May 27, 2018
This summer, we are walking through eleven books of the Minor Prophets each week together!
June 3: Hosea by Bp. Stewart Ruch III
June 10: Joel by Cn. Stephen Gauthier
June 17 Amos by Dn. Matt Woodley
June 24: Obadiah by Dn. Matt Woodley
July 1: Jonah by John Perrine
July 8: Micah by Will Chester
July 15: Habakkuk by Fr. Brett Crull
July 22: Zephaniah by Dn. Matt Woodley
July 29: Haggai by Cn. Stephen Gauthier
August 5: Zechariah by Steve Williamson
August 12: Malachi by Cn. Stephen Gauthier
Imagine standing in your backyard, leaning on a shovel, and pondering how to dig up your weed-infested garden plot. And imagine that your neighbor, a gruff and blunt man, sees your plight and walks over with a huge, gas-powered rototiller. He smiles, grunts a quick hello, fires up the machine, and starts plowing. Within a few minutes he has all the old plants uprooted, weeds minced, twigs snapped, and dirt upended. He turns your garden inside out and upside down. But your garden is also ready for planting. He grunts goodbye and pushes the machine home.
That’s an apt image for an often under-appreciated section of the Bible called the Minor Prophets. They dig up the soil of our culture, our institutions, and our worship life. They displace, disrupt, unsettle, but there’s always a deeper goal: to prepare us to receive and obey the Word of God. They are the rototillers of our soul.
If you’ve never read this part of the Bible, or if it’s been a long time since you grabbed a cup of coffee and sat with Obadiah or Nahum or Habakkuk, it’s a good time to start. Although these books were written over 2,500 years ago, you’ll quickly see that the issues they address—political corruption, spiritual leadership, integrity and ethics, mistreatment of the poor and vulnerable, sexual confusion, war and violence, attraction to false gods and cheap “happiness”—are as relevant to our world as to theirs. Listening to their ancient message and applying it to our lives today will turn our world upside down and inside out.
A few background notes and definitions will help you get started. First, they are not called “Minor” prophets because they are part of a spiritual AAA farm club baseball team. You know, those guys who never got called up to the majors. The “Minor” just refers to the length of their writings. They are much shorter than the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, but they can do plenty of soul or culture disrupting in a few chapters. Second, a prophet’s first role was not to foretell the future—although they did some of that. Their main role was to speak right into the present situation and condition of God’s people and the broader society.
We’re inviting you to join us for our summer sermon series on the Minor Prophets. This booklet will help you follow along with the sermons. Start with this booklet’s short introductions for each prophetic book to get the historical context and key theological themes. Then before each sermon (or maybe right after each sermon) spend some time reading or rereading each book. Most of the books take only 10 or maybe 15 minutes to read. Then read the book again, slowly, meditatively, and prayerfully.
As you work through each book, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What does God reveal about himself in this book? What are the key themes and words? And what do they reveal about the character of God? Theologian James Montgomery Boice comments on how the Minor Prophets dramatize the character of God as few other books do: “They highlight God's sovereignty … holiness … [and] love… In the Minor Prophets, we will hear the voice of God speaking to us in a fresh way… as individuals and as a spiritual fellowship in the Church.”
2. What does God feel? As the late Jewish scholar A.J. Heschel wrote, “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven… The prophet is a man who feels fiercely.” So what feelings does God express in and through each prophet?
3. Is there anything that provokes God’s righteous anger? What are the specific sins and injustices that provoke God’s appropriate wrath at what is destroying his beautiful creation? What are the consequences of God’s anger?
4. Is there anything that breaks God’s heart? You can find out a lot about a person by watching what makes him or her weep. God is often heartbroken throughout the Minor Prophets. Why?
5. What does God call us to do and to whom? What response does God require in our relationship to him and with others? Notice how God wants his people to maintain an inseparable link between how we treat God (worship) and how we treat people (justice, kindness, honesty, etc.). How is God asking his people to repair that link?
6. What good things does God promise? What is God’s dream for his people? Where is the hope in this book—hope for today (this world) and hope for tomorrow (heaven)?
It is always a delight for us to join all of you in the study and proclamation of God’s Word. Thank you for your eagerness to hear, love, and live the Word of God. As the early church leader John Chrysostom once told his people, “And just as painters use multi-colored paints to represent forms accurately and naturally, so do I draw a characteristic picture of your souls by conjuring up your interest in our [worship services], your readiness to listen, your good-will toward the preacher, and all your other good qualities.”
March 01, 2018
Modern Christians have found incredible spiritual benefit in expanding their partial fast beyond the physical appetite to abstaining from other trappings of modern life. Many of us have instant access to any kind of entertainment, information, or mental stimulation we desire, for little to no cost. When I read Jesus‘s words about “the cares of the world“ that choke out the word of God, I’m reminded of the glowing, chirping screen in my pocket… What ever might capture our imaginations and mental energy is fair game to give up for Lent: movies, TV, the news, social media, video games, sports, texting—you name it. Christ might ask us to lay one or more of these distractions aside for something better. (from The Good of Giving Up, by Fr. Aaron Damiani)
I can relate to this quote from Fr. Aaron, especially as I started this year’s Lenten journey. I felt a special nudge from the Lord to enter more deeply into a spiritual practice that I have been resisting for a long time—the discipline of silence. I’m not afraid to be alone. That’s simply the spiritual discipline of solitude. But I’ve been afraid of solitude combined with the spiritual discipline of silence. That combination scares me. So instead of entering into silence, I find noisy distractions, listening to podcasts, reading heated debates about political controversies, watching TV dramas.
But this Lent the Lord Jesus has been whispering, “Press into the silence. I have some gifts for you apart from the noise and busyness both around you and inside your head. Let me turn the desert of silence into a garden of solitude.
In the process of pressing into the spiritual discipline of silence, I’ve also been reading a book by the Catholic writer Robert Cardinal Sarah titled The Power of Silence. The subtitled especially grabbed my attention: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Imagine that—noise has become a cruel dictator. Listen to some of these wise and challenging words from Cardinal Sarah:
In modern society, silence has come into disrepute; this is the symptom of a serious, worrisome illness. The real questions of life are posed in silence… Noise gives a security, like a drug in which we have become dependent… But this noise is a dangerous, deceptive medicine… The dictatorship of the image, which plunges our attention into a perpetual whirlpool, detests silence… Modern civilization does not know how to be quiet… Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer… Contemplative silence is a fragile little flame in the middle of a raging ocean… We cannot hear the Word if we have not been previously transformed by God’s silence… Without silence, God disappears in the noise… Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost.
As I reread these quotes from Cardinal Sarah I’m afraid I must stop typing. I’ve already said enough. It’s time to break free from the dictatorship of noise and words. Lord, let’s enjoy some silence together. So, signing off for now…
Deacon Matt Woodley
1. Pause and take a brief listening tour through your day. What are primary places and times in your where you have the opportunity for silence? Do you find yourself uncomfortable in these spaces?
2. Imagination can be a very powerful tool to be used by God, but can also be a great distraction keeping us from God. What would it look like for you to harness your imaginative energy towards God through what you listen to, or don't listen to?
3. Sometimes silence and solitude require us intentionally removing ourselves from the company others. What are times you can participate in this life-giving separation this Lent?
Read the first post in our devotional series here.
Find more practical guidance as you walk through Lent in The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, a new book by Fr. Aaron Damiani, the rector of our church plant, Immanuel Anglican in Chicago.