Last year, Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared that the U.S. is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. He claims this is a significant health issue as loneliness is associated with greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia. While not everyone agrees with his rallying cry, even those who claim that reported levels of loneliness have remained constant for decades, they also acknowledged that millions of people suffer from social disconnection.
For over 2,000 years now, the Church has tried to be a community, a Christian community. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of his body, bound to one another in profound ways. While this spiritual reality is begun with our baptisms, we don’t always, or perhaps often, live out this Christian community in its deepest and richest forms. Loneliness is inside the walls of the church as well as outside.
Building off of the Chapel’s summer preaching series on Deuteronomy, our Education Committee has named “Covenant Community” as our educational theme for the year. Through retreats, such as Dr. Davis’ retreat at the end of the month, book groups, and our on-going classes, the Education Committee invites us to reflect on this topic. Through our fellowship and mission ministries, we have opportunities to be together. As we start our fall schedule this Sunday, I invite you to be regularly and actively involved in the life of the Congregation. Do so to counter your own loneliness and improve your health. Do so because the person next to you may be feeling isolated. Do so because we are one body, the Body of Christ.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
These familiar verses are the beginning of "The Shema", which consists of three sections of scripture, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. Together, these three readings are a central component for morning and evening prayer for observant Jews. The opening verse of the Shema is an affirmation of faith – a declaration of monotheism.
"Shema" is the transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning "hear". It is the word on the right in the text box. Hebrew is read from right to left. The second word is "Israel". It is striking that an essential prayer in Judaism is simply known as "Shema", "Hear". Our first task is to hear; our first posture is one of recipient.
This summer, in both worship and Bible study, we will be hearing from the book of Deuteronomy. I invite you to participate in this exploration of a major book of the Bible by first he aring what it has to say, affirming our faith in God, and then responding with love of God.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
The Risen Jesus said to his fearful disciples, "Peace be with you" and "As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you." (John 20:21) The same Divine authority that sent Jesus into our world, sends us into the same world. In meditating on this passage, Biblical scholar N.T. Wright, writes,
"But, you say, that’s absurd! Jesus was Jesus; we are weak, frail, muddled humans. We’re going to get it wrong. And even if we get it right, sometimes, it won’t work. Nothing will happen. But the truth of Easter is not just that Jesus himself was raised from the dead by the power of God. The truth of Easter is that that same power is now unleashed into the lives of all who believe in Jesus, all who follow him, so that he can continue his work – through them."
(from Lent for Everyone; Year B)
We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for in this miraculous event we find forgiveness of sin, the promise of new life now, and the hope of eternal life to come. Do we also celebrate the resurrection for the call it places on our lives? For the work our Lord empowers us to do? Jesus sends us into the world he loves to continue his work. In all ages and stages of life, this is our calling and purpose. Can you think of anything more exciting, demanding, and humbling?
"As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you."
Peace be with you.
In meditating on the Gospel story from this past Sunday, I heard something new.
Perhaps it is because I’m in a discussion group with a group of young adults about faith and politics, but Jesus’ words to his disciples struck me as pregnant with the political implications for the Resurrection life, both then and now.
The scene opens with the disciples hiding in a house with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, the same ones who had conspired to have Jesus executed. I wonder if their fear was beginning to turn toward anger and a desire to avenge the death of their leader and friend. I can imagine my own reaction, my own willingness to ignore what Jesus had taught me about being a peacemaker in order to satisfy my hunger for violence and retribution.
It is in this moment that Jesus appears, and his first word is one of peace. He shows the disciples his wounds—the marks of his torture and execution—and again, his word is peace. In his wounds Jesus shows us his commitment to the peace he proclaims: he would rather suffer violence, brutality, and even death rather than abandon nonviolence.
And in case the disciples miss his message, he breathes on them the Holy Spirit, the very power and presence of God. This gift of the Spirit is not the authority to destroy or seek vengeance, but the power of suffering love to forgive and set free.
Lest we reduce the Resurrection to the purely spiritual or contain it to the merely physical, Jesus forces us to reckon with the way his victory over sin and death is fundamentally political.
How does the Resurrection shape our response to the particular political challenges of the United States in 2018? That’s a more complicated question, and the answer can only be found as we gather as disciples and allow the Spirit to guide and shape our witness to the Risen Christ.
I invite you to be in prayer for me and the young adults in the Chapel community as we begin that work over the next few weeks. My prayer for our discussions, and for the whole Church, is that we might hear a new thing in the familiar stories of this Easter season, and allow the Risen Christ to speak peace to our politics.
Are you still celebrating? Are you still singing Alleluia?
Easter Sunday was glorious. We worshiped in Duke Gardens as the dark sky brightened with a new day. We worshiped in Duke Chapel, encouraged to sing boldly by organ and brass. The day was filled with joyous worship, warm smiles, and a beautiful spring weather. Are you still celebrating? I hope so.
The resurrection of Jesus merits an ongoing, exuberant, joyous celebration. The miracle of Easter invites us into a new way of life. After the long-awaited Easter Sunday is past, the temptation may be to fall back into tired routines and familiar patterns. Instead, our Risen Lord calls us forward into a "new normal," one that is marked by faith, hope, and love. No matter how many Easters we have celebrated, we can always seek to deep en our faith, strengthen our hope, and expand our love. The good news is that this is not our work alone, for God invites us into a new realm, a realm in which sin is forgiven and death is conquered. That is reason to rejoice every day!
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (I Peter 1:3)
May the celebration and the alleluias continue for you today and every day.
It is a crowded, complex city. Last week, I wrote of being in Israel for two weeks. Our first week was in Galilee, and our second week was in Jerusalem. I was struck by the complexity and density of Jerusalem.
The city, particularly within the old walls, is packed with residents, tourists, and merchants all trying to navigate narrow, winding streets. I was repeatedly impressed by drivers who could navigate the lanes, even as pedestrians flattened themselves against the walls of buildings to let the cars pass. The Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters of the old city each have a somewhat distinct personality. Vistas depict diversity, such as this photograph of the Western “Wailing” Wall, the remnants of the Jewish temple, and The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine. We know, of course, that pictures cannot show everything. The security screening and armed guards are not visible from a distance. A long and difficult history has created a very complex present in Jerusalem.
One early morning as I stood in prayer on a rooftop terrace overlooking Jerusalem, I reflected on how often we long for simplicity and peace in our lives. There are times we would like to create a bubble of protection around ourselves to keep the messiness of the world at bay. Such efforts are fruitless. Our individual lives, our local communities, and our world as a whole have always been marked by tensions and difficulties as well as joy and beauty. The good news is that God has repeatedly chosen to be present in the midst of it all. Jesus was born in an occupied land and when the time was right he walked straight into Jerusalem.
God shows up in the midst of the crowds and complexity. May this give us comfort and courage.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
Change the World
Two weeks ago, I sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
I was fortunate to be included in a “Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands” sponsored by Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school near Atlanta. With a group of 18 other people, a mix of clergy and lay people, we spent two weeks in Israel. Our first week was in Galilee and our second week was in Jerusalem.
The Sea of Galilee is a lovely body of water, and much more of a lake than a sea. For someone who was reared near Michigan’s Great Lakes, the Sea of Galilee’s modest size of approximately 13 miles in length by 7 miles in width seems to justify the term “lake”. Nonetheless, our tradition is to call it a “sea”. One day as I sat by the sea, I imagined Jesus and his disciples walking the rocky shore. I remembered the words of our guide, who explained that Jesus’ ministry was limited to only a portion of the shore and nearby region; other parts were inhabited by Romans. Jesus taught and healed in a limited section of a small lake in a narrow country. Sitting by the sea, it seemed like such an obscure location from which to change the world. Yet, it is the location that God chose.
Your present location -- at work, at home, in the community, in the place and time in which you find yourself -- in the grand sweep of history is also rather obscure. And yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, God calls us to change the world from our obscure locations. Jesus opens the way to new life and the reign of God; by the grace of God, we are to reflect this new life to the world around us.
This reminds me that, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
May the peace of Christ be with you.
What if we read the Ten Commandments as a love letter?
This coming Sunday, we’ll hear the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, read in worship once again. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be quick to think “oh, I know this one!” and allow your mind to wander to other things.
Young adults at Duke Chapel have been reading through the book Manna and Mercy together, and the author’s paraphrase of the 10 Commandments invited us to look at these famous verses in a new light. Since Manna and Mercy is a comic book, I’ve included the image below.
Manna and Mercy portrays the giving of the Law as a gift to the people of Israel, and to us—a gift the demonstrates God’s passionate love for a stubborn, selfish people eager to return to the slavery of Egypt even after God has brought freedom and promised to be Israel’s partner forever.
During this season of Lent in which we are called to reflect on our lives, repent of our sin, and run deeper into the heart of God, I invite you to think of God’s commandments less as rules to be followed and more as a way of life with a God to be joyfully embraced.
The Ten Commandments, like all of Scripture, redirect our attention from what often passes for our “real lives” to the most real part of life—the life we have in the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and became incarnate in Jesus Christ.
When we hear them read again this Sunday, may the Ten Commandments be for us not a source of shame or obligation, but a loving call to deeper life in the Triune God.
Right now, because of your gifts and prayers, vulnerable children in Zimbabwe are being recruited and selected to participate in ZOE, a unique empowerment program.
This year, the Congregation is sponsoring two groups of vulnerable children in Zimbabwe. One group is sponsored with budgeted funds and the second with gifts from the Empowerment Ministries fund. The formation of the groups takes several months. When ZOE first enters a community to help children, they begin by engaging the local leaders. ZOE staff members explain how ZOE is an empowerment program, helping the children to help themselves. Although this is often a different approach than local leaders are accustomed to, it resonates with leaders who want to see sustainable change in their village. ZOE staff members, who are indigenous to each country in which ZOE operates, understand local customs, challenges, and resources available so when they meet with the community leaders they quickly gain trust and support.
The first months with ZOE are truly unlike anything the children have ever experienced. Many will have come to the first meeting expecting some kind of a handout – clothing, food. Others will have come reluctantly, thinking it might be just another headcount of desperate children that so many NGO’s and government agencies have conducted before. Their disappointment at not receiving immediate goods is replaced by the belief that their entire life is about to change. They leave that first meeting eager to start working together and often will invite others to be part of this opportunity.
During the first meeting the youth elect leaders, make rules to guide their meetings, chose a group name, and decide when and where to hold weekly gatherings. In the subsequent six months, the children begin training on the topics of food security, health and disease prevention, business management, and child rights. If they have access to land they are provided with seeds to start gardens and plant crops; if they have a trade skill they receive immediate grants to start a small business. If siblings are not attending school, ZOE provides uniforms and other resources to get them back into classes; older children may begin vocational training. Most importantly, all experience God’s love through the work of ZOE staff and your prayers.
Thank you for your gifts to the Congregation’s budget. Thank you for your gifts to the Empowerment Ministries Fund. Thank you for your prayers on behalf of our ministries both locally and globally. Your gifts and your prayers are an essential part of our corporate ministry which make a real, lasting, and positive impact on the lives of others.
With gratitude for your faithfulness,
P.S. If you want to meet "our" children, I invite you to travel to Zimbabwe in 2019.
When I was in high school, I learned how to decode a worship service.
I grew up in a "low church" tradition, meaning that our services were less formal and had a bit less structure than worship at the Chapel.
The first time I attended a worship service in the style of Duke Chapel, I was instantly hooked, but also a little confused. I could follow along in the bulletin well enough, but it always felt like I was missing something.
I had a sense, even then, that there was a deep logic to the way worship flowed, and that the symbols and colors and rituals had rich meaning, if only someone could help me see it. In my junior year, Fred Edie did just that, and I've never looked at worship the same way since.
As six youth, along with their mentors and families, prepare for confirmation or baptism after Easter, we will be learning to see worship in this new way. And we invite you to join us!
For five Sundays in Lent, the Congregation Youth Group will be hosting "Liturgy Lab" after worship. We’ll look at the different parts of worship and how they connect to everyday life. We'll cover Baptism (Feb 25), Sights and Symbols of Worship (March 4), the Saints (March 11), Death and Resurrection (March 18), and the Church Sent in Mission (March 25).
Plus we'll have the opportunity to get hands on with worship: act out an ancient baptism, set the Table for Holy Communion, learn about the tombs in the Chapel, and make the CROP Walk an extension of our worship.
Whether you’ve worshiped at the Chapel for many years and want to share your experience of the liturgy, or if you’re still trying to figure out what’s happening on Sunday morning, you are welcome! All are invited to grab lunch after church, and then join us outside the Congregation Office at 1:00 p.m. for an hour of fun, hands-on learning.
RSVP requested, but not required. Just email [email protected] to let me know you’re coming, or ask any questions.
I cannot wait to explore the beauty and richness of worship alongside you!