Archive for the ‘Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1’ Category

Week of 8 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Camels at Giza

To What Do We Cling?

NOT OBSERVED IN 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) 17:24-29 (Revised English Bible):

Yet he leaves a way open for the penitent to return to him

and endows the waverer with strength to endure.

Return to the Lord and have done with sin;

make your prayer in his presence and lessen your offence.

Come back to the Most High,

renounce wrongdoing,

and hate intensely what he abhors.

The living give him thanks,

but who will praise the Most High from the grave?

When the dead cease to be, their gratitude dies with them;

only when alive and well do they praise the Lord.

How great is the Lord’s mercy

and his forgiveness to those who turn to him!

Psalm 32:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make your prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Mark 10:17-27 (Revised English Bible):

As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked,

Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?

Jesus said to him,

Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments:  “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honour your father and your mother.”

He replied,

But Teacher, I have kept all these since I was a boy.

As Jesus looked at him, his heart warmed to him.

One thing you lack,

he said.

Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.

At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them,

How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!

They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted.

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another,

Then who can be saved?

Jesus looked at them and said,

For men it is impossible, but not for God; everything is possible for God.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A commonly-held First Century C.E. Jewish assumption was that the wealthy were closer to God than were common people.  Jesus refuted that point of view.

I have encountered an assumption that there is a checklist of holiness, and that, if one does enough good deeds, one will go to Heaven.  Jesus refuted that point of view, too.

A wealthy man who had observed many commandments asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?”  Jesus told the man to abandon his security blanket, his wealth.  The rich man’s sin was the false assumption of self-sufficiency.  He needed to depend solely on God, a theme consistent with other material from Mark 10.

Then Jesus delivered a striking piece of hyperbole:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The commentaries I have consulted agree that this most likely what is seems to be:  it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar expression about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle.

The rich man needed to cease to cling to his wealth to draw nearer to God.  To what do you cling?  What holds you back?  It is possible to draw nearer to God by grace.  Forgiveness and repentance are possible by grace.  And we need to cling only to God.

KRT

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Week of 7 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Parisian Children

The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

MARCH 2, 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) 17:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

The Lord created human beings from the earth

and to it he turns them back again.

He set a fixed span of life for mortals

and gave them authority over everything on earth.

He clothed them with power like his own

and made them in his own image.

He put the fear of them into all creatures

and granted them lordship over beasts and birds.

He fashioned tongues, eyes, and ears for them,

and gave them minds with which to think.

He filled them with understanding and knowledge

and showed them good and evil.

He kept watch over their hearts,

to display to them the majesty of his works.

They will praise his holy name,

proclaiming the grandeur of his works.

He gave them knowledge

and endowed them with the life-bringing law.

He established with them an everlasting covenant

and revealed to them his decrees.

Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,

and their ears heard the glory of his voice.

He said to them,

Refrain from all wrongdoing,

and he taught each his duty towards his neighbour.

Their conduct lies open before him at all times,

never hidden from his sight.

Psalm 103:1-4, 13-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins,

and heals all your infirmities;

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

14 For he himself knows whereof we are made;

he remembers that we are dust.

15 Our days are like the grass;

we flourish like a flower of the field;

16 When the wind goes over it, it is gone,

and its place shall know it more more.

17 But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him,

and his righteousness on children’s children;

18 On those who keep his covenant

and remember his commandments and do them.

Mark 10:13-16 (Revised English Bible):

They brought children for him to touch.  The disciples rebuked them, but when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them,

Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you:  whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

And he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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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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Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 355

Human nature is complex.  It is true that we bear the image of God.  Yet we are deeply flawed.  We cannot pass a day without sinning at least once.  We are capable of caring deeply for one another and of hating each other.  We feed, clothe, and visit each other, yet we commit murder.  We comfort each other, yet some of us bully others.  As the psalmist reminds us poetically, God knows that we are dust.  God has mercy on us; otherwise we would all be doomed.

Ben Sira writes that God has instructed us in what is right and what is wrong, and that God sees all that we do.  We have much power over our fellow species in the Animal Kingdom, and great responsibility accompanies it.  Dominion does not indicate ownership, for Genesis states that we are stewards.  A steward manages what another owns.  So we ought to care deeply and actively for the rest of creation.  Besides, what affects the rest of creation affects us, too.

On a side note, “fear” in Sirach and the psalm refers to a sense of awe.  I wonder if Ben Sira became deeply acquainted with a cat.  I have known several cats very well, and I do not recall perceiving that any of them looked upon me with awe.  I loved all these felines deeply, thinking of them as furry children.  I even gave them my last name.  I have never known a humble cat, and I think that no cat has any reason to be meek.  A cat, an old saying tells me, “may look a king in the eyes.”  And may God bless house cats for that quality.

I confess that I do not like children.  As best I can tell, this derives mostly or entirely from my childhood experiences; many of my age peers were cruel to me.  So human depravity makes sense; if we were noble creatures, this nature would manifest itself more during our formative years.  And I have chosen a lifestyle certain to avoid having any children.  I consider women the better part of the human species, but I live apart from any of them.  My lot is more contemplative and solitary than not.  Children would disturb me, and I lack the patience to deal with them properly.

So the reading from Mark gives me pause.  The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?  Yes, the Gospels challenge me, too.  William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, identifies four spiritual values children embody (generally speaking):

  1. humility
  2. obedience
  3. trust
  4. a short memory

Children, Barclay writes, are generally not obsessed with their own importance.  Also, obedience is their natural instinct, as are trust in parental authority and the goodness of others.  Finally, children tend to be slow to hold grudges.  There is no divine law against such characteristics.

Perhaps the most important lesson for we educated adults who like to think matters through deeply and question authority is that, when approaching God, we ought not to think too highly of ourselves.  God is God, and we are not.  Arrogance is endearing in a cat, but it is not a spiritual virtue in a human being.

Here ends the lesson.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/the-kingdom-of-god-belongs-to-such-as-these/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   18 comments

Above: Wedding Rings

Proper Human Relations are Grounded in Love

MARCH 1, 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) 6:5-17 (Revised English Bible):

Pleasant words win many friends,

and affable talk makes acquaintance easy.

Live at peace with everyone:

accept advice, however, from but one in a thousand.

When you make a friend, begin by testing him,

and be in no hurry to give him your trust.

Some friends are loyal when it suits them

but desert you in time of trouble.

Some friends turn into enemies

and shame you by making the quarrel public.

Another may sit at your table

but in time of trouble is nowhere to be found;

when you are prosperous, he is your second self

and talks familiarly with your servants,

but if you come down in the world, he turns against you

and you will not see his face again.

Hold your enemies at a distance,

and keep a wary eye on your friends.

A faithful friend is a secure shelter;

whoever finds one, finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price;

there is no measure of his worth.

A faithful friend is an elixir of life,

found only by those who fear the Lord.

Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,

for he treats a neighbour as himself.

Psalm 119:17-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,

that I may live and keep your word.

18 Open my eyes, that I may see

the wonders of your law.

19 I am a stranger here on earth;

do not hide your commandments from me.

20 My soul is consumed at all times

with longing for your judgments.

21 You have rebuked the insolent;

cursed are they who stray from your commandments!

22 Turn from me shame and rebuke,

for I have kept your decrees.

23 Even though rulers sit and plot against me,

I will meditate on your statutes.

24 For your decrees are my delight,

and they are my counselors.

Mark 10:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

On leaving there he came into the regions of Judaea and Transjordan.  Once again crowds gathered round him, and he taught them as was his practice.  He was asked,

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?

The question was put to test him.  He responded by asking,

What did Moses command you?

They answered,

Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife by a certificate of dismissal.

Jesus said to them,

It was because of your stubbornness that he made this rule for you.  But in the beginning, at the creation, “God made them male and female.”  ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’  It follows that they are no longer two individuals:  they are one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.

When they were indoors again, the disciples questioned him about this.  He said to them,

Whoever divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery against her; so too, if she divorces her husband and remarries, she commits adultery.

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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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Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

–Joseph Scriven, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Printed in the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal (1938)

Experience has taught me that one knows who one’s friends are when one needs help the most.  Those we think of as friends but who are not really friends reveal their true nature when the chips are down.  These individuals are really hangers-on, I suppose.  But true friends are indeed gifts from God and emissaries thereof.  Count yourself fortunate if you have even one such person in your life, for such individuals demonstrate the best of phileo, or brotherly love.

And who should be better friends than two married people?  That, at least, is the ideal.  With that in mind, let us examine the text of Mark 10:1-12 closely.  Some Pharisees ask Jesus a question as a test of his orthodoxy.  The standard of orthodoxy from which they worked was the Law of Moses.  So consider Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (Revised English Bible):

If a man has taken a woman in marriage, but she does not win his favour because he finds something offensive in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, and if after leaving his house she goes off to become the wife of another man, and this second husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, or dies after making her his wife, then her first husband who had dismissed her is not free to her to be his wife again; for him she has become unclean.  This would be abominable to the LORD, and you must not bring sin upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you as your holding.

According to the Law of Moses, only a man could initiate a divorce (on grounds of “something offensive,” which is to say, usually adultery), but, if he did, he had to grant his ex-wife a certificate of divorce so that she could remarry.  This was for the woman’s protection, for society was strongly patriarchal and women were generally economically dependent on men.  The playing field was uneven, with women having fewer rights than men.  A woman could ask for a divorce, but only a man could grant it.

Schools of thought differed on what constituted “something offensive” in the wife.  Adultery was certainly offensive, but some interpreted this condition to apply even to spoiling a dish of food or speaking disrespectfully of in-laws.  Consequently, many men divorced their wives for trivial reasons and place these women at great economic peril.  So Jesus condemned this practice and affirmed the value of women.  Females, he said, are people to cherish; they are things to throw away casually.

This is an apt setting in which to consider New England Puritan family law.  Puritans have a reputation as very strict and humorless people.  I know that they hanged falsely convicted women as witches and crushed an innocent man to death while trying to convince him to confess to being a warlock in 1692-1693, but Puritan family law was more favorable to women than some might guess.  Puritans believed that marriage exists for the sake of the family, and were sufficiently realistic to understand that preservation of the family requires divorce in some cases.  Professor Edmund Morgan, in The Puritan Family (Second Edition, 1966), wrote, “The grounds for divorce, as revealed by the statement of the ministers, were adultery, desertion, and absence for a length of time to be determined by the civil government.”  (page 36)  Wives sued successfully for divorce from husbands who had abandoned them.  (page 37)  Other legally valid causes of divorce were “natural capacities, and insufficiencies,” bigamy, and incest.  (page 35)  In addition, civil law forbade married men and women to strike each other, and courts enforced this rule.  (page 39)  In brief, lawful divorce flowed from one party disregarding a fundamental duty of marriage, as Puritans defined such matters.  The fundamental duties were  “peaceful cohabitation, sexual union and faithfulness, and economic support of the wife by the husband.”  (pages 41-42) The innocent party in the divorce proceeding was free to remarry.  (page 37) These laws treated women like people, not objects.

I know of a United Methodist clergywoman who divorced her first husband on the grounds of attempted murder.  Would any reasonable person deny her that divorce?

There are two parts of the law:  the letter and the spirit.  Clever legalists know how to manipulate the letter of the law to benefit themselves while violating the spirit of the law.  But let us honor the spirit of the law.  Let us respect one another and treat each other as human beings with dignity, people nobody has the right to throw away casually and place at undue risk.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/grounded-in-love/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Logo of Lehman Brothers, a Firm Defunct Since 2008

Bad Priorities and Good Priorities

FEBRUARY 28, 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) 5:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

Do not rely on your money

and say,

This makes me self-sufficient.

Do not yield to every impulse you can gratify

or follow the desires of your heart.

Do not say,

I have no master;

the Lord, you may be sure, will call you to account.

Do not say,

I have sinned, yet nothing happened to me;

it is only that the Lord is very patient.

Do not be so confident that of pardon

that you pile up sins on sin;

do not say,

His compassion is so great

he will pardon my sins, however many.

To him belong both mercy and anger,

and sinners feel the weight of his retribution.

Turn back to the Lord without delay,

and do not defer action from one day to the next;

for the Lord’s anger can suddenly pour out,

and at the time of reckoning you will perish.

Do not rely on ill-gotten gains,

for they will not avail on the day of calamity.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and the meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,

everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked;

they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the LORD knows the ways of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Mark 9:42-50 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

If anyone causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck.  If your hand causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed than to keep both hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  If your foot causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better to enter into life crippled than to keep both your feet  and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes your downfall, tear it out; it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.

Everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?

You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

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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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Self-reliance is a lie and an illusion.  It is one of the most cherished lies and illusions of my North American culture, where “self-made men” are ideals.  The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as a “self-made man” (or woman); everybody relies on God.  And we humans rely on each other.  What affects one affects another,  immediately or in time.  If we get greedy and reckless, this affects a great many people, hence the old Lehman Brothers logo at the top of this post.

So much for Gordon Gecko and Horatio Alger.  These signify bad priorities.

The reading from Mark is a continuation of the discourse of Jesus in which he states he who wants to the greatest must be the servant of all, and in which he says that anyone who receives a child (a vulnerable and powerless member of society) receives not only Jesus himself but YHWH God.  Then our Lord and Savior engages in hyperbole.  No part of the body causes one to sin, and he is not advocating self-mutilation.  Sin arises from inside ourselves, and the point of the hyperbole is to say to flee from sin.  As Ben Sira reminds us in the first reading, God’s patience does have limits.

And then there are lines about salt.  First we have, “Everyone will be salted with fire.”  This is a reference to salt used on a ritual sacrificial item or animal. As William Barclay observes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the salt made the sacrifice acceptable to God.  And fire signifies that which purifies life.  Hence being salted with fire is obeying God and undergoing discipline and the risk (at least the risk) of persecution.

Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?

Salt, in proper quantities, improves the taste of food.  It also preserves food.  Salt was valuable in the ancient world.  Sometimes it was a form of currency, so an underperforming employee was “not worth his salt.”  We Christians, then, are supposed to give to our world a positive flavor and to preserve and promote goodness.  Are you worth your salt?  I cannot answer that question for you, no more than you can answer that question for me.

You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Salt, in this case, is a metaphor the the purifying Spirit of Christ.  This is not purity of the ritual kind, as the Pharisees practiced.  No, this is the inner variety of purity.  Jesus said that nothing that enters a person defiles (or “makes common”) a person, but that what comes out a person does that.  Ritual purity was about making oneself a member of the spiritual elite, unlike the “impure” rabble.  But Jesus advocated a different understanding of purity:  love, forgiveness, altruism, et cetera.  There is no divine law against such things.  These are good priorities.

The fire will come to you and to me.  Will it consist of flames destroying treasures laid up on earth, or will it be the disciplining fire likened to salt?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/good-priorities-and-bad-priorities/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Wisdom, by Robert Lewis Reed (1896), at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Misguided Possessiveness and Factionalism are Unwise

FEBRUARY 27, 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) 4:11-19 (Revised English Bible):

Wisdom raises her sons to greatness

and gives help to those who seek her.

To love her is to love life;

those who rise early to greet her will be filled with joy.

He who holds fast to her will gain honour;

the Lord’s blessing rests on the house she enters.

To serve her is to serve the Holy One,

and the Lord loves those who love her.

He who is obedient to her will give true judgement,

and, because he listens to her, his home will be secure.

If he trusts her, he will possess her

and bequeath her to his descendants.

At first she will lead him by torturous ways,

filling him with craven fears.

Her discipline will be a torment to him,

and her decrees a hard test,

until he trusts her with all his heart;

then she will come straight back to him,

bringing gladness and revealing to him her secrets.

But if he strays, she will abandon him

and leave him to his fate.

Psalm 119:161-168 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

161 Rulers have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

162 I am as glad because of your promise

as one who finds great spoils.

163 As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law is my love.

164 Seven times a day do I praise you,

because of your righteous judgments.

165 Great peace have they who love your law;

for them there is no stumbling block.

166 I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD,

and I have fulfilled your commandments.

167 I have kept your decrees

and I have loved them deeply.

168 I have kept your commandments and decrees,

for all my ways are before you.

Mark 9:38-41 (Revised English Bible):

John said to him,

Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and as he was not one of us, we tried to stop him.

Jesus said,

Do not stop him, for no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able the next moment to speak evil of me.  He is not against us is on our side.  Truly I tell you:  whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you are followers of the Messiah will certainly not go unrewarded.

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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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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.

–Jesus in Mark 8:38 (Revised English Bible)

and this:

I now understand how true it is that God has no favourites, but that in every nation those who are god-fearing and do what is right are acceptable to him.

–Simon Peter in Acts 10:34-35 (Revised English Bible)

God works through and speaks to and through a wide variety of people.  Many of them are unlike you, O reader, or me.  Yet they are of God, too.  So, how will we respond to them.  I know how we should respond; we should welcome them and give thanks for them.  We might even be able to collaborate with some of them now and again.  But will we exhibit a positive response or attempt to shut them down, as the Apostles did?

Ben Sira explains that divine wisdom, personified as female, is both comforting and challenging, delightful and capable of tough love.  (The psalmist agrees.)  This writing comes from a place of lived and mature spirituality; it recognizes that discipline is part of God’s love for us.  If we persist faithfully, however, we will learn the lessons God has in mind for us.

The Apostles needed to learn such lessons.  They reported discouraging a successful exorcist who was not of their religious opinion in Mark 9:38.  Yet, in Mark 9:18, they failed in their attempts at exorcism.  Were they protecting their turf and criticizing unjustly one who could do what they could not?  This other fellow’s success did not trouble Jesus, though”  “He who is not against us is on our side.”  Our Lord and Savior did not pay undue attention to divisive labels and artificial categories.  Neither should we.

Human thoughts do not limit divine wisdom.  This is a challenging realization, one that acting upon can lead to scorn, if not persecution.  But, as Jesus said,

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

–Luke 6:22-23 (Revised English Bible)

So be it.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/misguided-possessiveness-and-factionalism-are-unwise/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  Orthodox Icon of Jesus at Golgotha, by Theophanes the Cretan (1500s)

Righteousness and Suffering

FEBRUARY 26, 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) 2:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

My son, if you aspire to be a servant of the Lord,

prepare yourself for testing.

Set a straight course and keep to it,

and do not be dismayed in the face of adversity.

Hold fast to him and never let go,

if you would end your days in prosperity.

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust him and he will help you;

steer a straight course and fix your hope on him.

You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;

do not stray, for fear you will fall.

You that fear the Lord, trust in him,

and you will not be baulked of your reward.

You that fear the Lord, hope for prosperity

and lasting joy and favour.

Consider the past generations and see:

was anyone who trusted the Lord ever disappointed?

Was anyone who stood firm in the fear of him ever abandoned?

Did he ever ignore anyone who called to him?

For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;

he forgives sin and saves in time of trouble.

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

Mark 9:30-37 (Revised English Bible):

They left that district and made their way through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know, because he was teaching his disciples, and telling them,

The Son of Man is now to be handed over into the power of men, and they will kill him; and three days after being killed he will rise again.

But they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.

So they came to Capernaum; and when he had gone indoors, he asked them,

What were you arguing about on the way?

They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing which one of them was the greatest.  So he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself the last of all and servant of all.

Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm round him.

Whoever receives a child like this in my name,

he said,

receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.

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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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Consider the Lukan version of the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who are in need;

the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who now go hungry;

you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now;

you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But alas for you who are rich;

you have had your time of happiness.

Alas for you who are well fed now;

you will go hungry.

Alas for you who laugh now;

you will mourn and weep.

Alas for you when all speak well of you;

that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

–Jesus in Luke 6:20-26 (Revised English Bible)

Then reread Sirach 2:1-11 and Psalm 112.  They are quite different, are they not?

Prosperity Theology is a heresy.  Love God and get rich and be healthy, is says.  This a simplified version of that line of thought, but Prosperity Theology is an oversimplification itself.  Part of good Biblical interpretation is balance.  For example, we are sinful (That is in the Bible.), but we also bear the image of God (That, too, is in the Bible.).  So it is heretical to state we are either equivalent to pond scum (to the exclusion of the image of God) or that we are “a little lower than the angels” (to the exclusion of our sinfulness).  One needs to weigh Biblical subtleties intelligently.

As a student of history, I know of the Northern Renaissance, an offshoot of the Italian Renaissance.  I consider myself a partial product of the Northern Renaissance, which favored following the example of Jesus more than ecclesiastical doctrines and dogmas.  So, with that mind, let us consider the example of Jesus in today’s reading from Mark.  He foretells his arrest, torture, execution and resurrection.  He uses plain language to do this.  The Apostles do not understand, but they are afraid to ask for an explanation. They have, however, been debating among themselves which is the greatest.  The greatest, Jesus says, is the lowliest in society–the servant and the child, in particular.

Which examples might Jesus use if he were giving this teaching today?  I suspect he would speak of immigrants, foster children, minimum-wage employees, and other vulnerable, powerless people.  This is my list, for I am North American.  If Jesus were delivering this teaching in India, he might say that anyone who welcomes a Dalit receives God.

It is vital to inject the reading from Mark with contemporary analogies.  Otherwise, we might not face the raw power of the teaching of Jesus, surely the most righteous man who ever lived.  And what happened to him?  We know the answer to that question, do we not?  If Jesus had lived in more modern times, we might not have crosses in churches; we might have replicas of an electric chair, a gas chamber, or a noose in churches.  Clarence Jordan translated the story of Jesus into the Southern U.S. idiom in his Cotton Patch versions of the Gospels.  Jordan’s Jesus died during a lynching.

Yet it is also true that, as Ben Sira tells us, gold is tested in the fire, and the righteous ones of God in the furnace of humiliation.  I am fortunate that I live in a nation and a society in which I can worship freely.  My society is not perfect, as outbreaks of blind, irrational, and hateful Islamophobia, especially in Republican Party politics demonstrate.  (I write on the eve of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections.)  But we, as a society, are more tolerant than are many others.  If I were Christian in southern Sudan or anywhere in Iran, for example, I would certainly be at great risk of religious persecution.  For such Christians the reading I quoted from Luke is a potent reality.  Yet discipleship, even for a persecution-free Christian such as myself, must entail sacrifice.  And I must not mistake popularity with divine approval.

These are difficult readings from the Gospels.  Jesus challenges us to follow his example, wherever that takes us and regardless of the cost to ourselves.  But this is the path to holiness.  I have noticed many Lutheran churches named “Cross and Crown” or “Cross of Life.”  Such labels are spiritually correct.  I invite you, O reader, to ponder them and what you might have to sacrifice for the sake of righteousness.

And may the love of God flow through you and to all your fellow human beings, for everyone is a child of God.  Some are more rebellious than others, to be sure, but all stand in the need of grace and bear the image of God.  May love, not intolerance, characterize those of us who claim the label “Christian.”  The way of cross is not the path of hatred and other forms of intolerance.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/righteousness-and-suffering/

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/