Monday, November 5, 2018

The Great St. Paul's Talent Search

We tried something different for our stewardship theme this year.  We gave everyone an opportunity to participate in the parable of the talents.  If you aren't familiar with it, it is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25.

For two weeks we had envelopes with $10 bills available.  The instructions were to take an envelope and use the money to bring the presence of Christ into your world and then come back and tell us about it. 

Unlike the landowner in the parable we didn't necessarily ask people to come back with money, just stories.

Well we had some great stories:

One woman purchased fleece on sale and made 19 hats for children at our partner school in Buffalo.

One woman made pies, invited her red hat group to come and purchase slices of pie and share in a social event.  She brought back $70 as well as a story of several people going to read the parable.

One man was thinking about what to do with his $10 when he saw someone collecting cans and bottles from the trash and gave him the $10.

One woman bought gloves to hand out to homeless people.

Several people donated the money to different causes that they cared about from Episcopal Relief and Development to the Heifer Project, to other causes that they cared about.  Several of those people used the $10 as seed money and matched it with their own funds.  Some used the initial $10 to challenge family and friends to also give.

One person reached over her pew and gave the money to another parishioner who was fundraising for a cause that touched her life.

The love of Christ spread out from St. Paul's into a wide variety of places in a wide variety of ways.  We will never know how many lives were touched by all of our talents and willingness to share.

The challenge of stewardship, of course, is to consider how we use all the gifts that God has given us to bring the presence of Christ to our world all the time.  That is the most basic definition of stewardship.

As the landowner in the parable said to his servants: "Well done, good and faithful servants."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Bible Challenge: The Gospels

This week we begin the second section of our Bible Challenge. 

From now through December we will be reading the 4 books that tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are the four books, the Gospels in the Bible that tell the life of Jesus.

The Gospels were not written during the life of Jesus.  They were written between about 60 and 100 AD or between 30 and 70 years after Jesus had died.

Immediately after Jesus' death, Christians believed that Jesus was coming again very soon and so they focused on spreading the message of Christ.  It was only when the first generation of Christians began to die that it became important to have the stories of the life of Jesus written down.

When the debates were happening about which books should be considered Scripture for Christians between 350 and 500 AD there were about a dozen "Gospels" under consideration.  These four were chosen.

Each of the four Gospels was written for a different audience and with a different purpose:
Mark is the basic telling of the teachings of Jesus - designed for a broad audience to communicate the basics.
Matthew was written for the community of Jewish believers and focuses on showing Jesus as the promised Messiah and the fulfiller of the law.
Luke was written for the community of gentile believers and as a particular emphasis on the way that Jesus' teaching promoted justice and equality for the marginalized
John was written for a community of people who already knew the basic stories of Jesus and is as much a book of theology as it is the story of the life of Jesus.

A couple of things to notice as you read: 
There is a story of the birth of Jesus only in Matthew & Luke and the two stories are different
Notice the differences in the Easter stories in the four Gospels
Notice that some of the stories only appear in one or two of the Gospels
Look at the story of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew & Luke and how they are different.

Here is the schedule of readings for this part of the challenge

October 29 – November 4 – Matthew
Day 1 – Chapters 1-2   Day 2 – Chapters 3-4
Day 3 – Chapters 5-6   Day 4 – Chapters 7-8
Day 5 – Chapters 9-10 Day 6 – Chapters 11-12

November 5 – 11 – Matthew
Day 1 – Chapters 13-14           Day 2 – Chapters 15-16
Day 3 – Chapters 17-18           Day 4 – Chapters 19-20
Day 5- Chapters 21-24 Day 5 – Chapters 25-28

November 12 – 18 – Mark
Day 1 – Chapters 1-2   Day 2 – Chapters 3-4
Day 3 – Chapters 5-6   Day 4 – Chapters 7-8
Day 5 – Chapters 9-10 Day 6 – Chapters 11-12

November 19 – 25 – Mark & Luke
Day 1 – Chapters 13-14           Day 2 – Chapters 15-16
Begin Luke
Day 3 – Chapters 1-2   Day 4 – Chapters 3-4
Day 5 – Chapters 5-6   Day 6 – Chapters 7-8

November 26-December 1 – Luke
Day 1 – Chapters 9-12 Day 2 – Chapters 13-15
Day 3 – Chapters 16-18           Day 4- Chapters 19-21
Day 5 – Chapters 22-24

December 2 – 8 – John
Day 1- Chapters 1-2    Day 2 – Chapters 3-4
Day 3 – Chapters 5-6   Day 4 – Chapters 7-8
Day 5 – Chapters 9-10 Day 6 – Chapters 11-12

December 9 – 15 – John
Day 1 – Chapters 13-14           Day 2 – Chapters 15-16
Day 3 – Chapters 17-18           Day 4 – Chapters 19-21

Thursday, October 11, 2018

How are the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches Different?

I have had about 10 people ask me to explain the difference between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches in the last couple of weeks, so I thought it might make a good topic for a blog post.

There are a lot of visible ways that the two Churches are the same: vestments, structure of worship, etc...  There are also a lot of visible ways that they are different - women priests to name just one.  Those similarities and differences all stem from a few fundamentals.

Let's start with:
How are the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches the same?
There are three main similarities between the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches:

  1. Our worship services (especially the Eucharist) follow the ancient pattern of worship that was established in the early Church.  We have the first half of the service, the Liturgy of the Word - where we have an opening prayer, hear portions of Scripture read, have a sermon, recite the Nicene Creed and join in prayers for the Church & the world.  Then the second half of the service is the Liturgy of the Table - where we bless bread and wine using the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, break the bread and share communion.
  2. We have three-fold orders of ordained ministry.  We have deacons, who are ordained to bring the needs of the world to the Church and help the Church connect with the world.  We have priests (all of whom were ordained deacons first) who teach the faith, preside over the sacraments and guide congregations.  We have bishops (all of whom were ordained deacon & priest first) who guard the faith and oversee the ministry of Dioceses.
  3. Our churches have Dioceses (made up of congregations in a geographic region), which are the basic administrative unit of the church.  Geographic groups of Dioceses are formed into provinces and national churches.
How are the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches different?
There are four main differences between the Episcopal and the Roman Catholic Churches:

Theology:  The Episcopal Church is a Protestant Church in terms of theology.  What that means is that in the Roman Catholic Church the magisterium (or teaching authority) of the church tells Roman Catholics what they should believe.  In Protestant theology the role of the Church is to provide boundaries for the believer, within those boundaries, the individual decides (in relationship with God) what they believe.  

For Example:  The Episcopal Church teaches that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth.  Individual Episcopalians can believe that God set off the Big Bang; that God influenced evolution; that God created the world in seven 24-hour days and a wide variety of other ways that God was the creator of the heavens & the earth - all of which are acceptable.

Eucharist: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that what happens at Eucharist is transubstantiation - that the bread and the wine literally become the Body & Blood of Christ while maintaining the outward appearance of bread and wine.  

The Episcopal Church teaches the doctrine of the Real Presence - that is that the Body and Blood of Christ are really present in the bread and wine.  How that happens; transubstantiation, consubstantiation, in some other way is something the Episcopal Church doesn't require specific belief about.

The Role of the Laity: The Episcopal Church believes that the laity have a specific role in the governance of the Church.  Episcopal Churches have vestries that are elected by the members of the Church.  Those vestry members are responsible for the budget of the congregation and for overseeing the programs of the church.  The rector is a part of the vestry and has some specific rights and duties, but the church in governed in collaboration between the rector & the vestry.  When a congregation calls a new rector it is the vestry who votes on who that should be.  The Bishop has to approve the call, but it is the vestry who makes the decision.  

The same thing happens at the Diocesan level.  Each congregation sends lay representatives to Diocesan Convention and those representatives, as well as the priests and deacons in that Diocese, get to make decisions about the life of the Diocese, including electing their bishop.

Authority - in the Episcopal Church the majority of the authority sits with the Diocesan Convention and the Diocesan Bishop.  

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church (which is made up of a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies of elected representatives, lay and clergy, from each Diocese) makes decisions about our Book of Common Prayer & the National Canons, but each Diocese decides how to implement those.  

The House of Bishop elects a Presiding Bishop (currently The Most Rev. Michael Curry) that election is approved by the House of Deputies.  The Presiding Bishop doesn't have any authority to tell Diocesan Bishops what they have to do.  He (or she) even needs the permission of the Diocesan Bishop to preside at Confirmations or Ordinations within the boundaries of a particular Diocese.  

While the Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, a coalition 38 Churches that are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury including the Episcopal Church, The Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Australia among others, no one outside of the Episcopal Church (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) has any authority over how the Episcopal Church governs ourselves.  What this means is that each Church in the Anglican Communion makes its own decisions about our Books of Common Prayer, ordination, structure, budget etc...

For Example:  The Episcopal Church ordained women to the priesthood in 1976 and the first woman as Bishop in 1988.  The Church of England did not ordain women to the priesthood until the 1990's and didn't ordain women as Bishops until a few years ago.  The Anglican Church of Somalia still does not ordain women to the priesthood.

The Episcopal Church does not have an equivalent to the Pope, someone who has authority over the whole church all over the world and everyone who holds any position of authority in the Episcopal Church has been elected to that position by groups who include lay people as well as priests and bishops.

Obviously, this is only a basic description of the difference between the two Churches.  If you have questions or want to know more, please email me at paulsrector@gmail.com


Monday, October 8, 2018

What Episcopalians Believe

In our Small Plates adult education class over the last few weeks we have been exploring the basics of what Episcopalians believe.

We have been using the book What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction by Samuel Wells as the basis of our conversation.

Here is the outline of what Episcopalians Believe:

The Triune God: We believe in one God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit

  • God is in Christ
  • Christ is God
  • God is in Christ today
  • The Holy Spirit is one with God and Christ
Transformation in Christ:

  • God became human
  • Jesus is God; Jesus is also fully human
  • Jesus being fully human transformed both humanity & God
  • Jesus was truly human yet did not sin
  • Jesus' death paid the price for our sins
  • Jesus' resurrection and ascension opened the way to eternal life for us
The People of God:

  • Jesus was a Jew
  • To understand Jesus we must understand
    • Israel
    • The covenants between Israel & God
    • Exodus
    • Prophecy
    • Messiah
The Holy Spirit and the Church

  • The Holy Spirit overcomes the distance in space & time between Christ & us
  • The Holy Spirit is invoked by the Church in baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and ordination
  • The Church represents Christ to the world.  The attributes of the Church are:
    • Unified
    • "Catholic" - universal 
    • Apostolic - connected to the teachings of the apostles who walked with Jesus
    • Holy - set apart for God
Creation was good and tends toward good

The kingdom of God will be complete when Christ comes again, but we can bring echoes of it to being here and now

Salvation: God enters human life & redeems it.  

The Sources of our faith are:

  • Scripture
    • Old Testament
    • New Testament
    • Apocrypha
    • Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation - but not all of Scripture is necessary for salvation
  • Tradition
    • teachings & practices that go back to earliest time
    • teachings & practices that emerged during the fist 1000 years of Christianity
  • Reason
    • Richard Hooker: "When reason tells you tradition is no longer applicable, disregard it"
    • Look at the ways in which God is made know:
    • Revelation is seen to be working within human wisdom & investigation
We live out our faith:

  • Holiness - we obey God & strive to set ourselves apart for God
  • Worship - both corporate & personal
  • Ministry - the service we give within the church
  • Mission - the service we give outside the church
The Character of Episcopal believe is shaped by:

  • Incarnation - that God became human and is with us is the core theology of the Episcopal faith
  • English Legacy - our faith grew & developed in England and was shaped by - among others
    • The Synod of Whitby
    • The struggle with the authority of the Roman Church
    • The English Reformation
    • The Oxford Movement
  • We are an American Church also and so our structures value
    • Representative democracy
    • The role of lay people as well as clergy
    • The primacy of the Diocese as the central unit of the church & the Bishop as the primary authority
    • A relatively weak central authority
Obviously these are only the very basics of what Episcopalians believe.  If you want to go into more details, I recommend the book.   If you want to go into more detail the book Anglicanism by Stephen Neal is a good second step as is the volumes of The New Church Teaching Series by Cowley Publishing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bible Challenge: Torah

The first section of Scripture that we are looking at in our 2-year read through the Bible is the Torah.

The Torah is the first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Torah comes from a Hebrew word meaning instruction or teaching. They are also sometimes called the Pentateuch, which comes from a Greek word meaning five books.

The origins of the books that make up the Torah are lost in the past.  We aren't sure when the stories in Genesis and Exodus were first told or when the laws that we read in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were first complied.  We do know that these books were composed by multiple authors and that they were edited over time.  The books are made up of prose, poetry and law.  The stories in the Torah range from primeval history to events approximately two thousand years before the birth of Christ.

The books of the Torah were compiled and edited over a long period of time.  The first collection of the books was in about the 11th century before the birth of Christ.  The final form of the Torah was set in the 5th century (or about 600 years) before the birth of Christ.

There are six major parts in the Torah:
1. The primeval history - which is Genesis chapters 1 to 11
2. The patriarchs - which is Genesis chapters 12 to 50
3. The liberation from Egypt - which is Exodus chapters 1 to 16
4. The say at Siani which is Exodus chapters 17 - 40 and the book of Leviticus
5. The journey which is the book of Numbers
6. Moses' farewell which is the book of Deuteronomy

There are a couple of themes that we see in the Torah:

1. These are the foundational stories of the relationship between God and humanity.  We see over the course of the Old Testament a movement from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being the most powerful God among many to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being the only God.  Note that the first commandment says "...you will have no other gods before me..." not that you won't have other gods.

2. The creation is, at its basis, good.  That is the theme of the creation narrative, that creation is good and that human beings are made in the image of God.

3. The rules that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob give to the community of Israel are, for their time, radically just, compassionate and merciful.  We read statements like, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" as harsh and judgmental, but for their time, when an injury was addressed by wiping out an entire clan, they were radical in their moderation.

4. Over the course of the Torah we see the relationship between God and humanity move from a Covenant between God and Abraham to a Covenant between God and the family of Jacob aka Israel to a Covenant between God and the nation of Israel.

Have fun exploring the Torah - here are the challenge reading schedule (if you are behind you can catch up by reading all seven days a week, instead of the six days a week in the challenge.


September 10 – 16 – Genesis
Day 1 – Chapters 1-4   Day 2 – Chapters 5–8
Day 3 – Chapters 9-12 Day 4 – Chapters 12-16
Day 5- Chapters 17-20 Day 6 – Chapters 21-24

September 17-23 – Genesis
Day 1 – Chapters 25-28           Day 2 – Chapters 29-32
Day 3 – Chapters 33-37           Day 4 – Chapters 38-42
Day 5 – Chapters 43-46           Day 6 – Chapters 47-50

September 24-30 – Exodus
Day 1 – Chapters 1-4   Day 2 – Chapters 5-8
Day 3 – Chapters 9-12 Day 4 – Chapters 13-16
Day 5 – Chapters 17-20           Day 6 – Chapters 20-24

October 1 - 7 – Exodus & Leviticus
Day 1- Chapters 25-28 Day 2- Chapters 29-32
Day 3 – Chapters 33-36           Day 4 – Chapters 36-40
Begin Leviticus
Day 5 – Chapters 1-4   Day 6 – Chapters 5-9

October 8 – 14 – Leviticus & Numbers
Day 1 – Chapters 10-13           Day 2 – Chapters 14-17
Day 3 – Chapters 18-22           Day 4 – Chapters 23-27
Begin Numbers
Day 5 – Chapters 1-4   Day 6 – Chapters5-7

October 15-21 – Numbers
Day 1 – Chapters 8-12 Day 2 – Chapters 13-16
Day 3 – Chapters 17-20           Day 4- Chapters 21-24
Day 5- Chapters 25-28 Day 6 – Chapters 29-32

October 22-28 – Numbers & Deuteronomy
Day 1- Chapters 33-36 Begin Deuteronomy
Day 2 – Chapters 1-4   Day 3- Chapters 5-8
Day 4- Chapters 9-12  Day 5 – Chapters 13-16
Day 6 – Chapters 17-20

Thursday, June 2, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Daniel in Babylon

The story of Daniel is written as if it happened during the exile in Babylon.  It was actually written more than 150 years after the people of Israel returned from Babylon.  It is an example of a story that is set in a different time so that it can tell the truth to the people that they can't hear in a contemporary setting.

There are two examples of this in American t.v. shows:
MASH - which was set in the Korean War and told truths about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggles of the 70's.
The original Star Trek was set in the future and told truths about the Civil Rights Movement, the movement for women's equality and welcoming the stranger.

Daniel is set in the Babylonian captivity and tells stories of how to resist oppressors, how to hold to your faith when it is challenged and how to trust in God when things look bad.

Friday, May 27, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Valley of the Dry Bones

This is one of the best known bits of prophecy.  It is also one of the favorites of clergy, I suspect because it is so easy to visualize.

The prophet Ezekiel is put down in a valley of bones.  We are told several times that the bones are dry.  The point is clear.  These are the remains of those who have died.  There is no life here.

God puts the bones together and breathes life into them.  Lest you miss the point: God is the giver of life.  God can bring life even in the midst of death; God can bring the dead to life and can bring life to places where there seems to be no life.  God is in control.