Category Archives: Bible

Daily Office Basics – The Prayers

In the final video in the series, we look at the various prayers which conclude the offices of Morning or Evening Prayer. (If you’re like Fr. Ralph Osborne, the rector of my parish, you’ll also be glad to know you can now binge-watch the whole series.)

For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer holds pride of place as the prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples, so the third section of the office starts there.

Suffrages, which are sort of like miniature Prayers of the People, remind us to pray for “the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.”

Then a series of three collects forms the most distinctive part of this section — a Collect of the Day (the Sunday or feast day we celebrate), a Collect of the Day of the Week, and a Prayer for Mission.

The collects, like the sentences at the beginning of the office and the antiphons for the Invitatory Psalm, also serve to give a seasonal flavor to the office, which is otherwise very much the same every day.

The Daily Office is the public prayer of the Church, so the suffrages and collects are a bit formal, but they give us language to speak to God day by day, week by week, season by season.

Finally, we give voice to our own personal intercessions and thanksgivings, and we can choose from a number of lovely prayers and closing sentences to use at the end of the office.

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I hope this series of Daily Office Basics videos has been helpful to you, and I welcome your comments and suggestions if there are things you’d like to learn more about in future offerings.

The series will reside at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online, where you will also find the downloadable resources mentioned in the second video.

I am grateful to the Ven. Michele Whitford, content manager of Grace Abounds, and to Zachary and Nicholas Whitford, who filmed and edited the videos. I also commend the Theodicy Jazz Collective for their lovely album Vespers; their music is a prayer in itself.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be wth us all evermore. Amen.

 

Daily Office Basics – Lessons and Canticles

Today’s video is number four in the Daily Office Basics series.

We have looked at the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, spent a few minutes finding our place, and begun praying the office by reciting Psalms.

Here we turn to the second part of the office, the Lessons and Canticles.

In the Episcopal Church, the schedule of readings for the Daily Office has you do a lot of course reading. That is, you will often read a “chapter” (a short selection) of the same book in the Bible day after day until you’re through with that book.

Over the two-year lectionary cycle, you basically read the majority of the Old Testament once, the whole New Testament twice, and the Psalms every seven weeks.

Separate from any other studying I’ve done, that means that by praying the Daily Office for just over 23 years now I have read the Old Testament about 23 times, the New Testament 46 times, and each of the Psalms about 171 times.

Today we try to demystify the Daily Office lectionary and this middle portion of the office so that you feel more comfortable soaking yourself in Scripture in the context of daily prayer.

The last video in this series will look at the specific Prayers that conclude the office.

All of the videos, as well as the downloadable resources, will make their home at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online.

 

Daily Office Basics – The Psalms

Today’s installment of Daily Office Basics could also be called “Beginning the Office,” as we consider the various ways to begin Morning or Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is the public prayer of the Church, not just prayers for us to say at home, so the opening sentences are options to give a seasonal flavor to the service.

The Confession of Sin is optional, too. Some people choose to say it only occasionally, others once a day at Evening Prayer. For me, the Confession is not optional but critical, so I say it every time I pray the office.

The introduction to the Confession in Morning Prayer contains a perfect little statement about what we are doing when we pray the Daily Office:

Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God our heavenly Father, to set forth his praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. (BCP 79)

Once we’ve looked at the opening sentences and the Confession of Sin in this video, we get to the proper start of the office, the Psalms with which we “set forth God’s praise.”

In the next two installments, we’ll look at the Lessons and Canticles in which we “hear God’s holy Word,” and then we’ll talk about the Prayers in which we “ask, for ourselves, and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and salvation.”

 

Daily Office Basics – Finding Your Place

In this installment of Daily Office Basics, we get down to specifics:

How do I know what page I’m supposed to be on in the Book of Common Prayer?

What Bible lesson am I supposed to read this morning? This evening?

How do I remember where I am when I keep flipping back and forth in the book?

All of these questions (and more) will be answered here.

As you watch the video, you’ll see that we are preparing you to start praying the offices next week, starting on the Monday after the First Sunday in Lent.

Also, we have provided nifty bookmarks for your prayer book and Bible, as well as a guide called “Praying the Daily Offices.”

All of them are free to download at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online.

Praying the Daily Office is simple, but it’s not self-explanatory. I hope this video will help you find your place and feel more ready to begin.

 

Daily Office Basics – Daily Prayer Origins

I’m delighted to announce that my series of posts called Daily Office Basics is now available in video form!

This first video introduces you to the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, tracing how daily prayer has changed over time and how we came to have the form of Morning and Evening Prayer that we use in the Episcopal Church today.

Over the next four days, videos will cover finding your place in the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible and then will look at the three parts of the Daily Office — Psalms, Lessons and Canticles, and Prayers — in turn.

I am particularly grateful to Grace Abounds, the online ministry of Grace Episcopal Church in Sheboygan, for filming and producing these videos. The Ven. MIchele Whitford is content manager, and Zachary and Nicholas Whitford filmed and edited the videos.

The series will reside at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online — in addition to the videos, that landing page includes some resources for you to download and use as you prepare to pray the Daily Office.

Thanks also to Andy Barnett and the Theodicy Jazz Collective for permission to use music from their album Vespers. You can listen and buy online from their website.

Make every word count

Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. (1 Cor. 14:16-17)

In the Episcopal Church, today is the feast day of Samuel Isaac Joseph Scherechewsky, Bible translator and Bishop of Shanghai, who spent the last 25 years of his life, largely unable to speak, paralyzed and in a wheelchair, translating the Old Testament into Mandarin and the entire Bible into Easy Wen-Li.

He accomplished this monumental feat by typing with only two fingers.

These days, most of us type a lot, using our fingers (or thumbs) to send out a blizzard of emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook status updates, Instagram tags, Snapchat pics, and so on.

There is nothing wrong with staying connected by social media — I love it myself — but I can’t help wondering how much we are building one another up, how solid a contribution we’re making, how much we are writing or saying anything that will last beyond the moment.

There’s an astonishing (appalling) humility to the end of Bishop Scherechewsky’s life: one wheelchair, two fingers, one project that would endure.

What message might God be inviting you to deliver in order to build people up?

What else might need to fall away in your daily life and activities so you can focus on making every word count?

Collect of the Day

O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tools of the trade

“Is that a Bible or a machinists’ manual?”

The man with a cast sitting near me at Starbucks pointed to the leather-bound book with ribbons next to my laptop. 

“Well, it’s a prayer book and a Bible, so I guess you could say it’s both.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a tool of the trade, so to speak. The prayer book is all about how to practice the Christian life.”

“Hm. Cool.”

And with that the conversation turned to other things: My father-in-law was a tool and die maker. Had we lived here long? What happened to his foot? I had foot surgery myself a few years ago. He was starting physical therapy this week. 

Seeds planted. Connections made. 

He gathered up his cane, but before he left he made a point of coming over and saying good-bye. 

“See you around.”

I hope so. 

Continue in what you have learned

O God, you have taught me since I was young, *
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:14-18)

The Thursday morning Bible study group I belong to is reading Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, and today we discussed chapter 14, “Is the Bible Inspired?”

Hamilton starts with Paul’s reminder to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As the image on today’s blog suggests, I am one of those who “from childhood [has] known the sacred writings.”

Without going into too much detail, I really appreciate how Hamilton draws out the various meanings we attach to the notion of “inspiration.” The writers of Scripture are inspired, we readers find inspiration as we read, and the community’s traditions and teaching inspire us in certain ways (129-38).

He also gently teases apart how some notions read into the Scriptures something that really isn’t there — notions like the “verbal, plenary inspiration” and the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Hamilton disagrees with those who would suggest that “every word in scripture is equally inspired” (140-41).

Today’s Daily Office readings offer an object lesson in one of the stories about David from the tumultuous time just before he is made king of Israel.

David answered Rechab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when the one who told me, ‘See, Saul is dead,’ thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag — this was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house! And now shall I not require his blood at your hand, and destroy you from the earth?” So David commanded the young men, and they killed them; they cut off their hands and feet, and hung their bodies beside the pool at Hebron. But the head of Ishbaal they took and buried in the tomb of Abner at Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:9-12)

None of the details of the story specifically represent the will of God. None of them offers a command binding down to our time and place. None of them answers the question, “What, then, should we do?” (Luke 3:10).

Instead, they paint a picture of human ambition, ambivalence, power, cruelty, and sentimentality. These are the people through whom God will accomplish his purpose?

Reading this passage in the context of the Daily Office is also important, I think, because immediately after we read this lesson, we respond by saying Canticle 8 – The Song of Moses, which is appointed for Thursday mornings.

The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
….
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
with your might you brought them in safety to
your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
for ever and for ever. (BCP 85)

The juxtaposition between these two passages of Scripture further accentuates the difference between David’s political power and cruelty and God’s saving power and constant love.

The Lord has become my savior,” we remind ourselves, not David the king. God will bring us in and plant us, not any human leader or authority.

Reading the Scriptures in the context of the Daily Office is one way to remember “what [we] have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom [we] learned it.”

That is, allowing the tradition of the community to speak is part of the process of inspiration that we trust is at work. The practice of engaging with the Scriptures in the context of prayer will bear fruit over time if we, like those who came before us, “continue in what we have learned.”

A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Transformed by the renewing of our minds | Sermon for June 28, 2015

I subscribe to the daily emails sent by the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr, who said once at a lecture at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena that:

Religion distinguishes between education and transformation. They’re not the same thing! You can be educated and not transformed, and you can be uneducated and profoundly transformed.

But the apostle Paul blends the two in his letter to the Romans, where he writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Education and transformation go together in the program called Education for Ministry, or EfM, which Joanne and Barb invited me to talk about today here at St. Luke’s.

EFM as education

Students in EfM really are students. They read textbooks chosen by staff at the Beecken Center of the School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee (one of the 11 historic Episcopal seminaries).

EfM was created 40 years ago as a “four-year distance learning certificate program of theological education,” and students will testify that they learn a lot.

EfM students in Year One listening to today’s Gospel might be thinking about the Old Testament’s (excuse me, the Hebrew Bible’s) ritual purity laws.

John Petty of ProgressiveInvolvement.com writes that:

Mark does not explicitly mention violations of the ‘purity code,’ but there are two of them in this reading. First, the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus, rendering him unclean. Second, Jesus touched the dead young woman, which also would have rendered him unclean.

EfM students in Year Two might be thinking about the New Testament and how to interpret documents written in Greek nearly 2,000 years ago.

Mark Davis, on his blog Left Behind and Loving It, translates the Greek of each week’s Gospel reading directly and comments on the problems or insights he discovers.

Mark the Gospel writer’s prose is urgent and breathless anyway, but this passage takes the cake:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for 12 years and having suffered much by many physicians and having spent all that she had and not having benefitted but having gone from bad to the worse having heard about Jesus having gone into the crowd she grabbed his garment from behind.

Davis goes on to say, “She is as defined by her determination as by her suffering. That is the value of respecting Mark’s string of participles and being patient for the main verb. After all that she suffered and did, she grabbed his garment.”

EfM students in Year Three might be thinking about how the political maneuverings and bloody wars of 3,000 years of church history are seemingly unrelated to today’s Gospel.

As one student in my group observes nearly every week, “The church history author hardly mentions Jesus at all!”

The church history we read is really the history of 3,000 years of religious change.

The last couple of weeks have seen momentous changes, with the events in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the ACA and marriage equality, with President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Episcopal Church’s election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, another African-American preacher, as our 27th Presiding Bishop.

And yet we realize that the past is prologue, that history repeats itself, that even today girls in Zimbabwe, Kenya, or Haiti who have reached the age of menstruation often have to miss school because their period is seen as shameful. Girls in Bangladesh and India suffer infections for lack of clean supplies.

As for their hopes of an education or independence, they might as well be dead — like the synagogue leader’s unnamed daughter.

And EfM students in Year Four will have been reading stories and academic analyses about how people in different cultures read the Gospel differently, about how men and women read the Gospel differently, about how the powerful and powerless read the Gospel differently.

Deborah Blanks, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University, writes for the African-American Lectionary.org:

[Jesus’] message is clear – that the unnamed woman is of no less importance than the ill daughter of a person of power. She becomes a perpetual reminder that the socially marginal have a conspicuous place in the realization of God’s reign.

EfM might help us learn a lot that enriches our appreciation of the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop there.

EFM as reflection

We don’t simply gaze in admiration at all of the pictures our teachers have painted.

Instead, we deliberately – in a process called theological reflection – look more closely at the pictures, entering into the emotions and dilemmas and questions they depict.

In our “TRs” (as we call them) we seek a glimpse of how God is acting in our lives and share with each other our transformed understanding.

If we were doing a theological reflection on efficiency, for example, we might picture Jesus as a paramedic and look closely at his presence in this chaotic and emotional scene.

Peter Woods, on his blog The Listening Hermit, writes an entry called “Jesus has no time for triage”.

With all the drama of a novel rushing to its climax, Mark inserts the older hopeless woman into the story of Jesus’ mission to heal the just girl. The old bleeding woman is an interruption and an energy thief to boot! Yet, as the story unfolds both are healed. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless. There is enough time, power, compassion, and grace to go round so that no one needs be written off.

Or, if we were doing a theological reflection on vulnerability, we might remember that the woman is ritually impure, shunned because of her bleeding; the child is unclean (and her father prostrate with grief) because she is dead. We might see ourselves in the portrait before us.

David Lose of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia writes on the blog Dear Working Preacher:

We tend in our culture to avoid vulnerability – to avoid admitting that we don’t have it all together – because of the way it can leave you feeling exposed, desperate and, well, vulnerable. And there is something of that in these stories. But we’ve also seen that only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently.

Being transformed for ministry

Jesus’ presence in the whirlwind encounters with the woman and the child transformed them. The child was brought back to life, and the woman was brought back into life.

Jesus transformed and encouraged them both.

He encouraged Mark and the other disciples to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and the world keeps turning upside down.

Having “the courage to be and to act differently” – that’s what it means to be transformed by Jesus.

Admitting our vulnerability – admitting that we don’t have it all together – and receiving help, that’s the renewing of our minds in Jesus that helps us to “discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Transformation is for all of us. Reflection is for all of us. Education is for all of us.

Shameless plug: Education for Ministry is for all of us.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – that’s for all of us.

Amen.

[Sermon preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.]

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Bible as Canon

The Bible as canon, according to John Dally of Bexley Seabury, provides a narrative arc offering salvation by helping us understand our place in the universe.

My notes from the first of three sessions of Fr. Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” are reproduced below.

The canonical story is organized into four parts: the creation of the world, the creation of Israel, the creation of the Church, and the end of the world.

The story begins in perfection, moves through imperfection, and ends in perfection.

Creation of the World

The creation of the world is characterized by intimacy, purpose, and naming.

The Lord God formed human beings and breathed life into us, invited us to name every other living creature, and walked in the garden with us at the time of the evening breeze (Gen. 3:8).

However, sin enters the story when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were under the illusion of need, the illusion that the garden and the intimacy and the purpose were not enough.

Humankind is “cursed” by having to leave the garden and earn the knowledge that we stole.

Creation of Israel

Following the catastrophe of the Exile into Babylon, the people of Israel looked back over their history and came to understand their origins in the Exodus from Egypt.

During the Exodus, God freed the Hebrews from slavery and made them a chosen people in special relationship with him. God gave them the Law to guide them in that relationship.

Over time, the people of Israel came to desire a kingdom and anointed first Saul, then David, then Solomon as their kings.

The Temple — built eventually by King Solomon — grew in importance as evidence of God’s presence and as the focus of religious practice.

The simple relationship of covenant with God was not enough. Israel labored under the illusion of need and created a Kingdom and a Temple.

Creation of the Church

Jesus came in opposition to both the Temple and the Kingdom, and the catastrophe of the Cross revealed the depth of their violence.

Jesus spoke of living in direct relationship with God, praying in secret (intimacy with God), and giving away the knowledge that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The Temple fails to bring knowledge of God, and its hierarchy exploits the poor. Likewise, the Kingdom of the world (in Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire) rules through military might and exploitative power.

As the Church becomes linked with the Roman Empire under Constantine, Temple and Kingdom become one. The Church continues to obscure the believer’s direct relationship with God and to exploit the poor.

End of the World

The story begins in a garden, but it ends in a city.

The Kingdom and the Temple (which were never God’s idea) are taken up into “the holy city, the new Jerusalem,” but John says that “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

In the center of the city are the river and the tree of life, just like in the garden … only this time, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The perfect creation of the Garden is restored to perfection in the City, and humans are reconciled to God.

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

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