Archive for June, 2012

For June 24, 2012: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The books of Esdras or Ezra present themselves as prophecies of the Messiah from far back in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed in Latin several centuries after Jesus died. In any case, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion is a stirringly mystical account of the honor that awaits in heaven for all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra rapturously described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches out the path we are to take as followers: the path of loving one another. The letter also reminds us of the cost—whether, like Saint Alban, we lay down our lives all at once or whether we lay them down minute by minute and day by day.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:34-42

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, outside London, two to three centuries after the birth of Christ. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD. The Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, though one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD and some others suggest 251-259 AD; these are times when Roman edicts made Christianity punishable by death.

Tradition says that Alban was British and a soldier in the Roman army. Since Roman legions recruited locally, both may be true, though his living in a house means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban took into his home a Christian priest who was on the run. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity. As the authorities closed in, Alban changed clothes with the priest so the priest could escape. Alban was haled before the Roman governor, who may have been a son of the emperor Septimius Severus and who was certainly irate to find that the priest had gotten away. Neither threats nor flogging could induce Alban to sacrifice to the Roman gods, whose efficacy he disparaged, so the exasperated governor ordered him beheaded. En route to the execution site, a hill outside Verulamium, the waters of the river Ver parted to let Alban and his executioners cross; at the top of the hill Alban prayed for water and a spring rose up. His executioner then threw down his sword and declared himself also Christian. A substitute executioner beheaded Alban and the first executioner, only to have his eyes fall out.

Alban’s reply when the governor demanded his name—“My parents called me Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God who made all things”—remains part of prayers at the church that was built over the site of his execution, St Alban’s Cathedral in St Albans, UK.

As England’s first martyr and our patron, St Alban is a hero, and his story is a myth in the fullest and best sense. The word myth is commonly used of something that is entirely untrue.  Among scholars, however, a myth is a story that explains how something in the world came to be and also sheds light on how humans either are or ought to be: it may not be factual, but it is assuredly true. The myths of St Alban vary in details, but all show a man accepting the faith and defending it at the cost of his life. We of the 21st century face few enemies of the Church who can order us executed. We are, however in a world that makes us choose, day by day and sometimes minute by minute, whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is big and heroic; more often it is a matter of deciding whether to spend this minute opening doors in love or closing doors in fear. May the love of Christ and the example of St Alban always embolden us to choose love and life for Christ.

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For June 17, 2012: Proper 6, Year B

The Reading            1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Today’s reading follows a shock and contains a surprise. Samuel the prophet has had to tell King Saul that he is rejected as Israel’s king for disobeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites totally. It then falls to Samuel to anoint the new king—and God declines to make what seems like the obvious choice.

The Response            Psalm 20

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Those in the city of Corinth who expected religious leaders to be handsome and rich were disappointed in the apostle Paul, judging from today’s letter. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church is like God’s explanation to Samuel:  look below the surface and into the heart, for things may not be as they seem in this world.

The Gospel            Mark 4:26-34

 

Further thoughts

Engraved into the passenger-side rearview mirror of every car sold in the United States is this notice:

WARNING: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Such a notice never appears on the inside rearview mirror. The reason is this: The inside mirror is made with flat glass: it need only show the view out the rear window and it is close to the driver, so its field of vision can be narrow. The outside mirror that bears the inscription uses glass that is convex or slightly curved outward: this gives the driver a wider field of vision even though it is farther from the driver, but at the cost of distorting the image so that objects in the mirror seem farther away from the driver than they really are.

We see the world using our own mental concave or convex mirrors of our experience. Like Samuel and the people of Corinth, we see external things such as another’s wealth, power, or physical beauty in the concave mirror that makes them loom very large indeed. In that mirror we also see our own preoccupations and needs and entitlements; sometimes we glory in our magnified virtues and sometimes we despair at our magnified faults. We glance in the convex mirror and glimpse another’s heartache, but it doesn’t look like so much; we assure ourselves that we have plenty of time left, till suddenly the end comes up on us like a semi out of nowhere…

That we use the mirrors so much isn’t stupid or wicked, of course: it’s merely human. I for one don’t have a God’s-eye view, much as I may sound like it—and that is a good thing, because it surely takes God’s eye and God’s heart together to keep track of all the hopes and fears and conflicting priorities of everything from the least little microbe up to the universe.

But the skilled driver knows when to switch attention briefly to either mirror in order to get a sense of what’s going on beside and behind the car, and when to stop relying on the mirrors and look directly. More to the point, the wise driver learns when it’s time to stop the car altogether, get out, and consider God’s mustard seed and the inexplicable grace through which it grows.

For June 10, 2012: Proper 5, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 3:8-15

We all know the story of Adam and Eve, right? Serpent tempts Eve with apple, Eve tempts poor Adam, and voila! Original Sin. It’s incredibly familiar—but wait. First, the fruit was no apple. Second, the snake is not necessarily Satan. How else might the lesson not be what we’ve always thought it is?

The Response            Psalm 130

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

In today’s reading from the second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul looks forward from the “slight momentary affliction” of life in a failing body to the glory of eternal life with the risen Jesus. Before that, though, Paul’s concern is here and now as he works and prays for God’s grace to extend throughout this world.

The Gospel            Mark 3:20-35

 

Further thoughts

On a warm Sunday afternoon a quarter-century ago, a girl of 10 was sobbing helplessly. Neither her parents nor the young woman in whose lap she huddled nor the dozen other adults in the tiny apartment had the heart to stop her. Word had come that morning that a couple whom they all esteemed as family, whose oldest son was (and still is) the girl’s great friend, had gone to awaken their beautiful four-month-old baby boy for Mass and found him dead. As the girl wept, her brother played on the floor with a wooden train set. Something made the little fellow crow with glee, at which the girl burst out, “I wish I weren’t grown up enough to have to know this!” She had consciousness that her little brother didn’t; often that was good, but in this case, it hurt.

Today’s readings all deal in limits and boundaries. A boundary marks the point at which something that was not, is or something that is, ceases to be: ownership is a boundary (“mine” vs. “not mine”), and so is a law, and so are birth and death and creation. As Genesis opens, God has no rest until God creates that which is not God, which is the universe. Then in today’s reading, the man and the woman cross a boundary set by God and meet consequences that, like the girl’s, hurt—but they also cross a boundary of knowledge like the one that separated the girl’s consciousness from that of her brother, and like the one that distinguished her parents’ consciousness from hers. Paul refuses to be bound by the limits of his frail human body as he strives toward the goal of bringing more and more people within the extent of God’s grace. Jesus bids us rethink the boundaries between “insane” and “sane”, between “demon-possessed” and “Spirit-filled”, and between “enemy” and “friend”; in the process he demonstrates for us a radically expanded definition of “family”.

Perhaps, then, this Genesis story is less about the wickedness of human beings than it is about the urge—inherited from our Father—to know and to make and to both create and transcend boundaries. Being God is beyond our grasp: who but God could take a personal interest in each and every atom in the universe, let alone bear the burden of balancing the best interests of all creatures great and small? Within our own God-given spheres, however, we can listen and learn and allow the boundaries of our families to expand, and in so doing we live out the kingdom of God among us.

For June 3, 2012: Trinity Sunday, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 6:1-8

Trinity Sunday readings give us several pictures of God—and of ourselves. In today’s reading from the book of Isaiah, merely the hem of the Lord’s robe overwhelms the grand temple that Solomon built; the air is full of the smoke of holiness; the magnificent seraphim praise the Lord in voices that rock the temple. Yet even a puny human has a vital mission.

The Response            Canticle 13

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-17

In today’s epistle, Paul reminds us that we cannot save ourselves: we are saved through the Spirit. Here are two more pictures of God: the Spirit of God impels us to recognize in the Sovereign of the Universe, Isaiah’s transcendent Lord, our Abba—the approachable and loving Daddy of All Daddies.

The Gospel            John 3:1-17

 

Further thoughts

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Trinity. The word comes from the Latin trinitas, which can be translated roughly as ‘the state of being three-fold’.

The doctrine developed in the early centuries of the first millennium, resulting (after a great deal of controversy) in the Nicene Creed that we recite almost every Sunday:

• We believe that God has and is one being: God is indivisible
• We believe that God has and is three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
• We believe that each of the persons is truly and fully God: uncreated,  coeternal, and coequal

It’s a complicated and subtle doctrine that has sprouted its share of controversy over the centuries.

St Patrick is said to have explained the Trinity by analogy to a shamrock. Just as a shamrock is made up of three leaves each of which is equal in size to the others, so also God is One in essence but made up of three distinct Persons each of which is equal to the other. The shamrock analogy breaks down rather quickly: a shamrock’s leaves really and truly are separate, so the shamrock doesn’t lose its essential “shamrockiness” if one of its leaves is removed, and the three leaves together aren’t the whole of the plant. Furthermore, each leaf would somehow need to be both containing and contained by the other three leaves, in the botanical and theological equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing—and that’s almost as big challenge to visualize as is the doctrine of Trinity itself.

What may be more important is what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us. God is one God, but because the persons are distinct, each has a personality and a will. Because each has a personality and a will, each can love. Each can and does love the others, as only God can love—indeed, each is love for the other, as God is love. Thus the persons of God are in the perfect relationship: fully known and fully knowing, fully been with and fully being with, fully loved and fully loving. God is a relational God, and so we are also made to be relational: to love God as fully as we can and to love each other as fully as we can, for where true love is, God is.

Acts 2:4: A selection of languages

The language texts that follow are renderings of Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability,” in the various languages which we heard read (or at least attempted) for Pentecost at St Alban’s.

Where a language is not written in a Roman alphabet I have found, devised, or begged a transliteration.

Within language families I have underlined cognates—related words—to show the commonalities within the differences.

1. The Semitic language family includes Arabic and Hebrew and several languages of northern Africa (such as Amharic and Tigrinya). The transliterations here differ somewhat, but Holy Spirit is alerwh aleqdes in Arabic and ruach haqadosh in Hebrew.

Arabic (transliteration, computer-generated and a bit doubtful)

wametla alejmey’ men alerwh aleqdes wabetdawa yetkelmewn balesnh akhera kema a’etahem alerwh an yenteqwa

Hebrew (transliteration: credit to the Rev. Andy Welch)

Vekullâm nimleû rûach haqadôsh veheiheilû ledabeir bilshônôt acheirôt kefî shenâtenâ lâhem hârûach ledabeir.

2. The linguistic classification of Japanese is somewhat subject to dispute; the Japonic language family is not very closely related to other languages, though a relationship to Korean is possible and some scholars place these languages in the Altaic family. Though Japanese is written in Chinese characters, however, it is not related to Chinese.

Japanese (transliteration)

surutodoudeshou. sono ba niita nin ha, hitori nokora zu shouryou ni man 
tasare, shiri moshinai gaikokugo de hanashi hajime tadehaarimasenka. shouryou ga, soredakeno chikara wo 
atae tekudasattanodesu.

3. Choctaw is a Native American language originally spoken in and near modern Mississippi. It is a Muskogean language, closely related to Chickasaw. It may be very distantly related to Kumeyaay or Diegueño, though the evidence is not very strong.

Choctaw

yvmohmi na, moyumvt Shilombish Holitopa yvt isht anukfokvt alota ma, anumpa inla puta anumpula he a, Shilombish vt apelahanchi na, okla anumpulit ishtia tok oke.

4. The Karen or Kayin languages are spoken in Burma (Myanmar); they are members of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family, which also includes many varieties of Chinese.

Sgaw (original script)

ဒီးပှၤခဲ လၢာ်လၢထီၣ်ပှဲၤထီၣ်ဒီးသးစီဆှံ, ဒီးကတိၤတၢ်လၢအ ပျ့ၤအဂၤတဖၣ်, ဒ်သးန့ၣ်ဒုးကတိၤအီၤအသိးလီၤ.

5. The Indo-European language grouping has members spread across the globe. It includes the Slavic, Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic families and more.

a. The Slavic language family is part of the larger Indo-European grouping, along with Czech, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Polish, and a number of other languages spoken in eastern Europe.

Russian (transliteration)

I ispolnilis’ vsye Dukha Svyatovo, i nachali govorit’ na inykh yazykakh, kak Dukh daval im provyeshchyevat’.

Czech

I naplněni jsou všickni Duchem svatým, a počali mluviti jinými jazyky, jakž ten Duch dával jim vymlouvati.

b. Greek is the sole surviving member of the Hellenic family.

Greek (transliterated)

kai eplēsthēsan pantes pneumatos agiou kai ērxanto lalein eterais glōssais kathōs to pneuma edidou apophthengesthai autois

c. The founding member of the Romance language family is Latin, the language of the Romans. It is no longer in use as an everyday language, except in the Vatican City, but its traces are very strong in English. Among the modern descendants of Latin are French and Spanish.

Latin

et repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto et coeperunt loqui aliis linguis prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis

Spanish

Todos fueron llenos del Espíritu Santo y comenzaron a hablar en diferentes lenguas, según el Espíritu les concedía expresarse.

French

Aussitôt, ils furent tous remplis du Saint-Esprit et commencèrent à parler dans différentes langues, chacun s’exprimant comme le Saint-Esprit lui donnait de le faire.

d. The Germanic language family includes the Scandinavian languages (except for Finnish, which is closely related to Hungarian), German, Dutch, and English. Old English was spoken in the British Isles before about 1100 AD, when French-speaking Normans under William the Conqueror took over.

German: Joy Knight

Und sie wurden alle mit Heiligem Geiste erfüllt und fingen an, in anderen Sprachen zu reden, wie der Geist ihnen gab auszusprechen.

Dutch: Victoria Mayor

En zij werden allen vervuld met den Heiligen Geest, en begonnen te spreken met andere talen, zoals de Geest hun gaf uit te spreken.

Old English: Linnea Lagerquist

and hi wurdon ða ealle gefyllede mid þam Halgum Gaste, and ongunnon to sprecenne mid mislicum gereordum, be ðam þe se Halga Gast him tæhte.

For May 27, 2012: Pentecost, Year B

The Reading            Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost is the birthday of the church. At the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in a powerful way: uneducated Galileans were suddenly able to speak all the languages of the Roman Empire. During today’s reading, if all goes according to plan, we will hear Acts 2:4 read in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Choctaw, Russian, Czech, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Old English.  Listen for the similarities: in the Spirit our differences, rather than dividing us, can enrich us.

 

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35,37

 

The Epistle            Romans 8:22-27

The Pentecost narrative we just heard shows us the Holy Spirit coming like wind and fire and with all the languages of the world. In the Gospel, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit as advocate and teacher. In between, the book of Romans gives us the Spirit interceding for us when we can’t even pray.

 

The Gospel            John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

 

Further thoughts

I write this a week after the fact. Our little church, St Alban’s El Cajon, did not quite pull off all of the languages promised in my preface to Acts 2:1-21—but we did manage most, plus Sgaw Karen, and that was a very great grace. Indeed, Pentecost is about grace and gifts.

One of the graces of this holy day of Pentecost is the selection from Psalm 104. The selection praises God’s manifold works, all of them made in wisdom. The first few examples are unsurprising—the earth and its creatures, the great wide sea and the life that teems within it. The psalmist them makes some choices of examples that are intriguing and delightful.

Verse 27 builds on verse 26 by pointing to the ships on the sea. This is intriguing: these are the work of human hands and human ingenuity—but, the psalm suggests, they are as surely in the gift of God, and as surely part of God’s interest, as the living creatures that swarm in the waters below.

The verse goes on to mention Leviathan. This word may mean ‘crocodile’ or ‘whale’ or even ‘sea monster’: clearly not something to be taken lightly. Most translations of this verse render it as does the King James Version: “There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” That is, this formidable creature is made to play: it enjoys itself in its place, and it is supposed to. That is delightful enough. The NRSV translation, which the Episcopal Church uses, represents the verse a little differently, however, by saying that the Lord made Leviathan “for the sport of it”. This suggests that Leviathan exists because, in God’s good judgment, a world with a Leviathan in it is simply irresistibly cool. If the NRSV translators made a mistake here, it is surely an inspired one.

Verses 28 through 29 are justly famous. The NRSV translation mostly gets the point across, but whenever I read these words I think of the King James translation of a similar sentiment from Psalm 145:

The eyes of all wait upon Thee
and thou givest them their meat in due season.
Thou openest thine hand
and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

The magnificent setting of these words by Jean Berger can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv4pcothYZ8.  As with the tongues of fire, we have our daily bread, our lives, and even our deaths as gifts from the God whose great good pleasure it is to create and to inspire us to be God’s co-creators.