Monday, July 29, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 13 (18), 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 4, 2013)

Frank Logue

This week in our second Old Testament track, we will hear the only fragment of the Ecclesiastes to sneak its way into the Revised Common Lectionary. Why are we seemingly allergic to this aphoristic text that the reformer Martin Luther called a “noble little book” and go so far as to recommend that Ecclesiastes should be read daily? Try sitting with the text this week and you may find the cynicism compelling, or you may decide with the framers of the lectionary that a little Ecclesiastes goes a long way.

Our reading begins, “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The key word in the text, translated in the NRSV as “vanity”, is the Hebrew word Hevel. A closer translation of the Hebrew word hevel would be something like, “A puff of wind of a puff of wind, everything is fleeting” as the plain sense meaning of hevel is “a puff of wind, vapor, a breath.”  The New Living Translation moves further away from that plain meaning to capture the essence of the book in translating Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless.”

So the Good News this week is that everything we do amounts to nothing. All of our work, everything we become is nothing but a puff of wind, a fleeting breath, something so ephemeral that it is gone before it is fully formed. If you are reading this wondering what the Gospel has to offer, Jesus sounds like someone who has been reading Ecclesiastes each day with his parable of the rich man whose greatest felt need is for bigger barns to store the abundant fruit of his harvest.

The desire for more and better things seems hardwired into western culture and yet it is part of the “sinful desires that draw you from the love of God” which we renounce in our baptisms. To put our whole trust in God’s grace and love means not pinning our hopes on accomplishments any more than on things, for all of it is fleeting.

With this in view, I will be turning over Jesus words of warning this week that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” which he aims at “those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” As I work my way toward Sunday, the question I will be pondering is “How can we be rich toward God?” I hope these thoughts and that question assist you in your own sermon preparation.

Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He worked as a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia, starting King of Peace in Kingsland, before joining the diocesan staff in 2010 as the Canon to the Ordinary.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Identifying emerging liturgical-missional issues

What´s Up Next?
Identifying the liturgical-missional issues emerging before us

Juan Oliver

APLM has a venerable record of spotting liturgical and missional issues as they emerge in the life of the church.  Recently, however, we have been forced to return to issues first explored in the years leading up to the 1979 BCP, concentrating on the relationship between liturgy, mission and ecclesiology:  How do we understand the community of the baptized as first-fruits (“green shoots”) of the coming Kingdom of God?  How do we embody this liturgically?   How do we carry it out in mission to the world? 

Our recent work on the centrality of Baptism has been of huge importance --and necessary. At bottom, however, we have been “cleaning up” canonical denials of the ecclesiology of the BCP, first formulated 35 years ago, and reminding ourselves and others of the baptismal understanding of the nature of the Church as expressed in the BCP.   The work had to be done, and we will probably have to keep an eye on these matters all along.

Yet I am itching to spot, once more, what liturgical-missional issues are emerging before us so that, as APLM, we might support and encourage discussion, experimentation and sharing of best practices.  From my point of view there appear the following areas of further development:

1. Inculturation (especially in Anglo suburban life) is still very weak.  Our liturgy, as I have pointed out, no longer means to many people what theologians think it means.[1]  This presents a communications crisis in liturgical practice, and might lead us to examine the vocabulary we employ in worship. For more on this issue, see Matt Johnson’s article covering much more than the inculturation of language.[2]

2. Almost forty years old, the BCP does not reflect the most recent research by New Testament scholars, particularly regarding the historical and socioeconomic context of the New Testament.  As a result our liturgical and missional practices remain unaffected by these developments.

3. In our current liturgy, the missiological aspects of the Christian life, especially in relation to the suffering of all creation, are very, very weak, and practically silent in naming the causes of that suffering.

As APLM Council member Amy McCreath has written, “… the suffering we are not naming…   is not only regarding the environment… but also the economic and social suffering, the militarism, the violence, the mental illness that results from and is not addressed by all the other ills above.  In the parish I serve, very few of the young adults affiliated with the parish are thriving. All are some combination of unemployed, emotionally unstable, depressed or anxious, disaffiliated from church and society, addicted to something. At MIT, where I served as a chaplain for 9 years, although successful ‘on paper’ and in labs, few young adults experienced the world as anything more than chaos they needed to survive. The reality of young adulthood these days is virtually invisible in our official church discussions & unnamed in our liturgies.”[3] 

We absolutely need the naive language  (i.e., NOT academic theological language) in which our contemporaries cast their experience of the world if we are to craft worship that communicates our Christian hope for a healed world, and our vocation to work for it. 

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but I fear that without tackling them –and others-- in depth and over a long period of time, our liturgy will not be able to recover its verve and drive us to witness to the coming Kingdom.

Juan Oliver has written widely about liturgy and culture. His Ph.D. dissertation, The Look of Common Prayer: The Anglican Liturgical Place in Anglo-American Culture, explored the role of liturgical architecture in presenting a vision of the Reign of God, the main theological criterion for evaluating worship.

He is a member of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, Societas Liturgica, and The Council of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, as whose president he served from 1997 to 2001.  He´s retired in Santa Fe, NM.

[1] Juan M.C. Oliver. Worship: “Forming and Deforming.” in The Worship-Shaped Life: Liturgical Formation for the People of God.”  [Canterbury Studies in Anglicanism] Ed. by Mark Eary and Ruth Meyers.  NY: Church Publishing Inc., 2010.    Or go to - v=onepage&q=worship%20forming%20and%20deforming&f=false.

[2] Matt Johnson. “Tool, not Idol: Inculturation and Prayer Book Revision.”  Open: The Journal of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. Spring 2013.  Available on line at

[3] Amy McCreath, personal communication June 2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 12 (17) 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study

First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(10th Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2013)

Maylanne Maybee

In the Gospel readings of the last two Sundays, Jesus’ disciples had been given fresh insight into the law of loving neighbour and God.  Now, they observe Jesus’ intimate communion with God as he sets his face to Jerusalem and prepares to walk a dangerous and uncertain path.  Just as Mary had sat attentively at the feet of Jesus, so now Jesus himself sits attentively in prayer at the feet of his Abba.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” they ask, as John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray.

And so Jesus teaches them a prayer—a good rabbinic prayer that draws from familiar passages of scripture and selected quotations from the Psalms, knit together in an integrated picture of God’s responsibility toward us and ours toward God: God is as near to us as a father is to his child; God’s name is sacred; God’s kingdom is at hand; God gives us enough bread for each day.  We in turn ask for that bread; we ask for forgiveness of sins, for the will to be generous to those indebted to us; we ask for wellbeing and safety.

As a deacon, I prepare intercessions Sunday by Sunday, inviting God’s people to ask for these very things: for the necessities of life, for relations to be made right with those we have wronged and who have wronged us, for a restoration of what has been borrowed or taken, for healing and safety.  The asking is as much an expression of our relationship with God, a relationship of trust and vulnerability and gratitude, as it is of our needs and wants and desires. 

If I were preaching on these readings, I would choose to dwell on the verses that follow Luke’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer”, and what they say about being in a trusting relationship with God.  I would choose to reflect on the cost and paradox of authentic prayer, on what it means to receive and live out what we ask for, starting with Jesus’ own example.

For the depth and cost and paradox of Jesus’ teaching about prayer come to light in the events and stories in Luke that lead up to his entry in Jerusalem, his trial and crucifixion. 

We learn that God’s kingdom comes like a mustard seed or a lump of yeast.  We learn that the door will be closed to many who seek entry.  We learn that seeking is like going after a lost sheep or looking high and low for a lost coin; it means that fellow heirs to the kingdom might not be among friends or family, but “in the streets and the lanes where you will find the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”

“Save us from the time of trial,” says the Teacher.  “Ask, and it shall be given.”  Yet when Jesus reaches Gethsemane and asks for the cup of suffering to be removed, what he asks for is not granted.  There is indeed cost and paradox to prayer. 

If I were preaching, I might also try to link these reflections on prayer with the lessons of Hosea or Colossians, by studying what each has to say about who God is and what God commands.

In the Hebrew scripture, we read how Hosea takes a life lesson from his wife Gomer and the children she bears.  The prophetic message he proclaims is about the limits of what God can offer to a people who refuse to be loyal.  Yet taken in reverse, we learn that the God to whom we pray is a God who is grounded and fruitful (Jezreel), a God of maternal compassion (Ruhamah), a God of fierce love for God’s own people (Ammi). 

In the epistle to the Colossians, we read how baptism immerses us into the life and death of Christ, in whom God makes us fully alive through the strong gift of forgiveness, a nonviolent response to evil, and the disarmament of the oppressive rules and authorities of this world. 

“Your kingdom come.” 

Maylanne Maybee, a member of APLM Council, is an Anglican deacon serving in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.  She is Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, that prepares women and men for ministry in the diaconal tradition of the Anglican and United Churches.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 11 (16) 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2013)

Maylanne Maybee

If last week’s lectionary readings focused on love of neighbour, the emphasis this week is on love of God. 

As a deacon I’m always on the lookout for diakon-words in the epistle or gospel.  Today I find it in Luke’s description of Martha, wanting to welcome Jesus, yet “pulled in all directions by much serving (diakonian).” It’s so easy in ministry to be drawn into “much serving” and to forget that the first rule of hospitality is to attend to the guest.  It’s so easy in worship to be drawn into action, even liturgical action, and forget that the first rule is to attend, to listen. 

This Sunday’s lectionary readings seem to invite attention to the message and meaning of Sabbath, alluded to in the Amos passage and reinforced in the story from Luke, as the foundation of our relationship with God.

For all its layers of meaning, Sabbath is primarily about non-action, about presence and resting.  Amos bristles at the lip service paid to Sabbath laws by the merchants of Israel, who wait impatiently for the day to pass so they can get back to their business of exploitation and deceit, “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”  (Amos 8.6)

For the God of Israel, Sabbath is not just a day off in a week of hard work.  It is an act of justice brought about by restraint from busy-ness, the kind of restraint that gives rest to the land and restores to the poor a small portion of the goods of the earth.  Just as fruit that has been harvested but not distributed becomes rotten and over-ripe, so a nation that harvests its wealth for gain and not justice is headed for corruption and decline:  “The end has come upon my people Israel.” (Amos 8.2)

How does Luke’s gospel reflect this Sabbath theme?  Not so much a moral imperative as an invitation to be open to surprise at who God is and how God acts.  Having just told a parable about the sin of inaction through neglect of the neighbour in need, Jesus now unexpectedly points to Mary, the one who sits and listens, as having chosen the better part. 

I would want to associate this passage with the one that comes later in Luke (12.35f.): “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”  Is it possible that Martha got it wrong because she thought she was the one doing the serving?  More than anything, God longs to sit down and be present to us, to serve us the ripe fruit of summer, yet we may not notice if we’re too busy with our own agenda. 

Observing the Sabbath, sitting and listening, receiving the gifts of creation are ways to create space so that God can act – to nourish the poor, to still the storm, to come and serve.  If we practice “the better part” – as a church and as disciples, then our diakonia becomes the channel of God’s justice, and God’s mission, and God’s love.  

Maylanne Maybee, a member of APLM Council, is an Anglican deacon serving in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.  She is Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, that prepares women and men for ministry in the diaconal tradition of the Anglican and United Churches.