Jealousy, Fear of Compassion

Year A, Proper 7

Genesis 21:8-21 and Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17                            

Jeremiah 20:7-13 and Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 

Romans 6:1b-11 

Matthew 10:24-39

“Jealousy is the fear of compassion.”  (Max Frisch, 20th century Swiss playwright and novelist)

Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of the child of promise, Isaac, saw Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, playing with his younger half-brother. She decided that this son of her handmaiden, Hagar, would not inherit with her son. Even though it had been her idea to give Abraham a son by Hagar so God’s promise could be fulfilled. She was hedging her bets against God. Now that God had given Isaac, Sarah takes back her gift of the other son. Hagar and Ishmael are sent away to die in the wilderness. 

Sarah is afraid of compassion. In the midst of abundant evidence of God’s grace and abundance Sarah lives in a worldview of scarcity. In this mindset one cannot afford the luxury of being compassionate and sharing. There might not be enough power, wealth, inheritance to go around. Despite Sarah’s fear, God’s grace and provision abound in the story as Ishmael’s cries are heard by God and the angel opens Hagar’s eyes to God’s abundance in the desert. Continue reading

“You Shall Be Witnesses!”

Year A, 7th Sunday in Eastertide, Pentecost and Trinity

7th Sunday in Easter

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35                        

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20 

As you read this blog post I am leading a Celtic Christianity pilgrimage in Scotland with my husband, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning. We are immersed in ancient Pictish Christian stones depicting God’s stories of salvation wrapped in the imagery of the historic, pre-medieval people of northeastern Scotland, the Picts. We are traveling the paths of the charismatic Irish saint, Columba who brought Christianity from the monastery he founded on the Isle of Iona in the 6th century into northern Scotland, of the gentle St. Aidan who also left Iona in the 7th century to bring Christianity to the early Britons of Northumbria on the holy island of Lindisfarne and of his successor, the mystic St. Cuthbert. They were all following in the first steps of those first disciples that Jesus speaks to in Acts 1: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Continue reading

Responding to the Risen Christ!

Year A, 5th and 6th Sundays in Easter

5th Sunday

Acts 7:55-60 

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 

1 Peter 2:2-10 

John 14:1-14

6th Sunday

Acts 17:22-31 

Psalm 66:8-20 

1 Peter 3:13-22 

John 14:15-21

If one of the first experiences of Easter and Eastertide is recognizing the Risen Christ in familiar and surprising places then one of the next experiences is realizing that recognition is a call to response. Having experienced the Risen Christ, how will we respond to Christ’s presence? What will be our response to the invitation to go meet him in Galilee, back in all the old familiar places where we first encountered him? Back in our lives as well as in the awe-inspiring moment of the empty tomb? “Response” is the theme we explore for the 5th and 6th Sundays of Easter this year.  Continue reading

Recognizing Christ

Year A, 3rd and 4th Sunday in Easter

3rd Sunday

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 

1 Peter 1:17-23 

Luke 24:13-35

4th Sunday

Acts 2:42-47 

Psalm 23 

1 Peter 2:19-25 

John 10:1-10

Blessed Easter Season to you all! I hope you were able to rest some after Holy Week or you have some time planned to be away. I will be traveling off and on until the middle of June so the blogs will be a bit compressed until then. Will be back to a weekly schedule after Trinity Sunday.  

In the resurrection account in Matthew 28 the angel tells the women, “I know you are looking for Jesus….”. This was a particularly poignant phrase for me this year as I experience the drastic changes in leadership and policy here in the US. I have spent my life looking for Jesus….finding him…thinking I have lost him….looking again. It is very important to me during these times to keep looking in all the usual and some unusual places. We need Jesus! We need the Risen Christ! My re-discovery in the Matthew 28 story this year was the instruction by the angel and then by Jesus himself to go back into the places the women lived with Jesus, back to Galilee, to find him. “He will meet you there.” I knew this with the top of my head but it hit home at a deeper heart level as I absorbed Matthew’s text for preaching. The Risen Jesus goes ahead of us back into the very places that we live. Continue reading

God’s Resurrection Kingdom

Year A, Easter

Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6   

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 

Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43 

John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

As we would expect, resurrection proclamations ring throughout our texts this week.

  • “Jesus is Lord!” – Peter at the home of Cornelius
  • “I have loved you with an everlasting love;” [says God], “therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, … Again you shall plant vineyards.” – Jeremiah, the prophet
  • “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – a psalmist giving thanks for deliverance
  • “… your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – the writer of the letter to the church in Colossae
  • ”‘I have seen the Lord!’” – Mary Magdalene
  • “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. … go quickly and tell his disciples…” – the angel at the empty tomb

How are these proclamations landing on your ears this year? Do they bring comfort and hope? Does the situation of your congregation, community, or country clamor and threaten to drown out these cries celebrating new life? The situation of your family, of your own soul? Are you struggling to hear them anew? Or are they sharpened, the ringing louder and clearer, because of your situation and relationships in the world? I confess that these are the questions I ask myself as I read our texts and prepare to preach on Easter.   Continue reading

Palms and Passion

Year A, Palm/Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday

Liturgy of the Palms/Liturgy of the Passion      

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Matthew 21:1-11

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14                                        

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

As I write this blog I am preparing for five days of retreat and rest in the desert of New Mexico. The winter has been full of change at our church. Change from growth in the church and from the people’s response to our changing political times. Fortunately our change is being channeled into progress though not without the seemingly requisite anxiety that change produces. All in all it is good and we are headed into some exciting new ministries. It will be good to have a week to clear my head, just be and listen for God’s presence in the wind and sun, and possibly some rain and new bloom, in the wilderness. My prayer is that you all have some hours, if not a day or more, of rest and retreat as you head into the hear of our Christian faith story in Holy Week. 

Below are some of my favorite sources of story for the Liturgy of the Palms, Palm Sunday, and for stories of Maundy Thursday.

  • There are three children’s picture book for Palm/Passion Sunday listed at Storypath.com. The first one suggested is Way Up and Over Everything by Alice McGill. It resonates with the imagery of Isaiah 50. The second book, Maybe God is Like That Too by Jennifer Grant helps us understand the words of Paul in Philippians 2. The final story comes from SparkHouse Stories, The Story of Easter tells the events of Holy Week in straightforward language for the ears of children and adults alike.
  • I believe I recommend this story every year for use with the Liturgy of the Palms Sunday, Herald of Peace, told by Robert Bela Wilhelm. It is a favorite of mine. The story is of a young prince sent off to war by his father, the king. The journey to the land where he is to lead his father’s troops changes him and instead of a great warrior he becomes a herald of peace. For me, the story is reminiscent of the two parades entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – the Roman procession of Pontius Pilate coming for Passover and to keep the peace by power over people and the ragtag procession of Jesus and his followers praising God who brings peace through the empowerment of people through love.
  • The Floppy-Eared Goat is another story told by Bob Wilhelm. It is about people searching for the promised land. And the obstacles that can prevent us all from experiencing that land. This is not a story I would use predominantly for children. It ends with some sadness and irony. It is a story of confession and repentance that adults need to hear. This story could be used for a creative Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae service. It has echoes of the episode in the garden when Peter cuts off the ear of the soldiers as well as of the theme of an innocent who gives his life for the life of all.
  • One of my favorite Bible story books is Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible (Deluxe Edition). Like “Herald of Peace” I have recommended this before. Archbishop Tutu’s retelling of 50 of his favorite Bible stories is beautiful reading. The illustrations in this edition come from artists of many nationalities. The central metaphor that runs through the book is God’s dream for the world – a dream of peace and justice, compassion and love.

Blessings on your Lenten story journey as we head into that holiest of weeks,

Jane Anne

©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!

Life and Death

Year A, Lent 5

Ezekiel 37:1-14    

Psalm 130  

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

As I write this blog within the current political climate and landscape of my country, the USA, I find the imagery of Ezekiel 37 almost brings me to tears. I have always found it moving and inspiring. We need the resurrection power of God’s Spirit in the best of times. Now in the not-so-best of times there is a great poignancy in the image of dry bones brought to life by prophecy and the breath of God’s Spirit. I can think of innumerable issues – from healthcare for all to combating global warming to the preservation of the arts to feeding the hungry of the world – that are being threatened with desiccation and death in the US. Oh, that we might prophesy and say to these “dry bones”, hear the word of the LORD … I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. … I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves” (Ezekiel 37:4b-5, 12). Continue reading

Miraculous Mud

Year A, Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13  

Psalm 23 

Ephesians 5:8-14 

John 9:1-41

“Here is an astonishing thing!” cries the man born blind who now can see (John 9:30a). My heart leaps when I read this. My ears are quickened. This man who has been badgered beyond patience by the authorities proclaims his experience and his faith with his own authentic authority. “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9: 30b-33). What if the man’s cry became the rallying cry of all Christendom against injustice and lies? “Here is an astonishing thing!” Continue reading

Water Reflections

Year A, Lent 3

Exodus 17:1-7 

Psalm 95 

Romans 5:1-11  

John 4:5-42

The image of flowing water in a dry land runs through three of our texts this week. In Exodus the people threaten mutiny as they beg for water in the desert. Moses prays to God for help. Water gushes from a rock to quench their thirst. But the place of the fountain is called “bitterness” for the water is received only after much quarreling and doubt. Psalm 95 celebrates in retrospect the miraculous, saving fountain of water from the rock. The psalmist encourages the people to remember God’s graciousness and to trust God instead of hardening their hearts like the quarrelsome people in the wilderness. John 4 extends the metaphor of water as a symbol of God’s life and love in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. Her quick perception and response to Jesus’ revelation of new life initiates a flow of people that come to Jesus through her invitation. It is like water gushing from a rock – the rock of hard-hearted enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews. Continue reading

Mountain Journeys

Year A, Lent 2

Genesis 12:1-4a                                      

Psalm 121 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 

John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

When I teach the creation of story and use of storytelling in preaching and worship I start with simply reading the texts. Silently first and then out loud. (Though the order could be reversed.) A very elemental practice and not unknown in the teaching of preaching and exegesis. It is always interesting to discover if different words stand out in the silent and audible readings. It is a practice akin to the contemplative practice of Lectio Divina.

The words that stand out for me in the texts this week are “go,” “kindred,“ bless,” “keep,” “faith,” “by night,” “wind,” “saved,” “led them,” “overshadowed,” “tell.” These words set me on a path through the texts. Though there is always the work of word study and exegesis to do the words and the images teach my soul first as I reflect and question with them. Though I may choose to preach on the Nicodemus story in John the words from Genesis, “go” and “kindred” make me wonder what finally propelled Nicodemus to go to Jesus, to leave the comfort of his well worn family of beliefs as a Pharisee to venture into unknown territory. I consider what it means for God to “keep” us as I picture Nicodemus going “by night” to Jesus. Even in his daring God kept him, “the moon did not smite, condemn, him, as he went “by night.” Putting myself in Nicodemus’ shoes it is good to know that God keeps me even as my faith is challenged in new ways. Continue reading