Archives for October 2017

Bible Study, Christ the King Sunday (A) – November 26, 2017

[RCL]: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

The term “shepherd” is a common motif in the ancient Near East, and is metaphorically used for the rulers, kings, and leaders of Israel. In this reading, the shepherds have fed themselves instead of the sheep, and the leaders have ruled with tyranny and cruelty (v. 4). Thus, the sheep lack a shepherd.

In verse 11, Yahweh will take personal responsibility to seek the lost, restore the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak sheep who have suffered as a result of unjust shepherds, and gather them to himself on a safe pasture where they will be healed. The day of thick clouds refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, “the day of the Lord” (Joel 2:2), when the people were carried to Babylon (v. 12). Contrastingly, the new pasture is metaphorically linked to mountain ranges, watercourses, and uninhabited fields which are signs of life, suggesting a change of social, political, economic, and spiritual status for the sheep.

The binary use of sheep and goats, a ram and goats, lean sheep and fat sheep, the fat and the strong, and one group of sheep set apart from another reflects a cosmological setting: a rescue mission taking on a global dimension, in which God begins to reconcile the nations. God’s justice will intervene for the oppressed. In our contemporary understanding, the temptation to satisfy personal ego, materialism, and power at the expense of an ailing society are reminiscent of the fat and the strong sheep. The scattered and bruised sheep represent marginalized persons and communities, like the increasing numbers of refugees the world over, the homeless in our society, and those facing other insecurities.

We must reflect on questions such as “What is our role in protecting and restoring God’s creation?” (v. 18-19), with the understanding that God is determined to bring about a fairness where everyone will be held accountable (v. 20). God will achieve this through his servant David, a symbol of unity bringing together Israel and Judah, and upon whose leadership the Messianic reign will be announced.

  • What do you think of when you think of a new pasture for God’s sheep?

 Psalm 100

This psalm is Deuteronomic in rhythm, and therefore emphasizes the identity of Yahweh’s role as a God of action. The whole earth—all nations—are called by the psalmist to make a joyful noise to God. Our act of worship is equated to service to God. This in turn invites devotion, which brings humanity happiness at the end. Singing is a powerful mode of worship; it stays in one’s memory easier than reading and is often more entertaining. Because of this, it resonates well with offering thanksgiving in the court of the Lord.

Since humans are often tempted to play God by demonstrating ability in the first-person pronouns of “I,” “me,” and “we,” rather than in the humility of a servant or God’s instrument, the Psalmist emphasizes “Know this: that the Lord is God” (v 3). This phrase is intentionally inserted to remind us that all that we are and have is God’s. In fact, St. Paul echoes with the same tone, as when he writes, “We brought nothing into this world” (1 Tim 6:7).

Because Christians belong to God’s pasture, our confines are by nature within the shepherd- sheep paradigm. Listening to the shepherd’s voice is important. The sheep are safe entering by the gate, where the master takes stock and assesses the welfare of each animal, and they can appreciate the goodness of Yahweh for the permanent virtue of mercy by which he reconciles and draws people to his fold.

  • Have you ever needed a reminder like the one in verse 3? When?

Ephesians 1:15-21

Paul writes concerning the faith and love of the Ephesians, upon which he expresses his gratitude and prayers for the growing community of God.

Faith, which is the state of trust, in this context is reckoned to have yielded fruits of godly virtues like love and hope for this community of saints. A community where faith and works of love in Christ grow is formative for God’s saints. Like Paul, the Christians are drawn to uphold such a community with constant prayers. It is evident in both Paul’s era and our own that in order to achieve unity, we require faith in Christ, supported by the prayers of all the saints.

Since love is a central theme in Christian teaching, it is imperative that any community of Christians cultivate love for both God and neighbor (cf. Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). In support of this, Paul invokes divine wisdom, a necessity for every good discernment that leads to truth.

  • How do you pray for the whole Church in your worship services? Do you know the people behind the names?
  • How will you pray for your faith community this week?

Matthew 25:31-46

Cataclysms like recent hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and more invite human responses to God’s mission in the community.

Matthew’s narrative presents Jesus’ account of eschatological teaching, which comes immediately before the Passion. The good shepherd is now too judge and king, seated on his throne and administering justice. The sheep and the goats represent the human creation, and as in Ezekiel, the shepherd alone can identify his or her rightful flock. The Son of Man, to whom Scripture refers as the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13; 1 Peter 1: 20), will gather all nations and judge humanity.

As Christians, the take-away in this narrative is connected with human existence, a journey that informs our life both in the here-and-now and at our final destiny. The passage forms reasoning for acts of charity (or diakonia). How often did we recognize the Messiah in the little brothers and sisters of the Son of Man? Who is my neighbor? The reign of God, as it draws nearer, presents fresh opportunity for us to ask these questions and offer our hearts and thanksgiving to God.

  • When you read this passage, do you immediately think of yourself in the role of the sheep or the goats—or neither—or both? Why?

Written by The Rev. Fredrick Okoth, a priest from the Anglican Province of Kenya – Diocese of Bondo. He is married to Lilian Oduor and is a father of four children, Okoth holds a World Meteorologist Class II Course Certificate and worked with Kenya’s government in meteorological services for seven years. He holds a diploma in Pastoral Theology from Bishop Okullu College of Theology and Development, a Bachelor’s in Past Pastoral Theology from the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, and is working toward a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from the General Theological Seminary in New York. Okoth has been a priest for thirteen years, serving as priest-in-charge of four congregations in the Diocese of Bondo. He has also served as an area dean, secretary for clergy welfare, and clerical secretary in the diocesan synod.

Download the Bible study for Christ the King Sunday (A).

Bible Study, 24th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 19, 2017

Proper 28

[RCL]: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites are seeking to take the land of Canaan and this chapter of Judges discusses the events that took place leading up to the capture of this land. Deborah is one of the major “Judges” or “charismatic leaders” of the Israelite people; she is also the only female prophet, or prophetess, in the book of Judges. In this passage, Deborah is summoning a general for the army, General Barak, who will lead the Israelite army against the Canaanite leader, Jabin, and his army. Jabin’s army is led by a general, a man named Sisera. Sisera, upon being defeated by Deborah’s army, flees and seeks refuge in the home of a woman named Jael. Jael, in the night, kills Sisera with a tent peg (Judges 4:17-22). Jael’s killing of Sisera completes Deborah’s prophecy that Sisera “will be given into your hand.”

In this passage from Judges, especially as it connects to the story of Sisera and Jael later in chapter 4, depicts two very strong and courageous women. These women in Judges are leading and conquering for Israel in surprising ways. We do not often see women in Scripture performing actions to honor God outside of their ability to bear children or be decent wives to men. But in Judges, we have both a female prophet who leads an Israelite army and an unsuspecting woman working undercover for the Israelite army, who is willing to kill the Canaanite general.

Outside of the violence of this chapter, it is important to uphold and name the impact of these female characters and what it says about women’s gifts for ministry. Women, like men, are capable of anything. Women, created in the image of God, have spiritual gifts that go far beyond biology and the societal definitions and expectations we have attached to that biology. Women have gifts to share in leadership within our congregations and within the larger tent of the Christian tradition.

  • How do you see the spiritual gifts of women being used and utilized in your parish? How are they honored for their gifts?
  • Where is God working within those around you in surprising and unprecedented ways, whether those people be male, female, trans, gay, straight, black, white?

Psalm 123

This psalm is a prayer for help or a psalm of lament. It begins as a personal lamentation, but then goes into a communal plea for help. This psalm describes God as being high above all of creation; you can almost imagine the speaker of this psalm looking up to the sky as he or she cries out to God. The psalmist conjures images of God, describing God as both Master and Mistress, male and female. The psalmist also talks to God directly, “To you I lift up my eyes.” This psalm is short but rich in imagery, displaying a personal relationship with a dynamic God. Most importantly, the psalmist is demonstrating how honest and transparent we can be with God, individually and in community. God hears all our cries and sorrows, all our fears and worries. There is nothing God will not hear, there is nothing we must hide from our God.

  • Do you cry out to God in prayer? How?
  • Do you feel like you must hide your feelings from God? How come?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

While Paul believed that Jesus would be coming “any day now,” stressing at times that God might catch anyone, at any time, in the act of morally questionable behavior, this letter also suggests that Paul may have been advocating the living of faithful lives for the long haul.

Let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt; Paul’s metaphor of a woman in labor, for example, articulates the work of transformation that lasts a lifetime. When a woman grows a child and then goes into labor, she and that new life are going through transformation: the woman is going into motherhood, the child is beginning his or her life. This transformation has its pains, but on the other side of the pain is a new life for all involved. This new life is not completely new; the woman is still the woman she was before. However, there’s a shift that has occurred and her life is now full of newness, a newness she is now responsible for nurturing and growing. The woman is now full of the new life that has begun and full of the new ways she now sees and interacts with the world around her, as a result of the transformation.

  • How has becoming a Christian or claiming your faith transformed you?
  • What labor pains have you been through in your faith journey? What does your faith look like on the other side of those labor pains? And where is God in the midst of the pains, the journey, the transformation?

Matthew 25:14-30

If we try to understand this passage as one where the “talents” are the actual talents, or spiritual gifts and skills we each possess, then we may begin to understand this passage differently. Let’s frame it this way: God is the master, and God has written into our individual lives our specific talents and spiritual gifts. God has given us these gifts and talents to be used, to be shared, in order to help make this world a better place. God is asking us to use our gifts, to follow Jesus and help make God’s kingdom manifest on this Earth. But if we are the last servant, the one who goes and hides his gifts and talents for fear of using them, then we are ignoring the gifts we have been given by God and are therefore not helping in the work of making God’s Kingdom manifest.

In this frame, the parable articulates how the relationship between master and servant, God and us, can be broken or at least put “on the rocks”. When we are not in right relationship with God, we are in our own version of despair. When we are not able to live out our individual calls, using our talents and skills for the betterment of God’s creation, then we are suffering. Surely in this place of brokenness, fear, and solitude, there is much “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. If we cannot live fully into our relationship with God by living out those gifts, callings, and skills we have been given, it can surely lead to a state of darkness and confusion.

  • What are the skills, gifts, and talents you have been hiding or have been afraid to share?
  • Heaven and Hell can be states of existence we pass in and out of in this life. Have you ever experienced moments of Heaven and Hell? Where was God in those moments?

 

The Rev. Erin Hougland is currently a transitional Deacon in the Diocese of Indianapolis, working as the Diocesan Pathways to Vitality Minister. As the Pathways to Vitality Minister, Erin is currently working at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, a thriving church plant in the diocese. Erin earned her B.A. in Theological Studies at Hanover College in 2008, her M.Div. from Earlham School of Religion in 2014, and is currently finishing her Anglican Studies Diploma at Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation, expected to finish in December 2017. Erin writes for GrowChristians.org and keeps her own blog at www.ehougland.com. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two sons, who keep her on her toes.

Download the Bible study for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert 2 – October 29, 2017

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In this text produced by our full communion partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you can learn about how they are undertaking the ministry of reconciliation.

All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has giving us the ministry of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For Lutherans, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has provided a welcome occasion to learn more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, while strengthening our understanding and commitment to our ministries. But the date is important not only for Lutherans; its religious and cultural impacts have reached to the entire Church and beyond.  Where for centuries there had been distrust and condemnations, this commemoration offers counter-cultural narratives of growing in mutual understanding and common action.

As the first centennial in an ecumenical and inter-religious era, this anniversary occurs in a spirit of reconciliation, for the whole world to see. In our broken world, this ministry of reconciliation is a faithful response to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Thus, the commemoration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seeks to lift up and honor all of its ecumenical and inter-religious relationships. Together with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, inter-religious neighbors and all full communion and other ecumenical partners [including the Episcopal Church], in this year the ELCA gives thanks for all relationships working together toward reconciliation—toward unity among Christians and healing of the deepest social ills that plague our world.  In the spirit of these reconciliations, the ELCA looks with confident hope toward the future.

“Christians live not in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor. Otherwise they are not Christians. They live in Christ through faith, in their neighbor through love.”

– Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation commemoration emphasizes Martin Luther’s belief that the promise of God’s love makes possible a life of “a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.” In the face of many cultural suggestions that initiative and responsibility for relationship with God rest on the wavering strength of each individual, there is liberating strength in the Lutheran movement’s insistence that we rely on the faithful initiative and persistence of God’s Holy Spirit, who makes us right with God and renews our hearts. It is through God’s grace that Christ’s life flows through faith into a life of service to the neighbor.

Since October 31, 2016, ELCA congregations and ministries have lifted up and lived out Luther’s belief through various activities that reflect the ELCA’s commitment to be a church for the world. We invite you to explore the ELCA’s commemoration in the following ways:

  • Visit ELCA500.org, the ELCA’s Reformation anniversary commemoration website.
  • Explore the ELCA.org pages dedicated to Ecumenical and Inter-faith Relations.
  • Explore Living Lutheran.org/reformation, the ELCA’s official magazine’s website page dedicated to sharing the Reformation anniversary stories from around the church.

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Bulletin Insert – October 29, 2017

Martin Luther: Monk to Reformer

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, inaugurated by Martin Luther’s actions in Wittenberg. In this text produced by our full communion partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you can learn about the scholar, monk, and reformer.

We live in an era when fame is highly desired. Whether it’s getting hits on social media, getting invited to desirable gatherings, or making it big in Hollywood or Nashville, people want to be known, to be memorable— often for the wrong reasons. It’s noteworthy, then, that in 2017 the Lutheran church—and the world—marks a big anniversary involving one of our own (our founder, actually). Martin Luther didn’t intend to become famous, and yet he changed the world, helping to usher in the modern era.

This little sheet doesn’t have room to detail Luther’s life and accomplishments, and you will probably be hearing a lot about them from many sources, so this will just provide a brief overview.

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in what is now central Germany but then was a separate principality called Saxony. His parents tried to give him a good education and hoped he would become a lawyer. Instead, when he was twenty-one he became a Catholic monk. He wanted to earn God’s love but was tormented by the sense that he could never be good enough. He punished himself mercilessly until finally a wise mentor sent him to study and teach Bible at the then new University of Wittenberg.

Not long after he arrived there, he became incensed by the church saying, in effect, that if people bought a certain document—an indulgence—it would provide God’s forgiveness for their (or a loved one’s) sins. Being a university professor, he wrote a list of ninety-five sentences to debate about the topic. That list, the Ninety-Five Theses, stirred up a hornet’s nest in the church and began the Reformation. He made them public on October 31, 1517—coming up on five hundred years ago.

For challenging the church and refusing to back down, Luther was called before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, at a meeting in the imperial city of Worms. Asked to take back what he had written, he refused and was declared an outlaw. Anyone could have captured him and killed him or turned him in to authorities, in which case his death was likely. Fortunately, his own prince protected him, hiding him out in a castle where he began translating the Bible into German. In the process, he helped create the standard German language.

Luther wrote many influential books, most of which are still valued today. He created the Small Catechism to guide ordinary people in learning about God. He wrote hymns such as “A mighty fortress is our God.” He was a passionate, sometimes crudely mannered man, and in later life he wrote terrible, cruel things about the Jewish people, statements for which the Lutheran church has apologized.

Yet Luther was a remarkable man, helping to create the modern notion of what it means to be an individual, not just an atom in a sea of molecules, and, of course, reviving and reforming the church. He is a man worth celebrating!

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Awakening to God’s Presence, Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017

Proper 27

[RCL] Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Archbishop William Temple said, “The source of humility is the habit of realizing the presence of God.”

We may as well face it, none of us likes to wait. Modern culture demands immediacy. Whatever we want, we want it now. If that’s not enough, we want the newest and the best, we want the latest and greatest, and we want it all right now.

Yet, recent research on economic success suggests that delayed gratification may lead to more sustainable innovation and success. The study is based on parking habits: Do you park head-in to a parking space, or do you back in, making it easier to pull out when you leave? Brain research has long concluded that hard work and persistent effort helps to “grow the brain.” That is, we can make ourselves smarter and more successful through hard work. It is called neuroplasticity – the brain’s capacity to always, throughout life, make new connections, new neural pathways, to make us smarter and more aware.

So someone researched national parking habits in countries around the world, correlated with economic innovation and success, and concluded that since backing in to a parking space tends to take more work and persistence, countries in which that is the predominant parking method tend to be more productive and successful.

What does all this have to do with bridesmaids, Jesus and keeping awake? Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest, psychologist and retreat leader made a career out of teaching us that the main task of the spiritual life is to wake up. Despite our over-stimulation with electronic devices, addictions to the Internet and social media, and our endless quest for the newest, the best and the most, we tend to make our way through life sleepwalking. We remain somehow unaware of the spiritual dimension of our lives. Like all of the bridesmaids, we let that part of our life wait. There will be time for that later, we say to ourselves.

Or worse still, we see the life of the spirit as something we need to acquire or earn. We buy and consume books, DVDs, we watch TV shows, read blogs and whatever we can get our hands on. But none of these activities quench our desire and need for an awareness of our spiritual self. In the midst of all this working on our spiritual life, we are still distracting ourselves from experiencing it. De Mello and Jesus both knew this and call us to wake up! And once awake to stay awake!

Since we know that we can grow our brains to develop new habits and awareness, what will be the spiritual equivalent of filling our lamps with oil and trimming our wicks?

Let’s first address wick trimming, since lamps and candles burn slower when we regularly trim the wick. It is similar with fruit trees – they produce more fruit when we do the work of pruning. Just as it is easier to get out of our parking spaces head first, Jesus is always extolling the value of doing the upfront work so that we can reap the dividends more easily when the fruit comes in. So trimming and pruning our lives, reducing the amount of distractions, would seem to be the No. 1 lesson for those of us who aspire to be bridesmaids for Christ when he comes. The paradox is that doing less can also help us to awaken to the presence of the Spirit in every breath we take. Doing less can help us to wake up and stay awake for the presence of Christ here and now.

As to filling our lamps with oil, doing less points us in the right direction. For it turns out that another way to encourage and promote neuroplasticity is to do nothing – not just less, but nothing. All religious traditions have some form of mindfulness meditation, centering prayer and contemplation as a religious or spiritual practice. Sadly, it is rarely found in church, where we tend to relentlessly work our way through the liturgy without pause so we can get to the end. And then what? Go to coffee hour, “the 8th sacrament”? Or go watch the ball game?

Contemplative prayer or mindfulness meditation helps us to create an empty space within. This has two immediate benefits.

It gives God and the Spirit a point of entry into our otherwise busy and sleepwalking lives. Once we prepare a place within for the God to dwell within us, we become more aware and awake to the fact that God has been and is always with us. We recognize that the work of spiritual growth is, in fact, no work at all.

Also, as it turns out, letting the brain rest promotes neuroplasticity. When we emerge from our prayer or meditation, we are made new, re-wired and more aware of not only who we are but whose we are. The German theologian Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying, “God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.”

So what are we waiting for? Are we to spend our time like the bridesmaids, waiting for Christ to come? Or are we to heed our Lord’s final imperative in the story: Keep awake!

These parables are tricky. We tend to treat them as doctrinal treatises or allegories, assigning parts to each character in the story. But what if Jesus meant to simply shock us with details such as closing the door on the foolish ones only to deliver the real message: Keep awake! One suspects Jesus really did not want us spending hours of Bible study dithering over questions such as “How could Jesus do that? Why would he close the door on anyone?” when we already know the answer is that he closed the door on no one. Not prostitute, not tax collector, not sinner. His door is always open. The disciples to whom this little tale is told know that and have witnessed it every day. And like them, we ought to be those who recognize that what seems like his coming again is simply our awakening to the very real Good News of Jesus, that he is with us always to the end of the age. No waiting required. He is here. Forever and always. We might even say forever and all ways.

What is Jesus calling us to do? Wake up and keep awake!

The time and effort put into doing less and doing nothing will awaken us to the clever truth buried deep within this tale of lamps and oil and bridesmaids: He is here. His door is open to all at all times of day and night.

When we wake up to this truth all things are made new – including most importantly we ourselves.

 

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 http://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.

 Note: This sermon originally ran for Proper 27 on November 9, 2014.

Download the sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bulletin Insert – November 12, 2017

San Joaquin Revival

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church will co-sponsor a three-day Episcopal Revival on Friday to Sunday, November 17 – 19, with an emphasis on sharing a bold, inclusive vision of faith in action.

“This wonderful event marks a new chapter in the life of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin,” noted Bishop David Rice of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

“The Holy Spirit is moving across the Episcopal Church, and these Revivals are just one sign of our desire to go public with the love of God and the dream of God in our communities,” said the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care.

Presiding Bishop Curry has stirred the whole church to take its place in The Jesus Movement: the community of people who follow Jesus and form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with God, their neighbors and the environment. Episcopalians in San Joaquin are following that call and opening their hearts, minds, and doors to the concerns of the Central Valley, especially people who feel vulnerable and unwelcome in today’s cultural climate.

All San Joaquin Revival events are free, open to the public and will be live-streamed.

On Friday, November 17, beginning at 4 pm at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, hundreds of Episcopalians, faith partners, and civic leaders will join for a rousing time of prayer, singing and testimony focused on immigration and DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

On Saturday, November 18, beginning at 1 pm at St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno, ministry leaders and partners will take a Neighborhood Prayer Walk through the surrounding urban community. The prayer walk concludes at the church doors, and leads into the installation service formally installing Rice as Bishop in San Joaquin’s Cathedral.

On Sunday, November 19, beginning at 10 am at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, Presiding Bishop Curry will preach, preside and commission members and guests to love God and love their neighbors. Following worship and brunch, participants will take up the “1000 Yellow Bags Challenge,” stuffing 1,000 yellow bags with toiletries, socks, and other necessities for the homeless and then sharing them with homeless people.

The San Joaquin Revival is one of series of Episcopal Revivals launched in early 2017. Each revival includes advance training in evangelism and reconciliation, a major public revival event, and follow-up strategies to keep living the Jesus Movement. For more information about the San Joaquin Revival, contact Anna Carmichael at canonanna@diosanjoaquin.org or 559-439-5011.

Please keep the San Joaquin Revival, its participants and planners, and the people of California’s Central Valley in your prayers.

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Bulletin Insert – November 5, 2017

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 or the nearest Sunday afterward, is characterized by the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as a Principal Feast, “taking precedence over any other day or observance” (BCP, 15). The day is set aside to remember and commend the saints of God, especially those who are not recognized at other points in the church year.

According to Holy Women, Holy Men, in the tenth century, it became customary to recognize on a single day “that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church” (Holy Women, Holy Men, 664). Over time, the day became associated with special remembrances of an individual’s family and friends.

While several churches abandoned the commemoration during the Reformation, the Feast of All Saints was retained on the Anglican liturgical calendar. All Saints’ Day began to assume the role of general commemoration of the dead: all Christians, past and present; all saints, known and unknown.

Because of the day’s association with the remembrance for the dead, many churches publish a necrology. This reading of the names of the congregation’s faithful departed may include prayers on their behalf. Such prayers are appropriate, as the Catechism reminds us, “because we still hold [our departed] in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is” (BCP, 862).

The day is often characterized by joyful hymns, including such favorites as “For All the Saints,” “Who Are These Like Stars Appearing,” and “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” These hymns share motifs of rest, fellowship, and continued, joyful service to God—salient indeed on this day, as we remember “those of dazzling brightness, those in God’s own truth arrayed, clad in robes of purest whiteness, robes whose luster ne’er shall fade”!

Collect for All Saints’ Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Bible Study, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 12, 2017

Proper 27

[RCL]: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The people of Israel return to holy ground to renew the holy covenant in this, the final chapter of the Book of Joshua. Joshua has led the twelve tribes into the land of Canaan as promised by God, and this renewal of the covenant is the culmination of that period in the life of the people.

The people rehearse the story of God’s saving acts toward them: deliverance from slavery in Egypt, protection on the journey, and arrival in the land promised by God. God is consistently loyal and steadfast; the people often struggle with a similar response.

At this renewal of the covenant, Joshua presents the people with a decision to make: whom will you serve—the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt or other gods? This is not a choice to be made lightly or with verbal assent only. This choice requires the movement of the heart: “Incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

We daily have to answer the question: whom will you serve? The other gods in the lands where we reside work to distract our attention and acquire our service. We daily must say with Joshua, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

  • What are the other gods that reside in the land where you live? (“Isms” are usually a good place to begin.)
  • How do you daily choose to serve the Lord with mind and heart?

Psalm 78:1-7

The speaker in this psalm is a teaching voice from among the people: “Hear my teaching, O my people…” And what is it that the teacher wishes to communicate? The teacher intends to share the story and instruction of God so that it may pass from generation to generation.

As the psalmist notes, God requires this teaching from generation to generation. It is how the community shows a commitment to the covenant given by God. When later generations rely on the commandments as a way to order personal and communal life, God and the covenant are honored.

In the reading from the Book of Joshua, we heard of the need to “Incline your hearts to the Lord.” This psalm begins with the imperative to “Incline your ears to the words of [the teacher’s] mouth.” As people of faith, we incline our hearts to God and also listen and learn within our communities for the teachings that point us to God. We learn the stories of God and of ourselves in community—in the traditions of sacred word and symbol passed from generation to generation.

  • Who were your first “teachers” within the faith community?
  • How can we best equip future generations in the teachings and traditions of our faith?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Paul offers these words to the Thessalonians as words of encouragement. People have died, and Jesus has not yet returned as expected. What does it all mean?

Paul reminds the community that what it all means hinges on belief in Jesus. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus destroyed death. Period. No question mark. As Paul paints the picture of Jesus’ second coming, he assures the Thessalonians that all—both those who have died in Christ and those still alive—will be with the Lord.

The questions come when, after accepting belief in Jesus, there is a delay before Jesus’ triumphant return. The questions come as loved ones die and grieving and suffering continue. Those questions voiced by the Thessalonians continue today. What does it all mean?

Just like the Thessalonians, we too can be encouraged because of our belief in Jesus and Jesus’ destruction of death. Just like the Thessalonians (and Paul), we do not know when Jesus will return. We do know, however, that there is Jesus and that Jesus is resurrection. We are not a people without hope.

  • Have you ever had questions or concerns like those of the Thessalonians?
  • How do we focus on the hope of Jesus in this time while we wait for Jesus’ return?

Matthew 25:1-13

“The kingdom of heaven will be like this.” We know this construction; we know that we are about to hear one of Jesus’ parables. In this week following All Saints’ Sunday where we contemplated the whole company of heaven, we should expect a parable attentive to the second coming.

This theme will command our attention in the season of Advent. As the liturgical year draws to a close, we meditate on the second coming of Christ. We sensed this focus in the reading from 1 Thessalonians, and it is continued in the parable Jesus shares: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The ten bridesmaids wait anxiously—even if falling asleep—for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise prepare with extra oil for their lamps and the foolish do not. Heralds of the Advent message seem to reverberate: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3).

With what we know of parables, however, we know better than to try and encapsulate the full meaning of the parable in one, quick reflection (if ever). The parables demand a bit more of us.

We can allow our imaginations to be captivated by the coming bridegroom and the need to prepare while also being open to questions that prompt our further exploration of the parable.

I wonder where the foolish bridesmaids were to go and buy oil at the midnight hour…

  • What further questions (as the “wondering” offered above) do you have when you consider this parable?
  • How do you get ready to get ready? In what ways can we prepare for the season of Advent?

 

Elizabeth Farr is a Candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of East Tennessee and a current Senior Seminarian at the School of Theology at The University of the South. A “cradle Episcopalian,” Elizabeth is a 2007 graduate of the University of the South College of Arts and Sciences. In her vocational life before seminary, Elizabeth served as the Youth Director at Bruton Parish, Williamsburg, Virginia, and, most recently, Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Elizabeth is married to Matthew Farr, a recently ordained priest serving in the Diocese of Tennessee, and they are parents to an active, three-year-old boy.

Download the Bible Study for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Do You Feel Burdened?, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – November 5, 2017

Proper 26

[RCL] Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

 Do you feel burdened? The writers of our epistle and gospel want to know. “You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God,” Paul says. Jesus speaks of the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” What is the difference between the two? What separates those in the Beloved Community who impose burdens on others, and those who remove them?

The topic of burdens is important throughout the Bible. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.” Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We all know what it is like to feel burdened by life. Every single person we know is bearing a burden of some kind, some seen, some unseen. Cancer, financial hardship, caregiving for an elderly parent, a child struggling in school, addiction—the burdens add up and weigh us down. And we all feel the collective burdens of lives lost or altered in natural disasters, mass shootings, and the global struggles of poverty and disease.

It’s no surprise that the bearing of burdens shows up all over scripture. And in our texts for today, we have the contrast between how Paul is trying to relate to his spiritual community, and how the scribes and Pharisees are. What differentiates the two? After all, Paul began religious life as a Pharisee. What helped him escape being a burden to his community? And more than that, how did he become someone who lessened the burdens of others?

We can immediately see from how Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees that they are creating burdens for others because they are carrying crippling burdens of their own. Their burden is made of a toxic combination of trying to earn God’s favor by their works and demanding that everyone around them acknowledge their superior efforts. They have taken the sacred Law of Moses, which Jesus upholds in this passage, and burdened it with the deceptively heavy weight of their fragile egos.

The scribes and Pharisees that Jesus describes do not believe that God loves them freely and fully regardless of what actions they do or do not take. They are constantly hustling for God’s favor. They do not believe in an unconditionally loving God in their heart of hearts. This is not the fault of the law, but the predictable result of any religious person who has never grown beyond the petty and fearful tyranny of the ego. There are many Christians today who suffer from this unseen burden of functional works righteousness. We say we believe God loves us, but we feel safer hedging our bets by racking up good works.

And those good works are usually seen by others. That public do-gooding starts to earn us the approval and congratulations of others, and we get addicted to it. Before long we start to think we’re better than other people who aren’t working as hard as we are to build the Kingdom of God. It can be a short road from “trying to help and care for others” to “holier-than-thou and insufferable.”

What began as an honest search for the love of God and a life in the center of God’s will has turned into our becoming a burden to our faith community. Why did this happen? What is missing?

What is missing is the space, silence, and vulnerability necessary to actually receive the radiant love of God. When we approach the Christian life as a constant stream of virtuous activity directed as loudly as possible both at God and at our faith community—“Look at me! Look at all the wonderful things I’m doing!”—the still, small voice of the Spirit is very easily drowned out. Our self-imposed burden of a needy ego, never patient enough to learn the love of God, will sooner or later become the arrogance and self-satisfaction of the scribes and Pharisees in our gospel passage today.

“You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God,” Paul tells us. This “labor and toil,” “night and day,” that Paul speaks of consists in large part of patient and faithful prayer. Going within in silence and stillness, engaging in spiritual disciplines, finding and remaining faithful to daily spiritual practice—this is the labor and toil that over time, lifts our false internal burdens and makes us free. The freely chosen work of prayer and building spiritual intimacy with God slowly transforms us from being burdens, to merely having burdens, to one day lifting the burdens of others.

That’s one half of the equation—the labor and toil of prayer and individual encounter with God. The other half is the night and day patient engagement with one another in community. Moving from being a burden to others to lifting burdens from others requires exactly that—others. The quest for gospel transformation does not take place in a bubble. There are some of us who might enjoy sitting alone all day and thinking beautiful thoughts about God—but that is not love. Individualistic spiritual practice taken to an extreme will make us a burden to our community as surely as no spiritual practice at all.

Anyone who has had to carry heavy burdens will know that balance is the key. Trying to carry heavy bags of groceries up flights of stairs in only one hand is very difficult. Shift the bags to carry them equally in both hands and the burden is suddenly much easier to bear. So it is with our balance of individual and community spiritual intimacy. Keep it all on one side of the equation and we are quickly out of balance, becoming heavy to both ourselves and others. Seek an even distribution of time alone with God and time together with God, and suddenly progress forward is smoother and easier.

Paul says in our epistle today that the Word is at work in us as believers. That’s the most important thing of all as we seek to carry our own burdens and those of our fellow disciples. No burden we shoulder is ours to carry alone. The Holy Spirit within us is always present and ready to do the heavy lifting. Jesus says it himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The burdens of life and community may never go away, but when the love of God pervades them, they are no longer crushing weights. Our burdens become a steadying presence, anchoring and grounding us in the faithful pursuit of grace and truth. For it is when we commit to turning our burdens over to God that we are at last empowered to bear the burdens of one another. And a burden shared becomes a burden halved, as the old saying goes. Perhaps we could modify it for ourselves—a burden shared becomes a burden graced.

 The Rev. Whitney Rice is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Indianapolis and currently the Associate Rector the St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Zionsville, Indiana.  A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Yale Divinity School, where she won the Yale University Charles S. Mersick Prize for Public Address and Preaching and the Yale University E. William Muehl Award for Excellence in Preaching. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Download the sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

 

Bible Study, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 5, 2017

Proper 26

[RCL]: Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Joshua 3:7-17

As Joshua and the Israelites ready to fight against Jericho, they spiritually prepare for battle at the Jordan River. God powerfully reveals his presence with them by stopping the Jordan River and allowing the people of God to cross over on dry ground. This not only reminds them of their redemption and liberation from Egypt at the Red Sea, but it also affirms and validates the leadership of Joshua—who has stepped into the massive leadership footsteps of the great Moses. God’s people are powerfully reminded that God is with them as they head into battle.

  • As you face various “battles” in life, how can our Exodus—our redemption from sin and death in Jesus—be of encouragement to you?
  • Jesus, who is our Moses and our Joshua, now leads us forward in life. Where is he leading you? How can you more closely align yourself with his leadership?

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

As a response to the Joshua reading above, this is a psalm of thanksgiving, reminding the readers of all that God has done to redeem them—to gather them and set them on the road to abundance and life. As God calls us to new adventures of faith, we can remember the many ways God has worked in our own lives, bringing us out of meaninglessness and despair onto the pathway toward life and peace. As God has worked in the past, we can be confident that he will continue to work in our future as we seek first his kingdom and look ahead to our full redemption on the Last Day.

  • Consider now how God has worked in your past. How has he shown himself to be a God of redemption and liberation?
  • As you consider the challenges in life before you this day, how can the remembrance of the past help give you proper perspective on your future?

 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

In this epistle, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his tireless work to bring them the Word of God, the gospel. Paul’s ministry was marked by integrity, hard work, and love for those to whom he ministered. He expresses gratitude for the ways in which the Thessalonians recognized and accepted Paul’s message as having a divine origin and not one of Paul’s own making. It should be noted that there was a powerful partnership of both word and deed in Paul’s ministry; he not only spoke the gospel, he lived it out among them.

  • Take stock of the key relationships in your life right now. Think of people that you see regularly and with whom you are highly invested in relationally. How can you more fully live out a holistic expression of the gospel with them – one where you are honest about your faith in Jesus and where you seek to live it with love, integrity, and devotion?

Matthew 23:1-12

In this gospel reading, Jesus discounts the ministry of the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical ways. They love to teach others how to live according to the will of God, yet fail to live what they preach. “Do as I say, not as I do!” Most parents know how little this works. Kids pick up more what you do than what you say – and sometimes to embarrassing results! We want children to use proper etiquette and manners, and yet often we face the embarrassment of kids taking on the bad habits of their parents. We are all called to live out the gospel of Jesus and emulate his life of love and devotion. We have been sent out into the world as agents of peace and reconciliation.

  • In your mind’s eye, walk through the various situations and challenges you are facing today. How can you more faithfully live out the gospel of Jesus in those situations?

Allen Wakabayashi is currently serving as Curate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Gladstone, N.J. He attended Nashotah House seminary. He is currently a deacon and anticipates, God willing, to be ordained to the priesthood early in 2018. He is happily married to his wife, Diane, who is also on the ordination path to the priesthood. Allen’s passion is to see college students fall in love with Jesus and become lifelong agents of the gospel.

Download the Bible Study for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (A).