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We don't need "Outreach" so much as we need Outreach

I see from a recent article from the Episcopal News Service that Wisconsin, which currently has three dioceses, is looking to combine them into one diocese. That's a response to ever-dwindling numbers of parishioners. While that probably will deal with one set of problems (why have three separate offices and three separate sets of buildings?), it misses an essential point. I'm a very recent transplant to the Episcopal Church—relatively speaking, because I've only been here for a dozen years or so. As an ordinary parishioner, then later as a church treasurer, I had a terrible time figuring out what "outreach" money was for. As a matter of fact, when I was briefly considering the diaconate, I learned that deacons are very involved with outreach, but I could never figure that out either. During my time in campus ministry (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) and later in a couple of different Protestant churches, the concept of "outreach" (i
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This blog has been silent for nearly a year, largely because we have the illusion that the Covid crisis is past, etc., etc. I got busy with preparing classes for Ashland University, and with ordinary life. So I stopped writing. It's time to begin again, and I notice that a few people log in every so often. This is for you. We got back to indoor Sunday morning worship a few weeks back, though I do wonder how long that will last. The virus is raging among the unvaccinated in our county—the hospitals are full and the medical staff are exhausted. If you have a heart attack or a broken leg, it will be almost impossible to find you a hospital room because the Covid victims are so numerous. And our county has an extremely low ratio of vaccination, so I'm expecting a local lock-down again. We have been working against the virus at St. Mark's by having some of our worship outdoors, and always masked and always ventilated. We're small enough that it

Emptying Ourselves

"He shall be named Emmanuel, which means, 'God with us.'" God with us! The incarnation of Christ, becoming a little baby, is what Christmas is all about. And it is also about making room in our hearts for this babe born in Bethlehem. Although we are taking a break from studying the parables of Jesus and his kingdom, it seems that this season of Advent can expand our thinking about being kingdom people. Christmas means that Christ has moved into our neighborhood, and more, he has given us a new address: the kingdom of God. It wasn't that long ago that we sat in the park and began our study. The first lesson I taught was on the tax collector and the Pharisee. We saw that the tax collector had the audacity to be real before God. We looked at the mustard seed dropping down into the dark earth and then becoming more than it should be and yeast that when it is mixed into the whole becomes an explosion of something new. Finally we came to the woman in Thoma

Working our way through Advent

The Advent season, of course, is our preparation for the arrival of Jesus. We can take "arrival" in many ways, and traditionally the church has assigned four different "arrival" themes to the four Sundays of Advent. First Sunday: Jesus's Second Coming (November 29, 2020) Gospel lession: Mark 13: 24-37 Key verses: Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13: 26-27) Second Sunday: John the Baptizer's Announcement (December 6, 2020) Gospel lesson: Mark 1: 1-8 Key verses: He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1: 7-8) Third Sunday: Beginning of Jesus's Preaching (December 13, 2020) Gospel l

Lesson 4 -The Empty Jar

Logion 97 of the gospel of Thomas Yeshua says, "The Father's realm is like a woman carrying a jar full of meal. While she is walking on a path some distance from her home, the handle of her jug breaks, and the meal spills out behind her on the road. She is unaware of the problem, for she has noticed nothing. When she opens the door of her house and puts the jar down, suddenly she discovers it empty." I was first introduced to the gospel of Thomas by Cynthia Beaugeault, an Episcopal priest. At first I was skeptical. Why do we need another gospel. But I have learned to love Thomas' gospel. The gospel of Thomas is an important source for the sayings and parables of Jesus. It contains 114 sayings and parables but lacks a narrative framework. The gospel was found in its complete form at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Thomas is one of the earliest gospels and is believed to have been a source used by Matthew and Luke in creating their gospels. The firs

Jesus's Yeast Parable

A look at the parable of the woman and the yeast. Matthew 13:33: He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." Again, I go back to that question, "What makes you think the world is as you see it?" The parable of the yeast, or better said, the leaven, is just such a parable that I hope will shake up our thinking a bit so that we can see the world a bit differently. Do you remember last week when Curt taught Jesus' parable of the talents. The rich owner left his servants with five, two and one talent. I did a little pout and said, "I don't like this parable." It hit a little too close to home for me. I saw myself as the one who was given one talent and was too fearful to take a risk with it. As I studied this parable of the leaven, I again, got a little peek at the world Jesus is hoping to nudge me into. I was a

Two parables about prayer

Observations by a teacher: If I really believe in a concept and want my students to get it, I'll repeat it a lot, sometimes in different words. I do not lean on concepts that my students already understand. I tend to teach to the gaps in their understanding. Luke was more than a simple stenographer: He grouped things together for a purpose, so we need to deal with parables in their context. They are not just little one-shot stories. Jews were people who really did pray a lot—or at least they were used to being around praying people. The concept of prayer was certainly not new to them. First parable: The persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) Luke lets the cat out of the bag with this one. There's no real question why the parable was told, so we should ask what shortcoming the parable is addressing. The widow had a legitimate claim. The judge never questioned whether her lawsuit was valid. Especially in the culture of the time, the widow had no power or status. She