Notes from Our Pastor Oct. 2017 – Hospitality


We are both Christians and Americans. When we face problems which affect our nation and define us as Americans, how do we Christians know how to answer questions such as those concerning immigration and how to treat aliens within our borders? Whenever we are faced with such decisions to be made in our everyday lives, it is best if we do a thoughtful theological evaluation of the problem, which I hope to illustrate in this pastoral note to you.

Real theological reflection on any issue always includes consulting Scripture as the basis for our understanding. As Christians, we give priority to the teaching of the New Testament. But we should remember that Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the writers of the New Testament were versed in Hebrew Scriptures, which shaped their perspective and ethical framework. We therefore cannot discount what the Torah taught them. When they address the situation of sojourners or aliens among the people of Israel, for instance, the Torah commandments are clear. First of all, the Lord recognizes sojourners or aliens within the land of Israel and directs that, these “outsiders” are to be treated as fully human and given respect. This is clear in the commandment concerning the Sabbath, for the sojourner is also entitled to the freedom of the day of rest, just as the Israelite enjoys it.

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:10)

Not only are sojourners allowed the Sabbath rest, but provision is made even for them to participate in the holy festival of Passover, which marks God’s act of deliverance (see Numbers 9:14). God stresses this need for equitable treatment in the commandment, “You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:22; see also Numbers 15:15)

Recognizing our human propensity to take advantage or oppress those who are different, the Lord repeatedly commands that no such oppression is allowed. In fact, Israel is to take special care to provide for the needs of aliens, like other poor and oppressed groups. They are to be given the opportunity to support themselves and the means of living:

And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  (Leviticus 19:10)

God instructs Israel, God’s Cherished People, to show their love by justice, which cares especially for those who cannot fend for themselves:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17-19; see also Deut 14:29)

Pay particular attention to that last phrase, for the Lord reminds Israel that they themselves were once aliens and sojourners in Egypt, where they were oppressed – and God heard their cry; therefore, Israel shall not be like Egypt to its sojourners and aliens. In fact, the Lord reminds Israel that the whole world—including the land of Israel– is His, and therefore even those who have possession of the Promised Land do so as temporary sojourners with God’s blessing.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. (Leviticus 25:23)

The point is clear: God alone is sovereign, and all people and their lot in life come under God’s surveillance.

When we turn to the teachings of Jesus himself, two examples will serve to illustrate how Jesus equated aliens even with the most “righteous” of his own people and followers.  For example, the parable of “The Good Samaritan” shows how putting into practice the key commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is exemplified by the alien Samaritan, in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10:25-37).

But even more telling is the parable of the Last Judgment found in Matthew, chapter 25.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Mt 25: 31-2)

The Son will reward those who were compassionate and righteous in their dealings with the needy, specifically equating their needs to His own person:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  (Mt 25:35-6)

When those being rewarded are confused about what Christ refers to, He clarifies by stating, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25: 40)  In so doing, the parable equates the person of Christ with all those who were in need—including the “stranger.”  Response to their needs wins His approval, while neglect of those same persons and their needs brings under judgment those who lacked the compassion to respond. The parable is clear that it is the actual stranger or needy ones whom we must address if we are to show our love for Christ and serve God.

Finally, Paul uses the alien/stranger metaphor as the means to explain the reconciling work of Christ:

Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  (Ephesians 2: 12-14, 17-22)

In this statement, we are told that we were once aliens, outsiders, strangers—but that is no longer the case because our alien nature has been obliterated by the work of Christ.  Thus, in the true spirit of Christian community, we not only respect the alien and care for them, but we are told that all such distinctions and separate natures disappear.  As our own alien status has been removed through Christ, now all are equally part of the community.  Where, therefore, is there ground for any who are in Christ to condemn, persecute, or turn away from the stranger or alien, if Christ Himself has abolished such distinctions in our understanding?

Fr. Bill


Notes from our Pastor July 2017 – Gratitude from a child


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

I recently had a very different sort of experience when I made a home visit to some parishioners. We always have extensive conversations before I give them Communion. This last visit, their grandson Randy was home after school. Even though he’s only in elementary school, he likes to talk to adults and always engages me. But this time, he really took me by surprise when he suddenly said, “Father Bill, I just want to thank you.”

My natural response was to ask, “For what, Randy?”

“Why, for baptizing me at church.” While I had not forgotten that he had asked on his own to be baptized, and that he had made his own declaration of intention during the service and stood up proudly at the font to receive baptism, I was surprised to hear how deep an impression that had made upon him. So, when the visit with his grandparents was winding down, and I opened my Communion kit and began to lay out the elements, Randy asked whether he could receive as well. “Of course you can,” was my response. “After all, you are just as much a member of the Church is anyone else here.” And so with deep seriousness, young Randy received Communion along with his grandparents.

I mention this story for two reasons. First, even as a priest who believes that his special duties as a priest are to administer sacraments, I sometimes forget how very special and powerful those sacraments can be. Not only for those such as shut-ins or the sick whose access to the Eucharist is more limited than those who can attend church regularly, but also for all who seek God’s grace in this formal way as they deal with private, personal struggles in their daily lives. Whether it is an encounter using recognized sacraments such as Holy Communion or the anointing of the sick for healing, or the other Christian actions which convey God’s grace, such as various forms of touch or laying upon of hands, shared prayer, or being present to hear the needs of another in Christ’s name – all of these are extraordinary in their own ways. And while the call of an ordained priest is specifically to administer sacraments, our belief in the priesthood of all believers affirms how many ministers of the Gospel there are among us and in how many ways God’s presence and grace are made manifest by our service to others.

Remember this, my brothers and sisters who are also called to ministry in the Spirit: that no act which shows the love of God is ever trifling or insignificant in God’s sight.

The other point I wish to make concerning Randy and his expression of thankfulness to me concerns humility. This child, still in elementary school, was cognizant that something important had happened at his baptism – and he was outwardly thankful for it. I’m not sure exactly what Randy had in mind by saying that. Clearly, he understood that he was now part of the Church. He understood that he had a place in that congregation, making him as much a member as any adult present. Did he have a theology that told him he had been “buried with Christ in a death like his and raised with him in a resurrection like his?” I am more than 50 years older than Randy and have had the benefit of seminary training, and I cannot fully comprehend that statement of Paul’s, yet I believe it and am humbled by my comprehension of it. Randy is still a child, and yet even with his child’s understanding, he knows that he belongs to Christ and can receive Communion with his elders because they are all in communion with God.

His only “mistake” is thinking that he should thank me for his baptism. True, I consider it a blessing to be the one to officiate at this holy moment when, through water and the Spirit, Randy was brought into Christ’s one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. But is to Christ alone, who through his death and resurrection made possible our new life in him, that we should all be thankful. Only by the grace of God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” and the self-giving sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ that we have the baptism which Randy, and I, and all Christians have received. If thanks are to be given, give them only to the Lord of Life, without whose grace we would not know but life truly is.

Father Bill

Notes from our Pastor June 2017 – Community


Some questions for us to think about in the season of Pentecost:  What does it mean to be a member of the community? How do we hold ourselves accountable to each other within the community? How is the community as a whole, and each individual member of it, accountable to God?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus called a small group of disciples during his lifetime and that he promised them power if they put their trust in him. He told them that they had one commandment of his to fulfill, namely to love one another as he loved them (John 13:34-35). This fellowship was temporarily broken when Jesus was arrested and put to death, but by his resurrection and his repeated appearances to his disciples, Jesus re-called them into a group centered around him (Acts 1:1-3). Finally, as he left them to return to the Father, he promised them that the Spirit would soon come to change their lives—it would mold them into a community which became the Church

In Luke’s description of the day of Pentecost, it is important to notice that the Spirit came upon all those who were assembled (Acts 2:1-4). Peter may emerge as the spokesperson in the confrontations with the outside community, but whatever ecstatic experience was given, it was given to the whole assembly. Henceforth, what we will later call “the early Church” in Jerusalem would be a community bound by their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and empowered equally by the visitation the Spirit. As the book of Acts continues, we repeatedly find that new converts who hear and believe the proclamation that Jesus is Lord are also given the Holy Spirit (Acts 10: 44-47) – meaning that this community shares a like gift which creates their identity. From the very beginning, the Church proclaimed–as we do in our baptismal ceremony–that we believe there is

One Body and one Spirit;

There is one hope in God’s call to us;

One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

One God and Father of all.                 (BCP, 299)

The essence of the community, therefore, is characterized by its oneness in Christ.

Acts goes on to describe how the very earliest members gave up their earthly goods and possessions and shared their wealth among all members of the community (Acts 2: 44-45). This had the effect of eliminating barriers among the members of the community: rich vs. poor, haves vs. have-nots, entitled and privileged vs. needy and deprived—all were made equal within the community. It was as if the long-awaited Jubilee of the Lord had finally been realized in the egalitarian nature of the Church community (cf. Leviticus 25: 10-17). Although we have no idea how long such an idyllic situation existed among the members of the Church, the consequences for the community were amazing. No one considered that anything was their own, and therefore the implements of power which so often reserves privilege or prestige to one person or group at the expense of others was absent.

Lest this sounds too good to be true, the first phase of building the community which would become the Church began with equal empowerment for all members. Imagine if all the familiar pyramid-like structures of power and privilege were replaced by an ever-growing circle of people standing shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters, all serving one Lord and serving each other solely out of the love and regard for that person’s needs!  Idealized or not, that would serve as a worthy model of the Christian community.

Most communities have rights of initiation; the early Church also adopted baptism as its right of initiation. Baptism expressed repentance and the death to someone’s former life, and resurrection and rebirth into a new life in Christ. This new life was not solitary, but social, allowing the newly-baptized to join in the company of others who prayed for one another, who cared for one another, and who demonstrated by loving acts that they were truly all children of one God.

I write about these aspects of community because it serves to remind us of the standard to which we are called by our baptism and by our continuing life together.  As we consider ourself a community striving to be what we were called to be, we are not closing our hearts and minds to those outside the Church, whether our own local parish or the wider world we share with all of God’s children.  But it is important, especially as we celebrate the season of Pentecost, to take time to reflect upon ourselves and to ask honestly whether we are the community described above.

First, do we acknowledge that we have been “called” by the Spirit to be part of the Body of Christ and to belong wholeheartedly to our Lord by our membership within that sacred mystery called the Church?  Do our acts honor the Lord above all else, especially by demonstrating our love for one another and for our neighbor?  Do we turn away from anything which would give honor or prestige to some members, especially at the expense of others?  And by our prayers and with our hearts, do we seek what is best for any and all members of this community, leaving no “outcasts,” but always connecting and affirming others in their life in Christ?  Are we able to be a model of forgiveness and love, so that we be a sign of God’s reconciling love to and for the world?

Let us together in the power of the Spirit seek and serve Christ in all persons, and in all things rejoice to be part of the fellowship and community which lives to exalt the Lord and to proclaim by our words and acts the grace which God has shown to us through Jesus Christ.  So let it be!

Fr. Bill

Notes from our Pastor May 2017


Perhaps “reading the Bible” has not been your thing until now.  The whole idea may seem foreign because the Bible is an ancient book, and therefore not really relevant to our life in the 21st century.  Or perhaps it seems so overwhelming, trying to plow through such a large book—and all those unpronounceable names and events that belong in dusty history.  Or else it seemed like such a “holy” thing to do, you might have felt like it was foreign to your normal, everyday life. Whatever your reasons for not having read Scripture before, let me invite you to join our group of people from our parishes as we give it a try.

In his Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles in The New Interpreter’s Bible, New Testament scholar Robert W. Wall says,

The book of Acts is one of the most exciting and challenging books in the New Testament.  Here we find a highly evocative story of the church’s beginnings that traces its dramatic growth from sacred Jerusalem to imperial Rome.  Because of its continuing importance in shaping the identity of today’s church, Acts demands our most careful reading and thoughtful interpretation. (p. 3)

That very nicely sums up the reason why our continuing Bible study will explore The Acts of the Apostles as its first full-length Scripture.  Scholars consider the Gospel of Luke and Acts together as a two-volume work: the first goes from before Jesus’ conception to his Resurrection in Jerusalem; the second (Acts) picks up the story from Jesus’ Ascension, following the works of the first apostles until Paul is proclaiming the gospel in Rome itself.

An old joke goes:  How do you eat an elephant?  Answer:  One bite at a time!  That same approach might work for our Bible study—picking one very absorbing book, reading and enjoying each of its stories in turn, and through thoughtful discussion, coming to familiarity with it and making sense of it at the same time. Using some of the tools we learned about during our Lenten meetings, we will read through the book in the hope of deepening our understanding of the early Church through Luke’s account.

The Acts of the Apostles consists of many episodes: the Ascension of Jesus, the Day of Pentecost, the martyrdom of Stephen, Peter’s adventures and conflicts with Judean authorities, Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian, the conversion of Saul to become St. Paul and his various missions… It would make a great movie (and I think TV has done that!), but there is more.  At every turn, there are memorable speeches by these figures which go deeper into the meaning of what is happening than just the action or miracles themselves show.

We are going to take time with each episode to read and examine it.  We will read what is in the text or story—what is happening, as Luke tells it.  But as we read, we will also get “behind” the story to ask why Luke chose to include this particular event or speech, and what that tells us about the world of those early apostles and why they risked everything to bring their message to an often-hostile world.  And finally, we will seek to understand what each story in itself points to—that is, to realize and understand how Luke, through his history, is guiding us to see how God is working out God’s divine purpose through each successive encounter. What began with a tiny group of Jesus’ followers in the backwater of Jerusalem finally concludes (for Luke) with the Word reaching the Rome of the Caesars—the center of the world itself.

Please join us as we begin our journey together, every other Thursday night at 7:00 PM, starting May 4th!

Fr. Bill

Notes from our Pastor April 2017


The celebration of the most crucial events in Christian history takes place this month. I use the term takes place advisedly, because through our liturgies during Holy Week and Easter, we relive the various acts of the sacred mystery and make it present both within our congregations and within the hearts of all Christians.  Thus, even though Jesus’ actual entry of into Jerusalem, His suffering, death, and resurrection all date from nearly two millennia ago, by our participation in the services with open hearts and spiritual presence, like Christians throughout the ages and across the Church, we can become witnesses in our own time to what God has accomplished in the mission of the Son.

Episcopalians subscribe to the idea that what we believe is mirrored in how we worship–Lex orandi, lex credendi, (“as we pray, so we believe”) to use its traditional Latin designation. In this way, when we celebrate our weekly Eucharist, we not only “remember His death” but the Spirit present in the gathered members of His Body also make Christ present with every celebration of the sacrament, so we can also “proclaim His resurrection.”

In the same way, our Palm Sunday procession reenacts Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem – the triumph being seen with the eyes of faith, because the actual event may have gone entirely unnoticed by the throng of pilgrims entering Jerusalem to celebrate that Passover that year. Our gathering again on Maundy Thursday not only marks what Christians generally consider Christ’s institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion, but during that service we ourselves gather around the table with His presence and His spirit as we replay the action. Our presence of spirit makes that night different from others, and we ourselves become present to His institution of that lasting participation in His offering of His broken body and outpouring of His saving blood.

Of course, individual parishes vary in the extent to which they observe those last days. After the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, our parishes ritually strip the altar and remove from the sanctuary of all outward signs normally associated with making it a sacred space. In many congregations, various parishioners will take allotted times throughout the night and early morning to keep vigil with our Lord throughout His hours in Gethsemane and before the Sanhedrin. We do these things not as acts of piety per se; rather, they mark outwardly our suspension of the normal business of our life in order to observe sacred time because we long to be near our Lord in His time of trial. The drama of these final hours and days of Jesus’ life now involves us as well by our participation—that which is recorded in Scripture becomes our present reality.

The power of the Incarnation–the mystery of God entering into human form to be one with us–shapes our whole understanding of who Jesus was. The human Jesus, depicted in painting and in films as beaten, bruised, and physically tortured, becomes a living reality for us during Holy Week. Our observing and participation in these rites and rituals (such as the Stations of the Cross or the dramatic reading of the gospel narrative on Passion Sunday) balances the equation: as the Christ of God becomes a human equal to us, so by our prayerful observance of these rites, we attempt in our own spiritual way to become one with Him. Doing so is physically and emotionally exhausting, but at the same time spiritually enriching.

This need to connect with the sacred drama is why I always opt for the account in John 20:1–18 as the Gospel read to proclaim the Resurrection on Easter Sunday itself. Here is Mary Magdalene, coming grief-stricken to the tomb to try to assuage her grief by offering what burial rites she can.  We can relate to her human suffering: Mary loved her Lord and is trying to live with her loss. Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one can put themselves in Mary Magdalene’s place. We can be shocked and awed with her as she finds the tomb open and the body she had hoped to tend gone. The emptiness of the tomb resonates with her worst fears that someone has stolen the body of Jesus. In the enormity of her grief at what she fears has happened, she will not be comforted or, unlike Peter and John, content herself with a tomb which is empty for no comprehensible reason. And so she weeps, as I believe we would weep in her place. Even the vision of angels sent to comfort her does not stop her search for her lost Lord. Only when she encounters Jesus – not even recognizing him but “thinking him to be the gardener” – is she finally able to stop her search.  Only when Jesus speaks her name in that voice which she has known and loved does she realize that her search is over. At that encounter, we have the wondrous, divinely resurrected Lord who has overcome death reaching out to comfort this bewildered but faithful woman—what a sign of God’s love for us wretched humans!

Our 2000 years of tradition recognizes this as Easter Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. But for us, as for Mary Magdalen, the letting go of the present and its propensity to disbelieve creates the ability to re-experience the terror and the awe of Christ’s death and resurrection that will finally open our eyes of faith and give us a new peace. This is why the Church’s rituals are there: to provide the means of experiencing what we call the Paschal Mystery and being personal witnesses to Christ who lives now and forever.

I always embark upon this week like a tree that has shed its leaves in the fall and endured the Michigan winter, only to have the sap rise and to put forth new buds of faith in the new life of Easter tied. The journey through Holy Week, the painful recounting of Jesus’s scourging and crucifixion, the death that leaves everyone present numb, the silence of that Sabbath after His death, and the wild almost unbelievable accounts of His resurrection are worth every moment we spend on them. Every tear we shed and every irrepressible swell of joy within our hearts renews and strengthens some portion of our faith.

We often say to ourselves that we can do without all the “drama” which seems to surround us as we try to carry on our lives in peace. But the liturgies of this week, the drama which accompanies the incarnate, living, human-as-well-as-divine Christ is the well from which we draw to bring water to our parched souls and to quench our thirst for a meaningful piece in our spirit – the same piece which Mary Magdalene finally found when she proclaimed, “ I have seen the Lord.”

Fr. Bill

Notes From our Pastor March 2017 – “Giving Up” vs. “Taking Up”


It would be impossible to write anything for the month of March that did not focus upon the liturgical season of Lent. The cold wintry weather we are now experiencing lends itself to introspection and reflection. For Christians, this season of the year take shape within the context of our Lenten observances–those disciplines which we willingly undertake in order to prepare ourselves for the dramatic events of Holy Week and Easter. As I write this, on the brink of Ash Wednesday, the question that comes to my mind is: what sort of discipline shall I undertake this Lent to help me grow spiritually?

As the prayer book reminds us, the purpose of Lent throughout the centuries has been that spiritual preparation:

[I]t became the custom of the Church to prepare for [Holy Week and Easter] by a season of penitence and fasting… the observance of a holy Lent, by self‑examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self‑denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.         (BCP 264-5)

It is unfortunate that the words used above frequently create the impression that Lent is a dreadful time, marked by “giving up” things and enduring various sorts of deprivation. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a commonly-asked question around this time of year. While I recognize that different personalities may embrace different means to show their devotion to God, my response to this question of how to observe Lent has shifted. Now my focus is toward disciplines or deliberate undertakings which I hope will open the eyes of my spirit and help me to grow in my Christian life.

One indication of the presence of sin is a sense of alienation or estrangement from God’s presence.  When I feel within myself an emptiness and lack of purpose rather than the connectedness to God and the love for others, then I can be sure that I am somehow off the path which God has set forth for me.  A large part of my purpose in observing Lent would then be to seek a means to overcome that feeling of spiritual alienation. The traditional term for active turning away from one’s isolated state and returning to God is penitence.

I recently found this insight echoed in the book which have chosen as a resource during our Lenten series on how to read Scripture. Marcus Borg, in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, speaks of our human condition in terms of exile, such as the Jews experienced after the destruction of the first Temple and their captivity in Babylon:

“Exile,” with all of its metaphorical resonances, is a rich metaphor for the human condition and how we often experience our lives. We feel much of what ancient Israel felt in exile: grief, anguish, longing, weakness, homelessness.

The solution for exiles is, of course, a journey of return, a way or path through the wilderness.… Both Judaism and Christianity are about a “way.” Indeed, the word repent, so central to the Christian tradition, has its roots in the Jewish story of the exile. To repent does not mean to feel really bad about sins; rather, it means to embark upon a path of return. The journey begins in exile, and the destination is a return to life in the presence of God.   (pp. 140-141)

In other words, whatever practices I undertake to follow in the coming weeks should be active, not passive.  My Lenten observance should (so to speak) get me on my feet and walking on a path directed towards God. Whatever I may deny myself should be chosen because it is an impediment to that journey, not as some sort of punishment for my sins. Ultimately, we believe that our sins are what draws from God, and it is the grace of God that calls us back into a state of unity. Therefore, the practice keeping a holy Lent is the intention and willingness to do those things which our heart directed us to do in order to return to a place where we once again feel love of God.

Perhaps the deepest call of Lent is not “to give up” so much as “to take up” our own cross and bear it with joyful expectation as we seek to become more faithful and to be one with Christ.

Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor February 2017 – How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?


In the section of The Book of Common Prayer called “An Outline of the Faith
commonly called the Catechism,” the Bible or the Holy Scriptures are addressed briefly thus:

  1. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
  2. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.
  1. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?
  2. We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.

In these two sentences, there is great subtlety and the provision of great freedom.  First, the writings (note the plural) which constitute the Bible are recognized as being the work of human authors.  We know that Moses lived centuries before David, the author of at least some of the Psalms.  Isaiah lived under different conditions in a still later time, and his writings reflect then-current conditions and threats.  Different times and different writers, yet they affirmed—and the Church has also echoed this affirmation—that they spoke with the inspiration of God’s spirit and in God’s Name.  That was their source of authority, which has been honored throughout the centuries by the faithful.

More than half a millennium later, Paul composed letters to the churches he had helped establish, both encouraging them to stand firm in their faith and warning to avoid errors of teaching and practice.  Paul wrote in response to problems of his time and place, but with an eye to edifying his readers (for he knew that his letters would be circulated widely) to accept what had always been taught as the truth about the Good News (or gospel) of the crucified and risen Christ.  He wrote in Greek to assemblies who had read their torah and prophets and other writings such as the Psalms in Greek translation, which sometimes introduced different meanings and nuances into what the original authors had produced. It is not until a generation or so later that the four Gospels were composed to recount the life, death, and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.  But as John says near the end of his gospel,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not
written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have
life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

In other words, he admits that he has selectively presented his material from his sources with the purpose of making converts or strengthening the faith of those who are already Christians.

The Catechism’s second point cited above allows for a variety of ways for us to read, understand, interpret, and meditate upon the Scriptures.  Both what we call Old and New Testaments are the work of the company and communities faith which produced them and reverenced them because they record and reflect the revelation of God.  We believe that the Spirit was active in their creation—call it inspiration if you will—and that the people of God, both in biblical and post-biblical times were guided by that same Spirit to choose which writings were authentic representations of that revelation.  In the end, we understand that the Bible is the work of that community (for us, the Church), even as its use continues to provide the means for that body to experience and worship the Lord.

Interpretation of Scripture, then, is the ongoing work of the Church.  We are people of a different time, with a different culture and different modes of understanding than the sacred authors who first composed these writings.  We read them in translation from the ancient languages—indeed, even when we can agree upon the Greek rendering of one of the recorded sayings of Jesus, we know that he originally uttered his teaching in the dialect of Aramaic he shared with his Galilean disciples!  Any serious attempt to understand Scripture therefore needs attention to the text and its underlying language, as well as the historical and cultural differences between its composition and our own situation.

Finally, our denomination encourages us to study the Scriptures as the Word of God for us by opening ourselves to the life of the Spirit itself, both as resident in the Body of Christ (the local congregation and the Church across time and space) and as the Spirit lives within us to challenge us to respond.  For the Scriptures sometimes offer hope and consolation, but even more often challenge us to break out of the bonds of our personal, limited perspective into the larger, divine vision which frees us to the experience of God.  Whether prophetic calls of Amos or parables of Jesus, the Word of God always humbles our ego and invites us to learn to walk with our God.

All this is to offer a call to join with others in our Lenten study of the means to approach the Bible.  I don’t call it a “Bible study,” because I believe our first task is to relearn how to read and engage the Scriptures before we tackle particular books or themes.  If you are interested, please attend our meetings on consecutive Thursday nights during Lent at 7:00 PM at Christ the King, Taylor.  Our first meeting is March 2nd.  I will prepare handouts for anyone attending, but I would encourage you to read Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally.  It is available on Kindle, or you can purchase online elsewhere.  I can also arrange a group purchase if I know you need a copy.

Feel free to contact me billhale00(at)