I am surrounded

I am surrounded was the suggested title of a homily for Trinity Sunday. In our Sunday worship we seldom hear a homily or sermon opening the text of the Psalm. Once again, the folks at WorkingPreacher.org are present to help, exploring this text for preacher and hearer alike.

Another sermon derives simply from the poetic structure of the psalm. A modern, Western reading of the psalm tends to focus on the question “What are humans that you are mindful of them?” as an outburst of existential anxiety from an “I” alone in the midst of overwhelming vastness. There might be something in that, but the structure of the psalm puts the singer in a different place. Psalm 8 (NRSV) has a rather clear concentric structure:

A   O Lord, our Sovereign… (verse 1a)

B   You have set your glory… (verses 1b-2)

C   When I look… (verses 3-4)

B’  Yet, you have made… (verses 5-8)

A’  O Lord, our Sovereign (verse 9)

The A/B/C/B’/A’ structure is, in part at least, grammatical or rhetorical, comprised of sections introduced by Lord/you/I/you/Lord.

The psalm begins and ends with the outburst of congregational praise of God’s majestic name (A/A’). Within those verses comes the praise of God’s particular works (overturning foes in B; blessing humans in B’), and, at the center, the wondering awe of the poet (C). Now, instead of an isolated “me,” viewing a distant universe in existential anxiety, “I” (C) stand surrounded by the gracious and protecting works of God (B/B’) and the congregation gathered to sing God’s praise (A/A’).

Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Read the entire post: WorkingPreacher.org. (select Psalm tab)

In future posts “NJPS” will be used to refer to the Jewish Publication Society 1999 Tanakh Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both the translation and the study notes for Psalm 8 can be found here: Psalm 8 NJPS. Professor Gaiser refers to NJPS in his essay. As you will encounter again, the NJPS verse designations vary slightly from the NRSV verse designations.

Pentecost: The coming of the Wild Goose

Wild Goose LogoOn Pentecost Sunday the Forum was introduced to the Wild Goose as an image of the Holy Spirit used in the Celtic Church. This bit of information was part of an essay on Pentecost by Jim Wallis.

While much of my work revolves around challenging unjust systems and structures, I do not doubt that the world we see around us of broken people and institutions is only a small portion of what is real. The Spirit of God extends wider and deeper and is at work in my life, the lives of others, and in the communities and institutions of this world. While I work for societal transformation, I try to stay rooted in the transforming work that the Spirit is constantly doing in me.

How are you working (with the Spirit of God) beyond yourself? How are you being transformed by the Spirit of God?

Too often, it feels like we need to make a choice between the work of this world, and the work of the Spirit, or between a personal focus, or a social focus of the gospel. “Either/or” marks how some churches present the Christian faith. Often, however, this is a false dichotomy. Early in the days of the Sojourners community I remember that one of our favorite words was “and.” We would talk about personal salvation and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, faith and action, belief and obedience, salvation and discipleship, worship and politics, spiritual transformation and social transformation. These were things that complemented one another and deepened each other instead of being in opposition.

How comfortable are you in living in a both/and situation?

In two weeks, my family and I will be headed down to Shakori Hills, North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival. In the Celtic Church, the symbol for the Holy Spirit is a wild goose — wild, free, and untamed. The festival will be a weekend of justice, spirituality, music, and the arts. It is an “and” kind of space, more than an “either/or.” It will, no doubt, be a busy weekend. But I am looking forward to it, not just for the activities, but for the reminder that it is by chasing after the wild goose, the Holy Spirit’s movement, that we see ourselves, and our world, transformed.
Read the entire essay: Pentecost: The Coming of the Wild Goose

Find out more about the Wild Goose Festival

Pentecost Year A

In the Sunday worship our Rector quoted from a “creed” sent to him. The creed begins:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate,
Promised by Jesus,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The creed continues to celebrate and affirm the Spirit’s presence and power in creation, in the matriarchs and patriarchs and prophets of our ancestry, how the Spirit changed Mary and alighted on Jesus in the Jordan; the creed delights in the Pentecost experience and the power of preaching and healing let loose in the world. The creed finishes:

She dwells in and with God’s people,
Midwife to our rebirth as heavenly children.
One day she will welcome us home to the City of God,
And wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Written by Anastasia McAteer it can be read at Clayfire Curator: We believe in the Holy Spirit: A creed

Here is another indication of the “live word of the Living God.”

Come Holy Spirit….

____________
“Because the Bible is, as we confess, “the live word of the living God,” it will not submit in any compliant way to the accounts we prefer to give of it. There is something intrinsically unfamiliar about the book; and when we seek to override that unfamiliarity, we are on the hazardous ground of idolatry” –Walter Brueggemann in “Biblical Authority: A Personal Reflection” (2000)

The homepage of Clayfire Curator

Easter 5A: A follower of the Way

Jesus said, “you know the way to the place where I am going”

Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said “I am the way….”

We know where we are going: into the reign of God. We know the way. With a lot of patience and steadfast diligence, with a little humor and an unwavering focus, we are followers of the Way (one of the earliest descriptions of “Christians” see Acts 9:2). So what does that mean?

As the week ends try finishing this sentence 5 times “As a follower of the Way I . . . .”

What’s in a name?

Though we use names and titles differently in 2011 CE than in 111 CE they affect us: our emotional state, our responsiveness to the person being introduced or spoken to, and our general “feeling” about the person being addressed, spoken about, or spoken to. This was the thinking behind the Sunday Forum on 15 May 2011.

For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.  1 Peter 2:25

Taking that single verse at the end of the Lesson from 1 Peter we spoke out our “names and titles” of Jesus to one another. It was a lively discussion. Please leave a comment here to any or all of the questions we considered on Sunday. At minimum, answer the questions for yourself.

Sunday’s Questions

  • How many names/titles do you use when speaking of Jesus?
  • How many names/titles do you use for addressing Jesus in prayer?
  • Which name do you use most frequently?
  • Have you ever thought about this?
  • Does it make any difference?

These are just a few of the questions that can be asked based upon a single line, verse 25, in today’s lesson from the First Letter of Peter. To highlight once again the dilemma faced by contemporary translators I offer several translations of  the Greek word episkopos used long ago. Try out each translation as a prayer word; each word evokes a different emotion for me. How about you?

King James Version KJV
For ye were as sheep going astray ; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

New Revised Standard Version NRSV
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

New International Version NIV
For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

New American Bible Revised Edition NABRE
For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Contemporary English Version CEV
You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector.

Faithful Doubt: Easter 2A

While WorkingPreacher.org presents material addressed to preachers the rest of us can benefit from these reflections, too. After all, in an exhortation attributed to St. Francis, we are encouraged to “Preach the Gospel with your whole life, use words if necessary.” As you consider faith and doubt (or skepticism) in the story of Thomas expand your thinking and read the post Faithful Doubt on WorkingPreacher.org. Here is a sample from the article and the link:

So I wonder, Working Preacher, how many of our hearers imagine this to be true: that doubt is not the opposite of faith but an essential ingredient? That hardboiled realism is an asset to vibrant faith? That they can bring their questions and skepticism, as well as their insights and trust, to their Christian lives? That they are among those blessed by Jesus for believing without seeing? And what difference would it make if they knew this? If they saw themselves, that is, like Thomas, as model disciples prepared and blessed for faithful mission in the world? Read the post: WorkingPreacher.org.

Hear what the Spirit is saying is a Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, CA. All are welcome to attend. The forum begins at 9:00 am in the Meyers Classroom on the lower level of the church. The only prerequisite for participation is a heart open to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.