draw us away from God’s central hopes and purposes for us?
  • Is Paul inferring we should disregard the gifts of wisdom and discernment we have been given by God?
  • In what ways are we called to be God’s countercultural fools?

Matthew 5: 1-12

Jesus’ teachings in this prelude to the Sermon on the Mount are specifically directed to his apostles. The phrases beginning with ”Blessed are” are very familiar to us as modern day Christians; so familiar we may have a representation of them hanging on a wall in our homes.  But we are far removed from the context in which they were delivered. At the time Matthew was writing the account of the Master’s words, his listeners would have understood the very real and present turmoil that Jesus’ followers were experiencing as a minority community of believers living under an oppressive regime. They would have embraced the consolation Jesus offered and understood being “Blessed” as their inclusion in the coming Kingdom when Christ will return to bring justice and peace.

A beatitude often misinterpreted in our own contemporary reading of the scripture refers to “those who mourn.” Rather than referring to the loss of a loved one in death, Matthew’s contemporaries would have been distressed, “poor in spirit”, by the injustice, inequality and violence of life in the Roman Empire, conditions far from the hopes of God for his people. Likewise, “the meek” are not those who simply allow themselves to be walked upon by the strong, but instead, because they are humble, they are open to and welcome their reliance on God, insuring their place in the new order.

  • Where in our common life might mourning and lament be helpful responses?
  • How might practicing humility before God and others be an empowering force in your life?
  • Is there a beatitude you find meaningful in your own life? Why?

Written by Sandi Albom. Albom is a seminarian in her final year at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. She is currently serving as an intern at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Peterborough, NH. Sandi is an RN and is called to ministry in the recovery community and with people whose lives have been affected by addiction. She and her husband Bob live in Manchester, NH with their two feline companions, Mandy and Quinn.

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 4(A).

Think Again, Epiphany 3(A) – January 22, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Today is January 22nd and we are just about three weeks into 2017. Did you make any resolutions this year? If you did, how are they holding up?

New Year’s resolutions can be big or small. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • This year, I will eat less, drink less, exercise more.
  • This year, I will put down my phone and pay attention to the people around me.
  • This year, I will find a place to volunteer and make a difference in the world.

Making a New Year’s resolution is a kind of repentance. We make New Year’s resolutions because we recognize our ongoing need for conversion to the new life of God’s Kingdom. We know that we aren’t living up to the full potential God is calling us to. We are sorry for falling short, and we promise to do better in the future.

Now that three weeks have passed, we may already have to repent for not living up to the resolutions we made. But that’s okay: God always accepts our repentance. As long as we continue to turn toward God, God will be there to welcome us.

There’s more to repentance than personal conversion, however. Being sorry and promising to be better is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. In fact, the “being sorry” part of repentance really isn’t going to help you change your ways until you get an idea of what that the bigger picture is.

Let’s consider the word in the Gospel that is translated “repent.” The Greek word Jesus uses is “metanoia” (met-an’-oy-ah). “Meta” is a preposition that can be translated many different ways, but usually it means “after.” “Noia” is a verb and means “to think,” “to perceive.” Put them together and you have something like, “to think after,” “to see after.”

But—after what? The interesting thing about this word—about repentance—is that the word itself implies a two-way street. Repentance isn’t just something we do to or for God. We aren’t able to do it—to repent—until after God comes to us and opens our eyes and enables our response. Only then are we able “to think after.” Perhaps the English phrase that catches the meaning best is “to think again.” God enables us to think again about our actions, to think better about them, and to change our ways going forward.

In the Gospel of Matthew today, Jesus announces the beginning of his ministry with the words, “Repent! For the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” Or as we might translate it: “Think again! God’s Kingdom is almost here.”

This declaration is the starting point for all of Jesus’ teaching. Everything that comes after grows out of his idea that God’s Kingdom is coming to displace the Kingdoms of the world that have perpetuated injustice and impoverished God’s people.

Jesus comes out of the wilderness proclaiming this message, but we aren’t really told to whom. The assumption that most people make is that repentance is primarily a personal matter: I had better repent of my own personal sin. And of course, we had better— we are all better off when we do repent. But in this passage, “repentance” is not the message Jesus brings to individuals. Individuals like Peter and Andrew and James and John (and perhaps, you and me) get a different message: “Follow me.”

So then, who is the recipient of the “repent” message? Think again—the kingdom of heaven has come near! There is a challenge in this pronouncement. Who is Jesus really telling to step aside? It isn’t the common people, like Peter and John, the people down on the ground. The coming of God’s Kingdom is good news for the poor.

The person who’s got to be worried if a new king shows up is the old king. In this case it was Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, and all of Caesar’s client kings and subordinate rulers and hangers-on who benefited from his reign. Now why would Caesar need to think again?

This is a good question, and its answer is tied to another question you may be asking: why exactly were Peter and Andrew and John and the others so eager to quit fishing for fish and start fishing for people? It seems remarkable how quickly they respond to Jesus’ invitation. “Follow me,” Jesus says, and Matthew tells us, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” They give up their livelihoods without a second thought to follow an itinerant preacher around the Galilean countryside.

This response is remarkable, but maybe not as remarkable as it seems. For us, of course, if we think of fishing at all, we are much more likely to think of a sunny mountain stream or a lazy afternoon on a boat. But Peter and Andrew and John weren’t fishing for sport—they were fishing to survive. They were merely cogs in the economy of the Roman Empire. In fact, fishermen were so heavily taxed for the right to fish the sea of Galilee that their backbreaking labor netted them just enough to survive, but little else.

You can begin to see why Jesus was put to death by the Roman authorities as a political revolutionary: the first act of his ministry was to tell the Emperor to “think again,” and in the next moment, to liberate some of the cogs in the Emperor’s great machine.

The Roman Empire seems long ago and far away—something fantastical and unreal that we know only from television and movies. The real Roman Empire wasn’t a good place to be a peasant. By Jesus’ time it was a totalitarian domination system. Which we like to think has nothing to do with us, safe in our modern western democracy.

Nevertheless, the picture God is trying to reveal to us through these stories from long ago—part of the thing that will help us “think again” and maybe alter our course—is that concentrated wealth and power still tend to be bad news for those at the bottom of the economic system.

There are still powers and rulers in our world today, in government or in business, who abuse their position to benefit themselves and their friends, to the detriment of the vast majority of God’s people. How are we to resist these powers? Especially when most of us benefit in some way because the system is set up the way it is. Can we build a world where resources are shared and not hoarded? Where God’s love and God’s justice rule? Where Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of heaven becomes a reality?

Jesus is calling us to join in this work. His invitation today is: Follow me. It is up to us to build God’s Kingdom, and Jesus tells us that we can. When we repent. When we think again. Every time we open our hands and hearts to share God’s abundance with those in need brings God’s Kingdom closer. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for it—your Kingdom come on earth, as in heaven.

Amen.

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

Download the sermon for Epiphany 3(A).

Bible Study, Epiphany 3(A) – January 22, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Isaiah 9:1-4

Transformation is at hand! One might look at this passage as a song of restoration because Isaiah is telling Israel to take heart, as they have lived through a conquest in which the tribal territories of Zebulun and Naphtali were captured (by the Assyrians). But Isaiah is clear that there is even more than restoration ahead: the gloom will vanish, and there will be joy and exultation.

Israel will be saved from the darkness of their oppression. Isaiah tells of their coming liberation from the “yoke of their burden,” which is the “rod of their oppressor,” using a story from their history. He reminds the people of the way Gideon delivered Israel “as on the day of Midian.” Now of course Isaiah is clear about the ultimate source of this generation’s deliverance. We know this because if we read a few lines beyond this passage, Isaiah credits the Lord of hosts with Israel’s delivery.

However, Isaiah also tells us that the people of Israel have a role. Not only will they “see a great light,” but also the light will shine on them! In dark times, we all look for hope to sustain us until we can see the great light again. Why might God shine the light on Israel? What if that light shines on the people because God is showing them that from their own selves can come a way out of desperate times? What if that light is a commissioning? 

  • In what way might you be bearing a yoke of oppression in your own life?
  • How might you be benefitting from or contributing to the oppression of others?
  • In what ways might the Light be shining on you to take responsibility for a way out of darkness? How might you be the fulfillment of God’s promise to someone else?

Psalm 27:1, 5-13

God is an inexhaustible source of strength and courage for the psalmist, the well that never runs dry. Oh, to be swept up in such joy that one’s fondest wish is to drink deeply of it until the end of time! This is a love song to God, and we can feel the frisson, our pulse picking up as we fall into ecstatic love with the Divine.

Anyone who has ever been in love will recognize not only the joy in one’s Beloved, but also the desire to express the depth of one’s devotion. But this is not a song to the human love of one’s life: this is a love song to the ultimate – to God! And this Beloved is, for each one of us, our light, our salvation. So, who can be afraid when swept up into love with the most powerful force in the universe? Okay, well maybe we are a little afraid that something will go wrong and we’ll lose it. The psalmist speaks for everyone who has ever been in a state of great love and then said either silently or aloud, ‘please don’t ever leave me.’

“Do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.” But no, not this God. This is the God who will always speak in our hearts and say “Seek my face.” And may we ever do so.

  • What does it mean to seek God’s face? What does God’s face look like to you?
  • The psalmist asks that he (or she!) may “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of [my] life.” What does that mean to dwell in the house of the Lord?
  • Why are you afraid?

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

It’s hard not to read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians without thinking of how applicable this message is to any church in the 21st century. Christians are humans and we disagree on many things even within a single denomination. Paul’s organization in this letter to the young church in Corinth is so important, first reminding the people that they are brothers and sisters—a family now, and then reminding them in whose name they are united: Jesus.

For the church in Corinth to be strong and healthy, the basis of their unity is in the mind and purpose of Jesus. That’s different than urging people to agree with one another in an accord of their own. Paul continuously points to Jesus, telling the Good News, and reminding the people that it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ, not of his own ministry. He keeps pointing to the cross because if the people will only look to him, their unity will fall apart when he is not present.

Paul knows that he must pay attention to many places where gentiles will hear his message, because he believes that he must invite everyone into the Body of Christ. That is the mission that God has called him to, a mission of inclusivity! Paul powerfully reminds the church members: it’s not his (Paul’s) church. Nor is it Apollos’ nor Cephas’ church. The church is the Body of Christ.

  • What are some ways in which your church may have disagreements, and how might you come to a meeting of the minds?
  • What does Paul mean in V. 18 when he says “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”?
  • Paul urges the people to be united and in the same mind and in the same purpose. What is that purpose?

Matthew 4:12-23

Does this look familiar? Matthew shows us the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (today’s Hebrew Bible reading) in this passage. Jesus receives the news that John has been arrested, and immediately picks up on John’s message of repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus goes beyond John’s message, now taking up his ministry in earnest. He knows that he will need a team, and he calls his first four disciples—two sets of brothers. It is especially noteworthy that both sets of brothers are said to have immediately left and followed Jesus. They did not stop to think about it and discern what they should do—when Jesus called, they said “yes,” and immediately followed him.

So, Jesus and his disciples hit the road throughout Galilee. He did what Jewish men did in the first century when they wanted to worship, receive or give instruction and talk about God; he went to the synagogues. Jesus worked within the cultural structure of his time.

But he also went beyond proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom from the bema of a synagogue. Matthew’s passage records in Jesus’ travels throughout Galilee, he cured “every disease and every sickness among the people.” How extraordinary!

  • What are some ways in which Jesus has called you to follow him? How long did it take you to decide what to do?
  • What is the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry, and why do you suppose that a distinction is made between “disease” and “sickness”?
  • When Jesus, and previously John, say “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” what do they mean? Is it spatially near (close by) or temporally near (soon to arrive)?

Written by Pan Conrad. Conrad, a resident of Annapolis, MD, is in the final year of her M.Div. program at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. She is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Maryland, and by the time we reach Epiphany 3, God willing and the people consenting, she will have been ordained to the transitional diaconate. Conrad is also an astrobiologist and planetary scientist with NASA.

Download the pdf of the Bible Study for Epiphany 3(A).

There Goes a Lamb, Epiphany 2(A) – January 15, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Winston Churchill once called his political opponent “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”

At least for much of the 19th Century popular art, hymnody and poetry tended to portray Jesus as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Part of the problem would seem to be that we confuse love with sentimentality. Social media, for all its wonders, seems to have fueled concepts of anger and love, easily protected by a firewall of separation from physical contact. Pictures of cute little kittens fight for screen space with graphic videos of atrocities. “False news’ stimulates belief, particularly among those who haven’t received basic training on how truth should be distinguished from falsehood.

So when Jesus walked by and John announced to his followers, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “, what were they to make of such an improbable claim? If they had the slightest familiarity of their faith and religious tradition, two words stood out. They were “lamb” and “sins.”

The edifice of first century Judaism was based on two traditions. The older, the one that placed the Temple center stage, invoked memories of their father Abraham, as he attempted to offer his wife Sarah’s only son Isaac as a human sacrifice. In the story God’s messenger instructed Abraham to substitute an available animal, a goat, for his son. The story has many nuances, but its most important is the step it makes from barbarism to a more benign concept of substitution. God was going to accept an animal, albeit one in mint condition, as a blood offering by which the person, family, tribe or nation were “atoned”, made one with their Creator. Around this system grew the Tabernacle and then the Temple cult, supervised by an hereditary priesthood descended from Moses’ brother-in-law Aaron.

The second vital part of Jewish religion in the days of Jesus was the synagogue system. The Old Testament tells the story of Israel, torn apart, situated between aggressive world powers, conquered again and again. The conquering powers sought to cower the Jewish people by destroying its visible connection with God. Those Jewish people taken hostage “by the waters of Babylon” not only wept; they gathered together to hear their Scriptures read by authorized teachers. In first century Palestine Temple worship, with its substitutionary sacrifices, situated in Jerusalem, jostled together with synagogue practice, hearing and receiving the Scriptures and applying them to daily life.

Note how today’s Gospel brings together these two practices, not in a theory, but in a Person. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, “who died that we might be forgiven, who died to make us good.” Jesus is also Rabbi, the authorized teacher, in whom God’s law is renewed and applied to the new citizens in his chosen nation.

If you are up to date with the never-ending church squabbles about how Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is a substitute for our sins, our family sins, the Church’s sins and that “of the whole” world, the important point is that God knows how this is true.

Our minds are best focused on the Eucharist, rather than on theories of how Atonement works; on a Person rather than a theory.

In the Holy Meal, we re-member. We bring to life in the here and now, the sacrifice, once offered for the sins of the whole world. We eat and drink, ingest, the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Before we reach that point in the service, we hear Jesus the Rabbi, the authorized teacher, expounding to us God’s law, the words Jews heard at the time of Jesus and the words Christians have heard since the time of Jesus. And we corporately confess our misdeeds, missteps and flirtations with evil.

We do so as God’s community of priests, as we stand between God and the human race, the nations, the Church, our families and ourselves.

Sitting in your pew this morning, look up, and with the mind of faith see the Lamb of God, the one you call Rabbi, and in your hearts pray, “ Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.”

Written by The Rev. Anthony Clavier. Clavier is Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, IL. He is also co-Editor of The Anglican Digest.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 2(A).

Bulletin Insert – Christmas Day 2016

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Christmas Message

From Isaiah Chapter 9:

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These words of Isaiah are often seen as words that foretell and foreshadow the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. The truth is, these words befit Him because this child changed the world. This child changes lives. This child changes us.

I remember when our oldest daughter was a baby. My wife and I were young. We were footloose and fancy-free. It was just the two of us newlyweds, so if we wanted to go out to eat dinner, we went out to eat dinner. If we decided to go to a movie at the last minute, we just went. We actually felt like we had money back then. And we did have a little bit of discretionary income. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do, within reason, and we didn’t have to think too much about the consequences or impact of a spontaneous decision and what we had to do to make that happen.

And then, all of a sudden, this little, innocent human being, a little child, came into our lives, and literally gained control over our entire world. Before we could do anything else we had to think about, “Who’s going to keep the baby?” or “Is this a good time for us to go without the baby?” We soon learned that we were not in control of our lives anymore. Even our sleeping patterns became very different. We would stay awake when the baby was awake and we went to sleep when the baby went to sleep. Literally this child began to control our lives and the child didn’t even know she was doing it. And then we had a second one she did the exact same thing. And I’ve since learned that that’s what babies do. When they arrive they take over! And their parents begin to develop their lives around this child. To mold their entire lives around this precious needy baby.

Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child who was born of Mary changes everything. This child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes changes how we live. This child born to the sound of angels singing Gloria in excelcis deo — this child to whom the wise ones came from afar bearing gifts — this child, changed the way the entire world works.

And this Jesus, born into a world torn by strife and hatred and division and pain and poverty, this child is born anew wherever men and women say, “I’ll follow Him. I’ll follow Him as my Savior. I’ll follow Him as my Lord.”

When this child grew up, He said His reason for coming, again quoting Isaiah, from the 61st chapter, he said,

The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

This child, when He grew up, came to show us the way to live lives of love, lives of compassion, lives of goodness, lives of kindness, lives of justice. This child came to show us how to change the world. So this Christmas, make room for him to change us. This Christmas help us change the world. And make a new commitment, to go out from this day, to let this Christmas Day, be the first day of a new world.

God bless you. God keep you. Have a blessed Christmas. A Happy New Year. And go on out and change the world!

The Presiding Bishop’s video message is here.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided
half page, double-sided

Bible Study, Epiphany 2(A) – January 15, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Isaiah 49: 1-7

These verses from Isaiah broaden the writer’s message of hope out to those “from afar,” to the whole world. He is someone God has chosen since before birth and was equipped to restore the true Israel, “in whom I will be glorified.” He will be the One who will restore Israel. Although the Servant assumes his failure as he has not seen any results in his attempt to free captive Israel. “I have labored in vain,” I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity,” yet he does not turn from God and will continue on because God will be his reward.

God proclaims that the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but will be “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The servant has been called for a much larger mission: salvation offered to all the world! Israel is to be the light, to bring this message of hope to all peoples.

  • When have you felt disappointed with your relationship with God? Have you ever felt that you, too, “labored in vain?”
  • What assurance does God give to us for those times?

Psalm 40: 1-12

In this Psalm, David reflects on how God has delivered him from the darkness of the despair his situation causes him into the light of freedom. David’s joy is so great he must sing praises to his God! David’s willingness to express God’s faithfulness and deliverance has not only changed David’s despair to joy, but has caused others to “see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord”.

David reminds us that “happy are they who trust in the Lord” who is willing and able to deliver us in our times of trial and tribulations. Turn to Him and trust that He is good, even in your times of despair, though the answer may cause us to have to wait patiently for it. Or perhaps you have prayed for God to deliver you from some dark and dreadful place, and you have suddenly found yourself back in the light. Share God’s faithfulness with others and bring God’s light into the world!

  • Can you think of a time in the past when God came to your rescue?
  • What are some works of God in which you can give praise now?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Corinthians were a people who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” They were set apart as God’s people and as such, Paul reminds them that they united with ALL those who were in Christ. Rather than simply living for their own accord, they were to use the gifts God lavished upon them in service to others. As they awaited “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”, their gifts of speech and knowledge which had been enriched by God “in every way”, were not to become a source of pride for them, but were to be used to show their gratitude to God for them by sharing them with others.

As the Church, we too are called and equipped by God. God is faithful and will strengthen us to live sanctified lives as we share our faith with a world living in darkness. We are to be God’s light, thankfully and faithfully sharing the gifts God has given to each of us.

  • Do you know the spiritual gifts God has given to you?
  • How might you use these gifts for the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ? How might you use them to share Christ with the world?

John 1: 29 – 42

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John’s words describing Jesus can seem so familiar to us that we can forget the true impact of what this means. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the One sacrificed for us. Through His sacrifice, He takes away the sins of the world. His willing sacrifice is sufficient and available to pay the price for all those willing to place their trust in Him.

The glorious truth is that Jesus was, and is, the One come to lead and save God’s people! He is the One who is the light to the nations. He is the One through whom comes the grace of God and who will strengthen you to the end, until He comes again. He is the One we can turn to for deliverance from our troubles and our sins. He can still be found as we seek Him.  He is our Messiah, our Savior, our Christ, the Lamb of God!

  • John called Jesus the Lamb of God. Why do you think John choose this title for Jesus?
  • What name would you use to describe Jesus? How is this displayed in your life?

Written by Mary Ellen Doran. Doran is a Senior at Trinity School for Ministry, pursuing her Masters of Divinity and is in the Ordination process through the Diocese of South Carolina. She.and her husband Keith have two daughters, Amanda and Madalaine.

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 2(A).

Bulletin Insert – Epiphany 3(A)

Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations

Did you know the Episcopal Church has an Office of Government Relations (OGR)? OGR is tasked with representing the priorities of the Church to the policy community in Washington, D.C. Through engaging Congress, the Administration, and U.S. government departments and agencies, OGR works to shape and influence policy on critical issues. They also equip Episcopalians to become advocates themselves.

All of OGR’s work is grounded in the resolutions of General Convention and guided by Episcopal Church priorities of reconciliation, environmental stewardship, and evangelism. From that framework, OGR’s current priority areas are: refugees and immigration, environmental stewardship, and international development and conflict.

Refugees and Immigration: OGR advocates to protect the human rights and safety of refugees and migrants by supporting the refugee resettlement work of Episcopal Migration Ministries and addressing the drivers of migration in Central America. OGR calls for comprehensive immigration reform that creates a process by which undocumented immigrants can earn lawful permanent residency with a pathway to full citizenship. 

Environmental Stewardship: OGR advocates on issues that protect the natural resources that sustain all life on Earth. They call for policies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and support communities impacted by climate change.

International Development and Conflict: OGR addresses food insecurity by ensuring that federal programs are efficiently administered and serve those most in need. They support legislation and policies that aim to prevent domestic and gender-based violence, that protect the human rights of LGBT persons, and that build peace in Sudan and South Sudan and in the Great Lakes region.

The primary way OGR works to equip Episcopalians to be advocates is by asking them to join the national grassroots network The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN).

Supported by the Office of Government Relations, EPPN develops Episcopalians as effective advocates by supporting their engagement with elected and government officials, providing resources on public policy issues, and connecting the ministry of public policy advocacy to the gospel. Network members contact members of Congress and the Administration, raise awareness about priority issues, and share their own stories to inform lawmakers and government officials about the impact of particular decisions and policies.

Together, we are raising our voices to ensure that our nation’s policies are in line with our values as Episcopalians and Christians.

To join EPPN, or for more information about the Office of Government Relations, please email, eppn@episcopalchurch.org, or reach out online:

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided
half page, double-sided

Bulletin Insert – Epiphany 2(A)

2017 United Thank Offering

2017 United Thank Offering Grant Application

Applications are now accepted for the 2017 United Thank Offering grants. The focus for the 2017 United Thank Offering grants is Evangelism – Reconciliation: Following Jesus’ way of creating loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships with God, each other, and all creation.

“This is the Jesus Movement and the United Thank Offering is a part of the Jesus Movement,” commented Sandra K. Squires, Ed.D., United Thank Offering Board President. “Join us as the United Thank Offering continues its tradition of thankfulness by awarding grants for 2017.”

Known worldwide as UTO, the United Thank Offering grants are awarded for projects that address human needs and help alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. United Thank Offering was founded to support innovative mission and ministry that the Episcopal Church budget has not yet expanded to fund and to promote thankfulness and mission in the whole Church.  The funds are not permitted for the continuation of ongoing ministries.

The application and additional information are available here. Application deadline is 5 pm Eastern on March 3, 2017.

Request for Prayers for the 2018 UTO Prayer Booklet

Every three years, the United Thank Offering gathers original prayers from around the Episcopal Church to create a pocket book of prayers available throughout General Convention. For General Convention 2018, UTO is collecting original prayers in nine categories: gratitude, guidance, fear/danger, forgiveness, healing, loneliness, crisis/dealing with disappointment or crisis, love of God, and other.

Children, women, men, clergy, seminarians, or groups may write prayers for this edition of the booklet. Prayers can be submitted in any language and in any format – collect, litany, free form, or prose.  Please submit all prayers by July 1, 2017 using this link.

For more information about United Thank Offering, contact the Rev. Heather Melton, Staff Officer for United Thank Offering, hmelton@episcopalchurch.org.

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided
half page, double-sided

Bulletin Insert: Epiphany 1(A)

The Baptism of Our Lord

Detail from 13th-century freso above baptismal font, Zica monastery, near Kraljevo, Serbia (Photo by BrankaVV)

Detail from 13th-century freso above baptismal font, Zica monastery, near Kraljevo, Serbia
(Photo by BrankaVV)

The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord is celebrated each year on the Sunday following the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The event of Christ’s baptism is recorded in all four gospel accounts:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

“The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34).

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17).

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided
half page, double-sided

Bulletin Insert: Feast of the Holy Name (A)

“The Holy Family” by Palma Vecchio, circa 1515

“The Holy Family” by Palma Vecchio, circa 1515

On the church’s liturgical calendar, New Year’s Day, January 1, is also the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also sometimes called the Feast of the Circumcision, since it is observed on the eighth day or “octave” of Jesus’ birth, when, in Jewish tradition, infant boys are circumcised and named, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3).

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

The name “Jesus” comes from Joshua or Yehoshuah, the Hebrew word for “savior” or “deliverer.” Devotion to the Holy Name can be traced back to Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which says God highly exalted Jesus “and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).

According to Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum in “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians” (Church Publishing, 2000), the observance of the Circumcision on the first day of January was originally designated as a fast day in A.D. 567, to counter pagan festivals that occurred at the beginning of each new year. Eventually it evolved into a feast day, celebrating the naming of Jesus and his circumcision; in Jewish tradition circumcisions are often a festive occasions, when family and friends gather to witness the naming of the child.

Collect for the Holy Name

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 213).

Download bulletin insert as PDF:

full page, one-sided
half page, double-sided