Monthly Archives: November 2014

November 30, 2014 (Year B Advent 1) Celtic Meditation

Mark 13:24-37

This lesson begins with “after that suffering.” If we look back a few verses in this chapter, we see that the suffering that Jesus is referring to is the persecution of Christians because they are Christ’s (Mark 13:9-13). To continue from our recent readings from Matthew, those who live lives that are profitable to the Kingdom of Heaven will not be treated hospitably by those who live according to other priorities. Like Jesus, who lived according to the priorities of the Kingdom of Heaven and suffered pain before entering into joy,[1] the Church will suffer before being gathered from the ends of the earth. How are we, as Church, experiencing this pattern of suffering on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven before entering into joy?

Jesus promises that his words will not pass away. His death was not the end of his story and suffering for his sake is not the end of the Church’s story. We are called to be alert, to recognize suffering in the name of Christ is a call to be aware that Jesus’ return is close. What, as Church, are we doing so that we are growing in our trust of Jesus in the midst of suffering?

In the parable, the master goes away and expects his servants to not only care for his household but also to watch for his return. How can we, as Church, use the suffering of the Church and the expectation of our Master’s return to spur us to good works for the sake of his kingdom so that we are awake and prepared for his return?

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[1] From The Book of Common Prayer, collect for Monday in Holy Week and the Daily Office collect for Friday morning, Rite II: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

A Vision of Ministry for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson

The following was presented to at the Vestry retreat in July of 2014 and then to the parish in August.

Thank you for the opportunity to share a vision of where I can see St. Stephen’s in 3 to 5 years.  I would like to begin my presentation talking about the PIG!  A good friend once told me that you have to mind the PIG when talking about change in a church – Preferences (what we can change in order to meet local contextual needs); Identity (who we are as Episcopalian Christians); and God’s Good News through Jesus Christ (this we do not want to change since this is, at our core, what we are about – living out and sharing this Good News).  As you prayerfully consider where God is calling us as a community, I would propose that we have been richly blessed with a past and present way of being community together that deserves to be respected – and our way of being community together can be sorted out as Preferences, Identity, and Gospel.  I am proposing that if we become more aware of our Identity in Christ and as Episcopalians with St. Stephen as our patron saint, we will grow.  The Preferences, then, will be easier to sort out after we know who we are and what we are about (our Identity and Gospel).  In a nutshell, the strategic pillar that I propose is that we make a commitment to live out our baptismal covenant in light of having St. Stephen as our patron saint.  I believe that this commitment will help us continue to grow as a Eucharistic community.  I’ll define what I mean by these three concepts in just a few moments.

Starting Point

Our starting point is where we are today, based upon the way that God has been growing us in Ferguson:  we are an Episcopal community of hospitality.  When I think about the life of our church, I think first of our Sunday and Wednesday worship and fellowship times, but close behind this comes our English Tea, the Chili Cook Off, the men’s barbeque and Valentine’s Day breakfast, the Bazaar, and the Rummage sale.  I’m certain that you will be thinking of additional big events.  When I think of my experience of entering into the parish life here at St. Stephen’s, I experienced hospitality centered around a beautiful, time-tested liturgy and often with great food involved.  We are a people who strive to love each other well, which is the mark of a Eucharistic community.  A sign of our emphasis upon Christian community is that we experience the Eucharist at an altar rail around the Table so that we can see each other at God’s table together.  I propose that if we make a commitment to being more intentional about how we are already living out our baptismal covenant and follow the footsteps of St. Stephen to expand our hospitality to those who are marginalized in our community, we will grow.  We will grow in two ways:  the current members of St. Stephen’s will grow spiritually because we will be stretched to become more fully who we are in Christ – we will become what we are when we are gathered at the Table – the body and blood of Christ given for the sake of the world.  We will grow because we will become a safe place for the marginalized in our community to find what they need to flourish.  As they flourish, some of those we love well will want to hear more about the Good News of the Gospel, they will commit to the Christ they experience through us, and join us in worshiping God, loving each other, and serving others.

A Theological Lens for Discerning a Vision for Change

The vision that I would like to share with you is one that grows out of this starting place and extends our hospitality and sense of community along a direction that is based upon three concepts which serve as a discernment lens:  our baptismal vows, St. Stephen as our patron saint, and being a Eucharistic community.  In other words, what might it look like for us to grow into our baptismal vows, to grow into what it means to have St. Stephen as our patron saint, and to grow into what it means to be a Eucharistic community in order to participate in God’s mission to redeem the world?  What might it look like for us to use these three commitments that we have already made as Episcopalians and as members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to share what we have as a ministry to the people of Ferguson?

Allow me to quickly describe what I mean by these three commitments so that we are on the same page.  These commitments, in my opinion, form the core of our Identity:

The vows from the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304-5) are those vows we reaffirm every time someone is baptized in our congregation:

  • “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  • Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

Being a Eucharistic Community:  we are a people gathered together to be reconciled with God and each other (confess our sins, receive forgiveness, pronounce Christ’s peace to each other), give God our thanks and praise, proclaim the mystery of our faith, and be sanctified by partaking of the feast of Christ our Passover.  Having been fed with this spiritual food, we are sent out into the world to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. One of my professors at SLU described the Eucharistic life as being poured out for the sake of others so that they can experience the grace and love of Christ that we have already experienced.  We are gathered to become what we see on the altar:  the body and blood of Christ poured out for the redemption of the world.

St. Stephen was a man full of faith who was chosen by the apostles to care for the marginalized widows of the early church.  He was filled with the power, grace, and wisdom of the Holy Spirit so that he was able, under persecution, to tell the story of God’s redemption of the world from the beginning of time through to his age – he was able to tell the Gospel under stress.  As he died for his faith in Jesus Christ, he pleaded for Jesus to not hold his death against those who killed him.   Following in St. Stephen’s footsteps is a high calling:  to care for the marginalized, to be able to clearly present God’s story of redemption under even difficult circumstances, and to intercede on behalf of those who persecute us.  But remember, he was able to do these things because of the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray that we will be so empowered to follow in his footsteps in our Ferguson context.

So let’s consider who the Ferguson equivalents to the widows that St. Stephen cared for might be.  St. Stephen and the other deacons were called by the apostles to care for the Hellenist widows of the Jerusalem church who were being neglected in the daily distribution of goods necessary to survive.  These women were foreigners in Jerusalem, and, as widows, they had no advocates.   If someone didn’t step forward to care for them, they would not get what they needed to survive, let alone to thrive in the Christian community.  The people in Ferguson who are marginalized, possibly without advocates, are those who do not have families in the area; they are people who have moved away from their families to live in Ferguson for a variety of reasons.  They are the people who raised their families in Ferguson, but their children and grandchildren have moved away.  These modern day “widows” can be described as first generation Ferguson families, the lonely, the struggling to make it on their own, the homeless.  They are the children who are growing up without aunts and uncles and grandparents down the street or across town who are participating in their daily lives.  They are also the elderly whose children and grandchildren have moved away, leaving them here in Ferguson without a younger generation to care for and to be cared for by.  How can we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [these] neighbor as our self”?

Following the work of the Pew Research Center, our marginalized neighbors can be grouped into two large categories:  those who are affiliated with a religion and those who are not affiliated with a religion.[1]   Increasingly, those who are unaffiliated with a religion seldom or never attend religious services.[2]   For a variety of reasons, this group of people not affiliated with a religion is growing and is mostly made up of younger people.  However, around 10% of people who are unaffiliated with a religion are actively looking for a religious community.  Then we have those neighbors who are affiliated with a religion.  They are either active in their place of worship, not active and don’t care to be, or are seeking a better fit for their call to ministry and worship style.

Our neighbors will fit into one of these categories:  they will either already be committed to a religion or not.  They still need our love and support, and we need to love them as our neighbors.  How will we offer hospitality to these people who are not looking for a community in which they can “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” with us but they need our hospitality and ministry?  We are called by our baptismal vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, [even those who do not want to be religious], loving [these] neighbor as our self.”  What will this look like for us?  How can we stir up their curiosity or longings so that they can overcome their resistance to coming into our building so that we can offer ministry to them?  Part of loving them well will be to not expect them to worship with us.

Now let’s turn to our neighbors who are seeking a place to worship with other Christians.  Those who are seeking a place of worship are in the discernment process and need time and space to find where they will fit in.  For example, the majority of my students at Lindenwood are active in church and seeking to be leaders in churches but were leaving mainline churches and getting involved in one specific non-denominational church movement.  This church movement is focused on forming communities.  These students were seeking mentors who could teach them how to live a distinctly Christian life.  One of my students told me that the reason he was leaving the mainline denomination that he grew up in was that there were no guidelines on how to grow into the Christian man he wanted to become.  However, this fundamentalist type church did offer this type of guidance.  How sad!  As Episcopalians, we have a distinct way of life as Christians that is found in the Book of Common Prayer!  When I mentioned this to Rev. Dan Handschy, he noted that a young couple had come to the Church of the Advent and were asking how to get connected into the community life of the parish.  Getting connected into the community, being mentored, and learning how to be part of a community is not something that is obvious to even those who grew up in a church. Yet, the Episcopal Church is a distinctive way of being Christian – we implicitly have a parish rhythm or Rule of Life that is found in our Prayer Book.  In fact, our Bishop now requires that those seeking ordination into the diaconate be able to articulate a rule of life that is grounded in the Book of Common Prayer.  In consultation with Dan, I have been working with ESM students to explicitly describe their personal rule of life based upon the baptismal covenant.   They have found that this exercise provides clarity to what they are already doing as Episcopalians and helps them see where they can add spiritual disciplines in order to better live into their baptismal vows.  Could a description of how we live together as St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, whether we call it a community Rule of Life or our parish rhythm, that is tied to our baptismal covenant, help those whom we serve better understand us?  I’d like to talk through what this might look like, working backwards from a few of the things we already do as a community …

Vision Casting

You all offered hospitality to Doug and me when we were learning how you all worship and do community at St. Stephen’s.  As a community together, we have been offering hospitality to others on Wednesdays and Sundays.  We are intentional about being welcoming.  But I think that we need to challenge ourselves to think theologically about how we do community, how we worship, and why we offer hospitality.  We need to undertake this challenge because some of the younger generations who have grown up in a world with too many choices, too much freedom, and lack of community gathered around a consistent way of being together are starving for intentional, explicit Christian formation.  If we are able to talk about how we are in community together and how we grow as Christians of the Episcopal flavor, some of these younger Christians might be able to hear how what they experience connects to the Gospel.  I think that we can do this by providing a common language within our parish so that we can consistently offer hospitality to these who are discerning whether we are the community they are called to participate in.  I am proposing that our Identity as defined by our baptismal covenant and the life of St. Stephen can provide us with the framework to guide us into offering hospitality to these seekers so that they experience the Good News of God in Jesus.  This is nothing new to us, it is just becoming more intentional about who we already are.

How can we seek and serve Christ in these people, loving these neighbor as ourselves?  The needs of these people vary, but what if we start by offering what we do well:  hospitality, worship, and good food.  By seeing the people new to the community, the lonely, the hungry, and the homeless as persons made in the image of God who need to be welcomed, offered a place to worship, and given even a small meal, we make our first step in the direction of  “seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves].”

Let me give you a few examples:

We enjoy our Sunday morning coffee hour.  What might it look like if we follow the footsteps of St. Stephen and offer a light breakfast before or after Morning Prayer for those who want a little fellowship on their way to work or to run errands?  Some may want to “continue in the prayers” with us.  Will this help us help others understand our St. Stephen way of living out the Good News of God?

We enjoy our pot lucks.  What might it smell like if we follow the footsteps of St. Stephen and periodically offer a pot luck lunch for our neighbors who are at home during the day?  Maybe we could start with Noon Day Prayer before lunch and keep the parish hall open for a while afterward so that those who are lonely or don’t have a safe place to spend a cold or hot afternoon could have a safe place to go and be with people.  Or maybe we could have a Bible Study or Book Club.  Might this be a way for us to offer hospitality to those who are marginalized by our society because they are elderly, homeless, or unemployed so that we can “respect the dignity of every human being”?

We enjoy our English tea.  What might it taste like if we follow the footsteps of St. Stephen and offer a light tea in the late afternoon to those who are on their way home from work or school?  Maybe we could offer Evening Prayer so that those who wanted to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” could do so if they wanted.

We enjoy our Rummage sales.  What might it sound like if we follow the footsteps of St. Stephen and have the Rummage sale more often … maybe offering opportunities for people to barter what they have or do a little work around the church to pay for things that they otherwise couldn’t afford?  Could this be a way of “respect[ing] the dignity of every human being”?

We enjoy our Celtic Eucharist and it is slowly but steadily growing.  What might it feel like if we added a Celtic Compline after the meal?  Might there be people who could come for the discussion and Compline who can’t come to the Eucharist?  Would this be a way of more fully “continu[ing] in the prayers”?

We enjoy our Movie Nights.  What might it be like if our movie nights were a place where our neighbors could gather to watch a free movie on a Friday night, maybe even becoming known as a safe place for teens and especially college students from UMSL to meet with friends for an evening of movie, popcorn and soda, and theological reflection on the movie afterwards if they wanted?  Would this be a way of “respect[ing] the dignity of every human being”?

These are just examples of how we can begin with what we already are being blessed doing, look at these spiritual disciplines and activities through the lens of our baptismal vows and the example of St. Stephen, and provide a way of talking about why we do what we do.  By having a common theological language to describe the purpose behind what we do, we will offer entry points for those who are seeking Christian community to find a place to fit in and a description of the Rule of Life we have as a community for the millennials who so desperately need structure and guidance.  By opening our church building more often with opportunities to eat a little for free, we offer a reason for the unaffiliated to be curious and come see what we are doing.  Maybe if they see how we love each other and that — because we are St. Stephen’s — we don’t want anyone to go hungry or naked, they might want to visit and see for themselves what we are about.  But, more importantly, by thinking theologically about why we do what we do, we will grow in our faith because we will be able to more intentionally live out the Good News of God in Christ.  We will be stretched, poured out for the sake of our neighbors, but isn’t that what the Eucharistic life is all about anyway?

Minding the PIG is hard work.  Following in the footsteps of St. Stephen will not be easy.  But no one promised us that living out our baptismal vows would be easy, either.  However, living this out together, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will enable us to grow as Christians and hopefully grow numerically as a community.

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[1]According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 32% of 18-29 year olds, 21% of 30-49 year olds, 15% of 50-64 year olds, and 9% of 65+ are unaffiliated. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/ accessed 21 July 2014.

[2]This is growing: in 2007, 38% of those who are religiously unaffiliated and 60% of those who are affiliated seldom or never go to religious services (27% of the population seldom or never go to religious services). In 2012, the numbers increased to 49% for unaffiliated but decreased to 50% for affiliated, with 29% of the total population seldom to never going to a service.   In 2012 70% of the total population go to religious services at least yearly. Ibid.

Listening as the First Step to Serving: Comments on Proper 29 Meditation

One of the questions that was asked during the Sunday evening discussion was “how do we know when our fellow Christians are suffering for the sake of the Kingdom and when are they are suffering due to poor choices?”  Another set of questions that arose during the discussion was “is it our place to judge who is a Christian and whether or not someone is suffering on behalf of the gospel?”  Ultimately, it is God’s call regarding who is a Christian and who isn’t.  While Karl Rahner makes a case for considering those of other world religions who serve the Kingdom of Heaven as “anonymous Christians,” practicing this gospel text needs to begin with how we engage those who self-identify as Christians and are actively participating in a Christian community.

Sometimes, the distinction between suffering from poor choices and suffering out of conviction about living out the gospel is easy to discern, other times, it is much more difficult (1 Peter 3:17 — sometimes we suffer for doing good, but we also suffer from doing evil).  Donahue (cited above) states that the case of missionaries suffering for the sake of the gospel is a clear application of the gospel text.  Discernment about living out the gospel call is made even more difficult when we consider the gospel reading from Proper 28 (the Parable of the Talents):  while we have a common basic set of “insider information about the Kingdom of Heaven,” we are not all given exactly the same information with regards to some of the details.  We have different “talents” but a common call to invest what we have been given for the profit of our King.  Motives are always mixed, judgement about how to respond to our understanding of the gospel is limited by our finiteness and damage due to sin.  Yet we are called to serve each other and we are called to exhort one another to the gospel life.

As theologian-in-residence for Deaconess Anne House, some of the protestors have faces that I know, love, and serve. Not only have the interns and priest in charge of Deaconess Anne House been actively involved in acts of social disobedience, the protestors also include my bishop, the dean of the cathedral, several priests as well as deacons and lay persons from the diocese.  They have felt the call to stand physically with the disenfranchised, to protest with those whose voice has too long been unheard in St. Louis County.  Some have been arrested (they have been prisoners and now face court hearings) for the sake of their conviction that standing with those who are treated as the least in our society is a gospel mandate.  One of the interns said that he was going to the protests in order to learn and hopefully gain empathy for those who are suffering.  He, and the others, go to hear Christ speaking through the voices of those who are in pain.

Because of my role at Deaconess Anne House and the openness of the interns on their intentions,  I have listened to others–Christians and those who don’t identify as Christians–talk about the protestors with my heart tuned differently than it might have been.  I have had the opportunity to share a little of the motives of the interns and their stories with those who have not felt the call to protest and those who say that they “just don’t get what all the fuss in Ferguson is about.”

Mostly, however, I have been sadly reminded of how we Christians treat each other over disagreements about doctrinal concerns and how we might best address social justice issues.  When we disagree, too often we don’t listen with the ears of our hearts.  Too often we villanize each other.  At our worst, this has led to Christians of one tradition killing those of another tradition (the sacking of Constantinople and the Thirty Years War are but two examples of our sad history). In more “civil” moments, we become schismatics who do not consider each other to be sisters and brothers in Christ or we make fun of those we disagree with so that we don’t have to listen. Peace-makers, whether involved in ecumenical dialog to serve as a bridge between Christian traditions and denominations or between those who are on either side of the protests in St. Louis, are called to listen.  We are called to listen to the Holy Spirit who speaks through Scripture.  We are called to listen to how the Holy Spirit speaks to us through other Christians.  If we don’t expectantly listen for the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture and our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we hear God speaking through those who do not identify with Christ?

In order to participate in the merciful acts listed in Sunday’s gospel, listening to each other and seeking to see Christ in all who are called by his name (that is, those who self-identify as Christians) is a critical first step to living as members of the Kingdom of Heaven.  How we Christians love each other is the way that those who are not Christians can see the truth of Jesus’ message (see John 17).  Only when we learn to see the image of Christ in Christians with whom we disagree will we be able to learn how to see the image of God in all people.  Caring for suffering Christians must be a priority (but not our only priority).  It is by living out this gospel call of seeking unity within the Church that the Kingdom of Heaven will prosper.  Unity includes caring for each other even when we disagree.

Our call as Christians is to seek and serve our King in each other, especially those who are in need.  If you are looking for what we are going to be “graded on” at the end of life or the end of time, which ever comes first, this is it.

November 23, 2014 (Year A Proper 29: Reign of Christ) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:31-46

This parable is the third in a series of teachings about Jesus’ second coming. In the first parable, we learned that we are to be like the wise bridesmaids and prepare for his coming. In the second parable, we learned how we are to prepare for our King’s return: we are to invest our insider knowledge about the Kingdom of Heaven (our talents) so that God’s work is done through us. This week we are given two more important and interrelated insights into the end of time: a description of our King and details about what investing our talents for the sake of the kingdom looks like.

Our King is a humble king, who suffered on behalf of his people and has tender compassion for the suffering. [1] Our King also is the Judge of humanity who doesn’t leave his people guessing as to what investing our insider Kingdom knowledge looks like: it looks like a life characterized by merciful deeds. [2] We are to be a people who seek justice by acting with loving-kindness [3] to our Christian brothers and sisters who are most in need because of hardships or persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. [4]

As Christians, we are being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ our King. Who do we, as Church, not recognize as our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven?

What do we, as Church, need to be doing in order to train our individual eyes to see Christ in each other, especially those who suffer for the sake of the gospel?

Jesus will judge us on how we treat our fellow Christians who are suffering on behalf of the gospel. What do we, as Church, need to be doing in order to encourage each other to take risks and suffer for the Kingdom of Heaven? [5]

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[1] For a summary of the Christology in Matthew’s gospel, see John R. Donahue, S.J., “The ‘Parable’ of the Sheep and the Goats: A Challenge to Christian Ethics.” Theological Studies 47 (1986): 16-22.

[2] Examples of these merciful deeds are feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner. See also Mt 7:15-27.

[3] I agree with Donahue that loving-kindness is a better translation of hesed and eleos. (Ibid., 23-24).

[4] Ibid., 4. “While the ‘classic’ interpretation of this passage has always stressed that Jesus is present in needy or suffering people, for the majority of Church history these needy or suffering have been identified as Christians.” However, since the 19th century, has been seen as a call for the church to engage in universal care of the marginalized of society (Ibid, 8), but recent scholarship in the last two decades has called for a re-evaluation of this interpretation. Yet, in Matthew’s gospel, the term adelphos is used explicitly to describe a fellow Christian. (Ibid, 25). Donahue calls attention to Mt 10:40: “he who receives you receives me”; I would add Mt 12:50 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (NRSV) as further support for the classic interpretation. This interpretation does not preclude or minimize the commandment to love our neighbors and our enemies, but that is not the focus of this passage. See also Mt 5:10-12.

[5] See Mt 5:10; my assumption is that if we hear the stories of those who have personally experience suffering for the sake of the kingdom or we recognize when our suffering is for the sake of righteousness, we will be sensitive to the suffering of others and seek to care for them.

November 16, 2014 (Year A Proper 28) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:14-30

This reading is the second of three parables about the judgment at the end of this age, when Jesus returns.[1] Last week we were encouraged to always be prepared for Jesus’ return by living lives characterized by good deeds so that we are recognized as followers of Jesus. We were left with the command to stay awake as we wait. This week, we receive a description of what staying awake looks like lived out.[2]

We have a tendency to read the word “talent” as a natural or spiritual gift.[3] But what if the “talents” in this parable refers to “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” as the property of the master which we have been entrusted to tend?[4] This seems more fitting given the enormous value of a talent as currency in Jesus’ day, where these servants are entrusted with the equivalent of 73, 44, and 15 years’ worth of wages.[5] We, as Jesus followers, are called to live into the invaluable knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been given and live lives that profit God’s mission.[6]

The first two servants faithfully put the master’s property to work for their master. Jesus has entrusted us with invaluable information about the kingdom of heaven. What, as church, do we know about the kingdom of heaven?

When the master returned, his delight is not in the amount of profit that the servants have made, but their faithfulness to his mission.[7] Both of these servants are welcomed into their master’s joy. While we wait for our Master’s return, in what ways are we, as church, called to live out, to invest, this knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been entrusted with?

The last servant, the one whom to whom the master did not entrust much, did not trust his master. Because he did not trust his master, he was afraid and did not act upon the little property that he had been entrusted with.[8] In what ways can we, as church, demonstrate our trust in Jesus by more fully investing the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have received?

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[1] John Walvoord states that this is “the sixth and concluding illustration that our Lord uses relative to preparedness for the second advent.” (John Walvoord, “Christ’s Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age: the Parable of the Talents.” Bibliotheca sacra 129/515 (1972): 206.)

[2] E. Carson Brisson, “Between Text and Sermon: Matthew 25:14-30.” Interpretation (2002): 307.

[3] For a brief discussion of the source of our English word, see footnote 15 in Ben Chenoweth’s “Identifying the Talents: Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).” Tyndale Bulletin 56/1 (2005): 65.

[4] After discussing the range of interpretations for the meaning of “talents” in this parable, Chenoweth makes a compelling argument for interpreting this term as “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” in his essay (Ibid, 61-71). In particular, Chenoweth uses Matthew 13:10-12 as foundational for understanding this parable in its literary context: “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.'” (NRSV)

[5] A talent = 5000-6000 denarii; a denarius = 1 day’s wage; so 1 talent = 13-16 years worth of wages. Using the average and rounding up, then 5 talents = 73 years worth of wages, 3 talents = 44 years worth of wages, and 1 talent = 15 years worth of wages.

[6] For the progression of these three parables, see Chenoweth, 71.

[7] Walvoord, who holds to the more prevalent position that “talents” are spiritual gifts, comments that we should not expect each other to have the same talents, but all are called to be faithful with what we have been given (Walvoord, 208).  His comment here is helpful, even if one takes “talents” to be “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God.”

[8] Walvoord makes clear that “Works are not the ground of salvation; they are simply the evidence of faith. Here works are presented as an evidence of true faith in the Lord.” (Walvoord, 210).

St. Stephen’s Celtic Service

Published in the November 12, 2014 edition of Seek of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.

Over the last year, St. Stephen’s in Ferguson has been celebrating a Celtic Eucharist on Sunday evenings at 5pm followed by theological discussion during a light meal. This service is based upon the liturgy from the Iona Community, uses music from the Celtic tradition, and currently includes a short meditation from contemporary Celtic spiritual writers, such as those by Rev. David Adam, former rector of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, on St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

The service is held in the nave of the church, with dim lights, candles on the altar, and meditative silence interspersed between soft, lilting music and gentle words. The rhythm of the service is directed by the muted chiming of a bell, including the five minutes of silent meditation at the beginning of the liturgy. The service was designed to provide a restive, peace-filled space that many of us desperately need in order to enter the transformative thin place where heaven and earth unite in the liturgical space.

The meditation is typically three questions on the Gospel reading with time for reflection between each question. After the service, many gather in the parish hall for a light meal and theological discussion centering on the questions from the meditation. At the end of the discussion time, one of the discussion leaders collects the themes of the discussion into a prayer of the gathered community. Then [the] community prays the Lord’s Prayer in unison. Part of community formation includes setting out the meal after the Eucharist and then clearing the table and wash dishes after the meal.

November 9, 2014 (Year A Proper 27) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:1-13

Today’s gospel comes from the end of Jesus’ teaching ministry. He was preparing his disciples for his coming crucifixion but also for his second coming. This is the first of three lessons that Jesus gave his disciples about the judgment that comes at the end of this age.[1] In this parable, Jesus speaks about bridesmaids who have a role in weddings that is very different from the role of bridesmaids today. These women were waiting for the groom to come. Their role is to light the way for the groom to travel to the bride’s house and then to light the way for the bride and groom as they journey together to the place of the wedding and the wedding feast.[2] The oil in their lamps symbolizes good deeds that result from accepting Jesus’ authority to describe what obedience to God looks like lived out.[3]

The foolish bridesmaids do not have oil for their lamps. They did not come prepared with a flask of oil which was necessary to fulfill their role in the bridal party. In what ways are we, as church, depending upon others to do the good deeds we have been called to do?

The wise bridesmaids do not share their oil—if the lamps go out before the bride and groom are escorted to the wedding, then the bridesmaids’ role in the wedding procession is not done—there is no one else to do this work. Good deeds worked through the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be transferred from one person to another.[4] What good deeds are we, as church, empowered to do in this time and place?

The door is shut against the bridesmaids who were not prepared. They do not get to join in the wedding festivities.[5] But worst yet, the groom no longer recognizes them as his friends. Jesus calls us to be alive,[6] to watch. When he returns, it will be too late to do what we have been called to do. What do we, as church, need to be doing in order to better live into the reality of our calling as Jesus followers?

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[1]“Matthew 25, the second and final chapter of the Olivet Discourse, is divided into three sections. The first two sections are the familiar parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents, concluding the section of illustration and application which began at 24:32. The final section, 25:31-46, predicts the judgment of the Gentiles after the second coming of Christ.” John F. Walvoord, Bibliotheca sacra 129/154 (1972): 99.

[2] Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011), 46.

[3] Karl Paul Donfried, “The Allegory of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) as a Summary of Matthean Theology.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 93/3 (1974): 427-8.

[4] Both Donfried and Walvoord make this conclusion based upon the allegory.

[5] Robert D. Young, “Matthew 25:1-13” Intrepretation 54/4 (2000):419-422.

[6] The Greek word translated as “watch” can also mean “be alive.”

November 2, 2014 (All Saints Day) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 5:1-12

As is fitting on a day when we celebrate the wisdom and lives of the saints who have gone before us, Augustine of Hippo will be our conversation partner tonight as we reflect upon this reading. Augustine saw this sequence of nine “blessed are those who” statements as a series of seven steps toward Christian maturity with the eighth step (the last two “blessed are those who” statements) serving as a call to begin again at the first step. [1]

The poor in spirit are humble and submit to divine authority. This continues our discussion from the last few weeks about Jesus’ authority. The meek are teachable, they know their faults, and they seek to learn from scripture. Those who mourn recognize their condition; they cannot attain the greatest good in life. Where, as church, do we need to exercise humility, live more meekly, and what do we need to mourn?

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness labor diligently and vigorously to free themselves from the things and systems of this world that entangle them, preventing them from living fully into the reality of the Kingdom of God. The merciful embody humility, meekness, awareness of their condition, and a desire for righteousness. They mercifully receive counsel and assistance from God to disentangle themselves from misery. The pure of heart, from a good conscience and the practice of good works, are able to contemplate the highest good. In what ways do we, as church, need to more actively seek righteousness, God’s counsel and aid for righteousness, and where do we need to examine our conscience and actions?

The peacemakers, having drawn near to God in virtuous actions that purify the entire body, are able to act wisely and contemplate the truth. Those who are living wisely, living kingdom lives, live counter-culturally and are persecuted for this lifestyle. How, as church, are we living as peacemakers and in what ways are we called to begin again because we are fitting in too comfortably into patterns that do not reflect the kingdom life?

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[1]The following definitions of the beatitudes are taken from Augustine’s De sermone Domini in monte, I.III.10 NPNF 1-06, 6.

October 26, 2014 (Year A Proper 25) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 22:34-46

In this passage, we come to the end of the discussion between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders about the source of Jesus’ authority. This conversation began after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his followers proclaiming him as the son of David. This, coupled with his prophetic teaching and actions, put him at odds with the religious authorities. When the religious authorities asked for a direct answer on this issue of authority, Jesus had answered by asking about the authority behind John’s baptism. When the religious leaders refused to answer Jesus, he told three parables. The Jewish religious and political leaders replied with three questions to test Jesus’ authority. We heard the first question last week. This is the third question in the sequence.

In Jesus’ answer, we hear the central ethos of both Judaism and Christianity: love of God and love of neighbor are non-negotiable.[1] In what ways can we, as church, more fully love God?

Just as Jesus had refused to separate the sacred and secular in the question that we heard last week, he now refuses to separate religion from ethics: according to Jesus, how we treat our neighbor is a reflection of our love for God. As church, what do we do for and with our neighbors that allows them and others to see our love for God?

Jesus ends the verbal sparring match over the question of his authority in the same way he answered the original question. He asked a question that his opponents either would not or could not answer. The Pharisees knew that Jesus had been proclaimed as the son of David; when they answered that the messiah is a son of David, this event must have come to mind. David was the exemplar king of Israel: their greatest king. Yet David had said that the messiah was his superior.[2] What do we need to do differently, or better, in order to express our understanding that Jesus, the messiah, has more authority than any other authoritative person we can think of?

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[1]Based upon the use of the homoion in Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God in Matthew, Eung Chun Park argues that Jesus has irrevocably related the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5) and Leviticus 19:18, so that it is not possible to truly love God if one does not also love one’s neighbors. (Eung Chun Park, “A Soteriological Reading of the Great Commandment Pericope in Matthew 22:34-40,” Biblical Research, 54 (2009): 61-78).

[2]Divine sonship outranks Davidic sonship (see Jack Dean Kingsbury “Title ‘Son of David’ in Matthew’s Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 95/4 D (1976): 591-602).