1. What is your opinion on how Abraham and Sarah treat Hagar in this story? Have you ever had a spiritual mentor or authority figure disappoint you? What happened, and was your faith damaged in any way?
2. Father John mentioned that Hagar likely had experienced many worship experiences with Abraham’s family, but remained an outsider. Have you ever been on the “outside looking in” with regards to a church community? What caused that? What changed so that you felt like you belonged?
3. What boundaries do we put up in our church community that keep people on the outside? How important is it that we invite others to faith in God?
4. What is the most significant way you have attempted to run away from God in your life? Has God’s compassion and love ever surprised you and caused you to stop running and face what you are running from?
5. After making promises to Hagar about her future, God asked her to return to her hardship and go through it rather than around it. Has God ever asked you to do the same? Why are going through hard times, rather than avoiding them, sometimes essential for spiritual growth?
6. Discuss the meaning of the name Hagar gives to God: El Roi. Why is it important that we know God “sees” us?
7. For you, what is the most important spiritual lesson the story of Hagar conveys?
What’s a Sermon Series?
A sermon series is an opportunity to delve into a particular idea or theme and to explore it over several weeks or months. It is a form of preaching that is not very common in the Episcopal Church, but is permitted. It’s also a form with which I’ve had great success in past Congregations.
This themed approach generally requires that we depart from the Episcopal Common Lectionary, and, in fact, I often choose readings that don’t appear in the Lectionary at all for various reasons.
I will never depart from the Lectionary on a Feast Day and the service folder will always have the appropriate readings so that you may follow along. I have found these series to be a rich and rewarding way to examine and deepen our faith.
Please contact me directly if you have additional questions about this approach.
You may also download audio files of sermons at this link.
God Moments 3: Finding a Way to Talk About God (7.26.2020)
Beginning Sunday July 5 and continuing until September 13 (with three breaks), we will explore these themes together.
Join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. for Father John’s sermon by following this link. (Password, case-sensitive: GraceOP)
Go deeper. Join a mid-week discussion group led by parishioner Suzanne Haraburd each Wednesday at 1 pm via Zoom (Password, case-sensitive: GraceOP). Participation is open and you may join whenever you like.
God Moments 2: Meeting Someone Else's God (7.12.2020)
The person under discussion today is Ruth (the text from Sunday was Ruth 1:1-16).
1. Both the Hebrew and Greek word for “sin” can be translated literally as “missing the mark.” How does this image help us understand the nature of sin? What is sin to you?
2. Father John discussed the meaning of the Hebrew word hesed (lovingkindness) – used to describe God’s love, and also used by Naomi with respect to the love shown to her by Ruth and Orpah. What are the essential characteristics of God’s love?
3. In your opinion, why was the story of Ruth and Naomi preserved in the Hebrew Bible as Scripture?
4. Father John spoke about the need to “let God’s love into our lives” so that it will transform us into people who share that love consistently. How do we “open ourselves” to the love of God? Why is consistency in showing God’s love important?
5. The book of Ruth contains the theme that kindness will be rewarded, and views the kinsman redeemer Boaz as part of God’s providence. Ruth accepts the God of Israel, and rather than doing the “logical” and self-preserving thing follows her heart with integrity. What primary insights do you take away from this story?
God Moments 1: An Unexpected Encounter with God (7.5.2020)
God Moments 6: The Highs and Lows of Spiritual Life (8.30.2020)
1. One of the most frequent pastoral issues people bring into the church office is feeling "God is distant" or "God is absent" from their lives. In your experience, is this a common problem in the spiritual life? How would you react to a person who confided in you that they were feeling this way?
2. A popular platitude states: "If you feel far from God - who moved?" The implication here is that we are the ones who in some way have failed, sinned, or distanced ourselves from God. Do you think this is always the case, and that we would have an immediate sense of God's presence if we had not "made a mistake" spiritually?
3. Why does Jesus delay responding to Mary and Martha's request? What purpose does this delay have in their lives? Why was this important?
4. How do the different reactions of Mary and Martha to Jesus' return to Bethany strike you? How does Jesus reaction to them and "the others" lamenting with them reveal God's heart?
5. When faced with pain and loss, are you ever tempted to "give up on God"? If so, what is the real source of your anger or resentment in those situations? What does that tell you about your expectations of God?
6. What is the most important theological lesson you take away from the story of the raising of Lazarus? How do you respond to the idea of God "teaching" us spiritual lessons through pain?
The text this week was Genesis 12:1-12 (with reference to Exodus 3:1-14). The spiritual seekers this week are Abraham and Sarah.
1. What are the implications of God’s name, “I AM” expressed in the form of a verb?
2. Why is it so easy to get “stuck” spiritually? How do we recognize that we are not moving forward in our spiritual life?
3. What was it that enabled Abraham and Sarah to move from Haram to an undisclosed location that God would later show them? What does this teach us about how we respond to God’s call in our own lives?
4. “We are blessed so that we might bless others” implies a responsibility to continue in our spiritual growth not just for our own sake. Can you think of a time when you were able to bless someone else because of what you had grown through in your own life?
5. In what ways is God most clearly calling you to “become” right now? In what ways is God asking Grace to “become” right now?
God Moments 7: Handling Disappointment with God (9.06.2020)
The text for this Sunday is Exodus 3:1-14. The spiritual seeker under discussion is Moses.
1. Have you ever seen people approach their religion as if “it’s all about me”? What are the dangers in approaching the life of faith this way?
2. Moses moved out into the wilderness and no longer had to witness and experience the suffering of his people in Egypt. What ways do we tend to avoid the pain around us?
3. Moses did not feel up to God’s call on his life. Why do you think this was the case?
4. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the problems around you? What did you do to overcome that feeling?
5. Father John emphasized that the progression of verbs found in Exodus 3:8 “to see, to hear, to know” – in reference of God’s intimate awareness of Israel’s suffering. How important is moving closer to other’s pain if we are to minister to them? What does this teach us about God?
6. This text calls us to reflect on the ways God calls us to address the pain and suffering around us. What is God primarily calling you to address right now, in terms of alleviating the suffering of others?
7. What is the main takeaway from Moses’ response to God for you from this story?
1. Father John started out by talking about the “lenses through which we view reality,” citing the parable of the people in the cave by Plato. What lenses did you inherit about reality from your family that you have subsequently had to remove or change? How did that feel?
2. Genesis 28 is the origin story for the patriarch Jacob – and it tells of a humble beginning! What does this tell us about where God meet Jacob at in his life? Does God always meet people there? Has God ever met you in your deepest time of need?
3. At any point in your life have you realized: I really need God in my life? If so, what prompted that realization? What did you do about it?
4. Why is it sometimes difficult for people to realize God’s presence in difficult situations, such as illness?
5. Be honest: Where have you felt most Godforsaken in your life? What feelings has this produced? How have you handled those feelings?
6. Father John stated that, “The very place in Jacob’s life that he through was most godforsaken was, in fact, the opposite.” what insight can we gain from this story about how we look for God in life?
7. In his lowest point, Jacob responded to God’s grace. Do you agree with the Father John’s conclusion that no place is so far from God’s presence that by reaching out we cannot find God? How are you responding to God in the difficult parts of your life right now?
God Moments 4: Keeping a Safe Distance From God (8.2.2020)
Sunday, July 5th – An Unexpected Encounter with God
Sunday, July 12th – Meeting Someone Else’s God
Sunday, July 19th – Break in the Series
Sunday, July 26th – Finding a Way to Talk About God
Sunday, August 2nd – Keeping a Safe Distance from God
Sunday, August 9th – Break in the Series
Sunday, August 16th – Break in the Series
Sunday, August 23rd – Reinventing Myself Because of God
Sunday, August 30th – The Highs and Lows of Spiritual Life
Sunday, September 6th – Handling Disappointment with God
Sunday, September 13th – A New Way of Relating to God
God Moments 5: Reinventing Myself Because of God (8.23.2020)
This week concludes the "God Moments" sermons series with one of the most dramatic encounters and transformations we find in Scripture - Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8-9).
1. What are approaches to spirituality that you consider superficial in our culture?
2. Where, in your opinion, did Saul of Tarsus "go wrong" in his pursuit of God/the spiritual life?
3. Have you ever approached religion as rule keeping? Is it a legitimate phase of spiritual development, or something to be avoided altogether?
4. What are the benefits of religious institutions? What are the drawbacks? How does the church avoid becoming an institution that leads people into unhealthy spirituality?
5. Father John claimed that, like Saul, a key question every person who seeks after God asks is: "Who are you, Lord?" Why is this such a significant question?
6. Do you find any aspects of "life in the Spirit" scary? How do you find guidance from the Holy Spirit in your daily life?
Today we look at the life of King David, who experienced both great highs and deep lows in his spiritual life. The main question the sermon addressed is: How does a spiritual person recover from moral failure? Today’s question requires honesty conversation about how we recover from making big mistakes in life. No one has to share details or at all about personal matters here, but all are encouraged to consider this together.
1. How do you tend to react when you make a serious moral error? How did you learn to react like that?
2. Why is it important to know how to recover and “stand back up” spiritually when we fail?
3. What is the role of shame in our lives? Does it serve any useful purpose? Why do people dwell in it?
4. Many people find it easy to dismiss fallen spiritual leaders as people who were never genuine. What did you think of Father John’s warning that this is a dangerous practice because it assumes we will always be faithful and sincere? What should be our response when Christian leaders stumble or fall?
5. David was Israel’s most famous King despite his moral failures. He was described as a “man after God’s own heart.” Should he have lost everything and been punished for his evil acts towards Uriah and Bathsheeba? Why or why not?
6. Father John expressed a three part pattern for recovering from moral failure: 1. Remembering that God is love, 2. Speaking truth in the innermost part of our soul, 3. Learning from the mistake and moving forward. Which part of this process is the most difficult?
7. In what ways does our culture make spiritual recovery after moral failure difficult?
God Moments 8: A New Way of Relating to God (9.13.2020)