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

[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).

God Is the Seeker, Feast of the Epiphany – January 6, 2018

[RCL] Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

We celebrate today the great “Aha” moment when the Magi who journeyed from the east discover at the end of their quest not a prince born in a palace, but the infant Jesus born in a cave that had been used as a stable. The Magi are astrologers, who watch the heavens for signs of momentous earthly events. These are not astronomers who study the stars and planets for scientific data alone, but astrologers, not unlike people who create horoscopes today. Astrology was a forbidden means of divination for the Jews.

What the Magi reveal is that there was an air of expectation so palpable that anyone with eyes could see something momentous was about to happen. Let’s step aside from the Bible for a moment and see what else was being written around the time of Jesus’ birth. In the year 37 BCE, the poet Virgil wrote his Fourth Eclogue, a beautifully written poem about the immanent expectation of a man sent down from heaven whose birth would inaugurate a new age. Two Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, wrote of the expectation of a world leader to arise out of Judea [Tacitus Ann. 5.13 and Suetonius Bell. 3.399-408; 6:310-15].

It was also a common expectation of the day that a sign from the heavens would accompany such a momentous event. There were plenty of impressive portents from which to choose. Jesus was likely born in what we would now call 4 BCE. Seven years before Jesus’ birth, Halley’s Comet made its circuit through our skies. Three years before Jesus’ birth, Jupiter and Saturn were in alignment three times. The planet Jupiter signified a king while Saturn was routinely associated with the Jews. This would have fueled Herod’s insecurity and local political and religious speculation. Finally, a year before Jesus’ birth, Chinese astronomers recorded sighting a supernova, a bright light suddenly appearing in the night sky.

What all of this tells us is that, independent of the Bible, we can read of a relatively common expectation at the turn of the era that momentous change was coming. Furthermore, that change was expected to be noted with signs in the heavens.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has always taught that God can be known through creation. This revelation through the creation is no simplistic natural theology, but the knowledge we gain of God through the creation alone is incomplete and sometimes confusing in and of itself. We come to see that though one can reliably come to know of God through the creation, we do not come to know God in fullness through the creation alone.

In theological terms, what we are discussing is revelation. Unless God chose to reveal God’s own self to us, we would know nothing of God. But, because God decided to be made known, we can and do learn of God through the general revelation of creation and other forms of specific revelation. Just as you may discern something of the artist through her painting or his sculpture, one can learn of God through the creation. The theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne put it this way in his book Science and Creation,

“We are so familiar with the fact that we can understand the world that most of the time we take it for granted. It is what makes science possible. Yet it could have been otherwise. The universe might have been a disorderly chaos rather than an orderly cosmos. Or it might have had rationality which was inaccessible to us.”

The universe was created with an order that humans can study and somewhat comprehend. We were created with the ability to understand and a common component of human self-understanding through the ages and around the world has been a belief in God. This belief in something greater than ourselves is such a universal human experience that many find that awareness of God alone to be proof of God’s existence. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this universal human idea of God could be nothing more than a universal projection of our minds to fill a need in our lives. This is the Marxist worldview, that religion is the opium of the masses. We just delude ourselves into belief.

Yet, this idea of revelation comes circling back around to tap on our shoulders. We do not know of God simply because we want there to be a God. We know of God because God reveals God’s own self to us. In addition to the general revelation of God through creation, there is specific revelation. The general revelation of God through creation spoils any possible excuse we may have in saying that we never knew there is such a thing as God. Specific revelation is more direct.

Specific revelation includes dreams and visions God uses to get people’s attention. Dreams like the ones which told Joseph of Jesus’ birth. Dreams like the one which warned the Magi to return home without stopping to pay a courtesy call on Herod and the one that warned Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt. Specific revelation also includes scripture. God’s revelation is available to us through the word of God. We get a fuller picture of God through scripture that complements rather than contradicts the image of God we attain through the creation.

An important form of specific revelation comes through our own lives. We know God best through the ways in which God acts in our lives and the other ways in which God has acted in human history. As God is revealed in the way God acts in history, the Christian concept of revelation reaches its fullest expression in the person of Jesus. We get our best and clearest image of who God is and how God acts through Jesus’ life and ministry, his death, and resurrection.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Whether they understood it at the outset of their journey or not, the Magi traveled to see the light of the Glory of God revealed in the face of the infant Jesus.

The Magi were seekers and even though their methods were unbiblical and perhaps anti-biblical, God honored their quest. God called out to the Magi from the heavens or they would have never found Jesus. God, not the Magi, initiated the Magi’s quest. God guided them to their destination though the Magi never knew where exactly where their journey would take them. Yet, the Magi played their part as they did not simply stay home admiring the star in the sky. They hit the road, enduring all the troubles of travel including having to go against the local king, Herod, when they neared their destination. Yet all of their actions came second. God initiated the journey.

We may think that we are spiritual seekers, we are the ones on a quest for God’s presence. But that’s not the way scripture presents the story. Scripture tells us that God is the seeker. God is revealing God’s own self to you in the creation, in scripture, in your very life experience. We are asked only to open our eyes, to see, and then respond as the Magi did in coming to adore the one who made us and then entered human history to redeem us.

Open your eyes to how God is showing up in your life. God is seeking after you and me. Come let us adore him. 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. Frank blogs on mostly church development related topics at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Download the sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany.

Names, Feast of the Holy Name – January 1, 2018

[RCL] Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

Names can tell us a lot about people’s characters and the roles they play in a story.

One of the pleasures of reading literature is discovering the meaning of characters’ names. Authors will often give their characters names that tell us something important about who they are and about what they will do in the story. The great master of giving characters names is Charles Dickens. He gives us the policemen, Sharpeye and Quickear; the family physician, Dr. Pilkens; and the surgeon, Dr. Slasher. The Bigwig Family are the stateliest people in town, Mr. Bounderby is a self-made man and social climber, and the Reverend Mechisedech Howler is a preacher of the Ranting Persuasion.

One of the things that children seem to like about the Harry Potter stories is the names of the characters. They have fun sounds, and their meanings are none too subtle. Severus is a Latin word for “severe” or “strict,” and Professor Severus Snape is a strict teacher if ever there was one. “Malfoy” sounds like the French for “bad faith,” mal foi; and draco means “snake” or “dragon” in Latin. Put them together and you get Draco Malfoy, a real bad apple. And the headmaster Dumbledore’s first name is Albus, which means “white,” so we may suppose he is the leader of those on the side of light.

Today in our church calendar we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. In the New Testament, we are told that God is the one who gives Jesus his name. And in giving Jesus his name, God is telling us something important about Jesus’ character and the role he will play in the story of God’s love for the world.

In our gospel lesson for today, we hear that “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” It was apparently the custom in Jesus’ day to name a male child at the time of circumcision, which was the act by which he was made a member of the people of God. That Jesus’ parents had him circumcised and named on the eighth day after his birth demonstrates their piety and fidelity to the Law of Moses. The beginning of the story of Jesus is part of the larger, ongoing story of God’s love for God’s people. Jesus’ name tells us about his place in this story.

Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, through the angel Gabriel, God tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son and that she is to “call him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” In naming Jesus, God is telling us something about who he is. The name “Jesus” is a Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “the Lord helps” or “the Lord saves.” When we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus, we are celebrating the one through whom and in whom the Lord helps or saves his people.

This is a rather audacious name to give to a baby. Since many of us know the end of the story, it may seem less so, but we should not overlook what an extraordinary thing the naming of Jesus is. Before his teaching and preaching, before his healings and miracles, before his death and resurrection, Jesus is already identified by God as the one through whom He will save his people. An 8-day-old baby named Jesus. “He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High.” In the naming of a tiny child, we already catch a glimpse God’s audacious plan to save the world through the gift of a vulnerable human being.

It may surprise many of us to learn that we have also been given an audacious name. The Catechism in older versions of the Book of Common Prayer used to begin with this question: “What is your Name?” After saying your name, you were then asked, “Who gave you this Name?” The answer to this question was to be the following: “My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” When we were given our names in baptism, we were made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Our names, given in baptism, tell us something important about our characters and the roles we are to play in the story of God’s love for the world. Who are we? Most fundamentally, most deeply, we are beloved children of God, members of Christ, and through him heirs of the promised kingdom. How are we to live? We have our roles to play in God’s story of salvation by turning away from evil and wrongdoing, but putting our faith and trust in Christ, by believing in the articles of faith, and by keeping God’s commandments.

Names can tell us a lot about people’s characters and the roles they play in a story. Yes, we are vulnerable human beings with ordinary names like Harry and Sally and Sue. But we have also been given names in baptism that identify us as extraordinary participants in the story of God’s love for the world.

Today we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. It was given to him when he was eight days old, when he was circumcised and made a member of the people of God. The angel Gabriel told his human parents to name him “Jesus,” which means “the Lord helps” or “the Lord saves.” It tells us that Jesus is the one through whom God’s love will embrace the whole world. This is an extraordinary and audacious name to give to a tiny baby. It is also an extraordinary and audacious plan to save the world through a vulnerable, flesh-and-blood human being. The audacity of God’s plan continues in our own names given in baptism. Those names identify us with Jesus and his story. In his Holy Name, we claim our true identities as children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.

Names can tell us a lot about people’s characters and the roles they play in a story.

This sermon, written by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pagano, originally ran for the Feast of the Holy Name on January 1, 2011.

Download the Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name.

Bulletin Insert – December 31, 2017

The Feast of the Epiphany

This coming Saturday, the Church will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas each year on January 6.

Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearing.” At the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate Jesus being made manifest or appearing as Christ. Traditionally, there are three manifestations celebrated on this feast day.

The most widely celebrated manifestation of Christ on this feast day, and the one that has been historically celebrated by Christian churches in the West, is Jesus revealed as Christ to the three wise men, or Magi, from the East, who followed the Star of Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth.

The second manifestation celebrated today is the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Although this was part of the original Epiphany celebrations in second-century Christian churches in the East, by the fourth century Western churches had largely stopped observing the Holy Baptism in Epiphany celebrations. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer began to reintroduce Jesus’ baptism into this celebration by revising the lectionary readings for the First Sunday After the Epiphany to include gospel passages each year about Christ’s baptism. The First Sunday After the Epiphany is now also known as the Baptism of Our Lord.

The third manifestation of Jesus as Christ that is traditionally celebrated on this day is the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Christ’s first recorded miracle.

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Bulletin Insert – December 17, 2017

For Such a Time as This: December

#PrayFastAct for Sustainable Development Goals

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us to pray, fast and act this Advent and Christmas, in support of good policies that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of people struggling with poverty.

This month, we focus on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities, ensure quality education, create opportunities for decent work, care for creation, and promote a peaceful and just global community.

SDG Episcopal Bulletin UN

On December 21, join the Episcopal Public Policy Network and the Presiding Bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as we pray, fast and act.

During this Advent and Christmas, we focus on the praying aspect of this campaign, and encourage all to pray for the Sustainable Development Goals. Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. On the 21st, share which SDG matters most to you.

Pray for each of the goals using these prayers from the World Council of Churches: http://bit.ly/SDGprayers

 

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In the Beginning…, Christmas 1 – 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

The first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John are certainly well-known—“In the beginning was the Word.” But this passage can seem too floaty, too esoteric, too obscure, abstract, and idealized. It’s poetry, yes, but it’s not particularly helpful poetry, and when we read the Bible, most of us like to gather some sort of concrete idea of what to do in our lives on an everyday basis.

But if John thought poetry was the best way to introduce Jesus and encourage us to encounter Jesus, why was that?

This text reveals that we need to think differently about who we are. It’s very easy as we go about our daily lives making our daily mistakes to get very down on ourselves, to believe we are constantly disappointing God and everyone else. And while it’s important to never lose sight of our feet of clay, the fact is that God created us but a little lower than the angels, and sometimes we need to rise into the stratosphere with John and live into that a bit.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means being changed. We are born blessed by God, created in the image of God, but salvation makes us a new creation in Christ. Listen to how Isaiah talks about how God has changed him in our lesson today: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels…You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.”

Our trust and faith in God that we struggle so doggedly to maintain and renew makes us, who are already cherished by God, into souls who shine with new potential and the beauty of life immersed in God. This is true even when we are sinning because the underlying reality of our desire and hunger for God will always drive us to stand up again when we’ve fallen, to reach out again when we’ve lost contact with God, to open up again when we’ve hardened our hearts.

What can we learn about what Jesus wants us to be from what we learn about who Jesus is in John’s prologue? John says, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” You were part of a process much greater than your parents creating a biological exchange. Jesus Christ himself, the great and eternal Word, was the vehicle of your creation, was the medium and the messenger that spoke a unique word into the universe that never was before and never will be again. That’s you.

You might not believe little old you could be that special or important. But John says it himself: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” You are a child of God born of the will of God.

In fact, we were so important to God that Jesus chose to leave all his heavenly glory, emptying himself and taking on the form of a slave, as Philippians says. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” John goes on. That’s what we’re celebrating today, on this first Sunday of Christmas. God chose to humble Godself to the level of a poor, limited, human creature. And more than that—notice that John adds, “And we have seen his glory.” Jesus didn’t just become human for a minute or an hour or a day and then go right back to heaven. He lived among us for thirty-three years, enduring the messiness, the heartbreak, the inconvenience, the joy, and the pain of human life.

And he never walked out on that pain. He could have used his power at so many moments to ease his way. It would never have affected his healing or his teaching. There was no reason for him to suffer the pain he went through, from getting sick to getting in arguments to having clueless disciples, to having friends die, all the way up to the excruciating suffering he experienced on the cross. But he did it because he loves us, and he would never abandon us to suffer alone.

He entered the pain willingly because he wanted to go to the darkest depths of human suffering, because that is where all of us end up at some point in our lives, some of us more than once. That is what John means when he says “and we have seen his glory.” Not his glory in the sense of being powerful or mighty or wearing a robe that shines like the sun and ascending to heaven on a cloud. We have seen his glory as he dwelt among us because there never has been and there never will be any place of pain, lostness, suffering, or addiction that we can go and not find him there with us, bearing it with us and for us.

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known,” John says. This can help us see the Incarnation and the Christmas season in a whole different way. If Jesus had not been born, that first sentence, “No one has ever seen God,” would still be true. Mary and Joseph and Peter and John would not have seen God, and we would not have seen God. But because God made the choice to share Godself with us in human form, we have seen God in Jesus Christ, and it is amazing.

And that second sentence, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” This shows us once again what Jesus gave up and sacrificed to come to us, a completely different sacrifice from the giving of his life on the cross. He was close to the Father’s heart. That was where he lived, in the perfect Trinity of love. And he left that peaceful, radiant and loving place, the place close to the Father’s heart, for us. And why? To stay with us forever? Yes, but more than that. To bring us to that place. To bring us close to the Father’s heart. He told us so himself: “I go to prepare a place for you.” He doesn’t even take his special place back for himself. He gives it up for us. And this is the fundamental reordering of the universe that happened on Christmas that we celebrate today.

It’s worth living in the poetry sometimes. We can get frustrated when we don’t get concrete direction from a Bible passage. But the poetry is what explains the why of all the literal actions of discipleship we’re trying to do. What takes tithing and studying and praying and worshipping and serving from being rote, mechanical duties to being our offering of our very selves to the living God, is the cosmic story of God and humanity of which John sings. The beauty of the words, and underneath that, the beauty of the truth that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”—that poetry is what makes our souls catch fire for God and all God asks of us.

This is why scripture matters so much. Because when real life comes crashing in, when the divorce papers are served, when the job loss happens, when the cancer or Alzheimer’s diagnosis comes through, we have to have somewhere to anchor our souls. And we do, in a few simple words a man named John wrote a very long time ago. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The hard knocks of life plus the poetry of scripture give us the chance to build our lives so that we become a word of poetry ourselves, one little phrase expressed by the great Word that is God.

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

Download the sermon for Christmas 1 (B).

The Work of Christmas, Christmas Day (III) – December 25, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12); John 1:1-14

Note: There are three approved lectionary readings for Christmas Day. Find sermons based on other readings here.

This is John’s Christmas. This is incarnation. No shepherds, no angels, no crèche, no Magi. John’s story is so utterly unlike the familiar crèche or pageant. How on earth could one make this, John’s story of the incarnation, into a pageant? It begins before time itself!

Note the opening words: “In the beginning…” The first to hear or read John’s Gospel had heard these words before. We all have. The entire Bible begins with these words, “In the beginning, God created…” Jesus’ origins are cosmic – at the very root of the universe, “all that is, seen and unseen.” And we now know that fully 95% of the created universe is unseen: dark matter and dark energy. Only 5% is anything at all like us, and animals and rocks and trees and stars and planets. God’s creation is mostly unseen.

John puts Jesus, the Word, the logos, present before anything was made. Before God said the word, “Light!” and there was light! God speaks and things come into being. Before God speaks, however, there was the “Word.” In Greek that is logos – word.

But for Jews and Gentiles alike in the first century, this word logos meant more than what we think when we say “word.” For at least six centuries before Christ came into the world, logos had currency among philosophers, and meant something like the principle of reason that rules the universe. Logos could also describe the Hebrew idea of wisdom – hokma in Hebrew, sophia in Greek. According to the rabbis, wisdom was responsible for creation. So universal is this Word, this logos, that it is in everything that has been created. There is nothing “made that was made” that is not made through this Word. This is why we promise in our Baptism to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Christ as logos is in all persons and in all things. Thus, our need to care for the Earth and everyone and everything therein.

The Word, says John, is life. And this life is light – the light of the world. This light is a beacon that shines and cuts through all darkness – and darkness does not overcome this light. That is, there is evil, not just in people but in all the created order. Our redemption in and by the Word – the logos – is a vital part of a larger project – the redemption of the entire universe of God’s creation.

Yet, we who come from this Word, this logos, do not readily recognize him. He comes to those of us who claim his name as our own – Christian – and yet we know him not. This continues to be a problem. Just look around us. Two thousand years of claiming his name as our own, and just how brilliantly does the world around us reflect this life-giving light? In a world of ongoing brutalities – torture, killings, mass shootings, capital murder as retribution, bombings, not to mention hunger, loneliness, hatred, bigotry, poverty, and rejection of strangers. We are promised that all who do receive him, accept him, follow him, are given power – power to become “children of God.” We say we receive, accept, and follow Jesus the Word, but is this at all reflected in all that we do or say? Or, in all that is done or said on our behalf by others who claim to know, receive, accept, and follow this Word?

It makes it all the more remarkable that this Word becomes flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. The text literally says he “tabernacled among us.” That is, he pitched his tent; this Word, this logos, set up shop right in our midst despite our not knowing him. We are meant, of course, to recall that other time in our tradition’s past when God tabernacled among us in the tent of meeting in the wilderness – that place where “the glory of the Lord filled the tent.” Again, we behold his glory!

For John, this is Christmas. The Word of God comes and pitches his tent to sojourn with us, giving us another chance to know, accept, and follow him. We behold his glory. He adopts us as his own.

A story is told about some Navy SEALs sent to free a group of hostages in one of the corners of the world. As they storm into the hiding place, they find the hostages huddled on the floor in a corner of the room. The SEALs tell them they are there to take them home. Get up and follow us. No one moves. They are so damaged by the experience of their captivity that they do not believe these are really people sent to set them free. So, one of these SEALs does something: he takes off his helmet, puts down his gun, gets down on the floor, softens his face, and huddles up next to the captives, putting his arms around a few of them. No guards would do this. He whispers, “We are like you. We are here to be with you and to rescue you. Let us take you home. Will you follow us?” One by one, the prisoners get up and are eventually taken to safety on an aircraft carrier and brought home.

Lots of rhetoric and ink have been spilled to explain the miracle of the incarnation – how it is God becomes one of us to take us home – to redeem us as a step in redeeming a broken world and broken universe. God sees us captive to many things, unwilling to simply step away from those things that keep us in prison – often prisons of our own making. In Jesus, God takes off all his glory, gets down on the floor with us, huddles up with us – tabernacles among us, pitches his tent among us – and whispers, “It is OK. I am with you. I am one of you now. Come with me, follow me, and I will take you home.”

John tells us that the essence of Christmas does not need a crèche, does not need shepherds, does not need angels, or greens, or red bows, or piles of gifts, or carols, or turkeys and roast beefs with all the trimmings. All Christmas needs is for us to know the Word. To accept the Word. To get up and follow the Word. There is no way we can ever know all there is to know about God – but in Christ, the Word, we can see his light and the logos. He will lead us home. This is incarnation. This is Christmas. It is time now, writes Howard Thurman, for the work of Christmas to begin.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

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 among people,

To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations 

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

Download the sermon for Christmas Day.