Archives for September 2017

Bible Study, 20th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – October 22, 2017

Proper 24

[RCL]: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Exodus 33:12-23

The context of this passage is the sin of the golden calf and Moses’ responding intercession on behalf of the Israelites. That act had granted a tentative reprieve, but Moses here reengages God with a frantic, bulldog-like quality that recalls Abraham’s interaction with God over Sodom (Genesis 18). Moses thus has the courage to seek God, to ask for the forgiveness of his people, and even to fight for a further concession. In response, God’s revelation is limited and partial, with the curiously round-about quality of God’s self-description in verse 19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,” echoing the famous “I am” formula concerning God’s name (Exodus 3:14).

At stake, then, is our understanding of God as transcendent, untouchable, and unviewable, versus God’s willingness to intervene on behalf of even the most stiff-necked of folks. The theophany that occurs in this story beautifully bears witness to both. Elsewhere, God will answer this question with another: “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off?” (Jeremiah 23:23).

  • In our prayer lives, when do we know that “enough is enough” and one should let go of a prayer? When is it more important to keep pushing?
  • What do you imagine that Moses sees in this scene? 

Psalm 99

In this psalm, we hear both of God’s particularity, as revealed through God’s relationship with Israel, and God’s universality, through the magnificent language of holiness. Importantly, it balances both mercy and justice, such that holiness is not a “separatist stance but a relational stance” and, like the Exodus reading, it speaks to the paradox of a God “not set apart from the world, but rather set apart to the world.”[1] Israel is called to have such a relationship reciprocally with God.

How does the psalm suggest we manage that? It appeals to the great tradition of famous intercessors from the past who have done that very thing, mediated in awesome and fabulous ways, throughout Israel’s history. Moses receives particular attention as an interlocutor between humanity and God, with six references occurring in this section of the Book of Psalms (90-106).

Our challenge is to recognize our capacity to be such an intercessor, in the line of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, so that we might help God’s people speak with God today.

  • Some translations render the second half of 99:3, referring to God’s holiness, as “Holy is He!” (ESV) or “He is Holy” (NIV). (Interestingly, the King James Version reads “for it is”) How do those translations, and the Book of Common Prayer’s “he is the Holy One,” add to or detract from your understanding of God?

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Since they are generally recognized to be the oldest Christian writing available to us, I read these lines of Scripture with a particular awe. That understanding, of course, must be tempered by the reality that the letter itself was written deep into Paul’s ministerial career. Thus, although we are reading 1 Thessalonians as the earliest of Christian witness among the extant letters, it demonstrates a writer already well-versed in his subject material. Already present then are Paul’s famous triad of “faith, hope and love” in verse 3, the statement of High Christology in verse 1, and all the tantalizing clues to the history of the Early Church.

For us today, we might encounter Paul’s statement about becoming “imitators of us and of the Lord” (v. 6) as somewhat arrogant. Given Paul’s context, one without the long history and tradition of Christian apologetics with which we are blessed, it is not only logical that Paul would point to himself as a model but, given the persecution that he mentions in the same line, utterly brave.

  • After reading this selection, how do you read the second person pronoun in the next chapter’s verse 4? As singular or plural? Why?

Matthew 22:15-22

If there had been a modern press pool following Jesus and the Pharisees’ exchange, an enterprising journalist might have asked the follow-up question: “What are the things entitled to the emperor? And what are the things entitled to God?” Such a clarifying rejoinder was not, however, asked or recorded, as in fact, Matthew continues his narrative with yet another exchange between Jesus and the hostile opposition.

The “coin debate” has vexed readers ever since. One noble attempt to answer it was provided by Roger Williams, the 17th-century theologian, who was an early proponent of the separation of church and state. Williams is a fascinating figure in the history of the Church; he tried to argue (against the Puritan concept of Christendom dominant in his day) that Scripture itself supported both freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Williams suffered for that belief, but always maintained that “God is too large to be housed under one roof.”

Our modern understanding of church-state relations is as flawed and limited as the Pharisees’ original. Williams’ witness and Jesus’ response are, at the very least, a reminder that criticism of the government has itself a long lineage in the Church.

  • How does one effectively discern when one should cooperate with governmental authority and when one should resist?

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, & William H. Bellinger (2015). Psalms. New York: Cambridge. 425.

Originally from St. Stephen’s, Culpeper, Charles Cowherd is a candidate for the priesthood in the Diocese of Virginia.

Download the Bible Study for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert – October 8, 2017

UTO Young Adult & Seminarian Grants

Are you a young adult or seminarian interested in making a difference in your community?

The United Thank Offering (UTO) Board is pleased to announce that they will accept applications for up to ten Young Adult Grants and up to ten Seminarian Grants for 2018.

Grants, which are only awarded within the Episcopal Church, will be made up to $2,500 each to fund start-up costs for new ministries. The focus this year is The Jesus Movement: Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care, including the following themes:

  • proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom,
  • teaching, baptizing, and nurturing new believers,
  • responding to human need with loving service,
  • transforming unjust structures of society and pursuing peace and reconciliation,
  • and safeguarding, sustaining, and renewing our environment.

Young Adult Grants are available to Episcopalians age 19-30. Their applications, available at http://bit.ly/uto-yasgrants, should be submitted to their diocesan offices for screening and selection, as bishops may select one application per diocese. Applications without a bishop’s signature cannot be accepted. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application following the meeting of the Executive Council in January 2018.

Seminarian Grants are intended for the start-up costs of new ministries at the seminary, in a seminarian’s field education parish, or in his or her home diocese. In order to be eligible, seminarians must hail from one of the accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church or from the Commission for Theological Education for Latin America and the Caribbean (CETALC). Seminarians should submit applications, also available at http://bit.ly/uto-yasgrants, to their dean (or CETALC chair) for screening and selection. The dean may select up to two applications per seminary; applications without a dean’s signature cannot be accepted. As above, applicants will be notified of the status of their application following the meeting of the Executive Council in January 2018.

The United Thank Offering is a gratitude ministry of the Episcopal Church, supporting innovative mission and ministry in the whole Church. Known worldwide as UTO, the United Thank Offering awards grants for new projects and programs that address inventive approaches to ministries within their communities that meet the stated focus for the year.

For more information, please contact Kayla Massey (kmassey@episcopalchurch.org).

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Whose Image?, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 22, 2017

Proper 24

[RCL] Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

I strongly suspect that even a casual familiarity with any of today’s various sources of streaming news would absolutely satiate anyone’s interest in Caesar and Caesar’s taxes—but here they are again. Still, Jesus is being quite non-partisan here, and, although frequently misunderstood, this little story has much to say to any age, including our own.

The question of the Pharisees and the Herodians, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” didn’t trap Jesus. But it has trapped countless others. It has been used as a blanket statement of Christian political obligation—a quick and easy answer to any questions or qualms the dictates of a government may engender. Jesus’ statement about rendering to Caesar, of giving to the Emperor, has been used as a general rule that can answer any number of specific questions. Actually, it’s just the opposite. It’s a brilliant answer to one very specific question. But it also raises all sorts of general questions about God and Caesar—and only hints at a way to answer them.

Look at the story itself. Two important political groups in Jerusalem—the Pharisees and the Herodians—are ganging up on Jesus. It’s a strange partnership; the two groups didn’t like each other at all. First are the Herodians; they were supporters of Herod, the puppet King of Israel who was nothing more than a Roman lackey. Herodians would have a great investment in obeying Roman laws and paying Roman taxes. Then we have the Pharisees, who, as religious purists, would object strongly to paying taxes to any pagan king and especially to a king who, like Caesar, claimed to be of divine lineage.

At the same time, the crowds, who were watching the debate, also had a stake in this. They didn’t like either the Romans or their taxes, and they frequently showed their dislike by rioting. They would be very unhappy at any answer that seemed to approve of the taxes.

Next, there are the soldiers, who were watching the crowds. They were Romans who were paid by the taxes in question. They didn’t much like the crowds, who had a penchant for rioting and whose rioting they had to control. Finally, it was Passover time—the most likely time of the year for a good riot about religion, the emperor, Rome in general, and Roman taxes in particular.

In other words, this was not an abstract debate about either political philosophy in general or the relationship between Church and state. It was a perfect set-up, a very clever trap. The intent of the question was to ensure that Jesus was either arrested for treason by the Romans, discredited as a false teacher by the Pharisees, finked out by the Herodians, or lynched by the crowd as a traitor to his own people.

On one level, Jesus slipped out of the trap on a technicality. He asked for a coin (notice that Jesus doesn’t have one, but the Pharisees do). It’s a special minting of the denarius. On the coin is marked, “Tiberius Caesar, majestic son of divine Augustus, High Priest”. Below these words, the image of the emperor is pressed into the metal. To any good Jew, the coin itself was an abomination. It violated the first commandment by claiming that Caesar had divine pretensions, and it violated the second commandment by containing an image of this false god.

A big part of what Jesus said was simply “give the cursed thing back.” It could belong to no one but Caesar; it could certainly not belong to anyone who worshiped the God of Israel.

This answer was a brilliant counter stroke by Jesus. It avoided the trap, and it allowed that particular tax to be paid with that particular coin—not as an act of political submission, but as a sign of religious fidelity. It was a very specific, and very narrow answer that made it possible for Jesus both to escape the trap and to preach a bit.

But this answer, good as it is, doesn’t directly address the broader questions. Clearly, that coin belonged to Caesar—but what else does? No doubt some things belong to God, but what are those things, and how does one decide? Until we begin to get clear on these questions, what Jesus had to say about that one Roman coin is not much help for us as we make decisions about possible conflicts of loyalty, obligation, or actions involving the claims of the government and the claims of God.

Although Jesus is neither giving a theory about the relationship of religious people to their government nor making a simple division of life into two neat and distinct parts—this is Caesar’s, this is God’s—he is, on a much deeper level, doing something subtler, something more profound.

Remember, that coin belonged to Caesar because it was stamped with Caesar’s image (the Greek word here for “image” is eikōn) and marked with Caesar’s inscription. The coin was made by the emperor for the emperor’s purposes. All that is a pretty good claim to ownership—a claim that Jesus recognized, at least for that coin.

The next question that naturally flows from Jesus’ words is: “What, then, belongs to God?” Well, what is made in the image of God? What is stamped in the likeness of God and created for God’s purposes? Do you see where he’s going here?

Our central definitive characteristic, what it is that makes us human beings, is that we are created in the image of God. And what’s more, at our baptism we are further marked, we are stamped, we are inscribed, with the sign of the cross. Our image and likeness, and what is written upon us, is that of God himself. To whom, then, do we belong? To whom are we to render, to surrender, ourselves?

This, the question of our ultimate loyalty and our deepest allegiances, is what Jesus is really talking about as he deals with the plots and the traps of his enemies. The Lord is saying simply that what belongs to God is nothing other than we ourselves. There is no higher claim upon us, and there can be no higher claim upon us. Our lives are God’s, and all that we do is to be marked by that conviction. All competing claims for our lives and for our allegiance are to be evaluated and understood in the light of whose we are, and whose image we bear.

Alas, all of this does not provide us any easy answers when we face problems with a particular moral or political question. It does not automatically tell us who to vote for, or what policy to support, or which course of action is best regarding energy, taxes, the economy, or our current and future wars. Problems like these will continue to be difficult and ambiguous, and that difficulty and that ambiguity will not change if we toss these few verses from Matthew, or from anywhere else, at them. Still, what Jesus said to the Pharisees and the Herodians can provide us a very good place to start.

Give to God what is God’s—for God owns that which he has made in his image, and he is Lord over that which bears his inscription. It is that image, in ourselves and in others, that leads to concrete imperatives for justice, compassion, and righteousness.

It is that image that both claims our allegiance and directs our efforts. It is God’s image that gives ultimate value and meaning to what we do. It is that image, and no other, which gives us the assurance that something lasting, something permanently worthwhile, is being formed at the core of our personal histories, and at the heart of this broken and yet redeemed world. That, at least, is where we begin.

Certainly, give to Caesar the things that are Caesars—but give to God the things that are God’s.

The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as Rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

 

Download the sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Are We Ready to Choose?, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017

Proper 23

[RCL] Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

The gospel for today begs allegory and analogy, leading inevitably to dividing people into groups of good and bad. It is an invitation to play the Blame Game. Coupled with our innate curiosity, like Pandora, we cannot help but want to know just who is going to be bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth! I suspect that as we hear this read, we all have candidates that leap to mind. It is the rare person who may reflect on why he or she might be that unlucky soul whose only sin appears to be not making the acceptable fashion statement for the occasion.

No matter how one parses this particular parable in Matthew, the results are baffling at best. Particularly in light of the fact that, at the end of the day, it simply means to express how passionately our God wants us to come to his banquet – how passionately our God wants us to come home – how passionately our God loves us – all of us – all of the time. Many are called, says our Lord,  but few are chosen. What remains mysteriously hidden and unsaid here is that it is we who do the choosing. Few choose to return to God, too busy are they wasting time on inconsequential disputes over what is right and what is wrong.

Which message is also at the heart of Paul’s correspondence with the Christ-followers in Philippi. He returns to the theme with which he began: there is no time for bickering, and no time to contemplate retribution against those who imprison me and those who hate us. There is simply no time for anything but the Love of God in Christ Jesus crucified and raised from the dead.

So please, get these two magnificent women, women who have struggled with me to proclaim the good news, get them back together again. Once you reconcile them you can rejoice! “And again I will say, Rejoice! The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything. Then you can get on with the business at hand: spreading the Good News of Christ crucified and raised from the dead.”

Paul is in prison and he believes this is the only way to be: joyful in the Lord. Be joyful in the Lord all you lands! Jubilate Deo! “And the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…Keep doing the things that you have learned and received…and the God of Peace will be with you.”

Just what “things” have the Philippians learned? When Paul left Macedonia, he issued an invitation to the churches he knew to enter into partnership with him – a partnership of money and ministry. It was to be a partnership of giving and receiving. It is in giving with Christ that we receive, it is in dying with Christ that we live. Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited, emptied himself, and invites us to do the same. Of all the churches with which Paul was associated – Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Colossae, Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi – it was only the Philippians who responded to his invitation. It was only the Philippians who sent Paul help, sending one of their own, Epaphroditus, who nearly died while serving Paul in prison.

Paul is the first pastoral counselor. He is sending them encouragement in hard times. He reminds the Philippians that they know what to do and how to do it. He has personally benefitted from their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. They have sacrificed money and gifts and nearly one of their own to further the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ – that God is at home and it is we who need to return to his banquet hall, fully prepared to do the work God calls us to do in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s gift to us is the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ goes way beyond any single person or congregation. It is a vast network of congregations and peoples working together, sacrificing for one another, supporting one another.

But it is we who want to be left alone by the God who has made the most inconvenient men and women our neighbors – and instructed us to love them as much as we love God and love ourselves!

Against this backdrop, writes Paul, there is simply no time for division and argument. And there is no way to go it alone. Stop the dissension and disagreement right now. Disengage from worldly concerns and engage yourselves in God’s work – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches.”

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s final book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee, an uncommonly courageous little Hobbit, wakes up after the climactic battle. Thinking everything is lost, he discovers all his friends are around him. He cries out to Gandalf the great wizard, “I thought you were dead. But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

Is everything sad going to come untrue? For those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Many are called, says our Lord Jesus, but few are chosen. It is we who do the choosing. Are we ready to choose? Are we ready to choose to keep doing the things that we have learned and received? Are we ready to move on and leave controversy behind us?

For if we are, the God of Peace shall be with us wherever we are, wherever we go. And everything sad will come untrue. Because our God passionately wants us to come to his banquet. And our God passionately wants us to come home. And our God will passionately supply every need, including finding us a new home in Christ Jesus. Our God will make sure that everything sad will come untrue.

So, it is that even from a prison cell, Saint Paul urges us to Rejoice!

And again I will say, Rejoice!

The Lord is near.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus every step of the way!

Amen.

Written by the Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek. Ordained in the Diocese of Chicago in 1983, I served as a parish priest in the dioceses of Chicago, Connecticut and Maryland. After nearly 18 years as rector of St. Peter’s in Ellicott City, MD, I spent six years as Chaplain and teacher at St. Timothy’s School for Girls, an Episcopal and international boarding and day-school in Stevenson, MD. In the mid-1980’s I was trained to work as a Stewardship Consultant through the Office of Stewardship at the Episcopal Church Center. I also helped to lead retreats for the Ministry of Money, a ministry of the Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC. Recently retired from full-time parish ministry, I do Interim and Supply work throughout the Diocese of Maryland. I also continue a lifetime as a drummer in various rock and jazz bands, currently playing with On The Bus, a Grateful Dead tribute band centered in the greater DC Metro region. I also use guitar and write music to supplement worship and the preaching event. Some of these songs can be seen on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/SoundsDivine1. My sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com, and I have been writing for Sermons that Work for as long as I can remember! Feel free to contact me at kkub@aol.com.

Download the sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Additional Bulletin Insert – September 17, 2017

Hurricane Relief

It has been a devastating hurricane season. While Hurricane Harvey battered communities in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma has caused destruction across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Episcopal Relief & Development invites you to join us in prayer and support for communities affected by these terrible storms.

In partnership with the Episcopal dioceses of Texas and West Texas, we continue to respond to urgent needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Katie Mears, Director of the US Disaster Program, traveled to Texas to collaborate with church partners to assess damage and needs, check on current relief work and map out a strategy for impacted areas in both dioceses.

Episcopal Relief & Development is also in touch with Church partners affected by Hurricane Irma, to best support responses.

“We have been in regular contact with our partners in the affected areas,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President of Programs. “Even as we face enormous communication challenges in some areas, we know our church partners have a deep presence in their communities which allows them to quickly and effectively respond and care for people. We are supporting them in this critical work.”

Your contribution to the Hurricane Relief Fund helps Episcopal Relief & Development support Church and other local partners as they provide critical emergency assistance for those affected by Hurricane Irma and future storms.

To help care for those affected, please fill out the coupon below and mail it in with your check or credit card information. You can also contribute online at support.episcopalrelief.org/hurricane-relief. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. With your partnership, we are healing a hurting world.

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Bible Study, 19th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – October 15, 2017

Proper 23

[RCL] Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Exodus 32:1-14

In today’s culture, it is easy to expect immediate results. Fad diets, wireless internet, and other trends and technologies have taught us that we can stay connected and get feedback without waiting. It appears the people of Israel suffered the same expectations; a lack of patience for Moses to return drove them to build and worship false idols. It is hard to remember that our time is not God’s time. When we sit before the Lord, it is in our stillness and patience that God becomes clearer.

  • What idols do we build and worship instead of God in our own impatience?

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This psalm is the antithesis of the Exodus passage. It speaks of divine goodness and eternal gladness and glory, which we can dwell upon if we keep our hearts pointed toward God. It notes the wrongdoing of the people of Israel when they made and worshiped the golden calf, and acknowledges the continued wickedness of which humanity is capable. But it turns our hearts back toward God, reminds us of the intervention of Moses, and praises the Lord who has mercy eternal.

  • How do we turn our shortcomings into praises for God like the psalmist here?

Philippians 4:1-9

St. Paul loves the community at Philippi. Philippians is often referred to as the friendship letter because of his affectionate tone and reassurances. This passage seems to fit right in with that assertion. We are reminded, not for the first time in this letter, to be of the same mind as Christ. And he gives examples of good people doing that work. Then we encounter the juxtaposition of worry and peace. This can be one of the hardest things to do as human beings, to not worry in the face of all the uncertainty of the world. But St. Paul assures us that Godly peace which we could never fathom will guard our hearts and minds if we commit to the practice of releasing our worries to God.

  • Research says it takes 21 days to create a habit – how can we commit to prayerfully submit our requests to God for at least three weeks? Do you think it will actually yield peace beyond understanding? What might that feel like in comparison to worry? Can we trust the wisdom of St. Paul and try it?

Matthew 22:1-14

This is a parable that weaves very tightly the themes of invitation and judgment. It’s hard to determine where the hope is when so many people are disregarded or thrown out. But the message is this: the work of God in the world takes commitment. Once we get past the people who choose their own selfishness and cruelty over the invitation (which we read as the love and work of God in the world), we find that all are invited to the banquet. The issue becomes that even though all are invited, not all are ready to fully participate or commit to the experience. The transformation of our lives in God is complete. There is nothing that is not changed by the love and work of God in us. So to only be partially ready is to not be ready at all, hence why the man without a robe is thrown out. It is serious work, and we must take the invitation to do it seriously.

  • Each of us has a wedding robe to put on to attend the banquet. That is, each of us must be fully committed to the Christian life when God calls on us. What does your robe look like? What must you do or think or get rid of to be ready and willing to answer the invitation?

 

Download the Bible Study for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 18th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – October 8, 2017

Proper 22

[RCL:] Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-14; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Isaiah 5:1-7

In this reading, we hear the consequences of God’s deep disappointment. Regardless of the goodness of God’s creation and the abundance of God’s provision for God’s people, all this careful work and love has not yielded good fruit. Instead it has brought forth “bad grapes.” God provided and Israel did not hold up their end of the covenant. God’s threats of destruction and wrath are possible for me to understand on a human level, but make me very uncomfortable when it comes to God. However, hearing of God’s heartbreak and disappointment does make me mindful of how what I do impacts not only me and others, but also God’s self. With the gifts I have been given, I am accountable to all to use them justly and rightly. 

Psalm 80:7-14

As Psalm 80 responds to the Isaiah passage, one can hear a dialogue going across these two readings. God issues the complaint against Israel in Isaiah. Then, after danger, destruction and hardship, Israel reaches back out to God. The psalmist remembers how God once tended and cared for Israel. This suggests that the tending and restoration of Israel is about more than rebuilding with bricks and mortar, but that it has to do with repairing a strained, or even broken, relationship with God. There is a deep trust in God’s own faithfulness to Israel expressed, which gives voice to the hope that whatever may be broken and lost can only be restored with God’s help and care.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Paul’s account in this reading from Philippians shows how his world was completely turned upside down by Jesus. As much as Paul was transformed, there is a lot of the zeal and passion in Saul the Pharisee that remains in Paul the Apostle. Paul admits that he had utmost confidence in his righteousness and faithfulness as a Pharisee. He lived out those beliefs fiercely. Paul tells of his radical transformation from trusting in his own abilities to be a faithful follower to acknowledging that all his trust and confidence must rest in God alone. His conversion included the understanding that righteousness, grace and faith are all gifts from God. In Philippians, we hear of Paul’s passionate faith in Christ Jesus. His story of conversion reveals that while we may be transformed into new life in our faith, we do not necessarily lose those essential parts of ourselves that may be offered up in service to the spreading of the Gospel and following Christ.

Matthew 21:33-46

Who do you imagine you are in this parable? Do you feel like a persecuted messenger? Have you been the persecuting tenant? Do you wonder if you are producing fruits of the kingdom or falling and stumbling all over the cornerstone?

Today’s readings illustrate from a variety of perspectives a desire for and resistance to relationship with God. God’s people throughout the ages, not only in the Bible have rejected God, Christ and God’s other faithful messengers. We hear from Paul in Philippians that this is a risk worth taking for the sake of the Gospel. God’s desire for reaching and reconciling humanity goes so far as to send God’s own Son, God’s self to reach us, even if it means a humiliating death on a cross. Threats of God laying waste to Israel (in Isaiah) and of being broken or crushed by the cornerstone (in Matthew) are unsettling and challenging. Yet the pleas of the psalmist and the radical transformation of Paul give me hope. In the brokenness in our relationships with God and each other, where faith still rests in God, there is hope in restoration and resurrection.

This Bible Study by Jennifer Landis originally ran for Proper 22 (A) in 2011.

Download the Bible Study for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert – October 1, 2017

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

On October 4, the Church celebrates the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan and Clarissine Orders, advocate for the poor, and friend of the animals.

From Lambert de Hondt and Willem van Herp’s “St. Francis with the Animals”

Born in the late 12th century, Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant and his high-born wife. Despite living a life of general comfort and ease, he found himself called toward a life in pursuit of “Lady Poverty”. After a series of humbling interactions with the poor, Francis devoted himself to the care of the sick and poor, giving up his business interests and material possessions (much to his father’s chagrin). It could not have been easy, but Francis’ faith demanded that he trade in his fine clothes for sackcloth and financial security for scarcity. In the words of the prayer attributed to the saint, he found that “it is in giving that we receive.”

Francis founded the Order of Friars Minor, which demanded a strict vow of poverty, in the belief that worldly goods too often proved distractions from a sanctified life. With Clare of Assisi, he would form the Poor Clares, a religious order for women similarly dedicated to service. A Third Order would follow close behind, for those men and women who would live out Franciscan values in the context of everyday life. In Francis’ thought, to fully embrace one’s poverty was to embrace reliance on God alone; to physically suffer was to identify with Christ’s own suffering. According to Holy Women, Holy Men, this made Francis, “the most popular and admired [saint], but probably the least imitated” (p. 623).

We may perhaps remember St. Francis best for his devotion to nature and animals; in several hagiographies, or stories of the saints, Francis is depicted as preaching to and otherwise communicating with fish, birds, and even a wolf. He believed that the Creator is praised through all his creatures and, indeed, creation itself. It is in this spirit that many Episcopal churches offer blessings of pets and other animals each year on Francis’ feast day.

Collect for the Feast of St. Francis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (HWHM, p. 623)

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Bulletin Insert – September 17, 2017

For Such a Time as This: School Meals and SNAP Funding

The presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called us to Pray, Fast, and Act on the 21st of each month. This month we urge prayer, fasting, and action to protect funding for school meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps.

On September 21, Join the EPPN and the presiding bishops of The Episcopal Church and The ELCA as we:

PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders to stand with those who struggle to receive their daily bread.

“Give us openness of soul and courageous, willing hearts to be with our sisters and brothers who are hungry and in pain. We ask for your intercession on behalf of every person hungry for earthly food and hungry for the taste of the Spirit of God. We give thanks that we can be part of that intercession.”

–from Sharing Abundance, Episcopal Relief and Development

FAST to call attention in our own minds and actions to the plight of hungry children in our nation.

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 our elected representatives to support strong funding for school meals and SNAP.

Prepare yourself for action on the 21st of September by read the Office of Government Relations’ one-pager on school meals and SNAP funding: http://bit.ly/FSATSeptember . As a church, let us lift our voices on the 21st and ask our members of Congress to protect funding for school meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Look out for the #PrayFastAct action alert on Friday, September 21, and join us as we pray, fast, and advocate together.

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