Archives for December 2017

Bulletin Insert – January 7, 2018

Georgia Revival and Deaconess Alexander

On January 20th, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia will host Fearless Faith, Boundless Love, a revival in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. The revival, which includes a recognition of the life and ministry of Deaconess Anna Alexander, will be a day of celebration, joy, and renewal, as the Church goes out to do the work God has given us to do. Please note that this revival was rescheduled following Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Anna Ellison Butler Alexander was born in 1865 to recently emancipated slaves on Butler Plantation in McIntosh County, Georgia. She would become the first black deaconess in the Episcopal Church. In a calling of more than 60 years, her indomitable spirit and fierce devotion to God still illuminates our understanding of ministry.

Deaconess Alexander’s call was to serve the people of Pennick and Darien, Georgia. She founded Good Shepherd Church in rural Glynn County’s Pennick community, where she taught children to read – by tradition, from the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible—in a one-room schoolhouse. The school was later expanded to two rooms with a loft where she lived. In addition to her ministry at Good Shepherd, she traveled on foot for 15 miles and rowed a small boat on the Altamaha River to serve St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Darien. Her tireless work was to teach her pupils about the world and Christian responsibility to all peoples.

This is not to say that Deaconess Alexander served in easy times. The diocese segregated her congregations in 1907 and African American congregations were not invited to another diocesan convention until 1947. Similarly, it was only in the 1950s, after her death, that a woman set aside as a deaconess was recognized as being in deacon’s orders. However, her witness – wearing the distinctive dress of a deaconess, traveling by foot from Brunswick through Darien to Pennick, showing care and love for all she met—represents the best in Christian witness.

Please keep the Georgia Revival, its participants and planners, and the people of Georgia in your prayers. Selected portions of Fearless Faith, Boundless Love, including Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry’s sermon, will be live-streamed on the Episcopal Church’s Facebook page. For more information on Episcopal revivals, including future locations and events, please visit http://bit.ly/episcopalrevivals.

A Collect for Deaconess Alexander

O God, you called Anna Alexander as a deaconess in your Church, and sent her as teacher and evangelist to the people of Georgia: Grant us the humility to go wherever you send us, and the wisdom to teach the word of Christ to whoever we meet, that all may come to the enlightenment which you intend for your people; through Jesus Christ, our Teacher and Savior. Amen.

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Bible Study, Epiphany 5 (B) – February 4, 2018

[RCL] Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31

In Isaiah 39, the prophet gave Yahweh’s judgment to King Hezekiah: Judah would soon be overtaken by Babylon. After this ominous message, the second major section of Isaiah, known as the Book of Comfort, begins. This section of Isaiah includes chapters 40 through 66. Our reading occurs in the opening paragraphs of the Book of Comfort. Here, the image of God’s majesty is presented through poetry. For those who had heard Isaiah’s prophecy, this poetry would have offered a contrasting view of Yahweh: the consoling deliverer.

  • In this passage, Isaiah responds to the harsh judgment of Yahweh (Isa. 39) with contrasting imagery. Where do you see the contrast between sin and redemption at work in the world today?

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Psalms 146 – 150 form a collection known as The Endless Hallelujah. Psalm 147:1 invites the community of Israel to praise Yahweh. Verses 2 – 6 describe Yahweh’s good works. Verses 7 – 11 repeat the cycle: in verse 7, the invitation to praise, and in verses 8 – 11, the reasons to praise Yahweh. For thousands of years, this Psalm has reminded us to praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

  • In our busy lives, pausing to praise Yahweh may be difficult. How might our lives be affected by creating space and time for daily worship?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Paul proclaimed the gospel with no expectation of payment or other earthly reward. Corinth was a society in which success was known by wealth, power, and prestige. Paul sets himself apart from secular recognition: the gospel is God’s message of grace and Paul will do whatever is necessary to bring the message to all of God’s people. God’s abundant grace is available to the weak, the slave, the citizen, the Jew, and all others in Corinth. This must have been a peculiar message in a city that prized status.

  • Many of us live in societies like Corinth. As Christians, our daily walk in the world is an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. What is the gospel message we are communicating?

Mark 1:29-39

This passage continues to reveal the healing power of Jesus. For those in Galilee, rumors were traveling quickly about the healer. People were coming to see him. Jesus retreats from the village of Capernaum to pray alone. He is found by his disciples, who encourage him to return. But Jesus announces that it is time for him to travel throughout Galilee to proclaim the message, “Because that is why I came.” Throughout this gospel, making the good news accessible to the Gentiles is a consistent rhetorical message. In verse 38, Mark makes clear that proclaiming God’s message was Jesus’ reason for being in their midst.

  • Living conditions in Galilee were primitive. Suddenly, Jesus moves among them—and he is able to heal the un-healable. Surrounded by people needing his divine touch, Jesus retreats to pray alone. When the world presses upon us, the example of Jesus suggests that we should intentionally hit the “pause” button and spend time praying. What benefits do you see in choosing to follow Jesus’ example? What challenges do you see?

 

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 5 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 4 (B) – January 28, 2017

[RCL] Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

God assures Israel that he will continue to communicate through prophets, even after Moses’ death. Discerning who is—and who is not—speaking Yahweh’s words will be critical for Israel. Those who hear God’s prophet, but do not accept the prophecy, will be held accountable by God.

  • How is Yahweh speaking to us in 2018? How are we responding?

Psalm 111

Yahweh is known by his works and deeds. The psalmist praises Yahweh for his enduring covenant with Israel. The word “forever” is a repeating message in this anthem: Israel’s relationship with Yahweh exists in perpetuity. These were assuring words to a people who were, at times, conquered and displaced. While their land—and even the Temple—might be overrun, their relationship with Yahweh remains forever.

  • 21st-century socio-cultural influences are impacting the practice of Christianity. What might we bring from Psalm 111 into our interaction with modernity?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Paul writes to 1st-century Christians in Corinth. In this setting, the practice of Christianity was emerging amid the worship of pagan gods. Early Christians struggled to leave behind worship practices that were prevalent in their society. Paul’s language recalls our Deuteronomy lesson: we will know—and God will know—those who love God by their loving ways. Paul calls Christians to leadership by empathetically addressing those who continue some of the old practices. He warns that such behaviors could mislead others to resume worshipping other gods.

  • Should “the Christian life” be at odds with its cultural environ? What examples can we identify in our own setting? 

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum. While teaching at a synagogue on the Sabbath, he expels an unclean spirit from a demoniac. Through the voice of the unclean spirit, Mark shares with his audience the divine nature of Jesus. Still, Jesus is not ready for others to know his identity. Healing on the Sabbath does not rile this audience; rather, they are receptive to his teaching. By casting this scene in a synagogue on the Sabbath, Mark connects his audience with the familiar places and rituals of Judaism and then unveils the in-breaking action of God through Jesus’ teaching and healing.

  • Jesus chose to let his actions tell the story of his identity. How can our parish model the choice of Jesus? How will we know if our neighbors know us to be Christians?

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.  

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 4 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 3 (B) – January 21, 2017

[RCL] Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

In this passage, we hear the second half of Jonah’s story. Here, Jonah follows God’s call to travel to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment against the city. The people of Nineveh listen to Jonah, repent of their evil ways, fast, and dress themselves and even their animals in sackcloth and ashes. Seeing their repentance, God relents, sparing them from destruction.

Earlier, of course, Jonah had refused the call to go to Nineveh, fleeing across the Mediterranean and finding himself swallowed by—and three days later spewed out by—a large fish.

The book of Jonah is funny. A man runs away from God and is swallowed by a fish—and then is spit back up on shore—which convinces him that perhaps he ought to carry out his God-given mission after all. Domestic animals are dressed in sackcloth. And when God relents, his prophet is angry, because he has been made to look like a fool.

The book is funny, but it is also a story about both the relentlessness of God’s call and the breadth of God’s mercy.

  • Have you ever tried to evade God’s call, only to find yourself back where you started?
  • What do you make of the humor of the story? Can we use humor to better understand God?

Psalm 62:6-14

The overarching theme of Psalm 62 is a call to trust in God, over and above the powers and riches of this world.

But the psalm is more than a call to trust. It is also a poem. “For God alone my soul in silence waits,” it begins, in the language of poetry.

The psalmist’s soul can wait in silence, untroubled and without anxiety, because it is God who is awaited: awaited in perfect trust.

In the language of the psalm, God is rock and salvation, a strong rock and a refuge, a stronghold, a source of power, and the fitting recipient of steadfast love, hope, and trust.

  • How might you cultivate the attitude of the psalmist, to wait for God with your soul in silence?
  • What does it mean to trust in God as a strong rock and refuge, and to place your love, hope, and trust in God?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul writes at great length to the church in Corinth about marriage and divorce and other social relationships. Much of his advice may seem anachronistic to us today, but underlying and informing everything he writes is the sense that time has grown short and the world is passing away. For Paul, this eschatological vision lends urgency to the call of all Christians to devote themselves to the Lord, above and beyond any earthly obligations. “Those who deal with the world” are to act “as though they had no dealings with it.”

  • Given the many hundreds of years that have passed since Paul wrote to the Corinthians, can we recover the urgency of Paul’s vision of a world that is even now passing away?
  • What might it mean for each of us to hold lightly the things of this world and to place our trust in God?

Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Gospel passage sounds themes of calling and of a world passing away that can also be found in the day’s other readings.

Jesus proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God and calls those who hear him to repent, to turn, at to believe in the good news.

Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, from their work as fishermen. The four men immediately follow him, leaving behind nets and family and hired workers and fishing boats still floating in the sea. This is a story of a response to God’s call that sounds very different from that of Jonah’s slow and reluctant obedience.

  • What might we need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus? And can we ever hope to do so with the swiftness of Simon, Andrew, James, and John?
  • What calls do we hear in our own lives? In what ways are we called to follow Jesus in our own time? 

Margaret McGhee Margaret is a third-year student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and is a candidate for the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. Prior to seminary, she worked as a lawyer and as a technology consultant.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 3 (B).

Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B) – January 14, 2018

[RCL] 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic work The Little Prince, the narrator is a pilot who crash lands his plane in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Miles from civilization, the pilot assumes he will only last as long as his water supply, but one morning he is awakened by a funny little voice that says, “Draw me a sheep.” When he turns and sees an extraordinary little prince, he stares at him in disbelief. The pilot asks the boy where he came from, but the prince just says, “Please…draw me a sheep.”

The pilot complies, or at least he tries to, but the first sheep he draws looks “too sickly.” The prince asks for another. The second sheep has horns, so the prince specifies that he wants a sheep, not a ram. The pilot draws a third sheep, but that one looks too old. Finally, perhaps in some frustration, the pilot draws a box with three holes in the side and says, “The sheep you want is inside.”

To his surprise, the prince says, “That’s just the kind I wanted!” And this first, whimsical encounter with the little prince is one of many in a journey that takes the pilot—and the reader—from contentment in the familiar to joy in an adventure.

Many of the disciples have notable and even whimsical first encounters with Jesus, but none more than Nathanael. Nathanael is minding his own business when Philip runs up screaming that he has found the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about, “And he’s from Nazareth of all places!”

“Nazareth?” Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip simply invites him, “Come and see for yourself!”

So, Nathanael follows, and before he can shake hands with this stranger from the backwaters of first-century Palestine, Jesus raises his arms and exclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

While some people are masters of flattery, Jesus offers no shallow compliments here—he sees Nathanael and Nathanael knows it. “How do you know me?” Nathanael asks.

Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree even before Philip told you about me.”

To our surprise, Nathanael proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

In one moment, Nathanael moves from his narrow ideas and contentment in the familiar to embracing the joy that is possible in an adventure following Jesus. But what is it about this whimsical encounter that makes Nathanael change his tune so dramatically?

There was a common metaphor used for the religious institution of Jesus’ time—that of the fig tree. Fig trees produce fruit right along with leaves, and in an occurrence found in Mark and Matthew, Jesus comes upon a fig tree chockablock full of leaves. He goes to pick some fruit and finds that there is none to be picked. Whatever pollination is necessary for fruit to be produced did not happen.

The same thing seemed to be true of the religious institution Jesus critiqued—all of the bells and whistles were there, but the fruits were not.

Jesus knew that Nathanael shared this perception of those religious institutions, and Jesus knew that Nathanael was familiar with the fig tree metaphor—one that was likely as common as referring to Washington, D.C. as “the swamp.” Nathanael knew that the fig tree he was “under” needed some pruning, and in few words, Jesus seemed to promise help with such an endeavor.

Nathanael is blown away, but the excitement does not stop. Jesus asks Nathanael, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these…you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

What do you suppose that might look like? If you had to draw the scene of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, what might that look like? More than a fantastic image, Jesus’ image alludes to Jacob—who was called “Israel” after his wrestling match with God. Like the metaphor of the fig tree, Nathanael would have immediately understood the connection to Jacob, who is said to have dreamt of a ladder reaching to heaven with God at the top. On the ladder, there are angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven.

Knowing this story of Jacob, Nathanael would have understood Jesus to be saying that he would be the one to reestablish the joyful relationship between the people on earth and God in heaven. Jesus would not do away with anything but would fulfill everything. Jesus would make it so that no person or institution could ever get in the way of God doing what God is going to do to bring about total reconciliation throughout the world and all of the created universe.

The Church—the Body of Christ—is said to have been birthed at Pentecost. Some people claim that Easter is the birth of the Church, and many speak of Christmas as that beginning. We may also consider that the birth of the Church happens whenever someone accepts that curious invitation to “come and see” what God is up to in the world today.

As participants in a faith community, we too have opportunities to join God in what God is doing. Often those opportunities lead us down unfamiliar paths. Sometimes those opportunities require that we take a good, hard look at ourselves and correct our path. Sometimes we simply need to find our spirits nourished and our energies renewed. More often than not, we can find ourselves somewhere in a cycle that moves us from contentment in the familiar ways of our world into a whimsical curiosity, in an adventure that promises us joyful results.

Jesus invited Nathanael on a journey that would take him all around the region and eventually right up to Jerusalem to encounter the powers of the day. There was no hour-by-hour itinerary, but there was a promise of joy and hope in helping to usher in a world that could be—God’s kingdom come.

Jesus does not offer us as much information about what following him will look like. Not unlike Saint-Exupéry’s pilot depicting a sheep by drawing a box with holes in the side, Jesus promises us an adventure and a chance to imagine together what following Jesus might look like. We will define what turns our journeys take, but we can only do that once we accept that curious, whimsical invitation: the invitation to “come and see.”

The Rev’d Curtis Farr serves with the good people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield, Connecticut as their rector. In his spare time, he chases his dog Eleanor Roosevelt (Elly) around the house as she attempts to make off with one of his Batman comics.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 2 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 2 (B) – January 14, 2017

[RCL] 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

An overarching theme of the readings for this Sunday is how we receive God and what we do as a result.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

One line of thinking in modern learning theory is that it takes three or more exposures to a message for us to fully understand or learn it. For the prophet Samuel, those three exposures come at once, just before dawn, in the tabernacle holding the ark of the covenant. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him—that is, he has not yet gained his prophetic powers—so he hears the calls three times, but does not yet understand them. He goes to the aged Eli and, using language that calls back to Moses and the burning bush, states simply, “Here I am,” each time. Eli quickly realizes the source of the call and gives specific instructions to the young Samuel to let God know that Samuel is listening. God’s response picks up on the listening theme and prophesies in a way that will “make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (NRSV).

  • Where are you hearing the voice of God calling you today? Are you able to listen, to hear it? How might you find space to better hear that call, and what could you do to respond?

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggest that this psalm is unique in that it is an “individual petition…recording an individual’s experience of God.” Being on your own in the ancient Near East would have been an equally frightening and awe-inspiring experience, without the security of artificial light and comfortable housing that we take for granted. The Psalmist depicts God as both an intimidating presence that is far beyond his or her ability to understand and, at the same time, a warm, nurturing deity who “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The combination yields an overarching message of comfort: comfort that he or she is a part of all God’s creation and, as in Genesis, that creation is “good.”

  • Where do you find your personal experience of God? Is it in the awe of a thunderstorm or a majestic view, or in the innocence of a child’s laugh? How does that experience provide you comfort?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul opens this part of his letter to the Corinthians with a re-statement of their “anything goes” slogan: “All things are lawful for me.” It reminds me of a popular saying from my teenage years: “If it feels good, do it.” I even remember a song with that as a refrain: “If it feels good do it, do it if it’s what you feel.” And, while that hedonistic call may sound appealing to an immature teenage brain, I quickly realized it would be an unsustainable way of living.

Paul is suggesting something similar, and he amends the Corinthian slogan with: “but not all things are beneficial” – beneficial to the individual and, more importantly, to the church community in Corinth. As bodies of Christ, he is calling them to treat their physical and spiritual communities with care, to not defile them, because they are no longer their own, but God’s. And that calls them—and us—to a much higher standard.

  • Are there parts of your life where you are being ‘dominated’ (verse 6:12) and not able to be fully open to God? How might you open up that space, either alone or in your church community?

John 1: 43-51

Events are happening quickly in this part of John’s Gospel. Jesus heads toward Galilee, taking Philip with him. Philip, convinced of Jesus’ messiahship, urges Nathanael to join. “Not so quick,” one imagines Nathanael thinking, as he questions Jesus’ birthright. He’s not sure Jesus is from the right place—of the right tribe—and this gets in his way. But instead of shutting down, he stays open and, as a result, is amazed. Jesus knows things about Nathanael that any regular human could not. And this simple sign is all Nathanael needs to proclaim Jesus Son of God and King of Israel. By staying open, Nathanael is set to see the most amazing signs imaginable.

  • How do we let superficial things—like birthplace or alma mater or accent—prevent us from truly seeing another? Where are we missing Christ’s presence in our lives today because we don’t stay open, let ourselves see, and be amazed? 

This Bible study was written by Gregory Warren of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 2 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning of God’s creation, Scripture records that “darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The word translated wind here is the Hebrew word ruach, which can ambiguously refer to wind, breath, or Spirit. Swept is from the Hebrew rahaf, meaning “to hover,” like a bird brooding or hovering over her young. God’s breath hovers, and God’s word speaks light and matter into being. In the beginning, the Father, the Spirit, and the Word cooperate to create the world in wisdom, and it was good! The Church would later come to recognize an epiphany—a revelation—of God the Holy Trinity in this passage. As God speaks light and matter into being from formlessness and void, we catch a glimpse both of who God is in himself and what his plan is.

  • The first verse of Genesis could also be translated, “In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth…” How might this affect your understanding of this passage?

Psalm 29

In the beginning of Psalm 29, God’s people are called to acknowledge God’s glory and strength—the weighty significance of his presence and the all-encompassing domain of his power. This God is powerful, beautiful, creative, and frankly, dangerous! “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” and “the Lord makes the oak trees writhe.” The Lord “sits enthroned above the flood,” that is, he is the eternal King who reigns from heaven, enthroned above the “upper waters” over the dome of the sky. This same God has given to his people his own personal Name (which the Psalmist here uses liberally), and has placed his personal address in their geographical midst. The God who has done all this will surely also give his people strength and peace. These are amazing privileges! The only proper response to this unasked-for favor from the Almighty Creator God is to rush to his temple, confess him for who he truly is in the presence of his people, and “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” In so doing, we as the Church become the sign of his beautiful and sanctifying presence to the world.

  • How could your reflection upon the Lord’s glory and strength affect your worship?
  • What does it mean to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness? How is holiness beautiful?

Acts 19:1-7

John’s vocation was to prepare the people for Christ, and in so doing, he summarizes and fulfills the whole old covenant, a purpose of which was to point forward to Jesus. John’s preaching and baptizing “prepare the way of the Lord” and “gives knowledge of salvation to [God’s] people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John was not that light of which he preached, but he was testifying to that light, the “dawn from on high [that] shall break upon us.” Still, John’s baptism prepared the people by calling them to repentance—a full change of life in light of the coming one, “whose sandal strap [John was] not worthy to untie,” who would come to judge the whole world and deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. But it is baptism in the name of Jesus that delivers what John only anticipated: God’s promises (Jeremiah 31:30-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28) to make a new covenant where the people will be given a new heart with which to love and obey him, and where he would pour out his prophetic Spirit upon all flesh.

  • Some Christians are sometimes accused of living as though they “have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” or that there is little evidence of the Spirit’s renewing, creative and sanctifying presence in their lives, even though they were baptized into the name of the Trinity. How might we draw nearer as a Church and as individuals to the fullness of life in the Spirit given to us in our baptism?

Mark 1:4-11

This scene of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John draws our attention back to the very beginning of Holy Scripture, where God, his Spirit, and his Word were present upon the face of the primordial deep, and creation began. As Jesus arises from the waters, the heavens are “torn open” so that we might see for a moment what lies beyond the veil.  We see the Spirit descending like a dove upon him, and the voice of the Father approving Jesus as his beloved son. Here again is an epiphany, mysteriously suggesting the divine identity of Jesus the man.

Even as Jesus humbly and fully identified with the people of Israel who were baptized (so to speak) in the Red Sea, who were once captive in Egypt and presently captive to sin, he is revealed as Israel’s mighty God. When we are baptized into the name of the Trinity, we fully identify with Jesus, even as he fully identified with us and our human condition, and everything the voice of the Father declared about Jesus becomes true of us as his adopted sons and daughters.  We receive his holy and life-giving Spirit and become part of Jesus’ glorified Body and are freed from our former captivity to sin and death. In this scene is revealed the fulfillment of the purpose of God’s work of creation.

  • What do we most need to hear the voice of the Lord saying to us to live into the fullness of God’s purposes for us?
  • Read Genesis 22:1-2. How might this passage help us understand today’s Gospel lesson?

Ryan Jordan is currently a middler at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, hailing from the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. He previously graduated from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Japanese, and from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a Master’s Degree in the Liberal Arts. He is married to his wonderful wife of four years, Mallory, and has two cats at home.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 1 (B).

Bible Study, Christmas 1 (B) – December 31, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 

It is clear in the prophecy given to Isaiah that God intends for his people Israel to be a beacon to other nations. The strong imagery of “garland,” “jewels,” “crown,” and “diadem” bespeak a richness that God bestows upon those who are faithful to him. But these riches adorn his people for a single purpose: they are meant to be a sign to those who do not yet know the God of Israel. The gifts which God graciously gives his people are meant to draw others into relationship with him. The salvation we receive from the Father is meant not as a vindication of ourselves in the face of those who are perishing, but as a means to bring salvation to them. God intends Israel to be a torch to light the path for others.

  • What gifts has God bestowed upon you? How might you use those gifts to draw others to God?

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Psalm 147 is song of praise and thanksgiving which speaks directly about how God is faithful in keeping his promises to his people. Those to whom he is faithful are called to worship him. Our worship of God is all that we may offer in thanks for the renewal of life and bountiful provision we receive from him.

  • “Word” is used in verses 16, 19, and 20. How mighty the meaning of “word” vary between these three verses?
  • How does the coming of God’s Word in the person of Jesus Christ, who has been revealed to all nations, affect our understanding of the “chosen” quality of God’s people?

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Paul’s epistle to the Galatian Church recognizes both the merit and limitations of “the law” – before the coming of Christ, the law stood as the means of covenant and relationship between Israel and God. The law was the previous means of claiming God as Father, but through his son, we may now claim in a truer sense to be sons and daughters of God the Father. Because the Word of God has taken our human flesh, our humanity is free to be united to the Father in a new way.

  • Does our claim on God the Father free us from our responsibility to his law?
  • To what are we heirs? What responsibilities does that heirship lay upon us?

John 1:1-18

John’s Gospel account varies greatly from the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Far more concerned with theological notions than the narratives that drive the other three accounts, his prologue jumps feet-first into some deep waters. Much of our understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son, as expressed in the creeds of the Church, is drawn directly from this prologue. Recalling the creation story of Genesis, John assures us of the nature and authority of the Word who takes upon himself our human flesh, in order that he might live among us—and that we might truly live. The Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ calls us to grow into the lives he wills for us and to accept God as our Father. As in the letter to the Galatians, we see that the Son has come to fulfill what could not be realized by the law alone: true relationship with God the Father.

  • What does John mean when he writes, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”? How might this be related to the statements about “the law” in both John and Galatians?
  • In what ways do our lives in Christ witness to his power? What is one concrete way that you might testify to the light of Christ? 

 

The Reverend Andrew Cruz Lillegard is a transitional Deacon canonically resident in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Currently in his senior year of the M.Div. program, he lives with his wife (Theresa) and two sons (Christopher and Wyatt) on the beautiful campus of Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin, where he serves as a sacristan and Chair of the Student Commons. Surrendering to a call from God in mid-life, Andrew and Theresa discerned a path that would require selling their home and settling into a life of intentional community at seminary. While Andrew is the only Wisconsin native currently attending Nashotah House, he and his family are preparing to leave their state after graduation (May 2018) to further answer God’s call. When not responding to the demands of school, Andrew is spending time with his family – particularly through fishing and enjoying a wide variety of film genres.

Download the Bible study for Christmas 1 (B).

Bulletin Insert – December 24, 2017

The Presiding Bishop’s Christmas Message

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new is come.” At a point in that passage, St. Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself,” and he also says at another point in the same passage, “and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.”

Have you ever gone to the movies or read a story or a novel, and the novel starts with the end, so you know where the story ends, but then the rest of the story or the novel is actually the story behind the story. We know about Christmas. We know about Mary.  We know about Joseph. We know about the angels singing Gloria in excelsis deo. We know from our childhood the animals in the stable. We know of the magi who come from afar, arriving around Epiphany, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know of the angels singing in the heavens, and the star that shown above them.  Therein is the story.

But the story behind the story is what St. Paul was talking about. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and Jesus has now given us that same ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the world to himself by becoming one of us. The divine became human. God entered history. Eternity became part of time. God was reconciling the world to himself by actually living it himself. In Jesus, God came among us to show us the way, to be reconciled with the God who has created us all and everything that is. And God has likewise come in the person of Jesus, to show us how to be reconciled with each other, as children of the one God who is the Creator of us all.  That’s the story behind Christmas.

God is showing us the Way to become God’s children, and as God’s children, brothers and sisters of each other. God is showing us in Jesus how to become God’s family and how to change, and build, and make a world where everybody is a part of that family. Where children don’t go to bed hungry. Where no one has to be lonely. Where justice is real for all and where love is the ultimate law.

Know there is a story behind the story, and it’s a story worth singing about, and giving thanks for, and then living. One of my favorite writers, the late Howard Thurman, composed a poem many years ago about Christmas, and he says it probably better than I:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

Then the work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace to others,

And alas, to make music in the heart.

The story behind the story is that God so loved the world, and so loves you, and so loves me. Have a blessed Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and go out and make music in the heart of the world.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

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Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2018

Epiphany 3 sermon

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Today, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John in the River Jordan. Now, John’s that guy we’ve been hearing a lot about lately (since the beginning of Advent), and after today, he will drop into the background.

You see, we no longer need that voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For the Lord is here, born on earth to save us. And we no longer have any confusion about who is the Messiah, for the one more powerful than John has come.

Now that babe is born. Incarnate and among us.

John’s role as prophet, foretelling the great story of salvation as known in the person of Jesus Christ: well, that role is fulfilled with Jesus’ baptism today.

John is sometimes seen as the last of the old order: the last prophet in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the last to baptize with water only and not also the Holy Spirit, and the last to demand repentance before the immanent coming of the kingdom of God.

For Jesus proclaims over and over again that the kingdom of God has drawn near us; it is here, and now. No longer coming, or far off, or even just the other side of a thin divide—but here, very near us.

Among the very first documented acts of his earthly ministry, the twelve-year-old Jesus picks up a scroll and reads from an earlier prophecy of Isaiah: that the spirit of the Lord has anointed him, and that he has been sent to announce good news to the poor—and that this prophecy has been fulfilled. “Today, in your very hearing this text has come true,” he says.

So, too, of this baptism of Jesus: it seems to have effected a radical transformation in him. Luke’s gospel tells us of his birth, and then nary a word until now—thirty years later. And from this moment—the moment of a simple ritual of living water—Jesus is changed. No longer just the carpenter’s son, no longer a refugee in Egypt, no longer just another human being to walk the face of the earth.

He moves on from here to teach in synagogues and have all people sing his praises. He will heal the sick, and make the dead live again. He will preach, and manifest miracles. He will astound people with his teaching, and confound us even today by submitting to a shameful death on a cross.

And he will appear again over forty days until he ascends into heaven, prophesying of his return in glory to judge the earth—a second coming we still anticipate, two millennia later.

One day people know him as that clever boy, Joseph’s son. And the next he’s revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one—God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

In his baptism, Jesus seems to have become an entirely different person.

It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus. The running water of a river has somehow changed him, made him manifest as who he truly is, and given him the power and inspiration to begin a mission and ministry that will forever change the world.

So, too, with our baptism:

  • Oh, none of us is the Christ, but each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And each and every one of us was forever changed and transformed in our baptism.
  • And each and every one of us continues to be changed and transformed—in ways big and small—throughout our earthly ministry.

Now filled with the Holy Spirit, we—like Jesus—are commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the good news of God’s favor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim that the time of God’s favor is here.

That’s our job: to live baptismally.

And, living baptismally: what is that all about?

  • It’s about knowing that we have been forever changed by the acknowledgment of God’s working in our life;
  • that our true and holy self has been revealed by the washing away of all stain of sin;
  • that we are grafted into the body of Christ’s Church;
  • that we have been given an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Baptism is an amazing gift. By the waters of baptism, we are lead from death to life, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. In it, we are buried with Christ in his death. By it, we share in his resurrection. Through it, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.[1]

And baptism is also an awesome responsibility. We are also no longer simply to live as ordinary people in the world:

  • We are to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior;
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people;
  • and to seek and serve the Christ in everyone we meet.

Those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians are called to live a different kind of life, a life set apart from the world around us and yet somehow also very much in its midst.

A life of grateful thanksgiving in the face of victory—and defeat.

A life of difficult forgiveness—in the face of bitter betrayal.

A life of ongoing repentance—in the face of our chronic mistakes.

A life forever changed—and forever changing—proceeding from strength to strength, from goodness to perfection, from death to life.

This wet, earthly act, involving people in relation to one another, bodies acting and touching one another, hands, clothing, oil, and light: This emotion-filled rite we call “baptism” is the means by which we declare:

  • our separation from an old identity,
  • our transition from being no longer one of the old order to not yet being fully one of the new, and
  • our incorporation into the full life of the community we know and proclaim as Christ’s holy church.[2]

It is now for us—the baptized, those grafted into the life of Christ, those sealed and set apart—to share in an eternal priesthood, to rejoice at our adoption as children of God, and to give thanks for the ineffable mystery of our salvation.

Through baptism, we are forgiven, loved, and free to become more fully who God has created us to be: living members of Christ’s body, incarnate examples of divine love, manifestations of God’s glory here on earth.

By baptism, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled—in Jesus, and in each one of us. God looks at us—the beloved, with whom God is well pleased—and says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” Amen.

[1] From the Thanksgiving over the Water in The Book of Common Prayer [1979].

[2] Daniel V. Stevick, Baptismal Moments; Baptismal Meanings (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1987), 116.’ 

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 1 (B).