We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Mark’s “Little Apocalypse”

Jesus’ speech in Mark 13, known as Mark’s “Little Apocalypse,” highlights the destruction of the Temple, social chaos, “wars and rumors of war” (v.7) as the “beginning of the birth pangs” (v.8) — the signs of the apocalypse. Mark was written during a time of Christian persecution by the Roman Empire, but these words still echo today. Our world is erupting in devastating wars while we witness the horrifying killing of innocents. This Advent, the political and social chaos of Jesus’ day resonates a little too well.

When we are overwhelmed by the suffering of our world, what can we learn from apocalyptic texts that turn us to the future? How can these texts illuminate the ways we can and should move through our current context? How can these texts prepare and inspire us for a new beginning come Christmas?

Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” is meant to encourage the faithful to endure, because, as the old spiritual says, “soon and very soon, we are going to see the King” (Glory to God, 384). Mark anticipates Jesus will return within his lifetime, encouraging us to “keep awake” (v.37), recognize the ways God is already here, and keep hopeful eyes on the horizon for the redemption God promises to bring.

The climax of Jesus’ apocalyptic speech in verses 26-27 describes God’s final gathering of his people. Jesus reassures those suffering that God is ultimately in control; their hardships will not last forever. The vision of God’s people gathered “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (v.27) is a source of strength. There is no greater suffering than that endured alone. ..

Arts and Faith- Advent 1, Year B relating art and scripture

From Art and Faith

The First Week of Advent, Year B, is based on Mark 13:33–37. The art is William Holman Hunt’s “The Light of the World.”

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

At the start of Advent, the Gospel calls us to vigilance—to watch and be ready for the Lord of the house, awaiting his return. William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World offers us one image of what this arrival might look like. The Light of the World is deeply symbolic, showing Christ arriving at a door at night. It’s an allegory for Christ seeking entry at the door of the human heart. His way to the door is lit by a lantern, casting a soft light on the door to show that it is overgrown with plants; it has not been opened in a while. The plants also show that it is not only a late hour, but late in the year—they are dry, past harvest, and ready to crumble away as winter comes.

Read more

Lectionary, Christ the King, Year A

I.Theme –   Images of Christ the King– Shepherd (one who guides, takes care of restores, rules), Arbiter of justice

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm – Psalm 95:1-7a Page 724, BCP
Epistle – Ephesians 1:15-23
Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46

We have 4 key images this week in “Christ the King Sunday” – God as Shephard (Ezekiel, Matthew), God as rescuer and restorer (Ezekiel), God as King (Psalm), God as judge (Ezekiel, Matthew)

Ezekiel describes God as a shepherd whose love embraces most particularly the lean and oppressed among the flock. God will gather them up, restore them to health, and liberate them from all persecution.

Ezekiel 34 reminds us that while all people are the sheep and God is the shepherd, while God is seeking all of the lost, the least, and the scattered, God will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep; in other words, the judgment is on us, now.

Ezekiel’s words are particularly threatening to those who practice economic and relational oppression. They feast on green pastures now, but will eventually receive divine judgment.

But in this passage of judgment, the sheep are not cast out, but rather, made “right.” In other words, judgment in this passage is not about punishment but about putting right what has been wrong. It is about lifting up the poor, not punishing the rich. It is about all having enough to eat. This is the judgment Ezekiel shares, after all the people of Israel have been through, after their leaders failed and the poor were forgotten, all suffered, and with God’s Good Shepherd, all will be restored. This is the reign of the Good Shepherd.

Matthew also uses a shepherd image but rather than restoration, there is separation, in this case the sheep from the goats. On judgment day the righteous, the blessed ones, will be separated from the unrighteous, the cursed ones, the goats. The righteous are blessed because they are compassionate, a compassion that is theirs in Christ. The righteous receive their reward because of their faith and not of their works (living).

However, we should be careful how we live that faith. We are called to a living faith, a way of life that embodies our relationship with God in all that we do. It’s about discipleship. We do not do good works to get into heaven, nor do we simply pray a prayer of salvation to get into heaven. Rather, it is about a transformation that takes place, and that transformation is manifested in us when we see Christ in the needs of others–in the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. , Jesus declares that there is a judgment, and the judgment is based on how we live out our faith. We separate ourselves based on our actions

Do we live our lives as participants in the reign of God now or are we fattening up for a future time? Are we doing our part to also seek the lost, the least, and the scattered, or are we concerned with our own well-being only?

Psalm 95:1-7a is a psalm of thanksgiving, remembering that God is the Good Shepherd. As congregations in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday, we give thanks to God for all of creation. We give thanks for all God has done and continues to do in our world. Psalm 100 echoes almost word for word this song of thanksgiving and understanding of God as shepherd, and the people being the sheep of God’s pasture.

In Ephesians 1:15-23 Christ is the ultimate ruler, the fulfillment of all things. Christ is above any authority ever conceived and is the ultimate authority, and all things fall under Christ, and yet the church, the body of Christ, is the fulfillment of Christ on earth.

We are part of the body of Christ, we are the Church. We are part of God’s Pasture, for we are God’s sheep. And so are all people on the earth, part of God’s Pasture. We are called by Christ the King, the Sovereign, the Good Shepherd, to be part of one body. We are called to seek restoration and healing to look after the “least of these”. We are called to seek justice that is restorative, not retributive, as God’s justice is not in part, but in whole. God is redeeming and restoring the world.

Read more

Christ the King Sunday, Year A

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time -We celebrate Christ the King Sunday as the last Sunday of Ordinary Time just before we begin Advent. It is the switch in the Liturgy between Years A, B, and C. Year A focuses on Matthew, Year B on Mark and Year C on Luke. The Gospel of John is included in each year in the Easter time frame.

The readings for the last Sunday after Pentecost are full of references to the return of Christ, when evil will be defeated and Jesus will begin his final reign as King of kings. In Advent, the Church year begins with a focus on the final restoration of all creation to its original glory. In preparation, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we proclaim the advent of the Lord of lords and King of kings.

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word "messiah," and the Greek word "Christ," both mean "anointed one," and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent (when Christians wait for his second coming in glory), Christmas (when "born this day is the King of the Jews"), Holy Week (when Christ is the Crucified King), Easter (when Jesus is resurrected in power and glory), and the Ascension (when Jesus returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world was created).

Read more

In the Footsteps of Paul: Ephesus

The western quarter of Turkey was called Asia Minor during the Roman period, and Ephesus was its largest city and the center for criminal and civil trials. The city’s theater sat facing the sea at the head of the main road from the harbor into the city. Ephesus had a troubled history with Rome. In the first century BCE, Roman tax collectors and businessmen had run roughshod over the province, outraging the locals with their exploitation and extortion. The Ephesians welcomed the challenge to Roman hegemony posed by an invading eastern king, and with his capture of the city in 88 BCE, its citizens joined in the massacre of the city’s Italian residents. Rome responded with a characteristically firm hand, exacting huge penalties and taxes to keep the city without resources. The economy did not recover until the reign of Augustus.

And, as in Jerusalem, Corinth and Athens, Ephesus attracted a large number of tourists, though smaller than modern standards. Pilgrims came to Ephesus to see the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This temple had been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. The temple Paul would have seen was erected in the fourth century BCE; a forest of marble, it had 127 columns measuring 1.2 meters in diameter, standing 18 meters high. It was a refuge for runaway slaves, and was outside the city proper. The form of Artemis worshipped here was unlike anywhere else, perhaps because she had been assimilated with a local Anatolian earth goddess. Unlike the virgin huntress and twin sister of Apollo most familiar in the stories of the Greeks, Artemis at Ephesus was a fertility goddess, and her physical manifestation was a statue of the goddess festooned with oval protuberances — probably representing testicles of sacrificial bulls — and she wore a stole of bees. Acts repeats a story of how Paul’s success threatened the livelihood of those citizens who relied on proceeds from visitors to the Temple of Artemis.

Read more

November Sundays- JUDGMENT!

Matthew concludes this Lectionary Year A with the weighty subject of judgment from 3 stories from Chapter 25:

Matthew 25:1-13 – Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Nov. 12) Matthew 25:14-30 – Parable of the Talents  (Nov. 19) Matthew 25:31-46 – The Sheep and Goats  (Nov. 26)

The three parables in Matthew 25 examine the procedure, preparation, and intention required to enter the Kingdom of God.  Here is a Youtube video that covers these three stories.  There are some similiarities:

First, in each parable the judgment occurs at the consummation of this age. While the timing of that event is unknown, each follower is to be ready for and anticipate the coming kingdom.

Second, the judgment will render decisions that are eternal in nature,reflecting the status of each human being with regard to his or her eternal relationship to the kingdom. Phrases such as “the darkness outside,” the  “fiery furnace,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” describe eternal separation from the kingdom. They are not simply expressions of grief over a Christian life that did not count for much in the kingdom, for they are figures and phrases representing an eternal exclusion from the presence of God.

With this in view, it has been suggested that salvation in these parables is viewed as a “whole,” not simply as a point of entry. The “sons of the kingdom” and the “sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38) are on opposite sides of the soteriological divide. Those who are rejected are permanently excluded.

Third, the basis for this eternal judgment is the individual’s works. In some cases the emphasis is on faithfulness to a job assigned: perhaps in a picture of preparation for an event, or a picture of the fruit of the believer. But however it was pictured, works were the key to the judgment.

However, Works are not separated from the faith one exercises for entrance to the kingdom for works are evidence of that faith. A true change of heart will be reflected in a person’s life. A lack of that change is apparently enough to prevent entrance into the kingdom. Works are never ultimately separated from the faith of the individual, for it was also shown that works are not in themselves enough to impress the Son of Man positively in His role as judge.

Lectionary, Pentecost 25, Proper 28

I.Theme –   The way of abundance is using and acting on what you have now. Squandering your talents is a sure way to be caught up on the wrong side of the "Day of Judgment."

 "Parable of the Talents -John Morgan (1823-1866)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm – Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 Page 717, BCP
Epistle –1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Gospel – Matthew 25:14-30

God asks us to make appropriate use of our gifts and talents
1. Matthew – Parable of the Talents
2. Thessalonians – Paul – quit worrying about the time of Jesus return and live fully as Children of the light
3. Zaphaniah announces God’s coming judgment against the self-indulgent and complacent
4. Psalm contrast the realm of God with man’s limits but encourages man to live fruitfully within these limits 

All of these scriptures, as we prepare for Reign of Christ Sunday, remind us to be prepared to do our part in the reign of God here and now, as we await Christ to come into our lives in a new way. We are called not to become content with the status quo, not to take our fill and turn away from the poor as the people did in Zephaniah’s time. Rather, we are called to do what the first two servants did in the parable of the Talents–to risk what we have been given in order to do greater good in the reign of God. That might mean our reputations in standing with the marginalized, or our own possessions in standing with the poor, or our own contentment in standing with the oppressed. We are called to live as participants in the reign of God here and now. This is not something we are waiting for at the end of our lives, but something we are active in now.

Zephaniah cries out and proclaims the day of the Lord is drawing near, a day of judgment. Zephaniah prophesied just before King Josiah carried out great reforms, both politically and religiously. In Zephaniah’s time, Israel (Northern kingdom) had fallen one hundred years before. Judah (Southern kingdom) was in danger of falling to their enemies and the kings had continued to be corrupt, to worship other gods, to let the wealthy elite stay wealthy and trample upon the poor. Josiah, upon the rediscovery of portions of the Torah that had been lost, will reform the political and religious sphere, but Zephaniah writes just before this time. Zephaniah proclaims judgment for those who have forsaken God’s ways, who have betrayed their people and their God.

Psalm 90: 1-12 remarks on how short human life is, in contrast to the vastness of the life of creation. God is beyond time; God is beyond our understanding, and our lives are short, so we should be humble, grateful for what we have, and repent where we have gone wrong. We are called not to waste our days, but to count them, so “that we may gain a wise heart”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 are words of encouragement for Paul in this time of waiting for the reign of God to come, in this time of waiting for Christ to come again in a new way into our lives, but also a reminder, as last week’s parable taught us, to keep awake. To be ready. To be prepared for the coming reign of God. This reading is in contrast to the darker tone in early readings from the book.

Matthew 25:14-30 is the second parable of this last chapter before Christ’s anointing, before the preparation for his death. . In the previous parables, he has told us that we need to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

A master, before leaving on a journey, entrusts his slaves with his money, “each according to his ability” (v. 15). (A talent was about 15 years’ wages for a laborer, a large sum of money.) Two servants invest the money and earn more (vv. 16, 17); the third simply buries it (v. 18). When the master returns (v. 19), he praises the investors; they, he says, will be made responsible for “many things” (vv. 21, 23), and will “enter into the joy of your master”. But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath (v. 24), simply returns the original sum (v. 25). The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. This slave loses what he has been given (v. 28) and is condemned to “outer darkness” (v. 30). This would have caused a stir in Jesus’ day, for a rabbinic maxim commends burial of money as a way of protecting it.

But this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, so what is the lesson it teaches? “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30) is a stock phrase for condemnation of the wicked at the Last Day. The master stands for God and the servants for various kinds of people. Yes, God both rewards generously and is a stern judge. He expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. We will be commended and rewarded for faithfully carrying out his mission. Failure to use what he gives us will result in punishment – by separation from him, the essence of goodness. We are expected to make it grow. He is free to distribute his gifts as he sees fit (vv. 28-29).

Read more

Since We Have to Wait, We’d Better Get to Work (Matthew 25)

What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?

Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”

Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.

Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.

Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.

Read more

Parable of the Talents – Fully Alive

"Recently, a friend of mine wrote me about an experience some years ago that had changed her life. She had gone to an artist’s studio to have her portrait drawn. The artist took his time, asking her a number of questions aimed at drawing her out. Eventually he asked her what she feared most. Her first answer was nuclear war. She mentioned that she had repeatedly had nightmares about nuclear holocaust.

"But the artist said, "No, I don’t believe you. That can’t be right. Something more personal."

"Nancy thought and thought. Finally it dawned on her. "What I fear most is getting to the end of my life and realizing that I had been too fearful — too careful — that I never really used my talents."

"That’s it," the artist said.

-Robert Ellsberg
Sermon, St. Augustine’s Church, Croton-on-Hudson
November 12-13, 2005

-"He that had received one" – made his having fewer talents than others a pretense for not improving any. Went and hid his master’s money – Reader, art thou doing the same? Art thou hiding the talent God hath lent thee?"  

–John Wesley 1703-1791 Wesley’s Notes on the Bible  

See Preston Smiles in this Youtube video tell the story and talk about the key messages of the Parable of the Talents.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  “Should Christians be Afraid of …?

Odyssey Networks – On Scripture

"Fear is in the air. 

" War. Conflict. Economic turmoil. Political victories. Political losses. This is the stuff of the nightly news. And everywhere we look we have a new villain to worry about, a new threat against which we ought to brace, a new sense of hopelessness.

" This is nothing new, of course. The world has always been a scary place. If anything, we have become inured to the greatest threats we might face. With roofs over our heads and weather forecasters to warn us of impending storms and economic structures to cushion us from financial catastrophe, we keep vany dangers at bay. 

" And yet in the midst of so much safety and comfort, we seem to search compulsively for something to fear, something to raise our ire, something that will keep us up at night. It is not enough to feel safe apparently; for some reason, fear is too tempting.

Read more