Good Books

Daily Scripture: Luke 3:1-6

Reflection: The Rev. Tyler Richards, Rector—Transfiguration Episcopal Church, Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan

I love a good book. I’ve spent more of my life that I care to mention with my nose pressed between the pages of a novel; some good and some bad. If I’m honest probably more of the bad ones than the good ones, but I digress. I love the introduction to the characters, the build-up to the climax of the story and watching how the entire picture finally comes together and you, as the reader, can finally see the big picture the author is trying to paint with her words. At least, that’s what the good ones do.

We are three chapters into Luke’s account before we get our first glimpse of the esoteric John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who has gone out into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. Seemingly taking his marching orders from the scroll of Isaiah, he goes to make the way straight for Jesus, who will enter the story as an adult in just a few moments, I mean verses, to be baptized and begin his public ministry. It’s clear, however, that Jesus has already been at work in the lives of his family and neighbors; the one who has grown “in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Jesus wastes no time and has a thirst to do the will of his Father as soon as he is able. What voices do we hear calling to us in the season of Advent, and how many of those voices are actually worth a listen? Hallmark has produced a glut of movies that tell us “what Christmas is all about.” Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and all the other retailers out there release their highly produced Christmas commercials telling us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but why is that so, and how has that come to be? Not by the hands of a Tickle-me-Elmo, I promise.

It is, or soon will be, the most wonderful time of the year because there was a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord (I’m a sucker for the KJV every now and again).” The voice cries out to us not only as an announcement of what we are waiting for but also as a command; a command to take our share in the work of the first Advent and make a way for Jesus not only in the wildernesses of our hearts but also in the wildernesses of the world. Advent is an internal and external event, not just 4 candles on a pretty wreath in the naves of our churches. It’s a call to us, and to our friends and neighbors, that the story is only just beginning and the wonder that is about to be performed in the world is not just about a little town called Bethlehem. We have work to do, and there is little time to waste. So we make the high places low, the crooked paths straight, and prepare the way not only for the greatest story ever told, but also for the single greatest mystery to ever be handed into human hands, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. That’s the story I want to hear. That’s the story I want to share. That’s the truth I want to live.

The Rev. Tyler Richards+

The Gift of Endurance

Daily Scripture: Luke 21:5-19

Reflection: The Rev. Dr. Steve Pankey, Rector—Christ Episcopal Church, Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky

Jesus is pretty good at offering really dangerous one-liners.  At least one of them appears in the lesson from Luke appointed for today’s reflection.  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  I mean, if that doesn’t sound like something the Church, siding with domineering governmental regimes said to the oppressed and impoverished peoples of central America, I don’t know what does.  Thank God for liberation theologians who were willing to say, “Nope, that’s not what Jesus had in mind.”

  The tendency in reading this verse is either to say, “be patient in your suffering because God is going to redeem it… someday.” Or, to make it some quasi-bootstrap theological tenet and think, “I’m in this on my own.  It is me and my own endurance that will see me through.”  Nope, I don’t think either of those is what Jesus had in mind.  Rather, what I think Jesus is trying to establish through this entire passage is that even in the most difficult of circumstances – when the Temple is being destroyed, when you are being arrested and dragged before the magistrates, when there are wars and earthquakes happening all around, when the whole world seems to be coming to an end – God will not abandon you.  The promise here is of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing presence.  The deep truth is that we are never really on our own, and when we try to act as if we are, that’s when we get into trouble.

  My wife is a runner.  She’s completed several half-marathons.  She’s run one full marathon and is training for her second.  As one who barely runs for 30 minutes three-times a week, I’m happy to call her an endurance runner.  She, however, looks at ultra-marathoners for that distinction.  Did you know that people run 50, 100, or even more miles?  On purpose?  They really do.  Anyway, what I’ve learned from following these endurance runners is that one simply cannot run 50 miles all by themselves.  It takes a whole team of people to help one runner endure the race.  Some folks stage food at rest stops.  Others pace the runner for some distance to ensure success.  Those who are really brave will change the runner’s shoes and socks at various points along the course.  Endurance is a team sport. Endurance is impossible on our own.

  This is, I think, the true gift of endurance.  It isn’t another thing we should feel guilty that we can’t accomplish, like losing those 10 pounds or reading the Bible for 30 minutes a day.  Endurance is the gift of being carried by God and one another.  Endurance is the gift of helping God carry our neighbors.  Especially when times feel difficult and when the odds seem overwhelming, endurance is the gift of community that can carry us through.  Who is God inviting you to carry on their journey of endurance?  Who is carrying you? 

Steve+

Growth in the Darkness

Daily Scripture: Luke 20:41-21:4

Reflection: The Rev. Claire Makins, Associate Rector—Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas

“There is in God, some say, a deep but dazzling darkness.”

This line from Henry Vaughn’s poem The Night calls us to rethink the darkness.

This time of year it is darkest it will be. As we move through Advent, we are aware of more physical darkness around us than at any other time. It gets dark quite early. Children are called in from their playing, people stick closer to home and hearth rather than venture out. When we get to Christmas, the earth will make its turn towards spring and summer, and then the days will start to get lighter and lighter.

I have always loved Advent best of all the seasons. I like the idea of watching and waiting in the growing darkness. There is a hint of mystery to it all. Something is happening in the secret heart of God, something incredible. We wait and watch to see what that will be.

Many of us have a hard time waiting, and we tend to run from the idea of being “in the dark.” I remember in my discernment process when I was going through all the steps one must take to be approved to go to seminary that the waiting was at once the most difficult and the most productive experience of all of it.

It was a bit scary to wait with the unknowing and hoping. It was also the time that I felt God was most active, working in the deep recesses of my heart and the hearts of those in my community to see what would happen. Sometimes we mistake darkness for absence, but God is very much present in the darkness.

As Jesus is growing in the darkness of Mary’s womb during Advent, there is the opportunity for Jesus to grow in our hearts as well. Mary’s expectant waiting, her longing, her hoping are all a part of the season. We should also wait expectantly and savor our experience with the Lord who is at work in the deep and dazzling darkness.

Wait…What was the Question?

Daily Scripture: Luke 20:27-40

Reflection: The Rev. Dr. Everett C. Lees, Vicar—Christ Church, Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma

  “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” After reading the gospel assigned for today, I get why nobody asked anymore questions: they were probably as confused as you and I as to what Jesus means.

In Jesus’ time, there were factions or denominations within Judaism. We often think of Judaism as monolithic. However, in reality, there were varied beliefs about a wide range of issues, just as we find in our church communities today. One of the key differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees was about whether there was a day of resurrection. The late Vic Raiber, who attended St. Patrick’s in Broken Arrow where I served as curate, loved to tell this joke: “The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, that is why they were sad-you-see.” But the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees wanted to test out this theory about the resurrection and asked a hypothetical question: If a woman has been married to different men because her husbands died, to whom will she be married in the age to come?

  Jesus replies that the age to come is not like the present age. NT Wright says that resurrection is not about the life after death, but the life after the life after death. Each Sunday we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that we believe Jesus will come and judge the living and the dead. Advent is a time in which we think about this coming day of judgment. Fleming Rutledge in her recent Advent book writes:

“To understand the truly radical nature of Advent, it is necessary to get its relation to Christmas in perspective. In the medieval period, the Scripture readings for Advent were well established, and they were oriented only secondarily to the birth (first coming) of Christ; the primary emphasis was his second coming on the final day of the Lord. Because the church in modern times has turned away from the proclamation of the second coming, an intentional effort must be made to reinstate it. Related to the second coming, which Jesus repeatedly says will come by God’s decision at an hour we do not expect, is the Advent emphasis on the agency of God, as contrasted with the “works” of human beings. An exclusive emphasis on Advent as a season of preparation risks putting human endeavor in the spotlight for all four weeks of the season. All the Advent preparation in the world would not be enough unless God were favorably disposed to us in the first place.”[i]

  Advent is a time in which we begin with the end in mind; the day of judgment and resurrection. But it is a day not of fear but assurance that we are loved by God. And we look for the day in which God will make all things right.

 Everett+


[i] Rutledge, Fleming. Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 314-320). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co..Kindle Edition.

 

Whom Do You Serve?

Daily Scripture: Luke 20:19-26

Reflection: The Rev. Emily J. Schnabl, Rector—St. Christopher’s—Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma

As a child, I always looked forward to that time in Advent when we would get out the ratty boxes of ornaments from storage, but especially the box that held our crèche. The figures were safely tucked into squishy green foam, and I would carefully pull each one out. I loved the heaviness of each figure in my hand. Having set them all out to my satisfaction, I would then drape the stable, which in this set was a bit more of a lean-to, with a heavy curtain of tinsel. As a native Chicagoan, I thought I was adding some realistic icicles, not realizing that Bethlehem’s winter climate was more southern Arizona than Upper Midwest.

Our reading today seems miles away from any nativity scene. In the temple, Jesus is confronted by scribes trying to trap him into revealing his true intentions, either blasphemy or treason. Jesus turns the tables on them by having them reveal they are carrying the image of Caesar on their pocket change—proclaimed as God by the Romans—in the holy space dedicated to the God of Israel. And so the question posed by my childhood nativity scene is actually the same as that being posed by Jesus—where is your loyalty—to God or to Caesar?

Emily+

Are You Talking to Me?

Daily Scripture: Luke 20:9-18

Reflection: Pete Woodward, ECOTR

Did you ever read a bible verse and think, “I understand this…but what does it have to do with me?” That’s how I think of Luke 20:9-18. You will recognize it; it’s the parable where Jesus is being tested by the Pharisees by telling the story of a wealthy landowner who sends his servants to collect payment due from tenant farmers from property he owns. The tenants decide that they will deny the land owner his due and, instead, beat the servants sent to collect. The landowner then sends his son, confident that the tenants will understand his importance and then render what is owed.

The tenants kill the son.

I understand the analogy; God is the landowner, the servants are the prophets he sent out over the years, and clearly, the son is Jesus. In this parable, Jesus is prophesying his own death at the hands of a Jewish leadership, because, like the son in the parable, he represents a threat to their power and authority.

I can read this story and wonder' what relevance it has today. Are there times where I hold onto what I have, because I worked hard to get it, without recognizing that the Good Lord provided me the talent and opportunity to be successful? Do I forget the words we say at the end of the offering on Sunday: “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee”? Have I appropriately used the talents given to me to best help those that can benefit most?

I believe that the Good Lord has an expectation that ‘those that can, should’. This means that whatever you CAN do (sacrifice) to help those around you, you SHOULD do with your time, talent, and/or treasure. It also means that at some point in life you might need the support presented through someone' else’s sacrifice. It is essential to the Christian community that we care for one another, especially during the Advent season—as we prepare for the arrival of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Pete Woodward

Life’s a Journey, not a Destination

Daily Scripture: Luke 20:1-8

Reflection: Mary Greear, ECOTR

I can relate to this scripture because I, too, have questioned things in the past.  I grew up in a rigid, judgmental fundamentalist church ruled by a punishing God; where forgiveness was preached but not practiced and the bible was used more as a weapon than a source of comfort.  Even as a child some things I was taught didn’t seem right to me.  As I grew up I questioned more and more.  By my early 30’s I was so guilt-ridden that I was convinced I was ‘doomed to hell’ and I could never be good enough to merit salvation; so I left that church and religion altogether for long time.

Many years later I came into the Episcopal church as an invited singer in the choir. There I began to hear a different story: a message of love, acceptance and inclusion.  I came to see Christianity practiced as a way of life and not a rigid set of “thou shall not” rules.”  The more I learned about the church and the liturgy, the more I loved it and knew I had found the place where I belonged. Coming from such a bare-bones type worship, the celebration of the church seasons is particularly meaningful to me. 

Each Advent begins another wonderful journey through the life of Christ.  And each year as I make the journey I learn more and gain a deeper understanding of His true message.  What a joy it is to celebrate this wonderful season and all its attendant pageantry.  Advent not only signals the impending birth of Christ, it also affords me an opportunity to reassess my commitment as a Christian.

Mary Greear

Don’t Stop Believin’

Daily Scripture: Luke 21:25-36

Reflection: The Rev. Dion Crider, Deacon—Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma

Distress of nations, men fainting with fear, roaring of the sea, and the powers of heaven shaken. I don’t remember any of this in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Most people, at least ones in a liturgical tradition, think of Advent as getting our minds focused on the impending birth of Jesus on Christmas. Lighting candles a candle each Sunday as the countdown progresses until the grand celebration on the evening of December 24. That’s part of Advent, but there’s more.

Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”. In addition to remembering God breaking into the world two thousand years ago, in a manger in Bethlehem, it also serves as a reminder that Christ will come again. “Whaaaaat,” you ask. “Come again??”

Unfortunately, thanks to popular fiction, whenever someone talks about the second coming, they envision the Rapture as some fantastical event. On that day, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening out of control. Airplanes will fall from the sky with no one at the controls. Christ will come unseen to secretly take believers away and only come back publicly to later take away everyone else after a period of tribulation. It’s fun reading, but it’s schlock.

But as Christians, we profess that Christ will come again. We declare it every Sunday as part of our creedal statement of belief. As God’s people, we wait for the return of Christ to usher in this eternal kingdom. The Church today is in a similar place that Israel was at the end of the Old Testament - waiting in expectation for the coming Messiah. Couldn’t we just as easily sing the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to capture our anticipation of Christ’s coming as Israel once did?:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Deacon Dion

Advent Reflections

Welcome to the 2018 Episcopal Church of the Resurrection Advent reflection blog! This year, we have asked multiple parishioners and clergy to submit their thoughts regarding scripture, stories, and/or hoped-for experiences during Advent. Each day at 6am, beginning on December 2nd, a new reflection will appear alongside a piece of scripture. (The scripture has been hyperlinked, so all you have to do is click on the link and you’ll be redirected.)

We hope you enjoy these writings. We would also like to thank all those who courageously submitted their musings. Have a blessed Advent and a wonderful Christmastide, everyone. Blessings to all!