All Saints’ Day 2020

Readings and supplemental resources for All Saints’ Day Year A in the RCL

November 1, 2020 | All Saints’ Day

Click this image to view or download the Bible Study for All Saints’ Day

Collect for All Saints’ Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. ~BCP 245

Revelation 7:9-17 NRSV

This lesson presents a vision of those who have survived great tribulation and now worship before the throne of God and the Lamb.

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

1 John 3:1-3 NRSV

In this lesson we learn that through God’s love, disciples are now children of God; their destiny is to be like Christ.

1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when heis revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV

The gospel is the opening sayings of the Sermon on the Mount, words of both comfort and challenge.

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 BCP 627

Our Psalm response is a hymn of blessing and praise to the Lord for deliverance.

1 I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the Lord; * let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant, * and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!

9 Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.

Supplemental Material

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him,
for we will see him as he is.

1 John 3:2 NRSV

1 John 3:1-3 A Pastoral Perspective

By William N. Jackson, Honorably Retired Minister, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

John makes it very clear in this passage that it is by the lavish, generous love of God that we can rightly be called children of God. The apostle Paul is even more specific. He tells us that it is by the work of God’s Spirit that we are “adopted” as God’s children. In Romans 8:16–17a he writes of God’s Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We therefore have a spiritual inheritance that entitles us to all the blessings and benefits, privileges and powers, that relationship implies. Along with being nurtured and motivated in our spiritual growth, we also have the privilege of knowing God’s promises and presence in times of difficult struggle and need. Along with John’s concern for theological truth, he has some practical and pastoral things to say about the strength of the family of faith in times of adversity, sorrow, or loss. No New Testament writer expresses more consistently or more strenuously the necessity of Christian fellowship to provide “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

All Saints’ Day is a time when as the family of faith, children of God and joint heirs with Christ, we not only bear each other’s burdens but also claim for those who have died the hope and confidence we have together in the risen Christ. Through the credibility of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we claim our legacy, which is grounded in the victory of Christ over sin and the grave. Edward Young once wrote, “Because of the love of Christ, nothing is dead but that which wished to die; nothing is dead but wretchedness and pain. What remains for us is a legacy of loyalty, of love, and of life.”

How blessed we are by the loyal witnesses who have been our teachers, our mentors, our critics, and our encouragers in enabling us to grow and mature in our faith. Our legacy includes a countless number of faithful witnesses who have taught us to know and believe the good news of the Word of God. We soon learn that in times of hard trials and difficult decisions the witness of faith shared with us by our mentors continues to provide incredible strength, not only for our own benefit, but also for our witness to others. In Hebrews 11:4 the writer tells us that “Abel has died, but through his faith he is still speaking” (my trans.). Our legacy as children of God is to remember that, even though our loved ones have died, through their love and compassion, their instruction and correction, their laughter and tears, their honesty and humility, their sacrifice and dedication, and, most of all, their faith, they are still speaking. What a great legacy to claim for ourselves and to share with the world!

There is also the legacy of the unparalleled blessing of God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ. That legacy is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, in the familiar words, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way it; is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” There is not a clearer definition of unconditional love in Christ. There is also a promise. The next paragraph begins, “Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8). Our legacy in that love is personal and contemporary and also eternal.

William Penn wrote at the death of a beloved member of his family, “Those who love beyond this world are never separated.” Then he added, “Death cannot kill what never dies.”2 Our legacy is the gift of God’s love, present in this life and present victoriously in the life to come.

There is also the legacy of life. From the beginning, the legacy of life has been a primary message for John. We find evidence for that in the first paragraph of the Gospel of John: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4). The opening paragraph of John’s first letter reiterates the same claim. Life is a primary gift, a privilege from God. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In today’s passage John reminds us that the life we now know is only the beginning; there will be an even more glorious future when Christ appears. Then we shall see Christ and be found in the very likeness, the very image of God. Of course, John is thinking about the second coming. We may or may not think in those literal terms; nevertheless, there will come a time for every one of us when God will purify our hearts, when we shall see Christ and behold Christ’s glory. When God thus purifies our hearts, we will see the glorious, victorious resurrection life in Christ.

John also suggests that when the glorious gift of life in Christ is seen in us, the world may come to know who Christ is and come to receive the “light of life,” which is given for all humanity. Then that life can become the means by which we will all be bound together in a common legacy.

A man was visiting in Egypt. As he sat on a public bench privately reading Scripture, an older Egyptian man came and sat beside him. When the Egyptian noticed that the man was reading his Bible, he extended his hand in introduction and said, “I have life!” Fellow believers are held together by a legacy of life, found in their common relationship through the risen Christ. “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12).

“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory [the legacy] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?

We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.

What is the communion of saints?

The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.

From An Outline of the Faith, BCP 862

November 1 All Saints

It is believed by many scholars that the commemoration of all the saints on November 1st originated in Ireland, spread from there to England, and then to the European continent. […]

November 2 All Souls or Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day on which the church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.

Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018

Source Material

View or Download the All Saints’ Day Study Handout

NRSV: Bible Gateway website

Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

Introductions to the Readings are from the book  Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, 3rd Ed.  (Kindle Edition) by Frederick Borsch and George Woodward.

Image: Communications Resources

Hear the Spirit: Proper 25A

Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 24A in the RCL

October 25, 2020 | Pentecost +20

Click this image to view or download the Bible Study for Proper 25A

Collect for Proper 25

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~BCP 235

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 NRSV

In this lesson the people of Israel are called to lives of justice and love—to be holy because the Lord their God is holy.

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slandereramong your people, and you shall not profit by the bloodof your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 NRSV

In this reading Paul recalls his first visit to the Thessalonians, the troubles he endured, and the straightforward and gentle way in which he presented the gospel.

1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters,that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentleamong you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Matthew 22:34-46 NRSV

In the gospel Jesus presents the double commandment of love for God and neighbor, and then asks a question concerning whose son the Christ is.

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Psalm 1 BCP 585

The Lord makes fruitful those who choose the way of righteousness.

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, * nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, * and they meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; * everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked; * they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, * nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, * but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Supplemental Material

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Matthew 22:36 NRSV

A Homily on Matthew 22:34-46

Laurel Mathewson, Living by the Word in The Christian Century –

When I was fresh out of college and chock-full of vocational angst, I was lucky enough to be invited into a book club composed primarily of working and retired pastors, therapists, and professors. One evening over tea and cookies, as this multigenerational group of women delved (somewhat) into the book and (more fully) into the issues of our lives, my angst spilled over into earnest whining: But what are we to do? How are we to live? It’s so complicated!

The response that followed has lingered in my memory. A Catholic theologian in her sixties with short, curly hair looked at me. “Oh, but we have been given a simple code,” she said. “Love God, love your neighbor. When things get overwhelming for me, I repeat again and again: Love God, love your neighbor. ”

A few days later, I was taking a winter walk on the beach and came across the unlikely gift of a big and beautiful labyrinth a stranger had left in the sand. Still feeling pretty confused and tormented, I began to walk the labyrinth, repeating those words like a mantra: Love God, love your neighbor. Tellingly, I don’t remember exactly what “next step” emerged for me, but I do remember that as I prayed and walked, those simple words seemed to unlock a door. I left the beach with clarity and relief, the simplicity of the commandment releasing the weighty pressures of countless social codes and expectations.

This teaching of the two greatest commandments is Jesus’ gentle yoke. In Jesus’ time, a rabbi’s “yoke” was a set of teachings—that which was required of you under the law according to a particular teacher. The “easy and gentle” yoke of our Lord—who can often be read as quite demanding—makes most sense to me in light of this historical factoid and this week’s lesson: we yearn for clarity about what is essential, and we long to be guided toward the things that really matter.

It is an aspect of the gospel so basic that it is easily overlooked by preachers. In my early-twenties vocational crisis, I was already a confirmed and hopeless church nerd. I’d heard lots of sermons, been to lots of Bible studies. Yet the liberating force of this basic discipleship teaching hit me like a fresh gust of wind on stagnant sails. Similar memories are scattered throughout my life: I realize that I have been surprised by the grace of this greatest-commandments gospel again and again. It is not the foundational gospel of resurrection and shouldn’t replace it. But for all who are trying their darnedest in a world full of dubious codes for righteous living, this teaching remains good news.

Glennon Doyle Melton—author of Carry On, Warrior and the popular Momastery blog—wrote a post in August called “Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt.” After receiving unsolicited advice that she should update her kitchen, Melton aims to cultivate gratitude for the bounty of her North American life with new “perspectacles.” Talking about her microwave, she says, “This is the magical box in which I put uncooked stuff, push some buttons, and then a minute later—pull out cooked stuff. It is like the JETSONS up in here.”

Melton experiences gratitude as liberty from desire: “I will not be a slave to the Tyranny of Trend any longer. I am almost 40 years old and no catalog is the Boss of Me anymore.” The gospel offers all sorts of liberation to all sorts of people, and many seem weightier than middle-class psychological unburdening. But don’t dismiss the liberation of those ensnared by consumerism. I’ve been there many times; if you haven’t, count that a special grace from God. The powers of marketing are real. We need the Spirit’s help and a good word to walk through a store with such a freedom intact. Melton offers a testimony many hunger for.

But what is the difference between this liberty born of gratitude and the liberty offered by the greatest commandments? They function similarly, yet ultimately a liberating code that includes the prayerful love of God and neighbor will be richer and more robust than thanksgiving alone—and more complicated. Simple does not mean easy, and simple commandments have complicated implications. Judging from the holiness code of Leviticus 19, this paradox has always been the case. What does it look like in 2014, in this place, to love your neighbor? To love God above all else? Whenever I think that these are tired old questions, I know I am not really paying attention.

How did I love my poor neighbor today? Did I even think about my poor neighbor? In what ways do I continue to defer to the ways and the will of the “successful” class? Paul knows that even proclaiming the gospel to new faces can be an occasion for greed and false flattery. Living by a different holiness code than the ones on offer from contemporary culture takes discernment. It also takes courage. We are freed from expectations we find onerous. But we also may be required to give up praise and positions that gladden our egos.

Source Material

View or Download the Proper 25A Study Handout

NRSV: Bible Gateway website

Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

Introductions to the Readings are from the book  Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, 3rd Ed.  (Kindle Edition) by Frederick Borsch and George Woodward.

Image: Communications Resources

Hear the Spirit: Proper 24A

Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 24A in the RCL

October 18, 2020 | Pentecost +20

Click this image to view or download the Bible Study for Proper 24A

Collect for Proper 24

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~BCP 235

Isaiah 45:1-7 NRSV

In this Hebrew Bible reading the Lord anoints Cyrus, King of Persia, to be God’s agent in freeing the chosen people from exile.

1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 NRSV

In company with Silvanus and Timothy, Paul greets the new Christians of Thessalonica, giving thanks for their faith and their conversion from idols to the worship of the true and living God.

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace

2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.

6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV

In our gospel lesson Jesus answers a question about taxation by teaching that people should pay what belongs to the emperor to the emperor and the things of God to God.

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Psalm 96:1-9 BCP 612

Our Psalm response is a hymn of trust in the Lord. God will guard and deliver the one who loves and seeks refuge with God.

1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; * proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.

4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; * he is more to be feared than all gods.

5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; * but it is the Lord who made the heavens.

6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! * Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; * ascribe to the Lord honor and power.

8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; * bring offerings and come into his courts.

9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth tremble before him.

Supplemental Material

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NRSV

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. A Pastoral Perspective

By Jill Y. Crainshaw, Associate Professor and Academic Dean, Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina689

Susan simultaneously pastored seven small congregations in the mountains of Virginia. Most of her colleagues never understood how she managed what, from their perspectives, had to be a chaotic and complex task. Preaching responsibilities alone seemed to them enough to tax Susan’s mind, soul, and body. Several lay ministers assisted Susan, but in the minds and hearts of most congregants in those small rural churches, she was the beloved pastor.

Susan was a contemporary version of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century traveling clergy, or circuit preachers. Circuit preachers, popularly called “circuit riders” or “saddleback riders,” were common sights, particularly in American Methodism during the Second and Third Great Awakenings. Due to a clergy shortage, some pastors were assigned multiple congregations. Riding on horseback from one “charge” to another, these pastors traveled light, reportedly carrying only what could fit into saddlebags.

Susan traveled from church to church in an old Honda Civic rather than on horseback, but like early circuit riders, she provided a pastoral presence to communities unable to afford full-time ministers. As for Susan’s churches, they learned to share with one another their pastor, their weekly “collections,” and their ministries. Susan spoke often about how she “stayed in touch” with congregations between her monthly preaching visits to each. Few congregants in those years (1982–88) had access to e-mail. Hand-scripted letters became Susan’s primary way to encourage and advise communities during her absences from them.

“I learned over time,” Susan recalled. “Letters sometimes say more, sometimes less, than you intend. When letters are the primary way we communicate with one another, we have to exercise particular care about what we say. We also have to let the ink flow from a well of gratitude. Writing and then sending letters when angry or frustrated can lead to unhappy results. Also, we have to keep in mind the lives and stories of the people who will read the letters. Most of all, we have to be prepared to be misunderstood on occasion and to stay in conversation about what we really meant by what we wrote.”

Paul is a kindred spirit to Susan and other circuit-riding preachers throughout history. Paul, like Susan, corresponded by letter with his multiple congregations. We can learn a great deal about pastoral leadership and communicating the gospel from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church.

Paul is a complex biblical character. Some interpreters extol Paul’s theological views. Others know firsthand the painful power of Paul’s voice when interpreters turn that voice against them. Still others wrestle with Paul’s sometimes strident representation of himself as authoritative leader. Each of these perspectives points to challenges of understanding Paul’s first-century message.

Often overlooked is the relational texture of Paul’s writings. Paul wrote letters, distinct forms of communication intended to encourage, teach, and sometimes reprimand particular congregations where he was deemed pastoral leader. Paul did not imagine a twenty-first-century readership. First Thessalonians was crafted for people with whom Paul had a personal bond.

When contemporary readers delve into the letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, they struggle to hear in Paul’s ancient words a gospel word for today. Thus they sometimes miss the vibrancy of Paul’s letter-writing style. A skilled correspondent, Paul inventively wove together words, images, and ideas common to his context. Paul’s letters illuminate the world of his day, even as they reveal theological values and ideas. Paul’s letters, particularly the letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, also reveal the concern with which he communicated with each of his churches.

Paul cared deeply for the Christians at Thessalonica. The opening words of 1 Thessalonians reflect this. The first verse sets the tone: “Grace to you and peace” (1:1c). As the first chapter unfolds, Paul’s gratitude for the work he and the Thessalonian community do together to carry gospel wisdom into places like Macedonia and Achaia (vv. 7–8) is evident.

This is the first letter Paul scripted as a “circuit-riding” preacher. In it, he affirms and encourages Thessalonian gospel collaborators. He has great affection for these believers, who have kept on ministering in spite of persecution (v. 6). Paul enjoys, and perhaps personally needs, the friendship of this community of coministers.

Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica invites the attention of contemporary believers. Certainly, it is not without interpretive challenges, often posed by Paul’s epistles. However, the letter overall depicts a pastoral leader intent on mentoring a community of believers. Paul characterizes his vocational identity in verse 2 with words that texturize the remainder of the letter: “We always give thanks to God for all of you.” Paul’s relationship with the church at Thessalonica is a relationship enriched and emboldened by thankfulness.

Circuit-riding preachers of the nineteenth-century variety are a thing of the past. A number of pastoral leaders today travel between two, or perhaps three, congregations. This is no doubt a challenging vocational responsibility; but “saddlebag riders” are no more. Also, technological innovations—text messages, cell phones, Skype, Internet—have bathed correspondence in the speed of light. Words now travel faster, farther, and with greater ease than physical bodies.

Paul’s handwritten and snail-mailed words of greeting to the church at Thessalonica continue to offer wisdom for today’s faith communities and their leaders. Congregations are to be bonded to one another in Christ by a spirit of thanksgiving for one another. What are the gifts of such a spirit? A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us as believers to be more intentional and thoughtful in all of the ways we communicate with one another. A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us toward greater communal intimacy. A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us to forgive and seek forgiveness, especially as each of us works to be understood and to understand. Finally, a spirit of thanksgiving can and should motivate us toward collaborative ministries that spin out threads of relational authenticity and depth.

Source: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, vol.4, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).

First Letter to the Thessalonians

There is little doubt that 1 Thessalonians, the 13th book in the NT canon, is an authentic letter written by the apostle Paul to the Christian community at Thessalonica in Macedonia. It is the oldest document contained in the NT.

David Noel Freedman, ed., “Thessalonians, First and Second Epistles to The,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 515.

Saint Paul

Paul, St (d. prob. AD 62–5), the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’. Born during the first years of the Christian era, the future St Paul, originally ‘Saul’, was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a native of *Tarsus in Cilicia, said by Acts to possess Roman citizenship. He was brought up a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5, Acts 26:5) and perhaps had some of his education at Jerusalem under *Gamaliel (so Acts 22:3). This life in Judaism (Gal. 1:14) gave him his trust in God, experience of the Law, and a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, as well as his methods of arguing from Scripture. As a Jew of the Diaspora he spoke and wrote Greek and shows some knowledge of rhetoric. Within a short time of the Crucifixion, he came in contact with the new ‘Way’ of the followers of Jesus, apparently in Palestine, and persecuted the Church (1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13). Acts 7:58 represents him as present at the martyrdom of St Stephen, and 9:1–2 as authorized by the High Priest to arrest converts in Damascus. As he drew near he was himself converted.

… The sketch in the Acts of St Paul of a ‘man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked …’ is probably imaginative, though Paul admits to his weak bodily presence (2 Cor. 10:10) and a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor. 12:7).

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1243.

A book and sword are the common attributes of Saint Paul

The book carried by Saint Paul represents his epistles in the New Testament of the Bible.

The sword is a reminder of the means of his martyrdom – he was beheaded in Rome in 67 AD.

Recognizing Saints: book and sword | The National Gallery, London England

Source Material

View or Download the Proper 24A Study Handout

NRSV: Bible Gateway website

Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

Introductions to the Readings are from the book  Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, 3rd Ed.  (Kindle Edition) by Frederick Borsch and George Woodward.

Image: Communications Resources

Hear the Spirit: Proper 13A

The readings for Proper 13A Track 2 in the Revised Common Lectionary

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Listen. What do YOU hear the Spirit saying in these readings?

Collect for Proper 13
(August 2, 2020)

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 232

Isaiah 55:1-5 NRSV

In this reading we hear how the return from exile will be a time of prosperity and abundance when God’s covenant will be renewed. The prophet pictures the great day: for a people who have been near death there will be food and drink without cost. God’s covenant with David is to be extended to all Israel, and other nations will come to see her glory.

1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Romans 9:1-5 NRSV

In this reading Paul expresses his anguish and sorrow that so many of the children of Israel, the people especially favored by God, have not found the Lord’s promise. To them belong the covenants, the law, and so much else. From their nation Christ himself came. Paul would go to great lengths, even see himself an outcast, if such would help Israel to know its salvation. Later in this letter Paul tries to explain how this all may be part of God’s plan of redemption, which in the end will include Israel with the Gentiles.

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Matthew 14:13-21 NRSV

Our gospel is the story of Jesus’ feeding of over five thousand persons. After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus seeks a time of retreat. The crowds, however, follow him, and he has compassion on them. The narrative suggests many levels of meaning. It recalls Old Testament stories, especially God’s feeding of the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, and points forward to the legendary banquet at the end of time where Christ the King will preside. The abundant miracle illustrates Jesus’ lordship; he is intimate with the powers of creation. Other themes associated with the Eucharist are close at hand.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 BCP 802

A hymn of praise to the Lord, who is mighty in deeds yet tender and compassionate.

8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 The Lord is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.

15 The Lord upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.

16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, *
and you give them their food in due season.

17 You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

18 The Lord is righteous in all his ways * and loving in all his works.

19 The Lord is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.

20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.

21 The Lord preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.

22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.


View or Download the Proper 13A Study Handout

NRSV: Bible Gateway website

Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

Introductions to the Readings are from the book  Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, 3rd Ed.  (Kindle Edition) by Frederick Borsch and George Woodward.

Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

As Jesus continued on from there,
he saw a man named Matthew
sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes.
He said to him, “Follow me,”
and he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9, CEB

Collect commemorating Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Come wander with me. Hear what the Spirit is saying, as you listen to what we ask (and what we say about ourselves and our God) in the Collect we pray as we commemorate Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.

We thank you, heavenly Father

  • Only one other Collect (Saturday in Easter Week) begins with the words “we thank you.” My personal prayers often begin with the words, “thank you.” Other collects contain thanksgiving, but this prayer on Matthew’s Feast Day and the prayer on Saturday in Easter Week mark the only 2 times our communal prayer in worship begins with thanksgiving.

we pray that, after [Matthew’s] example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him

  • Wow. That is some request. It intrigues me that our request is that we imitate the example of Matthew, that we hear and then obey (with ready wills and hearts no less) the calling of our Lord to follow. We don’t ask for graces to prepare ourselves to be sent (an apostle is one who is sent by another) or even to proclaim ‘good news’ (what Matthew ultimately did, what an evangelist does); we ask to be able to hear and obey and follow. We ask God for grace (and good-will) to hang out with Jesus.
  • If you are reading this. chances are you have indeed heard this call and have followed Jesus.
    • Into what adventure have you followed him?
    • Were you able, like Matthew, to follow immediately?
    • Were you more like me (and so many others I have met along the way) and hesitated, wondered, asked questions, started, stopped, sat down and didn’t move, and, you get the idea … well?
    • My following has hardly been immediate or perfect, but here I am. I do thank God for that grace; I thank God that I have so many traveling with me who have similar stories. I thank God for the example of Matthew, who just got up and followed.

What are your thoughts as you listen to this prayer, especially the notion of “call”? And, by the way, have you noticed how often “call” is part of our prayers? What are your experiences, your hopes, your beliefs, given voice in this prayer? Please continue the conversation in the Comment section. Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

It’s a great question

You are in for a treat. Often in the Sunday Morning Forum we open the First or Second Lesson or the Psalm appointed for the Sunday. Often our preacher takes up the Gospel Text. Today, The Rev. Troy Mendez (Associate Rector for Pastoral Care at St. Margaret’s) shares his sermon from Sunday, August 21, 2011. He begins with a story and finishes with an exhortation we can accomplish—with God’s help. ~dan

Are you Jesus?

Sermon for Proper 16A by The Rev. Troy Mendez
Associate Rector for Pastoral Care at St. Margaret’s in Palm Desert, CA 

Let the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In his book, The Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning tells us a story about five business colleagues who travelled on a day trip from Chicago to Milwaukee.   All of these 5 people had evening engagements back home, and so they planned their business meetings so that they could be back in Chicago for dinner.  Well, just as you’d expect, the meetings in Milwaukee ran way late, and there was no time to get on the train to Chicago.  As each of the friends ran towards the platform, one man raced through the station and kicked over a large basket of apples that a 10 yr old boy who had been standing by was selling.  As all the other friends ran-on because the train was leaving, one man stopped and felt compassion for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned.  He told the group to go on ahead, and he’d call and push back his evening dinner.   He ran back to the makeshift apple stand and realized that the 10-yr old boy was actually blind.  The man saw the apples everywhere and gathered them up….but he noticed something.  A lot of the apples had been damaged …some were bruised or split….so he reached into his wallet.  He said to the boy, “here’s $20 for the apples we damaged.  I hope we didn’t ruin your day.  God bless you.”   And as the man started to walk away, the blind boy called after him …..called after him wanting him to stop, and finally the man – already well on his way – came back towards the boy, and the boy asked “Are you Jesus?[i]

Are you Jesus?   One can only imagine what that man felt when he was asked the question.  We have no idea how he responded.  But when I re-read this question at the end of the story, I was a bit taken aback, because the story itself ended differently than I had predicted.  But I think the boy’s question is insightful, and calls us to explore what he asks.  Are you Jesus? Who is Jesus?

Now I realize scholars have written volumes about this very question, and so I want to narrow the context of the question to our gospel reading today.

Just like the business people in the story I just told, the disciples in today’s gospel reading have been travelling with Jesus – they had been up in the far north, actually near Sidon in modern day Lebanon.   Much like the distance between Milwaukee and Chicago or Los Angeles and San Diego, Jesus and the disciples were going back from Sidon back to Galilee.  Now remember from what we’ve heard over the past few weeks – Jesus and all the disciples in attendance had witnessed amazing things….Jesus healing a foreign woman, feeding miracles,   teaching in countless parables , continuously turning the world upside down, about the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

And the story today brings us to the region of Caesarea Phillippi….a place still in the far north.  This city pre-dated the Roman empire by several hundred years, and it was a cross-roads for all sorts of religions.  So in Jesus’s time, even though it was known as the Roman City of Caesarea Phillippi, the site where our story takes place had been an ancient place of great sanctity for a myriad of generations, a myriad of cultures, each with their own Gods – this city — at the source of the Biblically important  Jordan river, was a modern Dallas of Deities, an Indianapolis of Images and Statues—a Garden of the Gods – a Pantheon of Polytheism…And yet this is the exact place that Jesus and his disciples visit, and Jesus’s true identity is named and affirmed in such an unlikely locale.

One can only imagine what brought about the question Jesus begins to ask, but he starts very tactfully and asks the apostles, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?  To which they give a myriad of examples of what people are saying.

But then Jesus gets personal, and he looks for an exact answer when he asks, But you – you who have spent all this time with me, you have seen all these things with me, you who realize the Kingdom of God is literally bubbling up from every surface – you — who do you say that I am?

And this time, Peter gets it right.  He responds immediately by saying, “you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”  Notice his choice of words about God – not a god of somewhere else or a God of a temple on a hillside, not a static god, no —  but the living God –a God who is alive.   That one God that the people of Israel knew – not the Pantheon of Ceasarea Phillippi—but that one God who lives and is truly merciful—seeking to rescue us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us—the  God who sets us free to live and move and to learn how to love one another.

Messiah?  Son of the Living God?   Who is Jesus?  Who do you say that Jesus is?  As Brennan Manning asks, “Who is this Jesus who is a magnetic field for so many people and a stumbling block for others?”  Why is it that almost every time we see this need to identify Jesus in one way or another, Jesus tries to re-define, tries to clarify, tries to deepen to shape to further our understanding of who he is.  Our world keeps getting  turned upside down.  And then we throw in his cross and resurrection and the question becomes an even greater one.

So let’s take a step back and think about the times in our lives that we have limited Jesus by the way that we perceive him.  In the story I alluded-to at the beginning, the boy asks if the man is Jesus…why?  Well, it’s obvious that the man showed mercy and kindness – true traits we know about Jesus.  But is Jesus only that?    According to Peter’s response, Jesus is Messiah, son of the living God.  A Messiah is surely much more than just mercy and kindness, even though those are great things.

It seems to be a human tendency to construct Jesus in our own terms of reference and reject any evidence that challenges our life situations.   We saw some churches express Jesus in new ways in the 60s – personifying Jesus as an agitator and a social critic—countercultural, a societal dropout.    In the 1980s, in the age of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell, Jesus was the provider of the good life…the Lord of the spa…a driven executive on a messianic mission.[ii]

But then hard times hit many people, and the TV televangelists had their own scandals, and many of us kept going with our own contextually specific terms of reference about  Jesus and we kept getting bruised and our lives got split, and so the question “who is Jesus?” looms.

I want to be clear and say that aspects of how we’ve all defined Jesus are not intrinsically wrong…some of it might not be 100% correct, however well intentioned,…they’re not intrinsically wrong, but the reality is that we have limited ourselves.  We have limited our ability to see Jesus for who he truly is….Messiah, Lord, son of the Living God – fountain of all love and mercy, forgiveness, restoration, and one who is personal — not an idea—but someone who breathed his Spirit upon his apostles after he rose and offered them the charge to go and make disciples of all nations….that means us!   We, in our many walks of life, in our varied educational backgrounds, family histories, cultures, orientations, in our talents and abilities—we’re called to be disciples of Jesus for one another and for the world.   Not to limit ourselves or to limit God, but to imagine all that God can be…and to be God’s loving presence, in our hearts, and in the lives of everyone around us!

Paul talks about this in the letter to the Romans that we read today – out of many members, we have one body in Christ – we belong to God, and we belong to one another.  Although our gifts differ, and our understandings of God aren’t always the same – that’s not a bad thing! – OK  this is Paul talking who many deem as rigid with some type of slanted agenda – read this— Paul is saying “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us – prophecy in proportion to faith; Ministry, in ministering; the Teacher, in teaching…the giver in generosity…the compassionate, in cheerfulness…..We all have a part to play.

So who is Jesus?  If we truly define Jesus as Messiah and Lord….the son of the Living God, then we have to continue to learn about Jesus together.  Peter’s confession tells us what conclusion we’re striving to affirm & reaffirm—and through faith, through prayer, and through our community life and fellowship—we’ll see the presence of Jesus Messiah among us – we’ll see the living God at work in the world around us, healing, feeding, strengthening the world, and we will help God—yes, that’s right – we’ll help God continue to usher in the fullness of creation – the pinnacle of all that God hopes and desires and dreams for us – that Kingdom of God

And so even though our American lives in the year 2011 are quite often way too hurried, there’s hope.  We often race for trains and kick over apple baskets.  But we have Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Messiah who can set us back on our feet, whether we’re the ones who kick things over or we’re the ones who get kicked over…this living God who longs to be in relationship to us, to live for us, to die for us, to rise again for us…this Lord empowers us, sets us free, to take the best that we have individually to offer—not just in Chicago or Los Angeles or Milwaukee or San Diego – but here in the desert—at this church up on a hill, and allows us to collectively, as members of Christ’s body, allows us to re-member Jesus’s presence on Sundays as we gather together, and every day of our lives.

A great book by Sara Miles, called Jesus Freak,  sums all of this up really well.  She writes:

Who is Jesus?   Jesus is real, and so, praise God are we.   Tremendous things the resurrected Jesus does on earth he does through the body of Christ – through our bodies.  You’re fed, you’re healed, you’re forgiven, you’re pronounced clean.  You are loved, and you will be raised from the dead.[iii]

Go!   Go with Jesus, Messiah

Go with the Son of the living God.

Go and do likewise.

[i] Brennan Manning,  The Signature of Jesus.  Colorado Springs:  Multnomah Books, 1988.

[ii] Brennan Manning,  The Signature of Jesus.  Colorado Springs:  Multnomah Books, 1988.

[iii] Sara Miles,  Jesus Freak.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  2010.

What do you know about faith within the chaos? Maybe more than you think.

Remember? The week began with a story about Jesus walking on the water. Before heading into the weekend and the next (lectionary) story let’s take one more look at Matthew’s account of Jesus and Peter and water and storm and … faith. Let’s take another look at what it could mean to us, far removed from that night and the Sea of Galilee, but plenty acquainted with chaos. I commend this reflection about our Gospel Story to you:

In Matthew’s Gospel, the story of Jesus walking on water morphs into a story of Peter walking on, then sinking into, the same water. It begins as a statement about Jesus’ authority; for Jesus’ contemporaries had learned from scripture that such mastery over the waters is God’s accomplishment. When Peter tells Jesus to call him, too, onto the lake, the story transitions into an illustration of what it looks like when people express faith in Jesus. Read the entire post: Matthew 14:22-33: Faith within the Chaos

I invite you to also check out St. Peter is walking on the water by Luis Borrassa in our Art & Music category.

Please make the time to leave a comment or two. Please get a conversation started as you consider this reflection on an ancient story which has a lot to say to us 21st Century citizens.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! | Episcopal Arkansas

Some of you may remember Mary Vano—St. Margaret’s Palm Desert sponsored her in discernment and seminary. She was ordained a priest right here in 2003 with Margaret Watson and then served as an Associate at St. David’s Church in Austin, TX. Married and the mother of 2 boys she was called to be Rector of St. Margaret’s Church in Little Rock, AR this year. Here she shares her insight into the Gospel parables we shared on Sunday, July 24th. Enjoy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has given us five little parables. Each one begins with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…”  If you like a good surprise, you should enjoy these!

Read: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! | Episcopal Arkansas.

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me

Jesus said “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:40

This verse is important because it explains the nature of the apostolic office on the legal principle governing a Jewish emissary: “A man’s agent is like himself.” It deepens the religious basis of the apostolate by deriving it ultimately from God himself in a cascading succession mediated by Jesus, who is himself the apostle of the Father.  New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC)

In the Outline of the Faith in our Book of Common Prayer we tell the world and each other what we believe about ministry and ministers (and you will find the basis of these expressions in the scriptures we use, like the verses in the Gospel this Sunday):

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church

The Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 855

In the light of our Gospel reading today and what we say about ourselves:

  • • The mission of the church is presented in terms of relationship, not dogma; as a church we are to restore “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
  • • This mission is pursued as a community, not as independent contractors;
  • • However, since the Church is composed of various individuals, “all its members” are responsible for ministry so that the Church can carry out its mission (of building and restoring relationships);
  • • Lay persons (by far the majority of members in the Church) are ministers (in fact, lay persons are the first-named ministers);
  • • “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ….” Here, a further commentary on Matthew 10:40 may be quite instructive

Expanding on the notion that we are “to represent Christ,” (whether a lay person or ordained) each of us is not just an ambassador, but “like [Jesus] himself.”

“Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus said, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). The disciple, wherever she or he might be, actually “embodies” Jesus as a Kingdom-bearer.

Jesus was big on the concept of “agentry.” That is, he believed strongly that the disciple who went out in his name was not just a “representative,” but, in fact, an extension of his own being and authority. In other words, when the world encountered a disciple of Jesus, they were encountering Jesus himself.

To borrow from the well-known passage—and to amend it slightly—we, the agents of Christ, are “the way, the truth, and the life” to the world. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health … until death do us part. Jesus is judged through us, by how the faith flowers or fades in us.
“Postscript” in Synthesis, June 29, 2008

This raises some intriguing questions for us. Assuming that the statement about embodying Jesus wherever we might be is a true statement (and biblically sound), and accepting that we are ministers restoring all people to unity with God and each other:

  • What gifts of Christ do you “embody” as you minister? (Remember: lay persons “bear witness to [Christ] wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them,”)
  • Do you “feel” like “an extension of [Christ’s] own being and authority”?
  • How are you working to be a better “extension” of Christ’s being and authority?
  • When “the world” encounters you what do they learn about Jesus (since you “embody” and have been given the authority of Jesus as you go into the world)?

It is humbling to understand that we have been invited by God “maker of all that is, seen and unseen” to know Jesus Christ. It is exciting to understand that we have accepted this invitation. It is humbling to understand that Jesus, the Son of God, has chosen us and sent us out. It is a challenge to our creativity and discipline to live up to and into this ministry. It is necessary to come together often to confess that we have not lived up to our end of the covenant, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness and be fed to go back into the world to be the disciple that Christ knows us to be.

Believe that God has indeed “gifted” you for this ministry.

Believe that God has “graced” you in ways known and yet to be discovered so that you may “embody” him (God’s love, the Good News) in the 21st century places you live and work and play in.

Believe that you make a difference as God’s beloved child.

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