Archives for November 2017

Surprised by God, Advent 4 – December 24, 2017

[RCL] 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

 Mary was not expecting visitors, and she certainly was not expecting a visit from the Angel Gabriel. But there he was, with the afterglow of divine light fresh on his robes standing before her. “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you!” Not your typical greeting. Who says stuff like that? Is he trying to impress someone? Mary is a nobody, in a village filled with nobodies, no need to waste grand angelic pronouncements on her.  Gabriel’s presence is more than enough to impress.

“Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.” Do not be afraid? How can Mary not be afraid? Angels don’t come to Nazareth and they most certainly don’t come to poor peasant girls like Mary. God doesn’t find favor with the likes of her. The angel must be mistaken. Perhaps he is lost. Maybe he is looking for a different Mary. But he keeps talking. Mary is perplexed and afraid.

“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Surprise! How can this be? No great ruler has ever come out of Nazareth. And yet here is the angel, speaking of ancestors, and throne and kingdoms. It makes no sense. Why choose a barely engaged teenager to carry God’s son? Why not? If Elizabeth, like Sarah before her, could bear a son in her old age there is nothing impossible with God. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary’s surprise is our surprise. Thousands of years later God’s call still mystifies us, still has the power to provoke us to wonder and awe. The news from God is frequently too good to be true and messengers are often wholly unexpected and astonishing, but the message remains the same: God will always surprise us.

God is in the business of surprising us over and over and over again. Scripture is filled with God showing up in the most unlooked-for places and the unlikeliest of people.  People have encountered the God of wonder in bushes that burn, donkeys that talk, raging whirlwinds, pillars of fire, and under starry night skies. God has a way of amazing us on the tops of mountains, at wells in the noonday sun, and strangers bearing gifts. No matter how often we look for God in the familiar places, God will somehow be revealed in the unexpected, the unlooked-for, and the unpredicted.

Jesus’ birth to an unwed teenaged mother, in a backwater town a little north of nowhere, was perhaps God’s biggest surprise of all. No great kings or rulers to welcome the Messiah—instead, the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast attended the birth of God made flesh. No fanfare, fireworks or finery for the Prince of Peace, just a manger bed on an average night, punctuated by the message of the angels and the bewilderment of shepherds. God surprised the world in the extraordinarily ordinary birth of Jesus.

As we make our way once more with the shepherds and angels towards Bethlehem, we celebrate God’s favor for the last, the lowest, and the least. At Christmas, we rejoice with Mary that Jesus is God’s biggest surprise. With this tiny helpless child in Mary’s arms, we see God making the common holy, the mundane mighty, and the everyday extraordinary. We are called to revel in God’s continued choice of the unexpected.

This is the good news at Christmas and beyond: that God is found not in a mansion but in a manger, not in a palace but in a poor house. The Good News about Jesus that we, as the Church, here, now, today are called to preach, is that we will be surprised at who God chooses to deliver the message of hope. Yet still we look for God in the halls of power and privilege. But that is not the message of the God of the universe and it is not the message of the angel.

In a world filled with wars and rumors of war, injustices, and violence, we need the message of the angel. For those who are searching and seeking a different way, God finds us in our need and raises us up. Our world is desperate for Good News.

The neglected, forgotten, and the left out are in need of the message of hope found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  For us as a church to be relevant, we need to be bearers of the Good News that God stands with the left out, the lonely, and the lost. Our world is in need of God’s mystery and awe and surprise. But too often, we as the church find comfort in the known, the recognized, and the familiar. We like safe, we like certain, we like stability, but with God, we are never safe, or certain, or stable.

As we turn our gaze towards Christmas, the question we who look for and follow Jesus must ask ourselves is this: Have we heard the stories so often that we fail to see or share the surprise? Have we drained so much of the mystery from the world that we are no longer able to be startled by the workings of God? Have we failed to recognize Jesus in the passing touch of a hand, the fleeting beauty of a smile, the gentleness of a word of encouragement? Our lives, our communities, and our world are filled with God’s surprise if we stop long enough to recognize it.

When we domesticate the divine and muzzle the mysterious we leave little room for God to work in and through us. When the mystery of God is regimented, regulated, and relegated to be contained within four walls on any given Sunday, we have ceased to seek the surprise of God’s in-breaking into our world. And yet, God still finds a way to get our attention and fill us with surprise.

As people of God, as God’s beloved, we are called like Mary to fall into the uncertainty of God. We are called to let our lives, our hearts, and our eyes be open for glimpses of the divine so that we may follow in the way that Jesus has led.

To be amazed by God means that in Christ Jesus there is no work, no ministry, no person beyond our compassionate reach. If we are to be interrupted by God, we like Mary and Joseph must risk stepping out on faith into an uncertain future, knowing that God is out there waiting with just one more surprise.

When we are surprised by God, our hearts are set free, our burdens are lifted and our fear fades. Like Mary, when we encounter the divine mystery, we can only respond in joyful song. As we journey to the manger once more, may we seek once again to be surprised by a God who finds favor in us, who has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things. May we in our lives and our living magnify the Holy One, may we be messengers of God who seek the divine in the midst of the ordinary and may we in joyful song proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Amen.

A priest, a parent, and a (recovering) perfectionist, the Rev. Deon K. Johnson is a native of Barbados who has questioned Michigan winters in his eleven years as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, Mich. Deon’s passion for inclusion, welcome, and worship geekiness has led him to be trained as a Liturgical Consultant, helping communities of faith re-envision their worship and worship spaces to better reflect the beauty, mystery, and all-around awesomeness of following Jesus. Deon graduated from Case Western Reserve University and the General Theological Seminary. When he isn’t ruing temperatures below fifty degrees, Deon enjoys traveling, biking, hiking, and spending time with his family.

Download the sermon for Advent 4(B).

Bulletin Insert – December 10, 2017

Episcopal Evangelism Grants

The application process is now open for the new Episcopal Evangelism Grants Program, designed to fund local and regional evangelism efforts in the Episcopal Church.

“This program will encourage our whole Church to share resources, catalyze imagination, and ultimately cultivate a network of evangelists who can learn from each other and connect with each other,” explained the Rev. Canon Susan Brown Snook, Chair of both the Episcopal Evangelism Grants Committee and the Executive Council Committee on Local Mission and Ministry. The Episcopal Evangelism Grants program is coordinated by the Local Mission and Ministry Committee in collaboration with the Episcopal Church’s Evangelism Initiatives Team.

“Evangelism isn’t some scary practice only ‘other’ Christians do,” said the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care, and a member of the Grants Committee. “Evangelism is the heart of Christian life, and we hope this program will light a fire and connect Episcopalians who are creating unique, authentically Episcopal ways of seeking, naming and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence everywhere.”

The Committee seeks proposals focused on several goals:

  • Create and spread resources that equip Episcopalians and churches to become evangelists and to share and receive faith stories in daily life
  • To create opportunities for people who are not part of a faith community to build their own loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with God in Christ.
  • To aim for lasting, broad impact.
  • To employ innovation and creativity.
  • To promote churchwide learning, understanding and practical application.

Episcopal institutions (congregations, dioceses, provinces, schools, monastic communities, Episcopal organizations and other Episcopal affiliated entities) are eligible to receive these funds. Regional collaborative partnerships with non-Episcopal entities are welcome, but an Episcopal entity must serve as the project leader, active manager, and reporting agent. Those associated with a seminary or formation program are encouraged to explore funding through the Episcopal Evangelism Society at www.ees1862.org.

Grants are available for up to $2,000 for an individual congregation and up to $8,000 for multi-church, diocesan and regional collaborations.  Groups receiving funding are expected to make a significant financial contribution toward the project, as well. The Grants Committee will review proposals and make recommendations to Executive Council at its January 2018 meeting. Distribution will occur within four weeks of notification and completion of requisite forms.

 Application, criteria, and additional information are available here www.episcopalchurch.org/evangelism. Application deadline is December 15 at 8 pm Eastern. For more information, contact Kayla Massey at kmassey@episcopalchurch.org or (212) 716-6022.

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Bible Study, Advent 4 (B) – December 24, 2017

[RCL] 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

While David has in mind what most people would conceive of in hearing the word “temple,” God appears to be thinking of something altogether different. This is especially clear whenever we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament. David desires to construct a building for the Lord. Yet, we see that God is resistant to the notion, not because he dislikes the idea in general, but because David is not the one he has chosen for this task, and there is more to the notion of temple than a physical building. New Testament authors and the Church Fathers and Mothers would later read this passage typologically, depicting human bodies as God’s temple. Mary certainly had a hand in this construction in bearing Jesus, the person in whom God’s fullness dwells. Jesus also constructs the temple of God out of the Church. The point in all of this is not that God doesn’t want a temple in which to dwell, but rather that David’s blueprints do not quite align with God’s. We will come to find out that God prefers human bodies over inanimate buildings.

  • How should we treat ourselves knowing that our bodies are temples for God, and how should this notion impact how we relate to others?

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Whenever we hear the word “faithfulness,” we may be too quick to attribute it to a merely human attribute. We think a lot about fidelity within our relationships and within marriage. We reflect upon our own faithfulness to God and the Church. While there is nothing wrong with the consideration of such things, we tend to forget to think about God’s faithfulness to us. It is God’s faithfulness to us that serves as the precondition for our faithfulness to him. Before ever choosing God, God has chosen to be for us. Our expressions of faith to God are not the initiation of a relationship—they are the response to a God who has dedicated himself to us all along. He opted to be for us even before we came into existence. You and I are enfolded into the promise that God made to his people in ancient times. God’s dominion certainly has extended and, as if with one voice, we say to God, “You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

  • Compare how much you think about your faithfulness and how much you think about God’s. Which do you think you should spend more time thinking about?

Romans 16:25-27

In this doxology, Paul would have us lift our hearts to the God who can strengthen us “according” to three different things, and these three accordings form an interesting progression of thought. To paraphrase, God strengthens us according to the proclamation of the Gospel, according to the revealed mystery of Christ (which now incorporates the Gentiles), and according to the sanctifying command of God. The movement is from the mere reception of the Gospel, to the reinterpreting of the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the mystery revealed (and beholding the cosmic Christ in light of this revelation), then to the life of obedience that forms the response to these things. If we are to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the “only wise God,” we must keep these dynamics together. God’s wisdom will not permit us to simply receive the Gospel and do nothing with it, nor will it let us be negligent towards the inclusion of all sorts of people in the Church as we seek to live lives of obedience. The wisdom of God keeps all of these dynamics intimately together. We should do likewise.

  • Which of these dynamics has strengthened you in your faith journey? To which might you need to be more attentive?

Luke 1:26-38

In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus doesn’t begin where one might presume it should begin. It doesn’t begin with Jesus. Rather, the story of Jesus begins with his mother. While we may be tempted to read our own finely-tuned theological presumptions back into this story, we would be wise to read the text for what it is saying and not for what we have come to expect it to say. In other words, the Incarnation is not the central theme in this passage, nor is Luke trying to convince us that Mary is the Theotokos (“God-bearer”), although aspects of these ideas certainly can be inferred. Rather, Luke would have us turn our attention to the fact that God has used the meekest of human beings to accomplish his divine will. He would have us meditate upon Mary’s response to God (her willingness in saying, “Let it be…”), and perhaps it is this preexisting demeanor that has earned her the title “favored one,” even before the child is conceived in her womb.

  • How important is Mary’s “let it be,” and how does it enhance how we think about the Incarnation?
  • How significant is it that God does not bypass human participation in bringing about his divine will?

TJ Humphrey is a Middler at Nashotah House and is pursuing ordination through the Diocese of Milwaukee. Prior to his time at Nashotah House, he served as a Youth Director and Commissioned Pastor for the Christian Reformed Church in the St. Louis area. He is an avid reader, especially in works that deal with relational ontology, liturgical theology, and the ecclesial life of the Church. For fun, TJ loves to spend time with his family, travel, go backpacking in the mountains, watch a good hockey game, sip on a good bourbon, and geek out with a good theology book.

Download the Bible study for Advent 4(B).

Bible Study, Advent 3 (B) – December 17, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Suppose I were to ask you what it means to be saved. Would you explain salvation as a fixed reality, a progressive ontological shift, or perhaps something more dynamic and fluid? In my younger years, if I had been presented with this question—my answer might have been something like this: “Salvation means that God has forgiven my sins and now I can go to heaven once this life is over.” While this may be a good answer, is it a complete one? More specifically, is the good news of the salvation that God offers us through Christ simply about having our slates wiped clean so that we can go to heaven when we die? This view of the good news of salvation diminishes its more immediate power and seemingly reduces it to an entrance ticket one only needs to obtain at some point, before passing from this life to the next. What would happen if we took the words of the prophet from Isaiah 61 seriously and began to reframe our understanding of salvation as something that takes hold of our lives in the here and now—dynamically transforming us progressively into the image of God?

  • How has your view of salvation changed throughout your life?
  • In what ways might changing the way you think of salvation transform your life in the here-and-now?

Psalm 126

Through the technological advancements of our modern context, we possess the unparalleled potential to be connected to others, yet often—even with the plethora of social media platforms and hand-held internet devices available to us, we are more disconnected than ever. This is especially true in the United States, where the culture places a high value on self-sufficiency and rugged individualism. So, it is not surprising—when we read a passage of Scripture like this Psalm that speaks to a corporate experience of sorrow, redemption, and joy—that we might find ourselves struggling to relate experientially. The Psalmist, however, challenges us to see ourselves as connected to others in the midst of our time of struggle and to seek out the restoration of God together in unity. Sorrow somehow becomes more bearable when shared with others. Likewise, the joy and celebration of overcoming become that much sweeter when shared.

  • In your life, can you think of a time of great struggle that you finally overcame?
  • Did you go through this time alone or was it shared with others?
  • If it was shared with others, how did it change your experience?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

“Love your enemy.” “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Scripture is full of tall orders and this exhortation is no different. The preacher urges the audience to “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Just one of these biddings would be difficult enough for any of us to accomplish, but to attempt to live out all three would be seemingly impossible! The early Christians, however, believed that the return of Jesus was imminent and because of this, they wanted to frame their daily tasks and responsibilities in a way that would ensure they would always be ready for his return. Perhaps our expectations are, understandably, tempered after two thousand years of waiting, yet I wonder how our lives would change if we framed our lives and daily practices with the expectation that Jesus might return today—whatever that might look like. In the meantime, let us, as the preacher reminds us, “hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

  • How would practicing a life of prayer “without ceasing” change the way we experienced and interacted with others?
  • If you knew Jesus would return tomorrow, how would it change your behaviors or your view of the world?

 John 1:6-8,19-28

One of my favorite parts of going to see a movie is getting to watch the previews of upcoming films that are not yet released. There’s something powerful about being given a partial glimpse of something that is coming but is not yet. Every now and then, a preview will really spark my interest, and as my anticipation builds, I’ll find myself doing online research about the film production and past works of the writer or director. Anticipation builds expectation, readying us to better receive the wholeness of the final product when it ultimately arrives. Likewise, John the Baptist was not the light, but he went down to the riverside daily to baptize those who were willing and to testify of the coming light that would change the world. At this time of year, we remember his testimony as we too await the coming of the light that has brought us the gift of salvation and changed our lives—forever.

  • Have you ever known something good was about to happen but weren’t sure of when it would finally occur?
  • How did living in anticipation and expectation of the coming good affect your daily life?

Josh Woods is currently an M.Div. student in his senior year at the Seminary of the Southwest. He is also a Chaplain Candidate for the United States Air Force Reserve, preparing for parish ministry and reserve chaplaincy after his ordination. He lives in Austin, Tex., with his wife Laura and their two dogs, Roxie and Ezra.

Download the Bible study for Advent 3 (B).

Bulletin Insert – December 3, 2017

Preparing to Become the Beloved Community

A newly developed Advent resource is now available to help Episcopalians everywhere to take up Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation and healing. Every congregation will soon receive in the mail Preparing to Become the Beloved Community, a multi-fold poster and resource pack with prayer, reflections and activities for each week of Advent. The resources can also be downloaded at http://bit.ly/belovedcommunity.

Preparing builds on the Becoming Beloved Community vision document and resources, which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and their supporting officers introduced earlier this year. The document lays out the Episcopal Church’s long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation and justice.

“During Advent, Christians focus on how much we need Jesus to bear light, healing and hope in a broken world,” noted the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care. “This is a mysterious, vulnerable time. We’re opening to Christ. We’re opening to different neighbors and strangers who are Christ among us. We hope these resources meet the real hunger among Episcopalians to live like Jesus Movement people.”

Throughout Advent, an Episcopal Church social media campaign will also stir hope, reflection and action around racial reconciliation; join or follow using the hashtag #adventbeloved.

Advent begins on Sunday, December 3 and concludes on Christmas Day.

Preparing to Become the Beloved Community was developed by the Episcopal Church’s Racial Reconciliation Team. The resources are designed for group use among all ages, including Adult Forums, Sunday School, Women’s and Men’s groups, Advent preparation, Vestry meetings, Confirmation studies and more.

Each of the four weeks in Advent features Bible readings, reflections and activities focused on one part of the spiraling journey toward racial healing, reconciliation and justice:

  • Advent 1: Telling the Truth about Our Churches and Race
  • Advent 2: Proclaiming the Dream of Beloved Community
  • Advent 3: Practicing the Way of Love in the Pattern of Jesus
  • Advent 4: Repairing the Breach in Institutions and Society

The original Becoming Beloved Community vision lays these themes out visually around a labyrinth. “It’s a different way of approaching this work,” said Heidi Kim, Staff Officer for Racial Reconciliation. “It’s truly an invitation to spiritual formation and social transformation.”

For more information, contact Emily Gallagher at egallagher@episcopalchurch.org or 212-716-6242.

Download the bulletin insert as a PDF:

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Do Not Despise the Words of Prophets, Advent 3 – December 17, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Canticle 15; 1 Thessalonians 6:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

 Listen to the words of Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners.

Listen to the words of Mary of Nazareth:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

Listen to John the Baptizer:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. . .”

Listen and try to remember. Do you know any who are oppressed? Have you met with people who are brokenhearted? Have you ever been a captive or have you visited a prisoner?

Now, change direction and remember the mighty on their thrones. Identify them; call out their names as you pray to God, as Mary did, to cast them down. For they are the ones who cause oppression, who take away liberty and make prisoners of the innocent.

Lift up the lowly, oh Lord, we cry with Mary. Fill the hungry with good things. Send the rich away empty, for they are the ones who have emptied everything the poor ever had.

Is any of us courageous enough to cry out with Mary? Yet, this is what the prophets have seen and have proclaimed throughout the centuries. And the people laugh at them while the prophetic voices echo, like that of John’s, in the wilderness.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” This was a real man; he had a mother and a father—Zechariah and Elizabeth. Yet, he was sent from God. He was a prophet. “Who are you?” the people asked, taunting him. Who gave you the right to call us to repentance, to baptize your followers, to remind us of our sins? Who are you?

“I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”

They are familiar with the words of the great prophets of their tradition. But what they don’t know is what he tells them next. “I came as a witness to the light,” he announces, and then he personifies the light— “so that all might believe through him.” He is talking about light not as a phenomenon or an effect, but as a person. “I myself am not this light,” John the humble, the profound, tells them, “but I have come to give witness to this light.” And his courageous, prophetic voice continues with the surprising statement: “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

Untying the thongs of sandals was a slave’s job. A slave would have to bend down to untie the sandals of feet that had walked on dusty and dirty unpaved roads. Yet John, wildly popular at that time, claiming crowds of followers, has the humility to say that he is lower than a slave compared to the one he is about to introduce to them as the Light.

Truth, humility, and self-awareness: these are marks of the prophet. There are other marks made visible in the life of Jesus.

A modern-day prophet, the peacemaker Father John Dear, has identified six marks of the prophet in his book on the Beatitudes. One of them is that “the prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. . . . A prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless. Indeed, a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God.” At a time when the poor are despised and neglected, at a time when the very rich rule our world, we need to listen to the prophets who consistently remind us to pay attention. Advent is the right time for paying attention. Remember the oppressed, the voiceless, the widows, the orphans, the poor, we are reminded by the prophets.

Another mark of the prophets is that they are always concerned with justice and peace.

Justice and peace are at the heart of God, John Dear reminds us. Not in some future afterlife, but here, on this earth, “as it is in heaven.” We cannot have peace without justice.

Fearlessness and courage are the most evident marks of the prophet. We see those in John; we hear them in his cry, and we know that they brought him to the attention of one of those who sit on their thrones. John’s courage led to his gruesome death.

Jesus of Nazareth took the words of Isaiah and made them his own. He was filled with spirit of the Lord; he was the Lord’s anointed, the Christ. He too proclaimed good news to the poor as he bound the brokenhearted. He was the Light, the evangelist tells us, and the Light cannot be put out; it flickers, but it is not extinguished.

John the Baptizer was a witness to this light. We too are asked to be witnesses to the Light. We cannot have courage to proclaim the good news in a culture filled with the idols of wealth, weapons, and war unless we are filled and guided by God’s light.

Do not despise the words of the prophets, St. Paul reminds us. This Advent, as always, may we be filled with their passion for justice and peace and with their courage and fearlessness as we too seek to witness to the Light. Amen.

Katerina Whitley is an author, a retreat leader, and a social justice advocate. She has worked as an Episcopal communicator on the diocesan and national church level for four decades. The author of seven books, she lives in Boone and teaches at Appalachian State University. She lectures on St Paul and the First Century as the author of A New Love which is centered on the ministry of the great apostle. She invites you to visit her website, www.katerinawhitley.net.

Download the sermon for Advent 3 (B).

Bulletin Insert – November 26, 2017

What Are the 2017 AdventWords?

For the fourth year in a row, AdventWord gathers prayers via the global, online advent calendar. The Anglican Communion Office and Virginia Theological Seminary, with assistance from Society of Saint John the Evangelist, is pleased to offer 23 meditations during this holy season. #AdventWord begins on Sunday, December 3. Images and meditations can be experienced via email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Join this international community in prayer as we explore the mystery of Advent!

Invitation

AdventWord is a global, online Advent Calendar that invites Christians around the world to share images and their own brief reflections on each of this year’s 23 Advent Words.  We invite you to:

  • Sign up to participate from December 3 through Christmas Day
  • Use social media to share your own image for the word of the day
  • Help create a global, online Advent Calendar

How to participate

Go to http://adventword.org and sign up to receive a daily email. Each day of Advent, there will be an invitation to read a very short email reflection for that day’s assigned word, and to then share your own image or short reflection via social media using #AdventWord and a hashtag for the word of the day. Make sure there is a space between the tags, for example: #AdventWord #Celebrate.  On Facebook, go to the AdventWord page and post to the Timeline using #AdventWord and the tag of the day, making sure that your post is set to “public,” or we can’t see it! On Twitter, simply include the hashtags in your reflection or with your image.  On Instagram, post to the AdventWord feed.

  • Visit: instagram.com/adventword
  • Visit: twitter.com/AdventWord
  • Visit: facebook.com/AdventWordOrg

In Advance: 

If you want to get your images ready in advance, here’s a cheat sheet. Remember to share this with friends and family who would enjoy participating – Advent Word is an ecumenical project!  We welcome posts from all persons using images and phrases that resonate with #AdventWord and:

  • 3 December #Awaken
  • 4 December #Journey
  • 5 December #Gather
  • 6 December #Simplify
  • 7 December #Heal
  • 8 December #Mend
  • 9 December #Focus
  • 10 December #Prepare
  • 11 December #Messenger
  • 12 December #Watch
  • 13 December #Voice
  • 14 December #Wilderness
  • 15 December #Trust
  • 16 December #Among
  • 17 December #Light
  • 18 December #Dazzle
  • 19 December #Open
  • 20 December #Embrace
  • 21 December #Renew
  • 22 December #Greeting
  • 23 December #Child
  • 24 December #Believe
  • 25 December #Celebrate

During each of the days of Advent, it is hoped that everyone who participates will deepen their understanding of the coming of Jesus into the world, and will come to know that every aspect of their life is the stuff of prayer.

Download the bulletin insert as a PDF:

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Bulletin Insert – November 19, 2017

For Such a Time as This: Climate Resiliency

The Episcopal Church and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue our united call to Pray, Fast and Act in support of good policies that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of people struggling with poverty. As the earth’s climate continues to transition and threaten communities, we answer the call this month by supporting action for federal investment to make our nation, communities, and public services more resilient and better prepared in the face of increasingly common and destructive natural disasters and changing weather patterns.

This month, leaders from government, religious institutions, non-profits, and scientists gather in Bonn, Germany, to highlight the importance of international commitments to work together to address environmental challenges. As Anglicans, we must ensure that we advocate not only for ourselves, but for our fellow Anglicans, Christians, and humans, like those who see their island and coastal homes threatened by increasingly severe flooding and possible destruction.

 On November 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 invest in sustainable recovery and preparedness infrastructure designed for an uncertain and dangerous future.

“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

FAST to remember the damage wrought for so many around the world by environmental degradation 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. We fast on this day in solidarity with people whose lives are threatened by rising sea levels, increasingly destructive storms, extreme droughts, and fires. If you are unable to fast, consider participating by abstaining from carbon or fossil fuel based resources.

ACT by urging our elected leaders to support strong policy solutions that address the increasingly urgent preparation and reconstruction needs of communities threatened by extreme and unpredictable weather. Prepare for action on the 21st by reading the one-pager on climate and resiliency from the Office of Government Relations: bit.ly/FSATNovember.

Download the bulletin insert as a PDF:

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Love in Translation, Christ the King Sunday – November 26, 2017

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

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and the season after Pentecost is coming to a close. It is the longest season of the church year, marking the time by reminding us what it means to live as a disciple, be good stewards of what we have been given, and how to grow in relationship with God. Our church year isn’t a normal, linear calendar. Instead, it is circular, beginning with Advent and ending with this day, the last Sunday after Pentecost. “Always, we begin again,” as the Benedictine saying goes.

Many of the church’s yearly celebrations have gone on for centuries, with over a millennium of tradition and history enriching them. They mark the events of Jesus’ life: his birth, his journey to the cross, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit to remain with us. We tell these stories in our church calendar, year after year. They shape us in a multitude of ways as we become part of the stories—and they become part of us.

Now, here we are, at Christ the King Sunday, the feast day that dates back all the way to…1925. Yes! This tradition is not even 100 years old, yet it came at a time in the world where God seemed to be losing ground. As explained on churchyear.net, the devastating First World War had been fought, and the powers of nationalism and secularism were rising. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to lend courage to Christians whose faith might be flagging, to remind nations that the Church has a right to freedom and immunity from the state, and in hopes that leaders and nations would be bound to give respect to Christ.

Initially, the feast was celebrated on the last Sunday of October but was then moved in 1969 to its current place in the liturgical calendar to be a vision of Christ to which the rest of the year points. And what a vision it is! The scriptures today help us understand the shape of what the Messiah is to be and it’s not quite what we expect.

There’s a large mural on the side of a building in downtown Spokane, Washington, that is a copy of artist Pat Marvenko Smith’s painting of the book of Revelation’s vision of the King of Glory. Jesus is depicted crowned with many crowns, with fire in his eyes and a light streaming from his mouth as he rides a white stallion, cavalry following behind him through a cloud. It is quite terrifying and at the same time completely expected of a Messiah who is coming to judge the quick and the dead. Yet, our scriptures today speak of God as shepherd and Jesus as a just and merciful king, not a militant figure who looks like a ring-wraith from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Instead, the focus of today’s scriptures is not on what Jesus as the great judge looks like, but on how we, as followers of Jesus, have responded to God’s call in our lives. This is the last Sunday after the Pentecost—the end of the intentional time in our lectionary of exploring what it means to be a disciple. This is about discipleship and so it is about us.

Think for a moment about the churches that you hear about in your area. What do you hear about them? How do you hear about them? What are they known for? Most churches have some measure of the Christian virtues that we all value: faith, love, and hope. They always have since churches began, but some have a reputation and others don’t. Of course, all the communities are supposed to be living out their faith, bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth while they await Jesus. But the community in Ephesus has especially been noticed because of their reputation. The author of the Ephesians epistle has been impressed by the word-of-mouth reputation that the community has for having faith in the Lord Jesus and demonstrating that faith in love. They don’t just get together to do nice things for other people and talk about Jesus on occasion. Instead, they believe that Jesus is risen and sits at the right hand of God and they have experienced God’s power in their lives. They have been changed. They have been transformed. This transformation informs every single thing they do, individually and as a community.

This section of Ephesians is called a thanksgiving prayer, and it tells us something else about what God values in a community: people knowing their destination. They have a goal and because they know what direction they’re going, they have become people of hope. In our modern times, we sometimes get the meanings of ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ confused, but not the Ephesians. They know that faith means you entrust your life to Jesus today, in the present tense; and hope is about the future, about where our present trust in Jesus eventually leads.

This understanding about the Christian life reflects one of the mottos of the Roman Catholic order of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. They are to be contemplatives in action. In other words, to be grounded and centered in our faith in Jesus, so that we would know where God was calling us to action in the world around us. If we are all contemplatives that don’t do anything with the experience of God’s power that we have, then what’s the point? If all we do is reach out to others, but don’t go back to the wellspring of God’s living water and drink deeply, then we’ve missed our call and can become empty shells. We must have both.

Our Gospel of Matthew story of the sheep and the goats asks us a searching question that can be difficult to bear: are we admirers of Jesus or are we followers? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes the difference like this: “The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.” Becoming a disciple of Jesus is no easy task. Many throughout the ages have admired Jesus, but far fewer have chosen the sacrifice of following.

There is a sign in a church that has gone around on Facebook for the past few years and it says, “Sometimes I want to ask God why [God] allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when [God] could do something about it, but I’m afraid [God] might just ask me the same question.” As Christians, we believe that God has full claim on our lives. We are coming into the season of Advent next week and are reminded that God loved us so much that God would become human—become one of us—so that we would fully understand what that claim was and how deep the love goes. How do we translate this love to others? Jesus tells us in our Gospel today that when we feed or welcome or give clothing or visit the sick or those in prison that we are, in turn, feeding, welcoming, clothing, and visiting him. When people respond to human need—or fail to respond—they are responding or failing to respond to Jesus himself.

Through our belief in Jesus, we have the power to heal other people’s lives, just by our presence in theirs. We are called to be healers. We receive our strength, not from ourselves, but from God. On this Christ the King Sunday, our scriptures are clear about the “immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe.” As we complete another turning of the wheel of liturgical time, may we renew our commitment to be grounded in this power to seek Christ in all persons and love our neighbor as ourselves, even though we may look foolish to the world for loving so lavishly, and we may fail. With God’s help, we can also, thankfully, begin again. AMEN.

The Rev. Danáe M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFTA is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, and Minnesota, and is currently part-time Priest-in-Charge at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC. She is also the Director of The Episcopal Center for Embodied Faith, an online resource for the intersection between our bodies and faith, and a proud member of Thank God for Sex, a psycho-educational group that puts on community education events to promote healing for those who have experienced shame around their bodies and sexuality in faith communities.

Download the sermon for Christ the King Sunday (A).

Love Is Risky Business, Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017

Proper 28

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

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? You would try something pretty risky, right? After all, if you knew you wouldn’t fail, why try something easy? What risky thing would you do? Would you write the Great American Novel or sail around the world? Would you tell someone, “I love you,” or would you find the courage to leave? Would you go back to school to finish that degree or would you call your mother or father and say, “I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. When can we get together again?”

If failure were not an option, human history would have been marked with more bold attempts at both greatness and villainy. Failure is all too real and many bold plans have never gotten past the stage of dreams.

There are all kinds of risks and all kinds of rewards, but there is a common reason why we are naturally risk averse—fear. Fear is a natural, healthy reaction that can keep you safe. Healthy fear of fire prevents you from getting burned. Unhealthy fear of fire can also keep you from enjoying the simple pleasure of making your own s’mores on a campfire.

There has to be a balance between fear and reward. Those with no fear fill our cemeteries at an early age. At the other extreme, too much fear is unhealthy and paralyzing. Fear keeps hope locked in a room of doubt.

Great ships were not built to cling to the coastline. They were created to cross oceans. Few great discoveries were made by playing it safe. There is also no risk-free way to fall in love or to raise children. And there is no risk-free way to mend broken relationships and make amends for past hurts.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus tells a parable of risk and rewards and the responsibility that comes with great gifts. In the parable, a very wealthy landowner entrusts his servants with vast sums of money. A talent was a measure of gold worth roughly fifteen years’ wages for a day laborer. The life expectancy of the time for common laborers was such that making it to forty was never a sure thing, even though many lived longer. Fifteen years’ wages was more than half of what you might expect to make in a lifetime—maybe all you hoped to make in a lifetime. Each talent in this parable is that kind of wealth.

The master gives one servant five talents, another two, and the last a single talent. Now, this is where the parable gets hard to hear. The problem is that we have a word, “talent,” that means “ability” or “skill”. Singing, for example, is a talent. So, when we hear of a servant given one talent and another given five talents, it sounds like we are talking about abilities or skills, and then the parable immediately sounds different.

This is not a coincidence. Our English word, “talent,” comes to its current meaning through the preaching of the Middle Ages. In that time, when the English language as we know it was being forged, this parable was being preached. In preaching the story, congregations were told how these servants were given these large sums of money to watch over for their master. As the preaching went on through the centuries, it became easier to directly see the talents in this parable representing God’s gifts to us, posing the question, “What have you done with the talents God entrusted to you?” This created the meaning of our word, in which “talent” refers to our God-given gifts and abilities.

For the first hearers of the parable, it was clear that it was large sums of money with which the master entrusted his servants. The one in whom the master put the greatest trust made a vast sum of money, but to do so, he had to put at risk seventy-five years’ wages for a day laborer. If his plan for using the money entrusted to him failed, that servant could never have hoped to pay back his master.

The parable tells of three persons entrusted with great responsibility. Even the one who was given the care of a single talent was entrusted with much. Each of them would have to risk much if they wanted to show a return on investment.

In the parable, the first two servants doubled the master’s money. Each was rewarded with more money. Not money for themselves; they didn’t get a big payday. Each was given more money to invest for their master. The reward for faithfulness was more responsibility. Then came that fateful last servant. He, not too diplomatically, tells the master, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

This last servant risked nothing. He took what was entrusted to him and hid it. It was safe. There was little risk in digging a hole and hiding the loot. There was also no potential gain. And for not taking any risk with the money entrusted to him, the servant gets the worst possible punishment as his reward.

Jesus taught that the heart of the Good News is love. Our world was created for love, which means the freedom to do great evil as well as good. There is no other way. God gave us choices and through our choices, we can get hurt and we can hurt others. A universe where real love is an option is a risky place, as pain and suffering are not only possible, but likely. And yet, this world of choice founded on love is also what makes possible all the noble acts of self-sacrifice. This world is not only a world of pain and suffering, but also a world of generosity, kindness, and self-sacrificial love.

God invested so much love in you through Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection. You can never repay that love. The good news is that you don’t exactly have to pay Jesus back, as much as pay it forward. God is not looking for a return on investment in quite the same way as the hard landowner in the parable. Jesus calls on a muscular faith that is put to work and so grows stronger.

At the heart of this parable is really faith and trust that when we step out in faith, God will not leave us alone. This is like the Apostle Peter asking if he can walk out on the water to join Jesus. Jesus calls him out of the boat. This is Peter stepping out in faith. But once on the waves, with his whole life at risk, Peter is paralyzed by fear and begins to sink. Then Jesus rescues Peter. Christ was with him on the water; he couldn’t fail.

Living the Gospel always involves risk. Risk is inherent in saying, “I love you,” or in asking for forgiveness, or in offering to reconcile with someone who hurt you. God has shown you great love and asks only that you share that love with others. When you take the risk to love, it is the grace of God working through you that does the heavy lifting. Living into the love of God happens through concrete actions toward others as we give as we have been given, and forgive as we have been forgiven.

How might you share the love of God with someone today? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to forgive? In whom might you invest the love that God has shown you? What would you risk for love if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Amen.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He is also a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and serves on the Advisory Group on Church Planting. He blogs at loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

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