For many years I have conducted surveys to discover what curricula were being used in churches with children, youth, and adults. Part of the survey always asked for each age level, “What types of resources or curricula would you like to see developed?” One of the major responses (especially for youth) has been in the area of human sexuality; ways to engage with all ages about the connection between one’s faith and one’s responsibility as a sexual being.
Finally, I am excited to share a new program that has been specifically designed and written for Episcopalians by Episcopalians. These Are Our Bodies: Talking Faith & Sexuality at Church & Home (by Leslie Choplin and Jenny Beaumont) will be available in August 2016, beginning with a foundation book and a program module for Middle School students (which includes a Leader Guide, Parent Book, and Participant Book). A High School program module will be available in Spring 2017. In an upcoming post I will share what the program materials for the Middle School module involve. For now, here is a taste of the foundation book for the program, which I believe will be a helpful resource for all adults in our churches – parents, clergy, youth leaders, Christian educators, and all who seek to connect our faith with our whole being, including our sexuality as children of God.
Amy Frazier, an EfM mentor and Episcopalian in Roanoke, Virginia writes a wonderful reflection about bread (and wafers) and how we remember God . . .
As I tooled along I-81 south, various memories surfaced. Like many Episcopalians, I grew up Roman Catholic, and I once asked why we called the wafers “bread.” To my nine-year-old self, they weren’t “real bread,” like the bulkie rolls we got from the Jewish bakery. “Communion bread is made that way to remind us of the manna God gave the Israelites to eat in the desert,” Grammy Lou said. I remember thinking – God must have loved them a lot to give the Israelites so much manna, because it sure would take a lot of wafers to fill me up if I were hungry. And wafers might fill me up, but no way would they satisfy me like a bulkie roll and cream cheese!
Is that why we sometimes use wafers? To remind us that God gives to us abundantly, even during our desert times? To keep us longing for the real Bread of Life?
Living God, burning wild and unconfined, you call us to a new being, free from the fear of death: take away the limits that bind our imagination and choke our compassion that we may feel your pleasure in all that brings us life; through Jesus Christ, risen and ascended. Amen. (Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare)
At any given point in time, I think all of us have one burning question we’d like to ask God. When we are infants, the question might be “Why strained peas? Why strained carrots?”
As we grow older, our God questions grow and change with us. Children’s questions about the world around them might include “Why is the sky blue?” “Do dogs go to heaven?” “Are angels boys or girls?”
As we approach adolescence, our questions change. Innocence is often lost and questions about life and death begin to appear. “Why does everyone hate me at school?” “Why do I look the way I do?” “Where are you God, and why do bad things happen?” Often, in our teens we begin to stop asking God questions; and by adulthood, we learn to figure out how the world works (supposedly) understanding there are scientific answers for many of the simpler questions we had asked earlier in our lives. Continue reading Burning Questions→
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the talents. Let me ease your minds upfront; I’m not going to talk about money, our economic situation, Occupy Wall Street or our investment portfolios. But I am going to address the feelings we may have in this world at the moment. And I believe it is the root of what Jesus is asking us to sit up and pay attention to.
All of today’s readings contrast hope and fear, and abundance and scarcity, as spiritual issues that shape our personal and corporate behavior. Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
I returned home on Thursday from an intense 48-hour gathering of over 80 Episcopalians who came from all over the Episcopal Church. All orders were represented: lay folks, deacons, priests and bishops. A multitude of Episcopal networks were represented: camps and conference centers, youth ministers, Christian educators, policy makers, school administrators, seminary professors, musicians, and liturgists. We represented the diversity of region, economics, ethnicity and theology of our church. And it is one of the first gatherings I have attended in a long time that was filled with the equal participation of young adults – those between the ages of 18-30. And how life giving it was to have their voice along with those of us aging and graying folk. Besides our commonality of being Episcopalians, we all had a passion for Christian formation. We were invited to participate in a Faith Formation Summit entitled, “Building the Continuum.”
One of the goals of the gathering was to analyze the present realities and future uncertainties in the church and the world and envision potential futures for Episcopal faith formation in a diversity of settings over the next 5-10 years. Our focusing question was, “How might Christian lifelong faith formation over the next ten years affect the renewal and transformation of the Episcopal Church in a 21st century world?”
It was a timely question, because just as in our readings for today, we are concerned with the future – of our community, our families, and our church. Resources for children, youth and Christian education continue to be marginalized on the congregational, diocesan and church-wide level. We see it in how budgets are put together and how they are cut when income goes down. We see it in how much we invest in our teachers and their training. We see it in how we welcome the child in our midst in all that we do – not just Sunday School. How do we invest in these human resources?
So much of our conversation at this gathering was how our churches are living in fear. Recent demographic studies have shown the membership of mainline denominations is aging and decreasing. Young adults are not attending church. Families are so busy that going to church is low on the priority list – sports, school, vacations, and simply downtime now fill the Sunday morning time slot.
In such a reality, how are we helping all our church members engage with the world with Jesus eyes? How are we engaged in bringing about God’s kingdom to those who are crying to be healed in a hurting world? How can we look outward when we are worried about survival?
Today’s Gospel urges us to be risk-takers with our investments. And one of the greatest investments we have is our children. They offer possibilities that are beyond our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what God calls us to be and do. Their sense of awe and wonder of the world around us cause us (if we are paying attention) to stop, listen and hear their words of prophecy.
Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
One of the scenarios about the Episcopal Church of the future that was developed at the gathering was one we titled, “Episcopal Christian Country Club.” This church was focused on itself, its immediate neighborhood and membership, church activities, its building and identity. It is trying to maintain itself as to what it was 50 years ago and so has become insular, aging, using its resources (financial and human) to maintain itself. It is a church living in a world of scarcity, fear and isolation. This scenario is one in which the church will die. And in my travels around the United States, it is a growing reality. Those that choose to retain their identity in what once was instead of what could be. Living in a world of scarcity without wanting to take new risks. It’s the third servant who buried what was given to him.
Another scenario that was a polar opposite is a church that is totally engaged with the world, embracing technology for the building of community. This is the church that is open to the extravagance in our lives, one that is focused on God’s mission of abundance. It involves all sorts of possibilities. It moves us from seeing life only in terms of the bottom line or our current perception of our resources as barely adequate to support our needs. It involves children, youth and young adults as co-contributors to the church’s mission.
We can see this in the feeding of the five thousand: the disciples complain that they only had five loaves and two fish, which, of course, can’t feed five thousand. But Jesus believed in a deeper reality, which included God’s lively energy, the generosity of the crowd, and divine-human abundance hidden in apparent scarcity.
The spiritual gifts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, trust, compassion and active care need to be invested and used in the service of others. And those who take the risk of investing those gifts do receive in abundance. More will be given to them. But for those who have not risked the investment of those gifts but have buried them in the ground, even the gifts they have will be lost.
One example is our children. How we invest in them in our churches will also determine our future as a church. If we invest ourselves in mentoring and accepting the children in our midst and helping them grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, they will continue to pass on their faith.
But it is not by sharing bible stories and coming to church. That is important, but investing in them by showing them what a life of following Jesus is really all about. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. The investment envisioned by Jesus is an investment in the priorities of the kingdom of God: giving to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison as in the parable that follows the one in today’s reading.
Noted preacher Fred Craddock writes about today’s parable: “Take account of the high risk activity of the first two servants. They doubled their money entrusted to them, hardly a possibility without running the risk of losing the original investment . . . the major themes of the Christian faith – caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, hoping – cannot be understood or lived without risk.”
As we are liberated from our own fears our presence will automatically liberate others. Don’t worry about the future. Take risks. Live in abundance and hope. We are children of the day, called to walk in the light, trusting in God and one another. As part of the body of Christ, we are an interdependent community in which our joys and sorrows, successes and failures are woven together. We can choose what the future will be by how we choose to engage with it.
We have everything we need to be faithful to God and live abundantly. Share it with joy – from generation to generation.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the tragic day that all of us over the age sixteen will remember for the rest of our lives. I have avoided (as much as possible) all the television coverage and visual reminders replaying those moments over and over again. The individual postings of friends and family on Facebook to “Never forget,” “These colors don’t run,” and “Do you remember where you were when . . .” have filled my screen – so I am avoiding Facebook today too (for the most part).
This morning we attended services at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton as we would any Sunday we are in town. It was a Sunday when many have come back to church following summer vacations as school has now started. Christian education programs will begin next Sunday, so all were worshipping together today.
Our rector, Mary Grace Williams gave a homily directed to the children, although we all know that adults glean just as much out of these moments as the kids do. I watched some of the younger ones watch her, and nod that they didn’t remember what had happened, let along had been born yet. She spoke of sadness and hope, not having an answer, yet having a place to go when things are beyond our understanding. Family, friends, and our church communities.
It is in such communities that we need to be fed and nurtured to put on the true “armor of God” as Paul states. Not putting on weapons for war or defense, but “weapons” of hope and love that will ultimately conquer all. Lighting candles, the words in one verse of a hymn we sang (by James Quinn) told me what we are to be about:
Where all is doubt, may we sow faith; where all is gloom, may we sow hope; where all is night, may we sow light; where all are tears, may we sow joy.
Those of you who did go to church today probably noticed how applicable our readings were. I’ve already blogged about that on Building Faith and The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education‘s blog page. Today our prayers and music also expressed our sense of remembrance, but gratefully more about looking to the future, hope, and the sense of God with us at all times, all places, and under all circumstances.
I have several plaques and icons in my office here at home of St. Francis. Together we said the prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
The Hymnal 1982 was easily left open to two hymns about Christian Responsibility – #593 (Lord, make us servants of your peace of which one of the stanzas is found above) and #594 (God of grace and God of glory). Both are messages to hold onto for today.
God of grace and God of glory, on they people pour thy power; crown thine ancient Church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.
Lo! the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise: grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.
Cure thy children’s warring madness, bend our pride to thy control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal, lest we miss they kingdom’s goal.
Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the gift of thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.