Archive for the ‘Revised Common Lectionary Year A’ Category
Above: Mount Tabor, Traditional Site of the Transfiguration
Jesus, Consistent with the Law and the Prophets
MARCH 2, 2014
FEBRUARY 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18 (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD said to Moses,
Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.
So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said,
Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
THEN THIS PSALM
Psalm 2 (New Revised Standard Version):
Why do the the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.
I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to me,
You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
OR THIS PSALM
Psalm 99 (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.
THEN THE EPISTLE READING
2 Peter 1:16-21 (New Revised Standard Version):
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying,
This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
THEN THE GOSPEL READING
Matthew 17:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus,
Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said,
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!
When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
Get up and do not be afraid.
And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them,
Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead
O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I read about events such as the Ascension and the Transfiguration I suspect that more happened than I read in texts. I do not doubt the veracity of the accounts, but I suspect that words were inadequate to the full scope of events in question. One just had to be there to get the full effect, and I am about 2,000 years too late for that.
The Transfiguration was a revelatory experience for the accompanying apostles. They glimpsed the true nature of Jesus, which entails being consistent with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). [A true story: Recently Beth Long, my Rector, repeated a question a child in the parish asked. How, this young person queried, did the apostles recognize Moses and Elijah? Beth replied that she did not know. Indeed, that is an intriguing question and a plot hole, but it does not distract me from the point of having Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together briefly.] Yet Peter–”God bless him,” as we say in the U.S. South–wanted to remain in the moment and institutionalize it. This reaction, although well-intentioned, was misguided, for Jesus and the apostles needed to move along.
They were headed for Jerusalem, where the Passion Narrative would unfold. The Gospel of Luke contains another account of the Transfiguration. Just a few verses after that passage, Jesus “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” and his impending death. (Luke 9:51) This is an important turning point in the Gospel of Luke, and one should read verses before it and after it in its context. With that in mind, I propose that the Transfiguration was also a “booster shot” for Jesus, who was about the embark on a difficult, yet necessary, course.
When pondering the calendar of the Christian Church, one needs to remember that the earliest feast Christians observed was Easter. Even Christmas (the observance of which developed later) exists in the shadow of Easter. And the Transfiguration does, also.
The placement of the Transfiguration on this Sunday is appropriate because the next season in the Christian year is Lent, and the next Sunday will be the First Sunday in Lent. At the end of that 40-days season is Holy Week. So we Christians need to set our faces toward Jerusalem, too.
Written for SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 16, 2010
Above: Mother and Baby
(Image from here: http://www.crmcwy.org/services/women_children.aspx?id=1982)
Each of Us is a Child of God’s Womb
(See the Isaiah reading.)
NOT OBSERVED IN 2014
NOT OBSERVED IN 2017
Isaiah 49:8-16a (New Revised Standard Version):
Thus says the LORD:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners,
to those who are in darkness,
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on all his suffering ones.
But Zion said,
The LORD has forsaken me,
my LORD has forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
Psalm 131 (New Revised Standard Version):
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised Standard Version):
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
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.
Did you notice the incongruity between the collect and the first reading? The dominant gender image for God in the first reading is feminine, but the collect addresses God the Father. These are just metaphors, so let us not become distracted by them, reifiying them and transforming them into idols. Instead, may we look through them to the substance behind them.
Yahweh/God the Father is far removed from traditional concepts of the Mother Goddess, but the Judeo-Christian Bible contains images of God as mother. And let us not forget the personification of divine wisdom as feminine. Deity exists beyond gendered bounds, containing characteristics we humans associate with both males and females, with fathers and mothers. So God is our parental figure, and we are as helpless as infants. (This is not how many of us like to think of ourselves.)
And the truly excellent news is that God is better than any human mother or father, as the reading from Isaiah reminds us. God is love, and love seeks reciprocation. Love gives of itself to the point of self-sacrifice. This describes the God I see in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today has enough worries of its own. I did not ponder this statement until early 2007, when the floor of my life fell out from under me. I learned then that worrying was truly worthless, especially when life was more difficult than usual. Instead, I crawled to God, acknowledged the obvious (my helplessness), and did not pretend to be any more than I was. God, my mother, comforted me with maternal love and rocked me to sleep. God, my father, extended paternal care. Jesus, my brother, put his arm around me and supported me emotionally. All the metaphors came into play. And I survived another day, at which point the process started over again.
Written for SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 16, 2010
Above: The Gleaners, by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857
FEBRUARY 23, 2014
FEBRUARY 19, 2017
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,
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):
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.
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.
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!
Written on June 16, 2010
Above: Moses (Russian Orthodox Icon)
Repeating the Commandment to Obey God
FEBRUARY 16, 2014
FEBRUARY 12, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Matthew 5:21-37 (New Revised Standard Version):
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.
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.
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.
Written on June 16, 2010
Above: A Forest Scene in the Morning
The Light of the World
FEBRUARY 9, 2014
FEBRUARY 5, 2017
Isaiah 58:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and seek to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a parched garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Psalm 112 (New Revised Standard Version):
Praise the LORD!
Happy are those who fear the LORD,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
The descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness, as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal graciously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked see it and are angry;
they gnash their teeth and melt away;
the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16) (New Revised Standard Version):
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
What no eye has seen, nor eye heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him–
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. [And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?
But we have the mind of Christ.]
Matthew 5:13-20 (New Revised Standard Version):
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
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.
Once I concluded a Saturday afternoons-only World History II course with a classroom screening of The Battle of Algiers, the great Italian film about asymmetrical urban warfare between French and Algerian forces in Algiers, Algeria, in 1956 and 1957. Filmed in 1965 and released the following year, this movie shows how French and Algerian forces took turns attacking each other, always with lethal results, often the death of innocent people who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of my students commented during our discussion time that the cycle of violence was pointless. She was correct. Mohandas Gandhi stated that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” rule leads to a world full of blind and toothless people.
The readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, flow naturally from those for the Fourth Sunday. Likewise my thoughts for the Fifth Sunday fit well with those for the Fourth Sunday. My thoughts for the Fifth Sunday are these:
To the extent that we are bound by our sins we have ourselves to blame. The rope we use to tie up ourselves and each other most often is fear. Many pundits, politicians, and well-meaning people who sit around “country kitchen” restaurant tables most mornings drinking coffee and pretending to solve the problems of the world tell us that we need to be afraid–very afraid. They tell us to fear those who disagree with us, and not to cooperate with them, even on matters of agreement. They say that we must fear those who are different from us, whether linguistically, racially, ethnically, culturally, or according to another criterion.
There are dangerous people in the world, of course, and therefore legitimate reasons for healthy fear. Some people want to kill, wound, or maim others, for example. Certain individuals lack any conscience. They are truly bad men and women. Yet in this devotion I write of irrational, ideological, destructive, and needless apprehension. That is my focus for now.
So certain media outlets–such as websites, radio shows, and television programs and channels–attract large audiences and reap huge profit margins by scaring people and spreading rumors. Some politicians spread lies, which many of their constituents are willing to believe. And the common good suffers.
All this runs contrary to love. When we cease to fear each other needlessly and begin listen to each other and to help each other as able we find that we have more in common than we might have suspected previously. We realize that the other person is really human, too. We discover common ground upon which to build and to enact actions for the common good. Disagreements will continue, but they need not lead to hostility. Besides, no mere mortal is correct or incorrect about everything. And this can help facilitate righteousness and bring us closer to the mind of Christ.
Written on June 16, 2010
Above: The Prophet Micah (Russian Orthodox Icon)
What God Requires of Us
FEBRUARY 2, 2014
JANUARY 29, 2017
Micah 6:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):
Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”
“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Psalm 15 (New Revised Standard Version):
O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the LORD;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
1 Corinthians 1:18-37 (New Revised Standard Version):
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written,
Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, are counter-cultural in the best possible way. They point to a divine order distinct from the human status quo. If you have doubts, read the psalm again and ponder the economic order in much of the world.
The Matthew version of the Beatitudes (distinct from the Luke version) fit neatly with the God-centered counter-culture depicted in Psalm 15. They depict a great reversal of fortune–a world in which those who grieve receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth, and those who are persecuted have reason to rejoice. Perhaps the traditional, King James rendering of the first Beatitude obscures its meaning. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? The late J. B. Phillips, in the second edition of his New Testament in Modern English (1972), got it right:
How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
Likewise the second edition of the New Living Translation (2004) has Jesus say,
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
All of this is consistent with the excerpt from 1 Corinthians, which reminds us that human standards do not bind God.
The reading from Micah is perhaps most famous for the glorious 6:8, but some references in previous verses require explanation. God had delivered the people of Israel and led them through the wilderness to the promised land with the cooperation of human leaders. Shittim was the location of the last camp before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan; Gilgal was where they camped first after crossing the Jordan. King Balak had plotted to have Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, curse his (Balak’s) enemies; God made sure that Balaam spoke the truth, regardless of what Balak thought about it. The capstone of the reading from Micah is 6:8, which contains a brief summary of holiness: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.
So we need to recognize our need for God, cease exploiting each other, and to extend kindness to each other. This ethic negates much of the economic orders of the world. As I write these words there is an ongoing corporate competition to decrease wages (and therefore the standard of living) due to lower wages elsewhere on the planet. Then people cannot afford to keep the economy healthy or to purchase quality items, which have become too expensive for diminished budgets. U.S. President William McKinley, in office (whom I quote favorably rarely) stated correctly:
Cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.
(Historical note: President McKinley was in office 1897-1901, assassinated early into his second term.)
I have learned of bail bondsmen in communities across the United States making deals with local judges to send non-violent accused to people to jail (not release them, bypassing jail and trusting them to keep their court dates), so that the bail bondsmen can bail these individuals out. This, of course, is good business for the bail bondsmen, but what about the accused who are poor? The wealthy accused can afford bail. And this packing of local jails increases the public costs of incarceration, which is bad for communities.
Much of politics has relied for a very long time on impulses which run contrary to kindness. Indeed, the great indifference, aversion, or even hostility to objective reality, hence leading to a “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality proves destructive to the community and the nation. And what would 24-hour alleged news channels do if they had to report only hard news–you know, the kind rooted in confirmed facts? Kindness would kill their business model of stirring up the reptilian brain within their viewers–and facts be damned. What matters most to these purveyors of punditry is a good mad.
Acting kindly can prevent many unnecessary problems for others. This is not “rocket science;” much of this falls into the Lutheran category of “civic righteousness,” or good deeds we have the power to undertake on our own strength yet which cannot save us from our sins, or ourselves. We can go far toward making the vision of Micah 6:8 reality, if only we will do so. Selfishness is not a predetermined condition, for we can be altruistic. Indeed, there is an evolutionary advantage inherent in altruism; it serves the common good, increasing the odds of the survival of the species. (I like to listen to science programming on the radio via the Internet.) So self-interest can take us far. The missing piece is the one only God can provide. Then, by grace, we can have a beloved community marked by true justice.
Written on June 16, 2010