Special Bulletin Insert: Responding to Hurricane Matthew

Episcopal Relief & Development urges prayers for communities in the Caribbean and along the US East Coast in the potential path of Hurricane Matthew.

Episcopal Relief & Development is reaching out
to partners in the hurricane’s path. Following the storm’s impact, local churches are best-positioned to aid in assessing damage, confirming the safety of members and others in their communities and using available facilities and resources to respond to immediate needs.

Your contribution to the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund helps Episcopal Relief & Development support Church and other local partners as they provide critical emergency assistance.

You can download the bulletin inserts HERE.

Special Bulletin Insert: US Gulf Coast Flooding

Episcopal Relief and Development

SquareLogoIn mid-August, parts of the US Gulf Coast experienced historic levels of flooding, with at least seven dead, and tens of thousands unable to return to their homes. As of Monday, August 15, more than 40,000 homes and businesses remained without power, and over 10,000 homes were flooded. The National Weather Service has predicted more flooding to come and an expansion to surrounding regions along the Gulf Coast.

Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Team has been in close contact with dioceses in the region and is providing support for their local efforts. The immediate response will help provide basic necessities to those most impacted. Affected dioceses will then coordinate with Episcopal Relief & Development to meet needs in the coming months and years. Currently, the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, its churches and their ministries are reaching out to those in need of assistance, assessing what needs to be done and serving as best they can.

Download the bulletin insert as a PDF Document.

Bible Study Proper 6 (C) June 12, 2016

[RCL] Psalm 5:1-8; 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3  

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14)

The story of Naboth’s Vineyard is one of the more memorable stories we find in First and Second Kings. It is a troubling story of the lust for power, jealousy, and deceit. The story is also complex, full of characters, unfamiliar cities, and unexpected plot twists. We have four main characters: Ahab the king of Israel, Jezebel his wife, Naboth a vineyard owner, and Elijah. Ahab travels from his palace in Samaria to the town of Jezreel. He sees Naboth’s fertile vineyard and he wants it for his own. Consider this: This is Naboth’s family inheritance. He has waited for years to “till and keep” this plot of land, and now the King of Israel shows us and says, “I want this for a vegetable garden!” (1 Kgs. 21:2). It is a flagrant misuse of power and misunderstanding of family, place, and inheritance by Ahab.

The complex plot unfolds with Ahab returning home, nursing his wounded pride. He refused to eat and became resentful. Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, could not tolerate this attitude. She taunts him by asking, “Do you now govern Israel?” (v. 7) Jezebel, in a series of deceitful acts in which she pretends to be Ahab, arranges for Naboth the vineyard owner to be stoned to death since he will not hand over his power. The story ends with the entrance of a fourth major character onto the scene: Elijah the prophet. Elijah hears of Naboth’s death, the greed of Ahab, and the deceit of Jezebel, and he comes to pronounce a judgment from God onto Ahab and Jezebel.

The story is known as one of prophetic social justice where, even though Jezebel and Ahab attempt to do their work in secret, God knows of the oppression done, and will bring eventually bring justice through God’s prophets.

  • There are many characters and many details in this story. It may be fruitful to write down each character and his/her stated or assumed motivation for taking action in this story.
  • It can be easy to judge and think we know the details, how might a closer look reveal more depth?
  • Think of a time in history or in your own life when you witnessed injustice like that done to Naboth. Did you pray to God for justice or were you afraid to do so?
  • What does the prophetic justice tradition of the Scriptures offer our contemporary conversations about justice?
Psalm 5:1-8

Psalm 5 is an individual’s prayer. The first eight verses begin by asking God to hear the words that are about to be spoken. There is trust that God has heard the psalmist’s voice before, in the morning, and so the psalmist watches and listens for God again in the morning. The next three verses explain how God is a God of justice and goodness, a God who will not tolerate evil. The selection of the Psalter ends with a confident recommitment of faith, similar to the familiar verse in Joshua 24:15: “But as for me, through the greatness of mercy I will go into your house; I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you”. Our portion of the Psalm ends with a plea for direction and guidance and an assurance that the Psalmist will go wherever they are called.

  • Consider your own individual prayers to God. Are they similar to this Psalm: Beginning with pleas to be heard, moving to assurances of God’s good qualities, and ending with a stronger faith that asks for clear direction from God? If not, how do your prayers differ?
  • The Psalmist talks of praying in the morning. Is there a time of day where you “watch” and “listen” for God more? 
Galatians 2:15-21

Centuries of argument and controversy can be heard reverberating through these verses. The central question of the passage is “How will we be saved? Through what we do or what we believe?” It is the question not only of these verses but also of so many theological arguments, especially around Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Paul provides the building blocks of this argument when he adamantly states that we are justified to God through our faith in Jesus Christ and not our “works.” It is important to note the problematic aspects of Paul’s argument. His statement in 2:19 that he has died to the law so that he can live to God is radically different from the Jewish perspective on the law (the law here were things like circumcision, dietary mandates, and Sabbath observances). To the Jewish people, those acts of the law actually brought one closer in faith to God. Paul is suggesting the opposite. As Christians interpret this passage we need to be mindful of the importance of this message of grace and faith in Jesus Christ, but also of the possible damage down to our Jewish brothers and sisters through various interpretations.

  • How do you think the argument over faith and works continues to play out today? Is it still relevant?
  • Do you follow religious “laws” or “principles” in your lifestyle? If so, do they inhibit or help your faith?
Luke 7:36-8:3

The Gospel for today is a dramatic, sensual story of relationship with Christ. There are multiple sections to the story: The invitation to dinner, the bathing of Jesus’ feet, the parable, and then a few short verses at the end, marking a transition in Jesus’ ministry and naming the women who went with him. Each of these sections could merit time in study. What is perhaps most striking (and also most famous) is the action of the “sinful” woman when she comes to anoint Christ’s feet. The reader is not told how she learned that Jesus would be eating with the Pharisees, or what her thought process was for entering this occasion where she was surely not welcome. But she is there and does many ordinary acts of hospitality with an unexpected extraordinariness. Scholars have learned that bathing guests’ feet was a typical act of hospitality, but it was certainly not ordinary to anoint them, bathe them with tears, and dry them with hair. One can easily imagine the discomfort of the Pharisees as they watched this unfold. Then Jesus tells a parable of the two creditors to explain the situation to Simon. The parable demonstrates the importance themes of hospitality, forgiveness, and relationship. The selection for today ends with a significant transition statement naming the different women who Jesus did his ministry alongside. It can be easy to gloss over those women’s names, but consider how radical it was to have them named in Biblical times!

  • Jesus highlights the extravagance of the sinful woman’s actions towards him. Have you ever acted so extravagantly and lovingly towards Christ? What would this look like today?
  • In what ways is hospitality a part of your ministry or your community’s ministry?
  • How might this reading change and inform your attitude toward hospitality?

Download the Bible Study for Proper 6

Written by The Reverend Jessie Gutgsell

The Rev. Jessie Gutgsell is a recent graduate of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and soon to be Assistant Rector of St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, MI. In her free time, Jessie enjoys playing the harp, biking and being with her husband Joe and their dog Sloan.

Bible Study – Proper 5(C) June 5, 2016

[RCL] 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

1 Kings 17:17-24

Fleeing from the wrath of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel, the Prophet Elijah finds himself driven by the Lord to the home of a poor widow and her son. Elijah has already proven to the widow that God can provide food enough for her and her son, even though they only have a tiny amount of meal and oil. By God’s own power, the Lord makes the meager provisions last far longer than they should and proves God’s word spoken by the prophet. When the poor woman’s son later dies, she expresses her grief and frustration by blaming her misfortune on Elijah’s presence. Elijah offers no defense for himself or for God. Instead, he takes the child to the upper room and expresses his own frustration with the God who brought this upon them all. God proves faithful and answers Elijah’s prayer. In doing so, God shows, in ways that seem impossible, that God does indeed care for the “widow and orphan,” and confirms the faith the widow of Zarephath. Therefore, she responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

  • Can we dare to be honest with God about how we feel?
  • Might we be surprised at the way God responds?
  • How will we respond in turn?
Psalm 30

The psalmist expresses joy in and gratitude to the Lord in response to some restoration that the Lord has wrought in the psalmist’s life. The writer proclaims, Lord has “turned my morning into dancing” and “put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Interestingly, the Psalmist seems to say that their sense of desolation was brought about by their own complacency: “While I felt secure, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.’ Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.” In calling out to the Lord and appealing to God’s mercy to restore them to spiritual life, the Psalmist is heard, and in relief is able to say, “His wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime.”

  • Does God “hide his face,” or do we sometimes shut our eyes?
  • What does this psalm say about God’s presence even when God seems most absent?
Galatians 1:11-24

Whenever Paul gives his testimony, it is quite beautiful. But he never tells his story for its own sake; it always serves a purpose. Here, Paul uses the narrative of his spiritual journey to make two points. First, he is at pains to show the Galatians that adopting Jewish ways is not only unnecessary to follow Jesus, but also detrimental. Paul is urging the Galatians not to “regress” (so to speak, since this is a primarily Gentile audience). If Paul, who was as Jewish as they came, put away Jewish identity markers after his conversion, how much more should Gentiles not seek to become artificially Jewish? As Paul will later declare, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, but both are now one in Christ (3:28). The distinction is no longer relevant. The terms and conditions have been updated, and now Gentiles are eligible to receive the promise of Abraham. Second, Paul is defending his apostolicity and the validity of his preaching against the charges of those who are misleading the Galatians. This is not about protecting his reputation; this is about the very nature of the Gospel itself. Ultimately, Paul, like a good pastor, is looking out for the well being of his flock, his spiritual children whom he loves.

  • How did your walk with Jesus begin?
  • What unnecessary burdens are we placing on ourselves in our walk with Jesus? On others?
Luke 7:11-17

It is evident that Luke sees, in this resuscitation by Jesus of a widow’s son, an echo of Elijah’s raising of a widow’s son. Like the widow in 1 Kings, the people in the Gospel, when they see the wonder worked, affirm the legitimacy of Jesus’ office: “A great prophet has risen among us!” Interestingly, Jesus does not pray to God to raise the boy, but instead merely commands the young man, “Rise!” In a way, Elijah himself is almost incidental to his miracle; it is really only the power of God doing the work. But Jesus speaks as if he himself has the power and authority to reverse death. Jesus is not incidental. He is not the instrument. He is no mere prophet. He is himself, to use his later words, “the God the living” (20:38).

  • What else might this miracle say about who Jesus is what his Kingdom is like?
  • Are there any areas of your life that you wish Jesus would revive?

Download the Bible Study for Proper 5

Written by The Rev. Donald J. Griffin

The Rev. Donald J. Griffin grew up a cradle Episcopalian in the Dallas area; he first discerned a call to the priesthood when he was fourteen. Since then, Donald has sought to answer that call and follow the path he believes God has set for him. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Religious Studies, minoring in Philosophy and History. It was there that he fell in love with his wife. Having entered the discernment process his senior year of college, Donald was granted postulancy shortly after graduation and entered Nashotah House for his seminary formation. Donald have worked as a counselor at our diocesan camp, a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas (while completing CPE), and a seminary intern at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Donald has become very interested in theology, the practice of pastoral ministry, and how the two intersect, particularly in the liturgy. Donald is looking forward to seeing where the Lord will lead him next.

 

Episcopal Relief & Development Disaster Relief

Episcopal Relief & Development is responding to the recent earthquake in Ecuador and the flooding in Houston. This bulletin insert raises awareness of how the organization is working with these communities and provides an avenue to respond to these disasters. Thank you for you prayer and support. For more information go to: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/what-you-can-do/donate-now/individual-donation.

Bible Study, Proper 28(B), November 15, 2015

(RCL) 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (as canticle); Hebrews 10:11-14; Mark 13:1-8

1 Samuel 2:1-10

In this ecstatic, prophetic and powerful song we witness a woman’s joy from experiencing a miracle. Her words are familiar, we hear similar ones erupt from the mouth of Mary when she too conceives a special child. In a world colored with grey areas, it can be difficult to say with certainty – This is from God! This is from the touch of the Spirit!

  • When have you been able to say “the Almighty has done great things for me?
  • When have you, or someone you know experienced a miracle?
  • In our world we may have heard others tell us what is or is not from God. How do you discern when the Spirit has touched you or your community in a special way?
1 Samuel 1:4-20 (read as a canticle)

Hannah can hardly pray without getting harassed! For her infertility she is mocked; for her prayers she is called a drunkard. “I am a woman deeply troubled,” she asserts, as she pours out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:15-16).

  • What prayers and anxieties of today are too stigmatized to bring to the temple?
  • What are we too ashamed of to pray for beyond a whisper?
  • Women’s health has often been mythologized, ill-funded and provoked to cast to shame. Many of us have been touched by miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy and infertility. The God of Hannah calls us to cry out when our communities, partners or Church shame, stigmatize and mock the anxieties of our hearts. In this passage we see a testimony that God is a God of hope, transformation and solidarity – who is with us in whatever trial we find ourselves in?
Hebrews 10:11-14

This section of Hebrews has a clear message for us: Jesus’ sacrifice was unique a “single offering” (Heb. 10:14). We are confronted with an analogy of Jesus’ singular and special sacrifice made for sinners.

  • How have you experienced the sacrificial and healing love of Jesus?
  • Perhaps in the Eucharist or perhaps in your own experience of sin and forgiveness?
  • How often do we think we can ‘save’ others or ourselves by our own sacrifice, sweat and blood?
  • Or reform others through punishment?

We often have a destructive understanding of sin and sacrifice. Many think their own salvation comes from how much they take care of others, forsaking their own wellness. Our understanding of punishment can also carry violent notions of sacrifice. A friend of mine who was incarcerated for years for a minor crime stated that his experience imprisoned was so dehumanizing he felt as though “my very life blood was being squeezed out of me.”

  • Where do we personally and socially see dehumanizing sacrifice; where do we need more grace?
Mark 13:1-8

This apocalyptic prophecy from Mark’s Gospel calls forth the question: how tied are we to our institutions and the present order? My experience as a human being tells me that I am addicted to comfort. I worship my own sense of safety and control over my life, image and wealth.

  • How much does vulnerability scare us?
  • How hard do we work to keep the walls of our lives up?

Our passage from Mark though tells us that “all will be thrown down.” As a culture we invest so much in keeping things the same. How many truth-tellers, from Malcolm X to our Lord Jesus Christ, have been executed in a vain attempt to maintain the present order? Our selfishness, addiction to comfort and desire for control guard us from entering into vulnerable spaces of change.

  • What if instead of acting on our instinct to protect the walls that we construct, we acted first out of love?
  • How would we be willing to change to accommodate refugees fleeing terror and violence?
  • Instead of worshiping the idols of our institutional walls and status quo, let be transformed by the God of change and love, for indeed, “all things will be thrown down.”

Download the Proper 28B Bible Study

Written by Leigh Kern

Leigh M Kern is a postulant for the priesthood in the diocese of Toronto and Anglican Church of Canada. She is also a chaplain working with people living with addictions and poverty in New Haven, where she is a senior at Yale Divinity School. Leigh is passionate about God, creativity and healing. In her free time Leigh enjoys painting and writing music.  

Holy Ground, Holy Spaces, Proper 28(B) – 2015

[RCL] 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (as canticle); Hebrews 10:11-14; Mark 13:1-8

Today’s lessons are a mixture of life struggles, miracles and prophecies.

The story of Hannah may resonate with numerous women in our own age. Infertility is a widespread challenge that women face, at times, silently.

Hannah’s cultural context differs significantly from ours. In ancient Israel, motherhood was the epitome of accomplishments for women. Not being able to conceive was seen as a sign of punishment or God’s displeasure. Nowadays, women of childbearing age in this country enjoy innumerable lifestyle choices and accomplishments are measured in a myriad of areas. However, the stigma, misunderstanding or lack of tact women of today may experience could be as insensitive and cruel as Hannah’s was.

There is much we could learn from Hannah’s strength of character, her persistence, resilience and ability to manage her emotional roller coaster, even in the midst of peer pressure. Not all stories have a happy ending. In this case, the Lord had compassion on Hannah and granted her the blessing of bearing a child, Samuel, who became a prominent figure in the history of the people of Israel.

Paradoxically, Hannah promised to return to God the exact thing for which she prayed. That selfless act may serve as a reminder to us that all things on earth and in heaven are God’s gift to us. It is a reminder of the truth behind the phrase many congregations recite during the offertory “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thy own we have given thee.”

Hannah is blessed with the gift of life. She proclaims her gratitude in a song to her Lord. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.” It is this song that Mary embraces when visited by the angel with the good news about the coming of Emmanuel.

This story may serve as a model for us of what it means to live faithfully in days and situations that may seem godforsaken. Hannah’s faithfulness to God, resilience and perseverance serve as great inspiration for the Christian community in the world when we face challenges or tasks that, at first glance, seem overwhelming, such as the signs of the times, the decline in membership, the call to end hunger, violence, and to be fully present in a world in need of peace and reconciliation.

Jesus’s conversation with the disciples points us to this very reality of a crumbling world, which we dare say, is an opportunity for rebuilding and hope. It is an opportunity for the faithful to embrace our commitment to fully participate in God’s mission in a renewed and creative way.

The interaction narrated in today’s gospel takes place towards the end of Jesus’s ministry. The scenes preceding the text describe Jesus’s teaching and cite particularly his warning about the destruction of the temple.

Impressed with the settings, the disciples expressed their sense of awe for the infrastructure in front of them. The masonry work in Jerusalem was indeed impressive and not comparable to that of Galilee. Jesus’s response to the impressed disciple may seem dismissive at first glance. However, this is one of those Jesus-Teaching-Moments that would not only reveal to the disciples a powerful truth about God’s power and grace but also give us, believers of this century, an opportunity to revisit our perceptions, understanding and relationship with the physical spaces that host our gatherings as we continue with the apostles’ teaching and the breaking of the bread.

Although the Gospel focuses on the end of times, the central point on buildings and signs may give us a perfect analogy to meditate on our current reality as we struggle with failing, demanding and impressive infrastructures that house our collective worship.

For decades, our buildings have been symbols of wealth and power. The Episcopal Church’s red doors have been a sign of welcome and visibility in our communities. Yet, the signs of the times show us that the decline in church attendance or church life as we knew it is an evolving reality.

We run the risk of remaining in a state of awe, like the disciples, admiring our stain glass windows, wood, paintings, carvings, and stones or we could run the risk of remaining in denial and exclusively focused inward just like the man in Anthony de Melo’s story:

A father knocks on his son’s door “Jamie”, he says, “wake up!” Jamie answers, “I do not want to get up, Papa.” The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school!” Jamie says, “I do not want to go to school.” “Why not?” asks his father. “Three reasons,” says Jamie. “First, because it is so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.” The father responds, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons you must go to school. First, because it is your duty. Second, because you are forty-five years old; and third, because you are the headmaster.”

We may rather stay under the covers of denial about the state of our communities. The signs are visible. The world needs our commitment as disciples and apostles to engage in the mission of God in the communities where our buildings are located. Yes! The buildings are a means to an end, a receptacle of God’s grace to facilitate God’s mission. Our buildings are vessels to facilitate community and service.

Jesus’s response today is to us an inspiration to focus on God’s mission outwardly. The buildings we once treasured may be limiting us from engaging the world in meaningful and powerful ways.

This past summer a resolution presented to the General Convention of our church addressed the challenges we face with our physical spaces. The resolution highlighted the fact that our buildings are underutilized and constricted by habits, customs and mindsets that preclude us from using them as sacred spaces for the greater good. It emphasized that our worship services are one of many expressions of the holy use of buildings.

The resolution invited us to tap into our Anglican understanding of incarnation, so that it’s not just formally religious things that are sacred, but other activities too can become sacred and sanctified, themselves benefitting from being present in church buildings. It is an invitation to be creative and to redefine our perceptions and relationship with the assets we have been blessed with.

A new outlook to our church’s infrastructure can be life-giving and generative beyond our wildest imagination. It may require us to deconstruct our worship of building behaviors and build new practices and understanding of mission. Many Episcopal churches and of other denominations have discerned the signs of the time and have stepped out in audacious faith to bring Christ and Church to the world, from celebrating Eucharist in a corner store, in a park, or opening our sanctuaries to community gatherings.

Our buildings are holy ground, spaces where we find a sense of community, where we are fed and nourished. It is not only a space in which to dwell, but also a space to be formed, prepared and sent out into the world to bear witness of God’s faithfulness and greatness.

May we develop a theology of sacredly inclusive use-of-space that is adaptive and generative both financially and spiritually. May we collaborate to re-envision the purpose of our buildings and be aware of the need of walking in faith outside of our walls to bring about reconciliation into the world. Amen.

 

Download the sermon for Proper 28B.

Written by the Rev. Miguelina Howell

The Rev. Miguelina Howell is Dean-Elect of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford.  She currently serves as Vicar of the Cathedral.  Miguelina serves as CREDO faculty and member of the Council of Advice for the Latino/Hispanic Missioner of the Episcopal Church.  She is originally from the Dominican Republic and has served God’s mission overseas, as member of the Episcopal Church Staff and as the 7th Rector of Church of the Epiphany in the Diocese of Newark.

Penny for Your Thoughts, Proper 27(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 127, (19-22); Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Benjamin Franklin once said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Yet, despite the sage words from Mr. Franklin, pennies are often readily available; all one has to do is look on city streets – pennies are in abundant supply. People all the world over are happy to get rid of their pennies. Oftentimes, people won’t bother to pick them up when they have fallen.

The penny occupies a peculiar spot on any currency chart. It’s worth next to nothing, but not really. Because of the penny’s peculiarity, it’s difficult to divide. What’s 10% of a penny? Matthew 10:29 proves that one could have purchased two sparrows for one penny in Jesus’ time – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny.”

The term “a penny for your thoughts” was ‘coined’ in 1522, with Sir Thomas More’s book, Four Last Things. As with most idioms or sayings, no one is exactly sure who first said “a penny for your thoughts” But Sir More was the first to publish it.

Perhaps our widow, in this Gospel story from Mark, should receive some credit for the phrase, “a penny for your thoughts,” as well. Her bold, uninhibited vulnerability to offer all she had to live on was a true sign of sacrifice. In her adherence to Jewish law, she brought her tithe to the treasury – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Her revolutionary giving posture was to give 90% above the tithe – Now, how’s that for a stewardship model?

If she was anything like the other women portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. We know that this woman embodied faith to approach God boldly, perform loving acts for God, stand as an example of piety to be emulated, and speak truths when others would not. It could be suggested that she was a poor widow, because her late husband was a poor man. So to approach the treasury and pour out and offer all she had to live on, was to say, ‘this is all I got, it isn’t worth much, God, I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts.’

Those thoughts are embedded throughout Scripture. God’s thoughts towards her were that, she could live with the certainty that “Before God formed her in the womb God knew her, and before she was born God set her apart; God appointed her” and had a purpose for her. (Jeremiah 1:5)

She could lived with the guarantee and gratitude that God had her life all planned out because “surely God knew the plans God had for her, cause God said so, plans for her welfare to prosper her and not for harm, plans to give her a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Those thoughts are true for us as well. We can live in the assurance that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). And we can live with the knowledge that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Knowing the thoughts God has towards us is important to carrying out our ministry on this earth.

Our sister in this story pushed passed the shame of being a struggling widow. She broke open the doors that would have said your two cents aren’t enough; pennies cannot do a thing. She paid no attention to the offerings others had in comparison to her own. She understood there wasn’t a thing she could do, but by giving all she had to God that could change.

Similar to American art teacher and musician Judson W. Van DeVenter who penned the lyrics for the Christian hymn ‘I Surrender All.’ DeVenter said “For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life.”

Once those two coins hit the bottom of the treasury it ushered a new day, a new season in the life of the widow, because of her surrender, sacrifice, and sacramental giving.

Worship is essentially our response to God’s love, generosity and graciousness. Worship edifies our souls, and God delights in our worship. Remember our sister from Canaan whose daughter was tormented by a demon? When she went to Jesus and his disciples, Jesus didn’t even speak to her at first. His disciples tried to quiet her and send her away. It’s not until she bowed down and worshipped Jesus that Jesus responded to her. Our worship gets God’s attention. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Giving is an act of worship. The widow’s giving, and in our giving, we are worshipping God. Her selfless act of vulnerability, her posture of worship got Jesus’ attention. The Gospel states, once she gives all she had to live on, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more that all those who are contributing to the treasury.” Her worship received Jesus’ attention.

She gave all that she had to live on, so that the work of God’s kingdom could be done. Prior to getting Jesus’ attention, Jesus is telling his disciples about the pitfalls of “Scribe-like” behavior and cautions them to beware! To be clear, “Scribe-like” giving (not “Scribe-like” behavior) is important and helpful to the growth of the Church. When we give from a place of sacrifice and surrender, this is our devotion to God. God looks at the heart and wants for us to be able to trust God with all that we have for what we have are gifts from God.

Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr. states in his book, One Minute Stewardship Sermons, that ‘God is generous, giving, loving, forgiving, and gracious. God desires our loving response to His generosity.’ The oxymoron here is that God is generous even in our scarcity. Most often our loving response is not sacrificial giving similar to that of the widow. Out of her poverty she gave and took the huge risk of not being able to afford to live. One might look at her and begin finger wagging and calling her less than smart. How will she live, if she gave all she had to live on to God? It doesn’t make much sense. In today’s society that kind of giving may be frowned upon tremendously. Even sacrificial giving may be shunned because of the thrill of the accumulation of material possession in our society. But, this widow understood giving to God was a sure way for a substantial return on her investment.

Some biblical scholars believe however that her gift presaged Jesus’ own surrender and sacrifice to God’s will for His life. In this Gospel, our poor widowed sister reflected Jesus’ behavior, “though he was rich, yet for (our) sake became poor, so that by his poverty (we) might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Anyone can give out of their’ abundance and excess, but it takes a true believer to give out of his or her poverty. Sacrificing and surrendering of all that she had, this poor widow was able to attain all she needed to live on and her heart sang the words of Van DeVenter’s Hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

AMEN.

Download the Sermon for Proper 27B

For reference and further study

  • Cloughen, C. (1997). One minute stewardship sermons (p. 2). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub.
  • Harrington, Daniel J., and John R. Donahue. “The Scribes and the Widow.” Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1991. 362-365. Print.
  • Mays, James Luther. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000. Print.
  • Newsom, C. (1992). The Women’s Bible commentary (pp. 350-357). London: SPCK ;.
  • The Origin of the Phrase “A Penny For Your Thoughts” (2014, December 7). Retrieved October 18, 2015.
  • Who Said. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2015.

Written by The Rev. Arlette Benoit

The Rev. Arlette Benoit is a graduate of General Theological Seminary in New York City where she earned her Masters in Divinity with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She was ordained to the priesthood in June 2013 in the Diocese of Atlanta. Rev. Benoit now serves at St. Paul’s Episcopal Atlanta GA, as Associate to the Rector. While at seminary she interned with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries. She continues to be involved with the Office of Black Ministries, and assist and provides consultation for the planning of the S.O.U.L (Spiritual Opportunity to Unity and Learn) Conferences for youth and young adults, in addition to working with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop The Rising Stars (RISE) Experience — a new initiative aimed at countering the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Rev. Benoit was also recently appointed to serve as a Youth Ministry Liaison for the Office of Youth Ministries representing Province Four of The Episcopal Church.

Bible Study: Proper 27, Year B November 8, 2015

(RCL) Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi’s and Ruth’s family is on the brink of extinction. Both are widows, both destitute, and Ruth is a Moabite, a non-Israelite, an outsider. Naomi, too old to remarry and have children, sends Ruth to see Boaz, an extended family member, in the hope that Boaz will marry her and take them into his household. He does, and becomes the kinsmen-redeemer, and Ruth becomes King David’s great-grandmother.

A significant theme in the book of Ruth is that of outsiders being let in. The loving-kindness of Boaz for those whom he could easily have dismissed (Ruth was more closely related to another man in the community who wouldn’t take her in) is in keeping with Yahweh’s constant refrain throughout the Old Testament on the care for foreigners and the impoverished.

  • Who in your life could use some purposeful loving-kindness?
  • Who knows what that person, perhaps on the fringes of your social circles or family, could do for the kingdom of God, if you would but invite them in…

Psalm 127

Holy Scripture has a pretty radical view of our world’s dependence on God: if master builder and watchmen don’t have God’s assistance, their labor is a waste of time. Like the reading from Ruth, the Psalm echoes the theme of the Lord’s care and provision for God’s people. This Psalm in particular focuses on children, as the “Lord’s heritage,” as gifts of God: the means to sustain our very species is itself totally dependent on the Lord’s making prosper the fruit of the womb.

Our society at large does not have this view of children. What the Psalmist calls “gifts,” “happiness,” and a “heritage,” our society often calls “inconveniences,” “unnecessary expenses,” or an “obstacle” to your career. Even the most devout Christians fall into this type of thinking from time to time. If we’re honest, those thoughts cross our minds more than we’d like to admit.

Eventually we must come to a conscious choice:

  • Where will we be taking our cues from when it comes to how we think about children?
  • From the script of that new sitcom, or from our holiest text?
  • From the pulpit of pop culture, or from the mouth of God himself?

Hebrews 9:24-28

We can’t pretend that these ancient ideas about how to cleanse a community of the guilt of their wrongdoings are natural for moderns like us to comprehend, but we must try, if Jesus’ sacrifice is going to make any sense to us. Pardon the analogy, but if sin is pollution, then blood is a successful “clean up our streets” initiative. If sin makes us dirty, blood makes us clean. But whose blood, and what kind? That from a pure victim, offered to God by a priest. Like the high priests of old, Jesus appears before God in the most holy place, presenting not the blood of an animal, but his own blood, that which was spilt on the strangest of altars, the altar of a Roman cross. Paradoxically, He is at once priest and sacrificial victim, making a “perfect offering and sacrifice unto God.”

Jesus’ blood is re-presented to us when we receive the Eucharist, our principal act of worship where we proclaim our Lord’s death until he comes again. This is not easy to grasp, in fact, it is “foolishness to those who are perishing,” but it is inestimably worthy of your meditation and devotion. Christian, behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

  • How do you see this sacrificial act?
  • How does that inform your view of the Eucharist?

Mark 12:38-44

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea quotes Bede as saying that the allegorical meaning of the passage is that the “the poor widow is the simplicity of the Church: poor indeed, because she has cast away the spirit of pride and of the desires of worldly things; and a widow, because Jesus her husband has suffered death for her. She casts two mites into the treasury, because she brings the love of God and of her neighbor, or the gifts of faith and prayer; which are looked upon as mites in their own insignificance, but measured by the merit of a devout intention…she understands that even her very living is not of her own worthiness, but of Divine grace.”

More obviously, the literal sense contrasts the religious elite, who are corrupt and hypocritical and donate their money for the spectacle, with the humility of the widow who gave nearly nothing, and yet everything.

  • Since the Holy Scriptures are written for the Church, of which we are a part, what does Jesus’ praise of this woman inspire in us?
  • How can we imitate her humility?
  • What can we give to God, even out of our poverty?

Download the Proper 27, Year B Bible Study 

Written by Ryan Pollock

Ryan is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Dallas, TX and a middler seminarian at Nashotah House, where he is a choral scholar and a refectorian. When not engaged in seminary business, these days he can be found alchemizing in the kitchen or attempting to play heavy metal guitar in the basement. He is married to Jessica, an artist and photographer who is studying astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.  

They are resurrected in our hearts, All Saints’ Day, Year B – 2015

[RCL] Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 48; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

All Saints’ Day is one of the most underrated church holidays of the year. It is overshadowed by its more glamorous cousins, All Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving, similar to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week. But All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does because they are days that are about how some of the darker parts of human experience can be washed in holiness when they are brought before God.

All Saints’ Day is so important because it is the one church holiday set aside during the year to tend to our grief. We experience grief on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ and the grand theological ideas that accompany them. All Saints Day is for us, for remembering the people we loved, who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives and then died and left us behind.

Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences, and grief is often very lonely. Many of us have awakened on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marveled at how the sun can rise another day and the Earth can continue to turn after our world has been abruptly destroyed. We are grateful for all the concern friends and colleagues show us, but find it so strange to realize that while they truly felt sorry for us during the time they were in conversation with us or the moment they kindly took to send us a card or email, this event that turned our world upside down really meant very little to them.

We’re not angry at them. Of course no one would love or care for or agonize over our departed loved one the way our own family would, but it is just so surreal to realize that after someone says something kind to us about it, that person will go right back to thinking about what to put on the dinner table or whether to go to the movies that weekend. It is a realization that all of us have at some time or another that our own personal battles and tragedies and defeats really matter very little in the big picture of the world.

They matter very little 364 days a year in 99.9% of the places on this Earth. But our grief does matter on this day, in this place. On All Saints’ Day, in God’s Holy Church, the losses that we have borne over the years come front and center and are named for all to hear, on holy ground. On All Saints Day, our grief is no longer lonely and isolating, but we gather in this sanctuary and let our grief bind us together in a new and powerful way.

All Saints’ Day is an important ministry to us in our losses because it helps us reenter that place of mourning in a rhythm, year after year after year each November. As the green and life of the summer die and go to their winter rest around us, so we bring up the pain of loss on purpose in this rhythm, year after year. And each year that we revisit the loss, the pain softens and loses a little sharpness, begins to go to its own winter rest. Every time we name our loved ones among the saints, we honor not only their lives but our own long battle with memories both painful and joyful.

And it is so important to honor their memories. Most of our departed loved ones had a funeral to commemorate them. But the funeral happens right after the loss and often our emotions are completely chaotic, not to mention the practical circumstances we are trying to manage. If you have lost someone close to you, either due to sudden accident or long illness, you probably remember the days in the immediate aftermath as a haze of confusion. There are hundreds of details to attend to—notifying friends, organizing a service, pulling together money for a casket and burial plot, thinking about wills and estates, the volatility of family brought together in a pressure cooker of emotion. Frankly it is often not a time to treasure the memory of the departed. Many grieving families float through the funeral in a sort of disconnected shock.

This is where All Saints’ Day comes to our aid once again. There is no chaos, there are no arrangements to be made, no being singled out to sit at the front of the church in a black suit or dress, no finding directions to the cemetery. We are all in this together, and the ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. It’s the chance to be private about our grief, taking out our memories in the quiet of our hearts and turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect. But we all enter that sheltered and quiet heartspace of our own at the same time, in the same place. As you bring up the faces of your dearest departed before your mind’s eye, cherishing the chance to do so peacefully and uninterrupted, your neighbor is doing the same. We enter the valley of the shadow of death together, and walk through it in solidarity with one another.

There is someone else who is in solidarity with us in our grief, and that is Jesus. In our gospel today, we see him in the exact situation we have faced in our own lives—the inevitable but painful death of a loved one. Lazarus had been sick, they all knew there was a possibility he might die. But even Jesus can’t quite believe it at first. He doesn’t want to believe it, and asks if he’s been buried, hoping maybe the message has gotten twisted along the way and Lazarus is still just sick. “He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”

Jesus sees so much pain in his lifetime, and he bears it so bravely. He sees the suffering of his people crushed under the imperial rule of Rome, and he doesn’t cry. He sees five thousand hungry and poor on a hillside needing him to feed them, and he doesn’t cry. He sees people tormented by demons, bleeding or paralyzed or diseased for years, and he doesn’t cry. He continues his ministry and cares for them.

But here, at last, he breaks, and for the simple, everyday loss of a simple, everyday beloved friend. Nothing grand or dramatic. One of his best friends gets sick and dies, and Jesus weeps. And so perhaps on this day of letting our heartaches step out into the open on holy ground, we can be in solidarity with Jesus as much as he is with us. He always bears the burden for us. Maybe today we can say, “Jesus, we understand how you feel. We’re sorry you lost your friend. We love you. Come be with us for a while and we’ll all be in this together.”

Jesus brought his friend back, just as on the final day we will all be brought back to life by him to live with him and in him. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus up to new life? How did he bring him back from the dead? By calling his name. “Lazarus, come out!” Today, we’re doing the same thing. We’re calling out the names of the ones we loved who have passed on, and they answer. They are resurrected in our hearts, brought to life in this time and place. Whether on one side of the border between life and death or the other, we all want to be with our loved ones. As the communion of saints joins spirits across the divide today, we may realize that we are being called by name today as well, named and loved by the ones who have gone before us.

Download the Sermon for All Saints, Year B.

Written by The Rev. Whitney Rice

The Rev. Whitney Rice is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Indianapolis and currently the Priest-in-Charge of the Shared Ministry of St. Luke’s Shelbyville and St. Thomas Franklin. A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Yale Divinity School. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.