Archives for July 2017

Pivoting, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – September 3, 2017

Proper 17

[RCL] Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45cl; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Prudence Crandall may sound like the name of a character in a Jane Austen novel, but she was a real-life force of nature in 19th century New England. Crandall started a boarding school for girls in Canterbury, Connecticut, impassioned to raise educated women. One day, she received an application from a young African American girl named Sarah Harris. Crandall admitted Harris, creating the first integrated classroom in the United States.

As Crandall accepted more and more students of color into her school, more and more white parents pulled their children out. Local merchants refused to do business with the African American students, and the townspeople ostracized them and plotted to pass laws that made their education difficult or impossible. Vandals even set the school on fire, which prompted Crandall to close, for fears that the children’s lives would be in danger. We remember Crandall in early September as one through whom God worked for the sake of bringing forth justice in our world.

We look on these moments in history with a sense of clarity—we believe that Crandall was inspired by God in her resolute will to teach girls of every color and race, and we believe that, if we were to find ourselves in her position, we would do the same thing. The problem with this line of thinking is that it often takes Crandall’s agency out of the mix and assumes that the path she took was the obvious one, that she had no internal conflict about what educating her girls might cost, and that perhaps a famous composer provided her a triumphant soundtrack to reassure her along the way. Most of us have discovered by now that life does not play out like a Hollywood film.

God does not often appear to us in burning bushes as She did with Moses—although Jesus comes close every now and then on pieces of toast, potato chips, and in cups of coffee.

When God appears to Moses, Moses has had quite a life. Born to a Hebrew woman, he was left in a river for his own protection, and the Pharaoh’s daughter found him and eventually took him as her son. As he grew, he became increasingly disturbed by the way the Egyptians treated the Hebrews. One day, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrews; Moses intervened and killed the Egyptian. For fear that he would be punished for what he had done on behalf of a Hebrew, he fled and found a new tribe, a new family.

One day Moses is going about his business, keeping his father-in-law’s flock of sheep, and the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flaming bush. Moses leaves the path he is walking to explore the phenomenon, and he finds himself on holy ground. He encounters God in this place off the path, and God reminds him of the people he left behind. “I have observed their misery,” God says. “I have heard their cry…indeed, I know their sufferings…and I have come to deliver them from the Egyptians.”

Until this moment, and for a while after this moment, Moses was not a radical. When he killed the Egyptian slave master, it was not a well-calculated, pre-meditated, politically-motivated demonstration. He was not protesting the pharaoh, as far as we know. Yet something stirred within Moses, even while his life was about blending in and surviving; the stirring within him led him to deviate from his path to go where God seemed to be calling him. God met Moses in the midst of his internal conflict and called him to follow a different pathway.

The disciples had a similar encounter with God in Jesus. At some point in their years together, Jesus starts to reveal that he expects to undergo some significant suffering at the hands of the powers that be. He shares that he expects to be killed. His disciples probably react in some of the ways you might expect, but it is Peter who pulls Jesus to the side and rejects these grim predictions. Immediately Jesus rejects Peter’s resistance to reality. “Get behind me, Satan!”

“Join the path on which I am walking,” Jesus seems to say. “Lose the preoccupation with the way you wanted or expected things to be, and get on board with reality!” Sometimes we need to hear the same message, and often it needs to feel like a slap across the face to be effective.

During the opening Eucharist of the 2017 Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached a barn-burner. During the sermon, Bishop Curry bounced around the stage in his typical fashion, splashed water from the font all over a crowd of exuberant teenagers, and repeated a phrase that will forever be engraved on the minds of all 1,500 people in attendance: “If you want to change the world, follow Jesus.”

Indeed, following Jesus has, does, and will continue to lead us on a path of personal and communal transformation. It is not, however, we who change the world, but rather God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who changes us.

God sneaks into our inner life and pivots our consciousness. God calls us out of our routines to notice the plight that weighs heavy on God’s heart, and the more we follow Jesus, the more we read the gospels, and the more we pray and meditate on Jesus’ life, the more we will encounter those in need. Not only that, the more we seek God, the more God will lead us to face our enemies, face our fears, and face the challenge of risking everything for Jesus’ sake.

This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to go to the place we would not normally go, to follow a path that leads to the outsider, and to seek an encounter with the Living God. When we follow that path, we often find ourselves in intimidating circumstances, but God is with us, and where we find ourselves is on holy ground.

The Reverend Curtis Farr is the Associate Rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. Match strikes flint for Curtis in the pulpit, where he approaches Scripture playfully, seeking to inspire greater participation in God’s mission of reconciliation. Curtis is from the Pacific Northwest and loves hiking in the woods or kayaking on a secluded river. He can often be found impersonating Neil Diamond at your local karaoke bar.

Download the sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Leaks, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017

Proper 16

[RCL] Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

 You promise you won’t tell anyone?” is usually the preface of a juicy story. It means someone trusts us, wants to confide in us, thinks we can keep a secret, or at least thinks we will only leak it out to one person at a time.

Secrets are hard to keep. Have you ever kept one for a year, two years, ten years, without telling anyone? Have you ever kept one for an hour? A really good one?

Secrets want to be told. They want to be disclosed and they usually come out eventually. Just watch any detective show and you’ll see that in the end, everybody talks to someone. Or you could just watch the news, as experts ponder “leaks” from government agencies and the meaning of such secrets.

Secrets are like beach balls being held underwater; they want to pop to the surface, they want to be leaked out.

Jesus, at the end of our Gospel lesson, tells the disciples to keep his identity a secret. His conversation with Peter about his identity as the Messiah is deep and profound. Peter’s confession is lauded as a monumental achievement and Peter is granted so, so much authority and power because of this.

And then Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone he is the Messiah.

Do you really think they could keep this secret? Could you have kept this secret?

When the first disciples meet Jesus, this is the question on their minds: is he the Messiah? Is this the promised one, the anointed one, the one we have been looking for, generation after generation? They were really asking, “Is there anything to hope for?”

And Jesus showed them there was something to hope for. He showed them in miracle after miracle that he was the Messiah. And here, in Caesarea Philippi, surrounded by Roman and Greek gods, Jesus asks a pointed question.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Opinions abound, in their day and in ours, about who Jesus is. How one answers this question matters a great deal in this text—and we should consider carefully how we answer it. From this story, we can be sure that simply saying what we’ve heard other people say isn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus wants to know what we think; Jesus wants to know who we think he is.

Can we also be struck by the fact that Jesus wants to know what people say about him? He’s not too cool to ask this. Jesus has a real relationship with his disciples and like all good relationships, it’s mutual. There’s a back and forth, a sharing of life. Jesus isn’t polling the whole Judean countryside. He wants to know who his disciples think he is. Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”

How does he know this? How do you know this?

Jesus says it’s an awareness, a knowledge that comes directly from God. And there’s power in knowing Jesus is the Messiah. It’s the power to withstand the gates of Hell, to hold the keys to the kingdom, to bind on earth and loose in heaven. In this one small moment of spiritual awakening, Peter gets all the tools he needs for his life’s work.

Maybe that’s all we need here today. Maybe we need the certain knowledge that Jesus is the anointed one, the promised one, and that we have hope. Maybe this will change the world.

So why did he tell his disciples to keep it a secret?

Well, we do know a couple things about how Jesus operated, especially before he went to Jerusalem. He told people to keep quiet his work and identity a number of times. Perhaps he was controlling the timing of his ministry, the timing of his death, and the timing of how he would redeem the world.

We also knows Jesus was not real big on public displays of faith, if a person’s heart was not right. The Pharisees cornered this market. Jesus hated their behavior and called them out on it.

And maybe Jesus is telling the disciples to keep this secret because he is like the Hebrew midwives who lie to Pharaoh, keeping the births of the Hebrew babies secret, so they can save the newborns. Jesus knows that his new and fledgling flock needs to grow stronger before he can depart. He wants to protect them; he protects them with his secrets.

Maybe Jesus is like Moses’ parents, who secretly put him in a basket and launch him out in the river with the faith that God would care for him. By hiding him in the basket, they kept the secret of his life so he could live.

The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship is to be guarded, kept, and only told to the few who can hear it. Jesus’ parables were meant to confuse and confound, to cloud the mind of the proud and disinterested and to give life to those who were seeking hope and life.

And if you’re bold, let’s take this secret just a bit further. Jesus’ pronouncement to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” has often been understood to relate to our Sacrament of Reconciliation. This power to forgive sins that Jesus exercises is scandalous, and he gives this power to his disciples, who carry it to the ends of the earth.

There are secrets disclosed and kept in the confessional. There is the secret sin that is confessed by the penitent. Maybe it’s not a secret, but it usually is. It has usually caused an infection in the soul and it needs to come out. And then there’s the secret of forgiveness. After the absolution, the priest or Christian you’ve confessed to never talks about it again. In fact, the priest never even talks about it with you again. Now that’s a secret.

Maybe the secret of Jesus’ identity is more training in how to exercise the power of binding and loosing, through secrecy, not mass marketing. This secrecy of his anointing is what gives him authenticity.

And this is how we evangelize. We internalize the secret of Jesus’ Messiahship, who he is and what he came to do, to the point where it just comes out like a secret we can’t keep to ourselves. There is an old saying that what we hide, we become. If we hide and conceal evil, we become evil. If we hide good things, especially the good things we do, we become good.

It is worthwhile to ponder this secret, even if we cannot figure out the riddle completely. It is clear from this story that Jesus wants us to contemplate who he is. I wish I knew the answer, but that’s the problem with a secret, don’t you know.

Or, maybe, just maybe, Jesus knows his disciples can’t keep a secret and that they are going to leak his identity all over the Judean hillsides, and fishing villages, and synagogues, and dinner tables. Maybe he knows this about them and this is his strategy for getting his message out, one whisper at a time.

Maybe this is his strategy for us today. Maybe he wants us to leak it out too, one whisper at a time. I dare you to try to keep this secret.

The Rev. Dr. David W. Peters serves as a chaplain in the Army Reserve and as the Associate Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Tex. He is the founder of the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship, the author of two books, the father of three sons, and is married to Sarah Bancroft.


Download the sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 12th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – August 27, 2017

[RCL:] Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Exodus 1:8-2:10

We enter this reading on the on the happy note of how God saved Israel from hunger through Joseph and enter the story of why Egypt did not remain the home of the fruitful and strong nation. If the nation could have been lost in Joseph’s story by betrayal of brothers, then this story is about the betrayal by others, neighbors really. The death of every boy would also leave mothers and sisters without clans to protect and appeal for them. The women have their own means of resistance to oppression. We see honor given to the nervy midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. Their names are recorded while the Egyptian princess remains unnamed. This time, God would use another son, Moses, lost in Egypt, drawn up from the water (instead of a well) to save his people.

  • How do we talk about God’s redemption of the bitterness in our lives?
  • The communion of saints includes the named and unnamed. Are you more comfortable with those whose lives have been recorded or those known only to a few?

Psalm 124

This psalm recounts God’s extraordinary acts to aid the escape of the whole people of Israel. It is meant to comfort the individual in times of trouble and may have been recited by pilgrims headed to Jerusalem. It is a fitting complement to the Exodus story and it is easy to imagine the Israelites telling similar stories as they walked in the wilderness. There are repeating phrases in this psalm, such as “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” for poetic emphasis and to aid in recollection. This repetition is common in Hebrew poetry. The phrases that begin with “then” are meant to build on each other. The climactic declaration “Our help is in the name of the Lord” is the thanksgiving for Israel’s deliverance and ours.

  • Escape is a common biblical theme but not one we speak of often in contemporary culture. Reflect on escape. Did you feel God’s presence more acutely after an escape?
  • What does the name “Maker of heaven and earth” mean to you? Does that image make God seem nearer or farther from your circumstances? Are you comforted by your understanding of God’s intimacy or holiness?

Romans 12:1-8

This is one of the most beloved passages in the New Testament for its egalitarianism and accessible imagery. It begins Paul’s instruction on Christian community that contrasts our bodies, which stand for our entire selves, with the community as a body. He calls for faithful, sober, and wholesome living (often translated as “perfect”) in contrast to the passions in Romans 1:18-32. Paul supports an austere, communal life with times of ecstatic prayer but was not a believer in marriage and family life.

  • What social structures and practices support Paul’s exhortation for faithful, sober and wholesome living today?
  • How do we reconcile his image of the church as one body with a variety of household types?

Matthew 16:13-20

This passage is a climax for Jesus’ teaching, healing, and feeding in Matthew. The Pharisees and Sadducees want yet another sign at the beginning of the chapter, but ordinary Peter is confident that Jesus is the Messiah.

Peter receives honor in each of the gospels, but in Matthew, there is a direct reference to the Church. There is no Church without the confession of Jesus as the promised Messiah, and even at this moment, the Church is in conflict with “gates of Hades” (NRSV). Further, the Church is aggressive against the gates of hell, entrusted with authority and ultimately victorious. It is done. Death is permanently defeated but continues to terrorize and deceive unaware souls. Fear of death is not the same as death.

  • Is confession of Jesus as Messiah an aggressive statement in your community or more customary?
  • In your spiritual imagination, what do you understand to be Peter’s keys?

Download the Bible study for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 11th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – August 20, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Genesis 45:1-15

Oftentimes, when we read the stories of Genesis (and other biblical books), we are perplexed at the turn of events attributed to God. For example, why would God place a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? Why would God destroy the world through a devastating flood? Why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son? In today’s Genesis text, we might ask, “Why did God put Joseph and his family through such an ordeal, just to get Joseph into Egypt (as it says in verse 8)?” These stories might not be seen as literal presentations of God’s actions and motives.

Rather, they may be understood as myths, in the sense of stories that use symbolism to speak about reality, or, in the case of the Patriarch stories, legends, that is, interpretive stories of historic events. We should ask ourselves then what theological points the author was trying to make through this story. The answer might be that God can act in our lives and provide for us, even through circumstances that are apparently without hope, such as severe family strife or times of deprivation.

Notice also how Joseph’s tearful reunion with his brothers (and his observation that this has all been God’s work) comes after a few chapters of devious dealing on Joseph’s part. Of course, his brothers previously had sold him into slavery. And they are all the sons of Jacob, the one who took advantage of his own brother and deceived his elderly father. These are not people with whom we would want to share a long car ride! Despite their flaws and bad behavior, however, God still chooses them and manages to do great things through them. Proof indeed that God can write straight with crooked lines!

  • Where might God be acting unexpectedly in our church, families, and other experiences, especially in those circumstances where we feel there is no hope?
  • How does God’s choice of Joseph, his brothers and father, despite their unsavoriness and failings, speak to your own experience of God’s grace in those circumstances and people who might not have been our first choice?

Psalm 133

Commentators suggest that this psalm could be extolling either the joys of harmony in the family, or the fittingness of worshippers participating in the sacred liturgy in the Temple on Mt. Zion. Regardless, this psalm, despite its joyful tone, can serve as a sharp warning and even rebuke to our modern Christianity, so often fraught with divisiveness. We are reminded here that our fellow worshippers are indeed our “brethren”. Sometimes it can be difficult to be mindful of this reality, especially when we differ on matters of liturgical practice, discipline, ideology, or theology. Notice how the sacred author frames this Psalm with a beginning mention of harmony among people and a concluding statement that the blessing of the Lord is life.

Undoubtedly, the two are linked – the fullness of life can only be experienced when there is harmony within the family of faith.

  • How might each of us reform our own actions, thoughts, and words so that we can be “brethren living in unity”?
  • The biblical notion of salvation is often characterized as a communal experience of the fullness of life. How does this psalm serve as a challenge to some popular ideas that equate “being saved” with getting into heaven?
  • What emotions, ideals, or hopes are evoked in the psalmist’s use of “precious oil …  running,” and “the dew of Hermon”? What is being said about the effects of unity?

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Paul continues to ponder the conundrum of Israel’s failure to accept the gospel of Jesus. His references to Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin might serve to evoke Paul’s namesake, Saul the king, of this same tribe, who also struggled with the unbelief of his people. Prior to Saul’s becoming king, God told the prophet Samuel, “They have rejected me as their king” (1 Sam 8:7). The people are greatly afraid of God’s anger, but Samuel assures them that God will not cast them off, just as Paul says that the Lord will not reject his people now. Paul thus situates Israel’s rejection of Jesus in a larger narrative of his peoples’ struggle to believe.

Paul’s reflections on God’s mercy illustrate how redemption can be brought out of what appears to be a great failure. Just as non-Israelites had previously rejected God, they now have experienced redemption through the sheer mercy of God, not because they did anything to deserve it. So too will Israel’s failure to accept Jesus serve as an occasion for God’s mercy. Above all, Paul tries to illustrate that human disobedience and failure cannot frustrate God’s grace. Grace is a free and abundant gift; nothing can stand in its way.

  • How does your personal narrative of faith mirror that of Israel, i.e. the waxing and waning of belief and unbelief?
  • Where in our experience of faith and life has God brought about redemption and grace despite our actions that appear to obstruct God’s gifts?

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

This short pericope provides a raw, telling glimpse of the human Jesus, for this is the only instance in the Gospels when he loses an argument! Whenever he is confronted publically, Jesus always has a response to his questioners. But in this instance, his female Canaanite interlocutor manages to stump him. More significantly, it appears that Jesus evolves in his thinking about the nature and scope of his ministry. He initially makes it clear to the woman that he has come for the sake of Israel, but by the conclusion of this episode something has changed.

  • This story serves as a challenge to the closed religious mind – those who see faith as static and not subject to development. Jesus exhibits a willingness and ability to change and take on a new perspective. Are there any areas of your faith life where you might be closed-minded or short-sighted?
  • How have you been challenged with a new perspective and way of articulating some aspect of your faith that made you feel uncomfortable, but resonated with you nonetheless?
  • How does our encounter with and contemplation of the humanness of Jesus nourish our spirituality, identity as disciples, and faith life?

Download the Bible study for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 10th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – August 13, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Our reading today begins with the note that it is “the story of the family of Jacob.” Of course, for the last few chapters of Genesis, we’ve been hearing about Jacob and his family—his parents, his in-laws, his wives, and all their tricks and travails. A study of this week’s reading would benefit from a quick review of what comes before. What does the Bible tell us about this family? How have its members spoken to God? In what manner have they followed God’s will? As many commentators have remarked, the brevity of this literature goes hand-in-hand with its psychological complexity. The entire story of Joseph tells us about God and God’s relationship to us in a much more complex way than “lessons” or moral summations.

  • Has there been a time when you have had something of value (beautiful objects, a position of power, someone’s love) which other people did not have? How might this experience inform your reading of the story? After thinking about it, does any word or phrase stand out to you?
  • Has there been a time when you have watched someone else receive or achieve something of value that you did not have? How might this experience inform your reading of the story? After thinking about it, does any word or phrase stand out to you?
  • What other stories from Genesis does this first excerpt recall?

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

Our Collect of the Day asks for the Spirit to think and do what is right, and this Psalm elaborates on how we might also make steps towards that with God’s help—by giving thanks to God, by continually seeking him, and by remembering what he has done. The Psalm also offers another interpretation of the Joseph story (echoing how Joseph himself will interpret it near the end), that God steered the events from the start, sending a famine and testing Joseph in his struggles. This appointed reading is a carefully cut excerpt from a long Psalm full of history, and this portion on Joseph comes in the middle (not chronologically). For the Psalmist, the whole ordeal is, as we see in the last verse, a reason for exclaiming, “Hallelujah!”

  • The Psalmist calls us to remember the marvels God has done, including “his wonders and the judgments of his mouth.” When you remember how God has acted in your life, what are some of the marvels he has done?
  • Do you agree with the interpretation in verse 16—that God sent a famine to the land? Keeping in mind that there is a range of orthodox beliefs on this topic, consider discussing how God intervenes in our lives and in the life of the world. How have you understood the mixture of challenges and blessings in your own life?

Romans 10:5-15

Romans is a theologically complex and occasionally stylistically baffling long work of the Apostle. This portion of Romans is a delightfully typical rush of clauses and phrases, running like an enthusiastic preacher’s poetic logic from one to another. The verse which asks us to confess with our lips and believe with our hearts is one that has been often used in some churches to suggest that only a moment of verbal confession is what “salvation” really means. But Paul then talks about justification (the English translation of a word from Greek, which was used to translate the Hebrew word for righteousness) as well as salvation, and emphasizes this with two citations about Jesus’ acceptance of all who turn to him. The final paragraph is a rush of movement from this moment of belief out of the door, into the streets, on the beautiful feet of a bearer of good tidings—that’s us!

  • What do you think it means to “believe in” Christ? How has your own belief come about in your life, and how has it changed over time?
  • When have you asked God for help before?
  • How do you understand being sent out to share the news about Christ?

Matthew 14:22-33

The disciples have had a hard time of it of late, what with parables they truly couldn’t parse and mistakes over who would be feeding whom. Their confusion continues here when they greet a sign of power with fear, and Peter rises from fear to trust to fear again. Jesus’ question about doubt goes unanswered. In chapter 13, we had heard parable upon parable about the kingdom of heaven. This story comes near the end of chapter 14, which begins with John the Baptist’s beheading and continues with the feeding of the five thousand. Scholars believe that Matthew was writing in a time of incredible division and oppression for the Jesus-following communities; these stories of mistaken understanding, violence, need, and Christ’s power in those moments were written for these suffering communities.

  • Have you had moments when you felt like Jesus invited you to walk on water, and you were able to join him? When have you felt like you were invited to do so, but felt like you were sinking?
  • What do you think this story might mean to someone who is suffering? Who in your community—your church, your neighborhood—has something in common with the hurting communities of Matthew’s time?
  • What is your understanding of miracles like this? Do you look for material or psychological explanations, or do you take the story as we hear it here?

Download the Bible study for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert – August 20, 2017

The Feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle

The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Bartholomew on August 24.

One of the twelve apostles of Jesus, Bartholomew is known to us only by his being listed among them in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. His name means “Son of Tolmai, and according to Holy Women, Holy Men, “He is sometimes identified with Nathanael, the friend of Philip, the ‘Israelite without guile’ in John’s Gospel, to whom Jesus promised the vision of angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Holy Women, Holy Men, 538).

St Bartholomew

Detail of St. Bartholomew the Apostle from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment

Unfortunately, this is the only information recorded about Bartholomew across the Gospels; few other historically reliable sources are available. Despite this lack of a reliable historical record, tradition has filled in several details around his travels, ministry, and martyrdom.

This hagiography, or writing of the life of a saint, has come to diverse conclusions. Some sources hold that church historians Jerome and Bede knew of a Gospel of Bartholomew, though such a text is lost to us today. Eusebius of Caesarea writes in the third century that a Hebrew text of Matthew’s Gospel was found in India by a traveling philosopher-theologian, attributed by locals to “Bartholomew, one of the Apostles.”

There is also a tradition that Bartholomew, along with the Apostle Jude Thaddeus, brought the gospel to Armenia. While there, they are reputed to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity, thus enraging the king’s brother, who ordered Bartholomew’s execution. The story holds that the apostle was flayed alive and crucified at Albanopolis, leading to a common (and sometimes grotesque) depiction of the saint as a man or skeleton holding his own skin.

There are at least 18 Episcopal churches named in honor of the saint, from California and the Dominican Republic to Michigan and Georgia. Perhaps the most famous example is St. Bart’s on Park Avenue in New York City, a rare example of Byzantine Revival architecture from 1916 and a National Historic Landmark.

Collect for St. Bartholomew

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Bulletin Insert – August 13, 2017

For Such a Time as This: Environmental Programs

The presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called us to Pray, Fast, and Act each month on the 21st. This month, we answer their call by urging action to protect funding for domestic and international programs that address the health effects of environmental degradation impacting the poorest among us the most.

On August 21st, join The EPPN and the presiding bishops of The Episcopal Church and the ELCA as we: 

PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders and for all who struggle with the impacts and effects of environmental degradation that result in hunger, poverty, and death.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– For the Conservation of Natural Resources, The Book of Common Prayer

Fasting Episcopal Environment

FAST to call attention to the needs and circumstances of those suffering from the impacts of air and water pollution, chemical exposure, and natural disasters. 

Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. On the 21st, post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting this month.

ACT by urging your elected representatives to continue funding crucial programs that care for all of creation by addressing environmental degradation and its impact around the world.

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On Breaking Boundaries, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

Proper 15

[RCL] Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This week we continue our Pentecost tour through Genesis, Romans, and the parables and stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. We have two unsettling encounters: the meeting of Joseph and his brothers, and the meeting of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

The Genesis stories of our founding fathers and mothers are often perplexing. In the last weeks, we have heard Jacob steal his brother’s birthright, deceive his father Isaac, and flee from his brother’s anger. We have heard Laban deceive Jacob, substituting his daughter Leah for Rebecca in the bridal tent. We have heard Joseph’s brothers conspire to kill him and sell him into slavery in Egypt. Yet God has kept his promise to Abraham, and continued to bless the children of Israel. God’s love, we have learned, is unconditional.

The character of Joseph is as complicated as that of his father Jacob. Sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, he has risen to a position of power in the palace of Pharaoh through his skill as an interpreter of dreams and a political advisor. He has predicted a seven-year drought and helped Egypt prepare by storing a quantity of grain. Unaware of Joseph’s position, his brothers have come to Egypt from drought-stricken Canaan to buy some grain. They do not recognize Joseph, who sells them the food, but then practices some deception of his own. He secretly hides a silver cup in the sack of his younger brother Benjamin, so that it will appear that the brothers have stolen from him. In an act of supreme irony, he demands that the brothers leave Benjamin with him as his slave. At this point, brother Judah begs Joseph to let him stay in Benjamin’s place, because the loss of the child of his old age will surely kill their elderly father. This is where today’s reading begins.

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, who are understandably horrified and afraid at this turn of events. Joseph responds with this spin on their attempt to get rid of him: it wasn’t you who sent me to Egypt, but God, who sent me before you to preserve life. And indeed, if Joseph were not in Pharaoh’s house, the children of Israel would succumb to famine and die out. Once again, God has saved the children of Israel.

This passage is sometimes read as one of forgiveness and reconciliation, as Joseph forgives his brothers and the family is reunited. The fact that Joseph is revealed as a manipulator and deceptive character, setting his little brother Benjamin up for a charge of stealing, makes one wonder about this interpretation. As an individual, Joseph is hard to love. In this story, Joseph appears as a difficult character, playing a role in the larger story of God’s love for God’s people, Israel.

Today’s passage from Romans confirms that God never rejects God’s people. Paul points out that he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin. The passage might even be read as being addressed to Joseph by Benjamin. Even though you, Joseph, and the children of Israel have been disobedient, the gifts of God are not revoked. God is merciful, always, to everyone.

The story of the Canaanite woman’s faith has a problematic element as well. Jesus has crossed from Galilee into the district of Tyre and Sidon, which is gentile territory. A woman begs for mercy and healing for her afflicted daughter, recognizing Jesus as Lord and Son of David. Jesus, once he deigns to answer her, gives an unsettling reply: I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Not to an outsider, a woman, a Gentile. Even when she kneels before him, implying worship and a deep understanding of his divine status, he refers to her and her daughter as dogs. Yet she persists, again addressing Jesus as Lord, and insists that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the table. Not only does she see clearly who Jesus is, but also she understands how great is his power to heal. God’s mercy is abundant; God’s healing and love overflow; there is enough for not only the children of Israel, but also for the entire world.

Let us assume that we are not dealing with grouchy Jesus in this passage, but rather with teaching Jesus. Jesus is illustrating for his disciples that true faith is persistent and open-eyed, and extends to a wider world beyond the Jewish community. Here it’s helpful to look back at his explanation of things that defile, which precedes the story of the Canaanite woman’s faith.

The Pharisees and scribes have challenged Jesus, asking why his disciples do not wash their hands before they eat. They imply that Jesus and his disciples are breaking the traditional purity laws. Jesus replies: It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out. What goes into the mouth is flushed out into the sewer; it is a passing, temporary uncleanliness, unimportant. What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Evil intentions such as murder, theft, and lies are what truly defile.

In today’s reading, Jesus has crossed the boundary between the land of Israel and gentile territory. He has redefined boundaries of what is clean and what is unclean, and he has redefined the boundaries of the kingdom of God, extending the kingdom beyond the borders of Israel. What comes from the heart of the Canaanite woman is faith: faith that God’s love and God’s mercy extend to all. In today’s passage from Genesis, Joseph’s brothers have crossed the boundary from their home in the land of Israel into Egypt to discover to what lengths God will go to preserve the house of Israel. Both stories remind us of the greatness of God’s love and mercy.

Reading these two stories during the season of Pentecost, when we celebrate the role of the Church in the work of God in the world, reminds us that God is constantly entering new territory and breaking boundaries. God’s work, and the work of the Church, is to meet outsiders and grant them a place at the table. It comes down to remembering that we are all God’s children, that God’s love is unconditional, and that God’s mercy extends beyond all boundaries. So perhaps reading today’s passage from Genesis as a story of reconciliation is not so far-fetched after all!

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! Amen.

Susan Butterworth is a Master of Divinity candidate at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her area of special competency is Anglican, Global, Ecumenical and Interfaith Studies. She is currently an intern with the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she leads weekly Taizé prayer. She is writing a book on the anti-apartheid work of the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg Cathedral, Gonville ffrench-Beytagh.

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Bulletin Insert – August 6, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which commemorates Jesus’ unveiling as the Son of God, and his radical change of appearance while in the presence of Peter, James and John on a mountaintop.

The Gospel of Matthew records that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter, misunderstanding the meaning of this manifestation, offered to make three “booths” (or “dwellings”) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell on their faces in awe, but Jesus encouraged them to arise and “have no fear.” When the disciples looked up, they saw only Jesus (Matthew 17:1-8).

The Transfiguration is also mentioned in two other gospel accounts (Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28- 36) and is referred to in the Second Letter of Peter, which records that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” and “we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

The Transfiguration is a pivotal moment because it revealed Christ’s glory prior to the crucifixion, and it anticipated his resurrection and ascension. It also prefigures the glorification of human nature in Christ. Some think that the setting on the mountain is significant because it becomes the point where human nature meets God, with Jesus acting as a point of connection between heaven and earth.

Celebration of the Transfiguration began in the eastern church in the late fourth century. The feast is celebrated on August 6, which is the date of the dedication of the first church built on Mount Tabor, which is traditionally considered to be the “high mountain” of the Transfiguration. There are scholars, however, who believe the Transfiguration occurred either on Mount Hermon, which borders Syria and Lebanon, or on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Collect for the Transfiguration

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 243).

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Bulletin Insert – July 30, 2017

William Wilberforce

On July 30, the Episcopal Church remembers William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833), along with Anthony Ashley Cooper (1801-1885), prophetic witnesses of the Gospel of Christ. Wilberforce was a British statesman and evangelical Anglican who used his position as a Member of Parliament from the Yorkshire area to advocate for the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire.

William Wilberforce Anglican EpiscopalNoted for personal charm and great eloquence as a public speaker, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament from his home town and district of Hull at the age of 21. After a conversion experience in 1784, he joined the evangelical wing of the Anglican church and became interested in social reform movements.

Lady Margaret Middleton, the wife of another Member of Parliament, approached Wilberforce as a likely person to work within the government for the abolition of the slave trade. The enormity of the task was daunting to Wilberforce, who wrote, “I feel the great importance of the subject and I think myself unequal to the task allotted to me.”

But Wilberforce accepted the mission. “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners,” he wrote in his journal in 1787. His health, however, had never been good, and illness prevented him from immediately taking on the challenge. It was May 1789 before he made his first speech in the House of Commons on the subject of the slave trade.

When Wilberforce formally proposed abolition of the trade in 1791, his fellow members voted against his motion by nearly two to one. Wilberforce continued to press the matter, making similar proposals some nine times by 1805. During that time, due to the efforts of many reformers, the British people learned about the horrific conditions endured by enslaved Africans, and public opinion gradually turned against the slave trade.

It took longer to convince Parliament, but the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill was eventually passed in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords by large majorities and took effect in March 1807. Although the successful bill was introduced by another Member of Parliament, Wilberforce received full credit — and a rare standing ovation from the House of Commons — for his untiring efforts. Unfortunately, the 1807 bill did not immediately stop the slave trade. Seafaring traders flouted the law, sometimes covering this illegal commerce by throwing their captives overboard to drown when ships of the British navy approached. Many people became convinced that only the abolition of slavery would stop the trade.

Wilberforce at first resisted calls for outright abolition, writing in 1807, “It would be wrong to emancipate [the slaves]. To grant freedom to them immediately would be to insure not only their masters’ ruin, but their own. They must [first] be trained and educated for freedom.” But he eventually came to support full emancipation and worked to bring public opinion and political will together to that end. He continued to serve in Parliament, supporting a variety of causes, including overseas Christian mission, increased education, and greater freedom for Roman Catholics. He retired in 1825 due to ill health but continued to campaign for an end to slavery.

Wilberforce saw his efforts rewarded when Parliament passed a law in July 1833 outlawing slavery throughout the British Empire. He died three days later at age 73. In honor of his service to the nation, he was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

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