Archive for October 2010

Week of 7 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   5 comments

Above: Lauterbrunnen Valley, in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland

Awe

FEBRUARY 25, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 1:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

All wisdom is from the Lord;

she dwells with him for ever.

Who can count the sands of the sea, the raindrops, or the days of unending time?

Who can measure the height of the sky,

the breadth of the earth, or the depth of the abyss?

Wisdom was first of all created things;

intelligent purpose has existed from the beginning.

To whom has the root of wisdom been revealed?

Who has understanding of her subtlety?

One alone is wise, the Lord most terrible,

seated upon his throne.

It is he who created her, beheld and measured her,

and infused her into all his works.

To everyone he has given her in some degree,

but without stint to those who love him.

Psalm 93 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

he has put on splendid apparel;

the LORD has put on his apparel

and girded himself with strength.

2 He has made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

3 Ever since the world began, your throne has been estabished;

you are from everlasting.

4 The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

5 Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

6 Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

for ever and for evermore.

Mark 9:14-29 (Revised English Bible):

When they came back to the disciples they saw a large crowd surrounding them and scribes arguing with them.  As soon as they saw Jesus the whole crowd were overcome with awe and ran forward to welcome him.  He asked them,

What is this argument about?

A man in the crowd spoke up:

Teacher, I brought my son for you to cure.  He is possessed by a spirit that makes him dumb.  Whenever it attacks him, it flings him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth, grinds this teeth, and goes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.

Jesus answered:

What an unbelieving generation!  How long shall I be with you?  How long must I endure you?  Bring him to me.

And they brought the boy to him; and as soon as the spirit saw him it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked his father,

How long has he been like this?

He replied,

From childhood; it has often tried to destroy him by throwing him into the fire or into water.  But if it is at all possible for you, take pity on us and help us.

Jesus said,

It is possible!  Everything is possible to one who believes.

At once the boy’s father cried:

I believe; help my unbelief.

When Jesus saw that the crowd was closing in on him, he spoke sternly to the unclean spirit.

Deaf and dumb spirit,

he said,

I command you, come out of him and never go back!

It shrieked aloud and threw the boy into repeated convulsions, and then came out, leaving him like a corpse; in fact, many said,

He is dead.

But Jesus took hold of his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.

Then Jesus went indoors, and his disciples asked him privately,

Why could we not drive it out?

He said,

This kind cannot be driven out except by prayer.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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One alone is wise, the Lord most terrible,

seated upon his throne.

–Sirach 1:8 (Revised English Bible)

ter-ri-ble6.  FORMIDABLE causing awe or dread

Encarta World English Dictionary (1999)

“Fear of God” is an expression I hear often.  I wonder how many people who use it know what it means.  “Fear,” in this case, is not terror; it is awe, as in the use of the word “terrible,” which is present (meaning definition #6, quoted above) in many older hymns.  Look at Sirach 1:8 again and compare translations.  The New American Bible reads “awe-inspiring” were the REB says “terrible,” and the New Revised Standard Version has “greatly to be feared.”  The Roman Catholic version of the Good News Translation, Second Edition (1992), reads:

There is only one who is wise,

and we must stand in awe before his throne.

What, then, is awe?  The best definition I can find comes from the Encarta World English Dictionary (1999):

a feeling of amazement and respect mixed with fear that is often coupled with a feeling of personal insignificance or powelessness

We are all insignificant and powerless relative to God.  This lesson ties into the reading from Mark.  Before I get to that, I need to establish our place in the Markan narrative so far.  The Transfiguration has just happened.  Selected Apostles have seen a manifestation of how significant and powerful Jesus is.  Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, disciples have tried and failed to heal a boy afflicted by what his culture understood as a demon.  (We would have a clinical diagnosis today in North America, but that is beside the point of the story.)  The disciples tried and failed because they were unprepared and out of their league.  Jesus had not given them this assignment.  These disciples were eager and ineffective beavers, almost certainly motivated, though, by altruism.  (Let us assume the best, given the absence of evidence to think otherwise.)

These disciples felt powerless and insignificant, as did many other members of the crowd.  The Markan Gospel tells us that, as Jesus and his hand-picked Apostles descended the mountain, people looked at him with awe.  Previous chapters in Mark contain stories of our Lord and Savior’s renown, so this account fits neatly with those.  And Jesus does what people believe he can do.  The father believes somewhat that Jesus can cure his son.  The “somewhat” part of this is understandable, given the stress the man must have experienced for years.  But it was enough; it was little yet sufficient.

Jesus was close to God, the source of his power.  (He was also part of God.  Let us not attempt to explain any further, for the Trinity is a beautiful mystery beyond human comprehension.)  And, as Ben Sira tells us in Sirach, one of my favorite books of the Bible, we must stand in awe before God’s throne.  Ben Sira writes that this is God who has created nature and wisdom, personified as a woman.  (This gender personification is appropriate, I think.  Generally speaking, I am more likely to have an intelligent conversation with a woman than with a man.)  Wisdom, Ben Sira, writes, is the original creation, and God has distributed it to everyone, but “without stint” to those who love him.

So all that is good, noble, constructive, and really wise is of God.  This realization need not drive anyone to theocratic leanings and opposition to science and intellectualism, for that negative approach is neither good nor noble nor constructive nor really wise.  As an Episcopalian, I affirm that human reason is a valid prism (along with scripture and tradition) through which to consider matters of faith and theology.  Science is a valid path to much knowledge, and the misuse of scripture to contradict proven reality is an old sin of much of the Church.  For example, when Copernicus (in the 1500s) and Galileo (in the 1600s) argued from observations that the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Catholic Church labeled such ideas heretical.  They cited texts including Psalm 93:2:

He has made the whole world so sure
that it cannot be moved;

Poetry is a poor substitute for astronomy.

To be clear, I state simply that we mere mortals need to know that we are mere mortals who must stand in awe of God, if we are to proceed on solid ground during our spiritual journeys.  This is humility, certainly a virtue.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/awe/

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   21 comments

Above: The Gleaners, by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857

Active Compassion

FEBRUARY 23, 2014

FEBRUARY 19, 2017

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Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40 (New Revised Standard Version):

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,

and I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law

and observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments,

for I delight in it.

Turn my heart to your decrees,

and not to selfish gain.

Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;

give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise,

which is for those who fear you.

Turn away the disgrace that I dread,

for your ordinances are good.

See, I have longed for your precepts;

in your righteousness give me life.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

He catches the wise in their craftiness,

and again,

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,

that they are futile.

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Book of Leviticus is really quite interesting in places.  High-minded, laudatory-sounding commandments rub shoulders with others that seem scary or trivial.  So, Leviticus 19:3-8 contains the commandments to honor one ‘s parents (a good thing to do), reject idols (also a good thing to do), and to make peace offerings to God just so, or else be cut off from the community (scary).  Then 19:19 mentions kosher clothing, and 19:20 requires the sacrificial offering of a ram for forgiveness of the sin of having sex with a slave girl whose freedom has been purchased yet who is promised to another man.  I could continue with this list, but that exercise would constitute overkill, and the book is in print.

One can become lost in such details in Leviticus, but that is an error.  The selected commandments for reading on this Sunday go hand-in-hand with other assigned lessons.  These commandments from God require active compassion toward others.  Some of the literal details do not apply to how many people live in 2010 or 2011, but the spirit of the law is timeless.  And there is a time-honored religious practice of seeking new applications of the spirit of the law.

The word “perfect” from Matthew 5:48 requires some explanation.  The word choice makes sense when one applies it to God, but no sense with regard to fallible human beings.  Commentaries tell me that “honest” is a better choice with regard to people:  “Be honest, just as God is perfect.”  The parallel reading in Luke says “merciful,” which applies here, too.  And these options echo nicely with Leviticus and its command to be holy, as God is holy.

Holiness is concrete, not abstract.  And it entails acts of mercy and compassion toward others–those we know and do not know, as well as our friends and our enemies.  The last part of that equation is quite difficult, possible only through grace.  But it is possible.

Thanks be to God!

KRT

Written on June 16, 2010

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/active-compassion/

Week of 6 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  An Illustrated Manuscript from 1300:  The Account of the Transfiguration of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark

Spiritual Blindness and Deafness Resulting from Erroneous Assumptions

FEBRUARY 23, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 11:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.

It was for our faith that the people old won God’s approval.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed by God’s command, so that the visible came forth from the invisible.

By faith Abel offered a greater sacrifice than Cain’s; because of his faith God approved his offerings and attested his goodness; and through his faith, though he is dead, he continues to speak.

By faith Enoch was taken up to another life without passing through death; he was not to be found, because God had taken him, and it is the testimony of scripture that before he was taken he had pleased God.  But without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever comes to God must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him.

By faith Noah took good heed of the divine warning about the unseen future, and built an ark to save his household.  Through his faith he put the whole world in the wrong, and made good this own claim to the righteousness which comes of faith.

Psalm 145:1-4, 10-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will exalt you, O God my King,

and bless your Name for ever and ever.

2 Every day will I bless you

and praise your Name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

there is no end to his greatness.

4 One generation shall praise your works to another

and shall declare your power.

10 All your works praise you, O LORD,

and all your faithful servants bless you.

11 They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power;

12 That the peoples may know of your power

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;

your dominion endures throughout all ages.

Mark 9:2-13 (Revised English Bible):

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And in their presence he was transfigured; his clothes became dazzling white, with a whiteness no bleacher on earth could equal.  They saw Elijah appear and Moses with him, talking with Jesus.  Then Peter spoke:

Rabbi,

he said,

it is good that we are here!  Shall we make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?

For he did not know what to say; they were so terrified.  Then a cloud appeared, casting its shadow over them, and out of the cloud came a voice:

This is my beloved Son; listen to him.

And suddenly, when they looked around, only Jesus was with them; there was no longer anyone else to be seen.

On their way down the mountain, he instructed them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They seized upon those words, and discussed among themselves what this “rising from the dead” could mean.  And they put a question to him:

Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?

He replied,

Elijah does come first to set everything right.  How is it, then, that the scriptures say of the Son of Man that he is to endure great suffering and be treated with contempt?  However, I tell you, Elijah has already come and they have done to him what they wanted, ans the scriptures say of him.

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Hebrews 11:1-7 speaks of faith.  The author of this text defines faith as that which “gives substance to our hopes and convictions of realities we do not see.”  Furthermore, we read, the faithful dead continue to speak (after a fashion) because of their faith.  And faith makes it possible to please God, “for whoever comes to God must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him.”

Here I feel the need to make a distinction.  Believing in God and accepting the the existence of God are separate.  The latter is a merely intellectual jump; the former is a leap of faith.  An Agnostic accepts that God exists, for example, but is still agnostic, literally “without knowledge.”

And it is not just Agnostics who lack knowledge.  We who profess to follow Jesus are just as prone to spiritual ignorance as anyone else.  We see the evidence of nature, but do we understand what it means?  And Apostles spent time with Jesus and heard his words repeatedly, but they remained confused for a very long time.  They were neither stupid nor physically blind or deaf.  No, they labored under misconceptions of Messiahship, that the Messiah would be a national liberator.  But Jesus did not drive out the Romans, nor did he attempt to do so.  He suffered, died, and rose again; before that, he said he would suffer, die, and rise again.  There was a great display of power involved in the Resurrection, but the Romans were still present as occupying power in Judea.

The author of the Gospel of Mark wrote the earliest canonical Gospel in part to dispel false expectations of Messiahship, but, as I have written in previous devotions in this series, some of us have not paid attention.  On the positive side, however, many of us have learned this Markan lesson.

Let us consider the Transfiguration.  I suspect that the most eloquent words are inadequate to the experience.  Yet all accounts agree that there was a spectacular display of Jesus in his divine glory, that God approved of him, and that Jesus is consistent with the Law and the Prophets.  Peter, duly awed, wanted to institutionalize the moment, but that was the wrong response.  Jesus had work to do; he was preparing to die.  And his Apostles needed to be at his side.  We know how that turned out, do we not?

Sadly, we mere mortals today remain blind to many spiritual realities about which Jesus and the Prophets before him were quite plain.  What is wrong with us?  Why are we so dense?  Why do cling to false assumptions?  Why do we not see what is in front of us?

Lord, have mercy.

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Plan for Versailles Palace and Its Grounds, 1746

Monuments to Human Egos

FEBRUARY 22, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 11:1-9 (Revised English Bible):

There was a time when all the world spoke a single language and used the same words.  As people journeyed in the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another,

Come, let us make bricks and bake them hard;

they used bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said,

Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves, or we shall be dispersed over the face of the earth.

The LORD came down to see the city and tower which they had built, and he said,

Here they are, one people with a single language, and now they have started to do this; from now on nothing they have a mind to do will be beyond their reach.  Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they will not understand what they say to one another.

So the LORD dispersed them from there all over the earth, and they left off building the city.  That is why it is called Babel, because there the LORD made a babble  of the language of the whole world.   It was from that place the LORD scattered people over the face of the earth.

Psalm 33:6-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts,

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin,

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

13 The LORD looks down from heaven,

and beholds all the people in the world.

14 From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze

on all who dwell on the earth.

15 He fashions all the hearts of them

and understands all their works.

16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;

a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.

17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;

for all its strength it cannot save.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait upon his love,

19 To pluck their lives from death,

and to feed them in time of famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,

for in his holy Name we put our trust.

22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,

as we have put our trust in you.

Mark 8:34-9:1 (Revised English Bible):

Then he called the people to him, as well as his disciples, and said to them,

Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; he must take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will save it.  What does anyone gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his life?  What can he give to buy his life back?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this wicked and godless age, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

He said to them,

Truly I tell you:  there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Versailles Palace, outside Paris, France, is a tourist attraction and an art museum today.  Yet it began as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII (reigned 1610-1643).  It was certainly a very nice hunting lodge, but it was not a palace.  Louis XIV, the “Sun King” (reigned 1643-1715) began the process of expanding the hunting lodge into a palace, and made it the seat of his court and the architectural symbol of his absolutist rule.  Versailles Palace was a monument to the royal ego.

We students of history know what happened to that royal line, do we not? Hint:  The French Revolution.  Afterward, three kings governed France, and two of those died in exile.  The last king had to evacuate his throne in 1848.

Monuments to human egos outlast the people who build them.

Let us turn now from history to mythology, whereby the Book of Genesis provides a fictional account of the origin of languages.  (Study linguistics for the actual account.)  The people in the city in this myth seek to disobey the divine command to spread out across the planet.  So they establish a building program, one goal of which is to establish their name.  This is about ego.  So God gives them no choice but to obey his command.  The actual meaning of the name “Babylon” is “Gate of God,” which the city in the myth does not become.

Jesus points away from ego and disobedience.  He says to renounce self, take up a cross, and follow him.  Therein lies spiritual life, which no mere mortal can take away from us.  This is life as the worshipers of ego do not recognize it, and it is superior to their concept.  Our glory is in God, not ourselves.

You might have noticed, O reader, Mark 9:1, in which Jesus says:

Truly I tell you:  there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

This text begs one overriding question:  What is the Kingdom of God in this saying?  Let us use textual context.  Consider Mark 1:14-15 (Revised English Bible):

After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:  “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

The ministry of Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God.

Mark 9:2 begins an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Let us distinguish between the Kingdom of God coming in power and people seeing the Kingdom of God coming in power.  At this point (9:1)  in Mark, the Kingdom of God has come in power, that is, the power working through Jesus.  People will realize this very shortly, Jesus is saying.  The Transfiguration reveals this fact to Apostles, and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus render the Messianic Secret no longer a secret.  Furthermore, the surviving eleven Apostles, as history tells us, spread the Good News of Jesus far abroad.

The definition of the Kingdom of God is ambiguous here, but it pertains to the authority of Jesus.  Evil continues to exist, of course, but (to get jump ahead in the story) the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the superior power of God in Jesus.  This is one theological understanding of the Atonement present in the writings of Church Fathers.

I posit that since Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God almost two thousand years ago, it is still here on the earth.  Appearances might seem to indicate otherwise, but consider this:  The presence of Jesus on earth did not mark the end of the Roman domination of Judea and terminate injustice.  Recall that part of the message of the Gospel of Mark is to argue against the idea of conqueror Messiah.  (See the devotional for the Week of 6 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1.)  So why, if we are paying attention, should we expect the continued presence of the Kingdom of God among the faithful to accomplish anything similar in our time and place?

But let us follow Jesus, sacrificing that which God commands us to sacrifice, obediently.  There is justice with God, and the schedule for that is beyond human comprehension.  So be it.  May we seek to become what we can in God, and not to strike out in foolish directions.  God will handle the rest.

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   19 comments

Above:  Saint Peter

Messiah 101

FEBRUARY 21, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 9:1-17 (Revised English Bible):

God blessed Noah and his sons; he said to them,

Be fruitful and increase in numbers, and fill the earth.  Fear and dread of you will come on all the animals on earth, on all the birds of the air, on everything that moves on the ground, and on all fish in the sea; they are made subject to you.  Every creature that lives and moves will be food for you; I give them all to you, as I have given you every green plant.  But you must never eat flesh with its life still in it, that is the blood.  And further, for your life-blood I shall demand satisfaction; from every animal I shall require it, and from human beings also I shall require satisfaction for the death of their fellows.

“Anyone who sheds human blood,

for that human being his blood will be shed;

because in the image of God

has God made human beings.”

Be fruitful, then, and increase in number; people the earth and rule over it.

God said to Noah and his sons:

I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, all birds and cattle, all the animals with you on earth, all that have come out of the ark.  I shall sustain my covenant with you:  never again will all living creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood, never again will there be a flood to lay waste the earth.

God said,

For all generations to come, this is the sign which I am giving of the covenant between myself and you and all living creatures with you:

my bow I set in the clouds

to be a sign of the covenant

between myself and the earth.

When I bring clouds over the earth,

the rainbow will appear in the clouds.

Then I shall remember the covenant which I have made with you and all living creatures, and never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all creation.  Whenever the bow appears in the cloud, I shall see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and living creatures of every kind on earth.

So God said to Noah,

This is the sign of the covenant which I have established with all that lives on earth.

Psalm 102:15-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

15 The nations shall fear your Name, O LORD,

and all the kings of the earth your glory.

16 For the LORD will build up Zion,

and his glory will appear.

17 He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,

so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD.

19 For the LORD looked down from his holy place on high;

from the heavens he beheld the earth;

20 That he might hear the groan of the captive

and set free those condemned to die;

21 That they may declare in Zion the Name of the LORD,

and his praise in Jerusalem;

22 When the peoples are gathered together,

and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD.

Mark 8:27-33 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples,

Who do people say that I am?

They answered,

Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets.

He asked,

And you, who do you say that I am?

Peter replied,

You are the Messiah.

Then he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him; and he began to teach them that the Son of Man had to endure great suffering, and to be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; to be put to death, and to rise again three days afterwards.  He spoke about it plainly.  At this Peter took hold of him and began to rebuke him.  But Jesus, turning and looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter.

Out of my sight, Satan!

he said.

You think as men think, not as God thinks.

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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In the Southern United States, my native region, we have a saying:  “God bless him (or her).”  I apply this to Simon Peter.  “God bless him.”

The author of the Gospel of Mark states of Jesus that “He spoke about it plainly.”  “It” refers to his impending arrest, torture, execution, and resurrection.  Recall that Jesus had spoken of another matter in metaphors just a few verses before, and the Apostles did understand then.  Now, that our Lord and Savior has laid metaphors aside and begun to use plain Aramaic, the Apostles are just as dense.  They hear his words, but they do not like them.  “Surely Jesus cannot mean this, can he?  No, this cannot be.”  This is my paraphrase of what Apostles, namely Peter, must have thought.

The prevailing concept of Messiahship was that the Messiah would be the conquering hero who would expel the Roman occupiers.  This is understandable; who likes to live in his or her home, under foreign domination?  One of the messages in the Gospel of Mark is this:  The role of the Messiah is not to conquer, but to suffer, die, and rise again.  This is Messiah 101.

God does not think as we do, so attempting to follow God carries the risk of getting it wrong.  This was Peter’s situation, “God bless him.”  Yet consider what he became.  How is that for grace?

God is gracious, as the reading from Genesis makes plain.  God establishes a covenant with people and does not require anything of us; this is about what God will do and will not do.  God will be gracious to us, and the symbol (because we like visuals) is a rainbow.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman quotes Rabbi Martin Lawson regarding this sign:  The rainbow symbolizes the covenant with Noah because it is “a bow pointed away from the earth.”  The origin of the name rainbow in English and Hebrew derives from the fact that the rainbow has the same shape as a bow used to shoot arrows.  The arrows are pointed away from earth.

The presence of Jesus on the earth is likewise an indication of grace.  God is on our side.  Are we on God’s side? (God bless us.)

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Logo of the Mennonite Church U.S.A.

This is the Season of God’s Patience

FEBRUARY 20, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22 (Revised English Bible):

At the end of forty days Noah opened the hatch that he had made in the ark, and sent out a raven; it continued flying to and fro until the water on the earth had dried up.  Then Noah sent out a dove to see whether the water of the earth had subsided.  But the dove found no place where she could settle because all the earth was under water, and and so she came back to him in the ark.  Noah reached out and caught her, and brought her into the ark.  He waited seven days more and again sent the dove from the ark.  She came back to him towards evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak.  Noah knew that the water had subsided from the earth’s surface.  He waited yet another seven days, and, when he sent out the dove, she did not come back to him.  So it came about that month, on the first day of the first month of his six hundred and first year, the water had dried up on the earth, and when Noah removed the hatch and looked out, he saw that the ground was dry.

Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking beasts and birds of every kind that were ritually clean, he offered them as whole-offerings on it.  When the LORD smelt the soothing odour, he said within himself,

Never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of mankind, however evil their inclination may be from their youth upwards, nor shall I ever again kill all living creatures, as I have just done.

“As long as the earth lasts,

seedtime and harvest. cold and heat,

summer and winter, day and night,

they will never cease.”

Psalm 116:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

Mark 8:22-26 (Revised English Bible):

They arrived at Bethsaida.  There the people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.  Then he spat on his eyes, laid his eyes upon him, and asked if he could see anything.  The man’s sight began to come back, and he said,

I see people–they look like trees, but they are walking about.

Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; he looked hard, and now he was cured and could not see anything clearly.  Then Jesus sent him home, saying,

Do not even go into the village.

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The readings from Genesis and Mark might seem incongruous, but, after sifting through commentaries, I have found a common thread.  Follow it with me.

Let us begin in the Gospel of Mark.  Know that juxtaposition is very important here.  Jesus also put on a shamanic show involving spittle (with a deaf man that time) in Chapter 7.  And, in Chapter 8, Jesus has had to deal with chronically critical Pharisees and oblivious and overly literalistic Apostles.  So, on the heels of that incident, we read of our Lord and Savior putting on a shamanic show involving spittle while healing a blind man.  As I wrote while addressing the account of the healing of the deaf man, the Gospel of Mark contains stories of Jesus performing long-distance healings, so the song and dance with spittle was of no healing quality, but it was what people expected and believed would work.  So he met them where they were.  Jesus was gracious that way.

This healing occurs in two stages, with the gift of clear vision not arriving immediately.  The Gospel of Mark may be pithy, but it is not simplistic.  This is a story on two levels:  literal vision and spiritual vision.  The man, presumably blind from birth, not due to poor sanitation and too many bird droppings (Life was harsh for many.), does begin to see clearly.  But what about the Apostles?  They are still clueless much of the time.  And what about the chronically critical religious authorities, the culturally recognized guardians of orthodoxy and holiness?  What excuse do they have?  Jesus’ healing of a blind man becomes an indictment of Apostles and Pharisees.

The treatment of the Gospel in Mark in Volume VIII of The New Interpreter’s Bible divides this book into two main section:  Jesus Heals and Teaches with Power (1:1-8:26) and The Son of Man Must Suffer (8:27-16:30).  Indeed, beginning in 8:27, the foreshadowing of the cross deepens, and the Apostles do not understand that, either.  But I begin to get ahead of myself, so I switch to Genesis.

There is an oft-repeated stereotype of the presentation of God in the Hebrew Bible.  God, I have heard too many times, is harsh and judgmental in the Old Testament.  This is a gross oversimplification, one people would not repeat so casually if they would read the Jewish Bible carefully.  If God is harsh in the Old Testament yet merciful in the New Testament, how do we explain the end of the Noah’s Ark story in Genesis or the dark and apocalyptic sayings of Jesus in the canonical Gospels?  Flee for the hills, he says.  Woe unto pregnant women on the day of wrath, he says.  Are those merciful words?  Oversimplifications cannot account for the complexity of the Bible, and both judgment and mercy are present in the Old and New Testaments, often very close to each other.

In the Noah’s Ark story God destroys most of the human race because of its rampant sinfulness.  This, of course, is judgment.  Afterward, God recognizes the continued sinfulness of the human race but vows never to try to destroy us again.  This is mercy.  God will be present with us in many ways, notably the predictable rhythms of nature.  As Chauncey Gardner says in Being There (1979):

In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have Fall and Winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

And, as the Anabaptists (hence the Mennonite logo at the top of this post) say, this is the season of God’s patience.  Do we understand this?  Are we trying (more often than not) to respond favorably to God and to please God, or are just trying God’s patience?

There is hope for us yet.  The eleven surviving Apostles transformed from dunderheads into great leaders of early Christianity.  Our faith flows from theirs.  So, when we work with God, we can become great vehicles of grace.  May we do so.

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Noah’s Ark, According to Edward Hicks (1780-1849)

Ready or Not…

FEBRUARY 19, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10 (Revised English Bible):

When the LORD saw how great was the wickedness of human beings of earth, and how their every thought and inclination was always wicked, he bitterly regretted that he had made mankind on earth.  He said,

I shall wipe off the face of the earth this human race which I have created–yes, man and beast, creeping things and birds.  I regret that I have ever made them.

Noah, however, won the LORD’s favour.

The LORD said to Noah,

Go into the ark, you and all your household; for you alone in this generation have I found to be righteous.  Take with you seven pairs, a male and female, of all beasts that are ritually clean, and one pair, a male and female, of all beasts that are not clean; also seven pairs, males and females, of every bird–to ensure that life continues on earth.  For in seven days’ time I am going to send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I shall wipe off the the face of the earth every creature I have made.

Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

At the end of seven days the water of the flood came over the earth.

Psalm 29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Ascribe to the LORD, you gods,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;

the God of glory thunders;

the LORD is mighty upon the waters.

4 The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice;

the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor.

5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees;

the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire;

the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;

the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe

and strips the forest bare.

9 And in the temple of the LORD

all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The LORD sits enthroned above the flood;

the LORD sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The LORD shall give strength to his people;

the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Mark 8:14-21 (Revised English Bible):

Now they had forgotten to take bread with them, and had only one loaf in the boat.  He began to warn them:

Beware,

he said,

be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

So they began to talk among themselves about having no bread.  Knowing this, Jesus said to them,

Why are you talking about having no bread?  Have you no inkling yet?  Do you still not understand?  Are your minds closed?  You have eyes:  can you not see?  You have ears:  can you not hear?  Have you forgotten?  When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

They said,

Twelve.

He asked,

And how many when I broke the seven loaves among the four thousand?

They answered,

Seven.

He said to them,

Do you still not understand?

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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“Do you still not understand?”–Jesus in Mark 8:21

I know the feeling.  Sometimes, when standing inside a classroom, having chosen to avoid unduly advanced vocabulary words, I find that students still do not understand.  I spoke slowly and enunciated, so I could not have run my words together.  And I spoke up, so volume could not have been an issue.  I sent the message, but some students did not receive it.

God asks the same question repeatedly in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  Many of our forebears, it seems, either did not listen or chose to pretend that they did not understand.  Today’s reading from Genesis comes from the J account of the Noah’s Ark story.  (The cover art for this post reflects P’s version of God’s instructions–two of every kind.  My North American church culture has fixated on P and ignored J in this matter. C’est la vie.)  In this retelling of an older story, God is frustrated with how creation has turned out.  So God decides to preserve a remnant, destroy the rest, and start over.  God prepares to recreate (create again) the Animal Kingdom.  Noah understands what he must do, and he acts accordingly.  I would say that the rest is history, but this is not history.

“Recreate” is an interesting verb in English.  Depending on whether the first vowel sound is long or short, the meaning is different.  Yet both forms derive from the same Latin word, which means “to bring forth again.”  Recreation, as in games, can refresh us.  And recreation, as in creating again, restores.  Both, however, involve bringing forth again.  And sometimes recreation (long e vowel sound) can be recreation (short e vowel sound).  That is a grace.

The Apostles are in need of recreation (both kinds) in Mark 8:14-21.  Jesus has just fed about 4000 people with a few fishes and a little bread then berated some Pharisees.  These Pharisees have demanded a sign, as you might recall from yesterday’s reading.  Then Jesus, alone with the members of his inner circle speaks in a metaphor, that of leaven, which, in Jewish culture, denoted evil.  So Jesus said to avoid falling into the evil of the Pharisees and the corruption of the Herodians.  Yet, as the Markan Gospel tells the story, the Apostles are clueless; they think Jesus refers to literal bread.  So Jesus, who is already frustrated with Pharisees, adds his Apostles to the list.

Even worse, they still fail to understand after he explains what he means–without a metaphor.  The Apostles need not worry when they are with Jesus.  Consider how far some fishes and loaves of bread went; there is more where that came from.  And why don’t they understand this yet?

We mortals can, if we cooperate with God, display the transforming love of God to anyone who pays attention and who is within our sphere of influence.  First, however, we have to pay attention to whatever God is saying to us.  God is sovereign, and the divine will is destined to come to fruition.  We humans have enough power and free will to ruin Plan A (and B and C…), for example, but God will triumph, with or without us.  Ready or not, here God comes.  May we be ready.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/ready-or-not/

Week of 6 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator, Daphni, Greece

The Sin of Jealousy

FEBRUARY 18, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 4:1-15, 25 (Revised English Bible):

The man lay with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.  She said,

With the help of the LORD I have brought into being a male child.

Afterwards she had another child, Abel.  He tended the flock, and Cain worked the land.  In due season Cain brought some of the fruits of the earth as an offering to the LORD, while Abel brought the choicest of the firstborn of his flock.  The regarded Abel and his offering with favour, but not Cain and his offering.  Cain was furious and he glowered.  The LORD said to Cain,

Why are you angry?  Why are you scowling?

If you do well, you hold hold your head up;

if not, sin is a demon crouching at the door;

it will desire you, and you will be mastered by it.

Cain said to his brother Abel,

Let us go out into the country.

Once there, Cain attacked and murdered his brother.  The LORD asked Cain,

Where is your brother Abel?

Cain answered,

I do not know.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?

The LORD said,

What have you done?  Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.  Now you are accursed and will be banished from the very ground which has opened its mouth to receive the blood you have shed.  When you till the ground, it will no longer yield you its produce.  You shall be a wanderer, a fugitive on the earth.

Cain said the the LORD,

My punishment is heavier than I can bear; now you are driving me off the land, and I must hide myself from your presence.  I shall be a wanderer, a fugitive on the earth, and I can be killed at sight by anyone.

The LORD answered him,

No:  if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be exacted from him….

Adam lay with his wife again.  She gave birth to a son, and named him Seth,

for,

she said,

God has granted me another son in place of Abel, because Cain killed him.

Psalm 50:7-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.

16 But to the wicked God says:

“Why do you recite my statutes,

and take my covenant upon your lips?

17 Since you refuse discipline,

and toss my words behind your back?

18 When you see a thief, you make him your friend,

and you cast in your lot with adulterers.

19 You have loosed your lips for evil,

and harnessed your tongue to a lie.

20 You are always speaking of evil of your brother

and slandering your own mother’s son.

21 These things you have done, and I kept still,

and you thought that I am like you.”

22 “I have made my accusation;

I have put my case in order before your eyes.

23 Consider this well, you who forget God,

lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.

24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me;

but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”

Mark 8:11-13 (Revised English Bible):

Then the Pharisees came out and began to argue with him.  To test him they asked for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said,

Why does generation ask for a sign?  Truly I tell you:  no sign shall be given to this generation.

With that he left them, re-embarked, and made for the other shore.

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The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Part of the process of writing each of these posts is deciding which image to place at the top.  Moody Jesus fits the bill for today, based on the reading from Mark.

The sin of jealousy ties the Genesis and Mark readings together.  We have continuing mythology in Genesis.  Two brothers, Cain and Abel, are quite different from each other.  Each makes a sacrifice to God, and, as Richard Elliott Friedman translates the text,

And YHWH paid attention to Abel and his offering, and did not pay attention to Cain and his offering.  And Cain was very upset, and his face was fallen.

Cain’s reply, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is familiar in the English language.  Professor Friedman, however, translates this question differently:  “Am I my brother’s watchman?”  This, he says, is consistent with a deeper meaning in the Hebrew texts.  People, he reminds the reader of his notes in Commentary on the Torah (2001), were supposed to watch over the Garden of Eden, God commanded cherubs to watch over the tree of life, and Cain was supposed to watch over his brother.  Friedman concludes that the use of this Hebrew verb “becomes a standard expression in the Torah for conveying loyalty to God.”

Jealousy is born of resentment, not love.  And we cannot love God, whom we cannot see, if we do not love those whom we can see.  This love of God, which entails loyalty thereto, is consistent with arguing with God.  I have heard Judaism described as a faith system in which people argue with God; the name “Israel” derives from the story in which Jacob wrestles with an angel (or God).  Indeed, much of the Book of Psalms, when not in overly polite translations, reads much like “Look, Yahweh!  Where have you been for so long?”  And whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” seems not to have familiar with that text.  The title character is quite argumentative.

Yet this argument can occur “within the family” without leading to broken relationships.  God loves us always, but do love God?  And, in Genesis, God both punishes Cain and protects him; the murder must have consequences for the murderer, but death will not be among them.  Both judgment and grace and present.  The situation could have been worse, but how much better might it have been for all involved had Cain controlled his jealousy?

The sacrifices God desires, Psalm 50 tells us, are obedience and thanksgiving.  And Psalm 51:18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer) tells us,

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Love (in Greek, agape), St. Paul the Apostle tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, does not insist on its own way.  With that in mind, let us consider the Pharisees in Mark 8:11-13.  Textual context is vital here; Jesus has just fed about 4000 people with a little bread and a few fishes, with many leftovers filling hamper-sized baskets.  And what do these “orthodox” religious men want?  They desire a sign.  Were they blind?  No, they were jealous.  The mere existence of Jesus disproved much of what they held dear.  His presence threatened their viability.  They were jealous.  And, if I were Jesus, I would be moody, too.  I would leave, also.  Who wants to spend much time around negative people?

Assuming that we love God, why do we?  Is it just because of signs?  I hope not.  This is selfish and shallow.  I propose that we ought to love God because God is God, and we are not.  Being God entails demonstrating certain attributes, among them grace.  Grace is scandalous; it reaches “good” religious people as well as prostitutes and half-breed heretics; it protects sinners and summons penitents.  Grace is inherently unfair, and therein lies its splendor.  And let us not be jealous; no, may we rejoice with our brethren.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-sin-of-jealousy/

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   33 comments

Above:  Moses (Russian Orthodox Icon)

Repeating the Commandment to Obey God

FEBRUARY 16, 2020

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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 15:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,

to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

He has placed before you fire and water;

stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

Before each person are life and death,

and whichever one chooses will be given.

For great is the wisdom of the Lord;

he is mighty in power and sees everything;

his eyes are on those who fear him,

and he knows every human action.

He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,

and has not given anyone permission to sin.

OR

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him,

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

THEN

Psalm 119:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Happy are those whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD.

Happy are those who keep his decrees,

who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,

but walk in his ways.

You have commanded your precepts

to be kept diligently.

O that my ways may be steadfast

in keeping your statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame,

having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

I will praise you with an upright heart,

when I learn your righteous ordinances.

I will observe your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

THEN

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says,

I belong to Paul,

and another,

I belong to Apollos,

are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

THEN

Matthew 5:21-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, continue a thread running though those for the Fourth and Fifth Sundays.  Repetition has certain advantages, such as emphasizing the importance of a topic.  Also, some people do not pay attention easily, and this practice increases the possibility of reaching them.

Everything I have written with regard to the previous two Sundays applies here.  With that out of the way, I provide other remarks.

The laws of God, as recorded in the Bible, come with two elements:  the letter and the spirit.  The letter of the law depends on the time, place, and cultural conditions of the time the law originated.  Thus the letter of the law can become irrelevant.  Consider the Law of Moses.  When was the last time any of you removed the blended garments from your closet? (Leviticus 19:19)

The spirit of the law, however, animates the letter thereof.  What was the reason for the admonition against wearing blends?  It related to the principle of keeping unlike things separate, of being holy.  Think of this as kosher clothing.  Sometimes the spirit of the law remains.  I do not keep kosher, in food or clothing, because I am Christian.  I make no such distinctions; all things are ritually clean for me.

Some of the commandments Jesus mentioned and handed down depended on culture, also.  Yet their spirit transcends their letter.  We humans have received mandates not to objectify or exploit each other, and not to seek creative ways to skirt timeless spirits of the law while seeming to live by the letter thereof.  In making these points, the text from Matthew engages in hyperbole, for eyes and limbs do not cause sin.  Jesus did not advocate self-mutilation, although history says that Origen (c.185-c.254), the influential theologian probably took the text literally and castrated himself.  If this story is true Origen missed the point; he should have contented himself with turning away from sin.  A cold bath or shower would have been a better idea than the option he chose.

May we love one another actively.  This principle summarizes righteousness in a social context.

KRT

Written on June 16, 2010

Week of 5 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   6 comments

Above:  Eucharistic Host with Wafers

Image Source = Patnac

The Bread of Life

FEBRUARY 13, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 3:9-24 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH God called the human and said to him,

Where are you?

And he said,

I heard the sound of you in the garden and was afraid because I was naked, and I hid?

And He said,

Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?

And the human said,

The woman, whom you placed with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.

And YHWH God said to the woman,

What is this that you’ve done?

And the woman said,

The snake tricked me, and I ate.

And YHWH God said to the snake,

Because you did this, you are cursed out of every domestic animal and every animal of the field, you’ll go on your belly, and you’ll eat dust all the days of your life.  And I’ll put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed.  He’ll strike you at the head, and you’ll strike him at the heel.

To the woman He said,

I’ll make your suffering and your labor pain great.  You’ll have children in pain.  And your desire will be for your man, and he’ll dominate you.

And to the human He said,

Because you listened to your woman’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you saying, ‘You shall not eat from it,” the ground is cursed on your account.  You’ll eat from it with suffering all the days of your life.  And it will grow thorn and thistle at you, and you’ll eat the field’s vegetation.  By the sweat of your nostrils you’ll eat bread until you go back to the ground, because you were taken from it; because you are dust and you’ll go back to dust.

And the human called his woman “Eve,” because she was the mother of all living.

And YHWH God made skin garments for the human and his woman and dressed them.

And YHWH God said,

Here, the human has become like one of us, to know good and bad.  And now, in case he’ll put out his hand and take from the tree of life as well, and eat and live forever from the tree of life as well, and eat and live forever.

And YHWH God put him out of the garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken.  And He expelled the human, and He had the cherubs and the flame of a revolving sword reside at the east of the garden of Eden to watch over the way to the tree of life.

Psalm 90:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Lord, you have been our refuge

from one generation to another.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth,

or the land and the earth were born,

from age to age you are God.

3 You turn us back to the dust and say,

“Go back, O child of earth.”

4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past

and like a watch in the night.

5 You sweep us away like a dream;

we fade away suddenly like the grass.

6 In the morning it is green and flourishes;

in the evening it is dried up and withered.

7 For we consume away in your displeasure;

we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.

8 Our iniquities you have set before you,

and our secret sins in the sight of your countenance.

9 When you are angry, all our days are gone;

we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

10 The span of our life is seventy years,

perhaps in strength even eighty;

yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,

for they pass away quickly and we are gone.

11 Who regards the power of your wrath?

who rightly fears your indignation?

12 So teach us to number our days

that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Mark 8:1-10 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

About this time it happened again that a large crowd collected and had nothing to eat.  Jesus called the disciples over to him and said,

My heart goes out to this crowd; they have been with me three days now and they have no food left.  If I send them off home without anything, they will collapse on the way–and some of them have come from a distance.

His disciples replied,

Where could anyone find the food to feed them here in this deserted spot?

Jesus asked them,

How many loaves have you got?

They replied,

Seven.

So Jesus told the crowd to settle themselves on the ground.  Then he took the seven loaves into his hands, and with a prayer of thanksgiving broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people; and this they did.  They had a few small fish as well, and after blessing them, Jesus told his disciples to give these also to the people.  They ate and they were satisfied.  Moreover, they picked up seven baskets of full pieces left over.  The people numbered about four thousand.  Jesus sent them home, and then he boarded the boat at once with the disciples and went on to the district of Dalmanutha.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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This seems like a good time to quote Calvinist theology.  There are three covenants in Calvinism.  The first is the Covenant of Redemption, in which the members of the Holy Trinity agreed to redeem human beings.  Then there is the Covenant of Works, which is of pre-Fall origin.  The formulation is simple:  obey God and live (spiritually and physically); disobey God and die (spiritually and physically).   Grace did mitigate the penalty, as in today’s reading from Genesis.  Sin being universal after the Fall, a third covenant, one of grace, became necessary.  Since we are incapable of fulfilling the terms of the Covenant of Works, life and death are spiritual, not physical.  Jesus fulfills the terms of the Covenant of Works.  (Thanks to R. C. Sproul for his summary of the covenants in What is Reformed Theology?  Understanding the Basics, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1997)

That aspect of Calvinism provides a useful prism for interpreting the readings for today.  Grace was present simultaneously with judgment; God expelled the mythical Adam and Eve from paradise and denied them immortality, yet protected them from immediate death.  The myth communicates a profound truth:  Although we cannot evade all consequences of our actions, often we do not receive all that we deserve.  This is grace.

Speaking of grace, we arrive next at the Feeding of the Four Thousand.  I do not care about engaging in the argument about whether this is a retelling of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (men) plus an uncertain number of women and children.  No, I have a different priority.  Read with me:  Jesus had compassion on the people, some of whom had a long trek back home.  Literally, as J. B. Phillips translated the text, his heart went out to them.  So he fed them.  His grace was abundant, to overflowing:  seven large baskets (hampers, really) full of leftovers.

This story is a foretaste of the Holy Eucharist, one of my favorite activities.  I am so attached to it that I seek to partake of it at least once a week, usually more often.  Jesus is the bread of life–spiritual life.  He is present (really present) in this sacrament.  So, each week, as I pray the Hail Mary silently and partake of bread (and often wine, too), I take my Lord into myself.  If I am what I eat (an apt expression in this context), I become holier for this simple act.  And my spiritual life deepens.  The body will die, but something of myself will continue.  May it do so in the presence of God.  That is called eternity in the afterlife.  May you do likewise.

That will be grace, for all of us.

KRT

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I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE

Words by Sister Suzanne Toolan, R.S.M.

As published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), hymnal and worship book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

1.  “I am the bread of life.

You who come to me shall not hunger,

and who believe in me shall not thirst.

No one can come to me unless the Father beckons.”

“And I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up on the last day.”

2.  “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,

and if you eat of this bread,

you shall live forever,

you shall live forever.”

“And I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up on the last day.”

3.  “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man

and drink of his blood,

and drink of his blood,

you shall not have life within you.”

“And I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up on the last day.”

4.  “I am the resurrection,

I am the life.

If you believe in me,

even though you die,

you shall life forever.”

“And I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up on the last day.”

5.  Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ,

the Son of God,

who has come into the world.

“And I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up,

and I will raise you up on the last day.”

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-bread-of-life/