Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

From The Bishop

From the Bishop: Pentecost Message

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Pentecost 2014

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions.
Your old men will dream dreams.

My Brothers & Sisters in Christ –

The feast and season of Pentecost are now arrived. I pray your Pentecost Sunday and the long season that follows will be richly blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. While it’s not the tradition in every Episcopal parish for the people of God to wear red clothing on the feast of Pentecost, this has become a common and favorite custom in many places. I suspect here in Nebraska our closets are particularly stocked with bright red clothing appropriate to the day. I hope you will consider donning your best scarlet outfit to help celebrate the occasion. The “Husker Power” message on your shirt will in no way diminish the appropriateness of the gesture!

The catechism in our Book of Common Prayer teaches that, “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.” While it’s probably a theological error to imagine the three persons of God as utterly distinct – there is but one God after all – it is nonetheless true that the Spirit lives, moves and speaks to us in powerful and distinct ways in our personal and shared experiences as disciples of Christ. You might look for the Spirit in the days to come in deeply loving relationships with your neighbors, in powerful and numinous experiences in Christian worship, or in the gift of wonderful insights about the nature and presence of God.

Our experiences of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be as varied as our many personalities, bodies and settings in life. But one thing about the Spirit is sure. God has kept the ancient promise to, “pour out the Spirit on all people.” Whether you are aware of the Spirit’s presence in a given time and place or not, that presence is nonetheless assured in every moment of your life, and this is the season to heighten your awareness of that gift, and to offer thanks to God for a promise kept.

Faithfully Yours –

 

+ Bishop Barker

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From the Bishop: Easter Message

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –

 

This Easter edition of, The Nebraska Episcopalian comes with deep hope and real prayers that your Easter Day and season may be joyful and complete with the knowledge and experience of the risen Christ in your life.

 

Throughout the parishes of the Diocese of Nebraska, Christ’s Resurrection will be remembered and celebrated in countless and wonderful ways.  Our liturgical practice will cover the gamut from the soaring sounds of our grandest choirs in our biggest cities, to the shared, warm, Peace-time hugs of the gathered membership in our smallest rural church.  There will undoubtedly be some fancy, long and fabulous Easter Morning sermons, as well as a some short and humble morning meditations.  The feasts after the Feast will include fancy catered affairs in some spots, and simple (but delicious!) family potlucks in others.  It’s all beautiful.  It’s all good.  It’s all straight from the sincere hearts of the people of our Episcopal Church in Nebraska.

 

And behind it all is the hope that keeps us coming back week after week and year after year.  The hope that this ancient story – so far removed in many ways from our own lives in this very particular here and now – is in fact true.  Not just as an inspirational tale to bring some modest comfort, or teach some good lesson for living, but actually and factually true in the most concrete and real-life way.  Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again.

 

You get decide, you know.  At the end of the day, no one else gets to decide for you.  The claim of the Church through the ages resounds again in this bright and shining season:  Christ is Risen from the dead!  Come join our celebration.  Choose to believe!

 

Faithfully Yours in Christ –

 

+ Bishop Barker

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Presiding Bishop’s 2014 Easter Message

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Presiding Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

The tomb is empty, and nobody knows where the body is. Mary Magdalene tells the others about the mysterious disappearance, but they give up and go home. Mary stays behind, weeping, and then fails to recognize the risen one before her. As the days pass, each resurrected encounter begins in surprise or anonymity – the disciples fishing all night without catching, Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach, the two on their way to Emmaus. Nobody recognizes him at first sight.

Clearly the risen body is not identical to the Jesus who was crucified. People mistake him for a stranger. He enters locked rooms. He walks along the path to Emmaus for a long time without being recognized. Crucifixion, death, and resurrection result in a transformed body – with evident scars, but changed nonetheless. When he reminds others of God’s banquet, meant for the whole world – when human beings are fed and watered, delivered from prison, gathered from exile across the earth, and healed and reconciled into a community of peace – his companions discover that he has once again been in their midst.

What does that resurrection reality mean for the Body of Christ of which we are part? How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often call the church – differ from the crucified one? That Body seems to be most lively when it lives closer to the reality of Good Friday and the Easter mystery. In the West, that Body has suffered a lot of dying in recent decades. It is diminished, some would say battered, increasingly punctured by apathy and taunted by cultured despisers. That body bears little resemblance to royal images of recent memory – though, like Jesus, it is being mocked. The body remembers and grieves, like the body of Israel crying in the desert, “why did you bring us out here to die?” or the crucified body who cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” or “why have you abandoned us?” In other contexts the Body of Christ is quite literally dying and spilling its lifeblood – in Pakistan and Sudan, in Iraq and Egypt – and in those ancient words of Tertullian, the blood of martyrs is becoming the seed of the church.

The Body of Christ is rising today where it is growing less self-centered and inwardly focused, and living with its heart turned toward the cosmic and eternal, its attention focused intently on loving God and neighbor. This Body is rising to stand in solidarity with criminals sentenced to death, with widows and orphans, with the people of the land who slave over furrows and lettuce fields to feed the world. This Body can be found passing through walls and boundaries that have long been misused to keep the righteous “safe” and “pure.” The Body is recognized when the hungry are fed – on the lakeshore with broiled fish, on the road to Emmaus, on street corners and city parks, in food pantries and open kitchens, in feeding neighbor nations and former enemies, and as the Body gathers once again to remember its identity and origin – Christ is risen for the sake of all creation.

Where and how will we look for the Body of Christ, risen and rising? Will we share the life of that body as an Easter people, transformed by resurrection and sent to transform the world in turn?

Christ is risen, Alleluia! Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed!

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

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From the Bishop: A Holy Lent

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –

I invite you in the name of the Church to the observance of a holy Lent.

The season of Lent is now upon us. We’ve publicly proclaimed a solemn fast, prayed our sobering Litany of Penitence and been reminded of the depth of our sinfulness and brevity of our earthly lives by the smudging of ashes on our foreheads. What now? Well now is the time live into those disciplines of Christian life that will assist us as we endeavor to make good on the promises behind the confession we made on Ash Wednesday.

Every one of the 40 days of Lent will offer an opportunity – in truth, countless opportunities – for you to more deeply and joyfully follow Jesus. Whether you live into your discipleship by loving your neighbors, serving the least, fasting from self indulgence, sharing goods and comfort, caring for God’s creation, etc., you will not only please God by your efforts to live and move as Jesus teaches, but you will be establishing new patterns of living that may well carry on in your life when Easter dawns. This of course is the true hope behind the ancient tradition of adopting a “Lenten Discipline,” that we will actually begin living lives that conform more closely to the heart and mind of Christ.

Lent is a great adventure…a school for the soul. Welcome to a rich and deeply meaningful season. May God bless you in your personal efforts to observe a holy Lent!

Faithfully Yours in Christ –

+ Bishop Barker

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From the Bishop: Ash Wednesday

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Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others they are fasting. – Matthew 6:16

Have you wondered why Christians “disfigure” their faces with the imposition of ashes on the day they begin the great fast of the Church year? Doesn’t our Ash Wednesday custom seem to fly in the face of Jesus’ words that we remember every year on this day?

Mark this well, beloved. The cross of ash that appears on our foreheads today is not a proclamation that we are faithful, religious people who’ve remembered to start Lent by going to church. The ashes are rather a silent lament that we live far from perfect lives. The ashes say that the power of sin has hold of us, and that without God, we are helpless to get free. The ashes say that even on our best days, we fall short of the creation God calls us to be. The ashes say there are places in our lives that are a big mess, and that we need to turn away from the thoughts and actions that are creating that mess, and turn towards a new way of living and being in the world.

The language of our Ash Wednesday liturgy is old fashioned and ancient. It speaks of our “wretchedness” our “wickedness” and our utter dependence on God in Christ to set us free from sin and death. While this language may seem alien or even assaulting in a culture that constantly affirms how special and valuable we are as human beings, these are words we need to hear. We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Now begins the season of the church year when we consciously turn again to the God who loves us so, and put all our trust, hope and faith in God’s love, grace and power to forgive.

Faithfully Yours in Christ –

+ Bishop Barker

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The Church in Nebraska: Brimming with Life

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –

I have a framed photo in my office that was a fiftieth birthday gift from my family. It’s a portrait of an iconic Nebraska Church – the little white, wood, chapel with eight windows and a modest steeple the likes of which dot the landscape all over our state. Many of our 52 Nebraska Episcopal church buildings are near twins to the one on my photo.

The photo serves as simple but meaningful prophetic witness for me. As you can see, the church building in the picture is rotting and abandoned, and though it is starkly beautiful it is also quite evidently dead. In fact, this is the church building that used to stand on I-80 near the Milford, NE exit, and it has now been completely demolished.

When I look at this photo, as I do nearly every day of my life, I am inspired and challenged both. I’m inspired by the beauty and history of our sacred landscape, and my awareness of the wonder of God’s creation and the faithfulness of the saints who have gone before and on whose shoulders we stand in our day. I am challenged to recall how fragile is the institution of the Church, and how vitally important it is for you and I to live lives of big, bold, generous faith in our own time.

The recent posts to the Ministry Memo and The Nebraska Episcopalian are absolutely bursting with news of all sorts and kinds of ministry in our Diocese of Nebraska. God is truly blessing us in this moment with opportunities to enrich our personal relationships with Christ, to build up our parish church communities, and to serve the world in the name of our Lord. Ours is a church brimming with life right now. Enjoy. Join. Give thanks to God!

Faithfully Yours in Christ –

+ Bishop Barker

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From the Bishop: The Season of Epiphany

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Dear People of God in Nebraska –

During the season of Epiphany the Church will tell the tales of those moments in Jesus’ life when his identity was most wonderfully and fully revealed to the world. Some of those stories include a visit by three Magi to honor the baby Jesus and surprise his parents by paying homage to him much like that due a new-born king. So too we will hear the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan, and how as he rose from the waters of baptism a voice boomed out from heaven, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!”

Epiphany is not just about remembering ancient tales of how we came to understand who Jesus is for us. Epiphany is also a season of invitation for all of us to watch for – and wonder about – how Jesus is revealed to us as Savor and Lord in this here and now. Epiphany is a season to watch for human activity that demonstrates extraordinary love for God and neighbor. Epiphany is a season to watch for modern day miracles. Epiphany is a season to listen for God’s voice in scripture, tradition and experience. In all these things, we apprehend the truth that God is with us…a truth that is still so surprising and life-giving that it feels like “news” to a hungry and hurting world…news we cannot help but celebrate and share, because it is good in every way.

Our Nebraska Episcopalian is one place you can find such good news, and share in the delight of the many faithful disciples across this state who have found Jesus in our Episcopal Church and who are laboring to make him know in communities both large and small by living and serving in his name.

A blessed Epipany-tide to all!

Bishop J. Scott Barker

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From the Bishop: Christmas Blessings

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Dear People of God in Nebraska –

Christmas has become a celebration of many things: our common humanity, the turn out of deepest winter, the myth of Santa Claus. The Barkers have an embroidered pillow we pull out at this time of year, a gift from my oldest pal. “Family and Friends are the Blessings of Christmas,” it says.

I delight in affirming and celebrating all these thoughts and truths at this time of year. Who doesn’t love a great party? Who isn’t heartened by the fact that the nigths grow shorter and the days grow longer? But Christmas, above all else, is the celebration of one utterly unique and history changing event. That is, the miracle that in Jesus Christ God becomes fully human, dwells among us, and thereby shows us how to live and love.

I pray the time of celebration just ahead is full of warmth and delight for the people of our Diocese of Nebraska and for all our fifty-three parish churches planted across this great state. I can only imagine the beauty of the many gatherings, both great and small, at which we’ll assemble to celebrate the deepest and most life-giving truth of the season. I hope you will all pray for one another, that in each and every one of our lives we might meet again the Christ whose nativity is the real blessing of the season … and the real foundation of our joy in this and every season.

Faithfully yours,

Bishop J. Scott Barker

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Bishop’s Bible Challenge a Great Success!

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At the turn of the new year, the Bishop’s Bible Challenge will come to a wonderful conclusion for the scores of Nebraska Episcopalians who have spent time every day during the course of 2013 reading Holy Scripture.  By following a simple schedule published by the Center for Biblical Studies (http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org), participants were able to read through the entire Bible, both Old and New testaments, over the last twelve months.  Bible Challengers also received a weekly e-mail from Bishop Barker with reminders of the readings for each week as well as a handful of questions for reflection about the week’s passages.  One group started a Diocese of Nebraska Bible Challenge Facebook page which maintained a lively (and sometimes irreverent!) conversation about the readings for each week.

 

If you missed the Bible Challenge in 2013, you can still visit the Center for Biblical Studies website and download all the information you need to read through the Bible in 2014.

 

– Bishop J. Scott Barker

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From the Bishop: Advent

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Here comes Advent!

 

The season of Advent begins this year on Sunday December 1st.  For many, this is felt to be the richest and most deeply meaningful season of our Church year.  The great Advent theme of preparing for the coming of Christ resonates with our hopes for living in this time and place.  We’re equally enticed by the notion of preparing to meet the baby Jesus again at the feast of the Nativity, and preparing to meet the adult Christ of the second coming, who’s return we await with great hope in a world that aches to meet him again and anew.

 

Your Advent will be richer if you take a little time right now to prepare for this season of preparation.  Don’t be taken unawares when Advent dawns, but rather give some thought now to how you might simplify and enrich your life with some effort to ready your household and your soul for a meeting with Jesus.  Can you pray a little more deeply?  Eat a little more simply?  Give a little more generously?  Connect a little more meaningfully?  There are lots of possibilities for celebrating Advent that can re-frame the holiday season for you from a time of harried and hurried “shoulds” to a time of quiet and delightful “cans.”

 

Included here is a link to a lovely Advent calendar that can easily be printed out at home and used for simple family devotions or as personal prayer resource.  I hope you like it.

 

May your Advent be a time of readying that soothes your soul and lightens your heart.  Christ coming.  Prepare the way!

Faithfully yours,

Bishop J. Scott Barker

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