Hearing the Word

Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Luke 4:14-21

Just before the season of “COVID-tide,” my congregation engaged in a little experiment. For Lent, we gave up bulletins. Mine is a liturgical tradition, and though every pew has ample copies of the Book of Common Prayer, our practice has been to print the full liturgy along with the day’s scripture readings. Other than a hymnal, the bulletin is all anyone needs to participate in the service. The argument is that this is a more user friendly approach. Whether that is true or not, it all adds up to a lot of paper dumped in the recycling bin each week. What would happen if we gave all that up for a while?

The experiment didn’t last long, soon we were worshiping through screens, but for the few Sundays we were without bulletins the experience of worship was changed in an unanticipated way: for the first time in years we were hearing scripture together. Of course, in the days of bulletins, scripture was read aloud. Lay readers would take to the lectern and read a passage from the Old Testament and an “Epistle” reading from the New. Then one of the clergy would process the Gospel book forward and read the day’s selection. But if one looked out at the congregation one would be met with eyes turned down, reading the printed page, rather than hearing the word of God together.

The difference between the experiences is subtle but significant, and I think it offers a way into our readings for today. Our scriptures from Nehemiah and Luke are both about the experience of hearing scripture as a collective action, an action by which God’s spirit moved and the Word become flesh among us. By words being spoken and ears hearing, the Law of God and the prophetic hope were Incarnated through the breath, embodied in human presence, and made manifest in community. It is possible that these realities could happen if everyone had been reading along, but I do wonder if the Spirit could have shown up so readily. There is something different about everyone listening to one voice together than reading individually, side by side.

Read more

Damage and Healing

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

My parish, over the past few weeks, has been engaged in a study of Wendell Berry. This past Sunday we read Berry’s essays, “Health is Membership” and “Damage.” This week we’ll be discussing the essay, “Healing,” and the short story, “Fidelity.” With those works on my mind I could not help but hear our scriptures for this Sunday with an echo of Berry’s voice. From our lesson from Genesis 2 to Psalm 8, the opening of Hebrews and Jesus’ engagement with the Pharisees, we find the themes of the membership, damage, healing, and fidelity.

Read more

Imagining Reality

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

For many years now, with varied consistency, I’ve begun my day with the Morning Prayer office of the Book of Common Prayer. At the end of that prayer service there are a few options of closing benedictions, but more often than not I skip to the final one:

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

It is not always conscious, but praying these verses from Ephesians changes how I go about my day as I dwell with the knowledge that God is doing more than I can “ask or imagine”. Knowing that God is always doing infinitely more, I’m invited to ask and imagine more boldly and live in the humble realization that I don’t really understand the whole of reality.

Jesus invites his disciples into this same kind of work in our Gospel reading from John. Discipleship is about learning to live into a constant conversation with God (asking) and learning to see, even if through a glass darkly, the reality of God’s reign. Since much of this reality is imperceptible through the usual means of our senses, it is only through imagination that we can properly get even a glimpse of what is really happening.

Read more

Shepherding Gone Wrong and Right

Post by Tommy Parker

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

As I read through the readings for this coming Sunday, two words caught my attention: sheep and shepherd. And no wonder—some version of these words is repeated 13 times in the readings by my count. 

Perhaps my attention to these words in particular is rooted elsewhere though. In my house, sheep are a common topic of discussion. One of my housemates is a talented spinner, knitter, and general expert on all things wool. She knows all about sheep—the differences between a Rambouillet versus a Merino versus a Shetland (and the list goes on). She can tell you all about their life cycles, their diets, how to know if they are healthy. Sometimes she will even wax on about a particular animal now twenty years gone who had the most lovely fleeces and was a joy to be around. She is probably the closest I will ever come to knowing a real-life shepherd. 

Read more

Loving with Feet and Fungi

6th Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

There was a story in the microbiology journal mSystems a few years back that revealed a surprising way to identify the people we love.  No questionnaires, pictures, or words are necessary.  To tell who you love all the scientists need is a swab of our toes.  Once cultured, those wavy lines in a petri dish reveal a unique community of microbes that make their home on the skin and nails of your feet. These are not the problematic fungi that lead to the embarrassed placement of a tube of Lamasil on the drug store checkout counter. These small creatures are as innocent a part of your body as any of your native cells and some of them even contribute to the healthy functioning of our feet.  And it turns out that those with whom we share life tend to share the same microbial community–you pick up some of theirs and they yours and eventually you have the same microscopic zoo on the soles of your feet.

I was struck by this story as I reflected on our Gospel for this Sunday.  It comes in the Gospel of John, shortly after Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and it continues the new commandment to love that we celebrated on Maundy Thursday. Read more