Archive for September, 2014

For Sept. 28, 2014: St Michael and All Angels

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

The readings for the feast of St Michael and All Angels are full of angels. In Genesis, Jacob the conniver, fleeing from the brother he has fleeced, stops for the night far from what he thinks of as God’s country. Even here, however, and despite his guile, the Lord finds him and has plans for him.

The Response            Psalm 103:19-22

Psalm 103:19-22 calls on all creation to bless the Lord: the angels who do as the Lord orders, the hosts of heaven who minister, all the works of the Lord, and finally the psalmist’s own God-created soul.

The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

In Revelation 12:7-12, forces let by the mighty archangel Michael throw Satan and his angels out of heaven. That the infuriated devil is en route is bad news for earth and sea, but his time is short and we are not defenseless.

The Gospel            John 1:47-51

John 1:47-51 alludes to Genesis 28:10-17, the Old Testament reading. Nathanael, unlike Jacob, is no deceiver—in fact, he may be gullible in proclaiming Jesus the Son of God just because Jesus noticed him under the fig tree—but, like Jacob, Nathanael and we will see angels at work bringing heaven to earth, by way of Jesus.

 

Further thoughts

The Bible mentions angels about 270 times, including the mentions in the Michaelmas readings. The Anglican tradition recognizes four named archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.

Michael (Hebrew mi-cha-’el ‘who (is) like God?’) is named in the book of Daniel; as the warrior angel of Revelation he is the patron of military members and mariners and, since his late-fall feast day coincides with harvest, of grocers. British banks still call the last quarter of the calendar year the Michaelmas quarter.

Gabriel (gabri-’el ‘my strength (is/be) God’) is named in the book of Daniel and in the deuterocanonical book of Enoch. Identified with the angel of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, he is the patron saint of postal workers, broadcasters and other communications workers, the clergy, and stamp collectors.

Raphael (rafa-’el ‘my healer (is/be) God’) appears in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit as the guide and healer of Tobit’s son Tobias, and by tradition he is the angel who stirs the pool of healing waters in John 5:7. He is the patron saint of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lovers, travelers, and nightmares.

Uriel (uri-’el ‘my light (is/be) God’) is named in the deuterocanonical books of Enoch and 2 Esdras, in the latter as the instructor of the prophet Ezra. He is the patron saint of the rite of Confirmation and of poetry.

The word angel is from Greek ἄγγελος or ángelos, which translates the Hebrew word mal’akh ‘messenger or agent’; in biblical times both words refer to either human or heavenly beings. St Jerome’s fourth-century Vulgate Bible first reserves angelus for divine messengers and nuntius or legatus ‘delegate, emissary’ for humans.

In today’s world, evidence of angelic intervention seems rare—but our brothers and sisters at home and abroad cry out for the protection, truth, healing, and light that Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel have represented. What if that means that the angels of the 21st century are you and me?

For Sept. 21, 2014: 15 Pentecost, Proper 20, Year A

The Reading            Jonah 3:10-4:11

The reluctant prophet Jonah has finally followed instructions and preached destruction to the wicked Assyrian capital, Nineveh; when the citizens, from the king on down, repent in sackcloth, the Lord is moved to spare the city—and Jonah is outraged.

The Response            Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm 145’s 21 verses each begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, making it a wisdom psalm as well as a psalm of praise that transcends time as generations and individuals proclaim the Lord’s greatness, works, power, splendor, might, goodness, righteousness, and compassion. Fairness, however, is not on the list.

The Epistle            Philippians 1:21-30

Whether he liked it or not, Jonah was sent by the Lord to help save the Assyrians of Nineveh. In Philippians 1:21-30, written in the last years of his life, Paul explains that heaven beckons, but in the meantime it is both duty and privilege to labor and suffer in this life so that gentiles may see themselves as God’s people.

The Gospel            Matthew 20:1-16

In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which is unique to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus compares likens God’s way of doing business to a landowner who pays casual laborers just as well for working only one hour as for working a full day.

 

 

Further thoughts

If a “sore loser” is one who pouts at someone else’s win, a “sore winner” could be one who pouts when someone else fails to lose by a big enough margin. Are Jonah and the early laborers merely sore winners? Well, maybe.

Jonah’s pique isn’t wholly without merit. To begin with, Nineveh is in the far north of Mesopotamia, well over five hundred miles of dusty desert road from Jerusalem. Worse, Nineveh is pagan and the capital of the same Assyrian empire that in the mid-8th century BC has both Judah and Israel well under the heel of its hobnailed sandals. Why on earth wouldn’t Jonah regard Ninevites en masse as his enemy and therefore God’s enemy?

For the laborers, “the usual daily wage” is a denarius, about 18 cents—a very minimal wage, in a day when economic disaster is at least as close to the poor as it is today. Why shouldn’t they seek every possible penny?

But here is the kingdom of God. The odd-sounding “persons who do not know their right hand from their left” reckons up Ninevites who cannot be to blame for the empire’s misdeeds: the infants and toddlers, whom it pleases God to regard with all their elders as fondly as Jonah regards his shade bush. Laborers should accept the wage they agreed to but shouldn’t have to sell themselves short, and the businesses and economies that offer steady work at good wages with decent benefits are doing God’s will. And if God can be patient with Jonah’s guff and the laborers’ grumbling, God can certainly endure ours: as Anne Lamott suggests, in God’s ears, even “I don’t believe in You, and You’re not being fair!” seems to count as a kind of prayer.

What if I build the kingdom of God whenever I’m not being a sore winner?

For Sept. 14, 2014: Holy Cross Day

The Reading            Isaiah 45:21-25

Isaiah 45:21-25 is a ringing announcement from the mouth of the Lord: beside the Lord, there is no other god, no other source of righteousness, no other option for salvation, no one else worth bowing to, no other place to go for correction, and no other true source of glory for all God’s people.

The Response            Psalm 98:1-4

Isaiah 45:21-25 proclaims the greatness of the Lord from the Lord’s point of view. Psalm 98 resounds in response: the Lord’s victory is obvious to all the earth, the Lord’s righteousness is on display—and yet it pleases God over all to recall and act in mercy and faithfulness to God’s people.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 explains lyrically just how God triumphs on our behalf: through the willingness of the pure and righteous Son of God to be born a nobody, be wrongly convicted of blasphemy, and disgraced on the Roman Empire’s most hideous means of capital punishment—which we now revere as the Holy Cross.

The Gospel            John 12:31-36a

John 12:20-33 is familiar from the last Sunday of Lent in Year B. As Passover approaches, Jesus predicts his death as human and exaltation as God. In verse 34, the crowd shows its narrower understanding of what it means to be Messiah. Jesus responds indirectly in telling them that right now is the time to seek the Light.

Further thoughts

Holy Cross Day commemorates scandal and shame. While there is some question as to its exact appearance—the Greek word stauros ‘pole or rod’ in Philippians 2:8 and similar words elsewhere don’t exclusively denote a cross made of two intersecting beams—there is no doubt that hanging on a stauros was intended to inflict public humiliation and degradation even beyond death. It was a particularly shocking punishment in Judea; Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “anyone hung on a tree”—whether alive or already dead—“is under God’s curse,” and this was reserved for crimes for which stoning would have been too good: high treason and blasphemy. What we behold on Calvary, then, is nothing less than the public spectacle of God under God’s curse. The son of God commits his unaccustomed human frailty to the undeserved horrors of the stauros; the son of Mary bearing God’s righteousness shoulders also the intolerable burden of every thought, word, or deed from Adam and Eve to the end of time that issues the judgment “You just aren’t worth it” to another person—or to oneself. The Victim crucified for shame crucifies shame for us and so frees us to live.

For the message of the cross is that no shame that the world can heap on me, or I on myself, is so deep that God can’t love me back to life, if I can just believe that such grace is not too good to be true for me and for you and act accordingly. Sometimes that means bearing gently and humbly with you and your wounds, so I can live the grace of God for you; sometimes it means humbly letting you deal gently with me and my failings, so that I can receive the grace of God through you. Thus I lay hold of my own stauros, whatever shape it takes today, as Jesus commanded; thus I crucify my own shame on it as I follow Jesus into the light.

For Sept. 7, 2014: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18

The Reading            Ezekiel 33:7-11

At chapter 33, the book of Ezekiel begins to turn from warning of Israel’s conquest by Babylon to prophesying comfort to follow. In Ezekiel 33:7-11, the speaker is the Lord God: the first three verses lay out the penalty if Ezekiel fails to warn the wicked—but the last reveals the Lord’s yearning for the wicked to repent and live.

The Response            Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119 is a psalm of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas; the verses in each stanza all begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 33 to 40 begin with the letter ה (heh) and beg the Lord to keep the psalmist following the torah—that is, God’s statutes, law, commandments, decrees, and judgments.

The Epistle            Romans 13:8-14

Psalm 119:33-40 implored God’s help in keeping torah, the Law. Romans 13:8-14 reminds us that the God’s Law is summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”—and advises us that it is high time that we do just that.

The Gospel            Matthew 18:15-20

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus explains how to respond when a member of the church does ill: first speaking with the member privately, then bringing in one or two witnesses if needed, and confronting publicly only as a last resort.

 

Further thoughts

A friend of mine, one of the quietest adults I know, must have been a wild toddler. Whenever he wasn’t within earshot, his mother learned to tell the family servant, “Find Paul, and tell him to stop.”

Ezekiel is a sentinel with a similar job: keeping watch on God’s people and, when the word of the Lord says so, warning them to stop. The Lord’s stated goal is that Israel not die but live, like the child who thrives under a good parent’s rules. Psalm 119:33-40 celebrates the loving Parent’s rules, the torah, and begs God’s help in obeying them. Love motivates the rules; as the letter to the Romans notes, love is what we owe each other—and communicating in love about what is wrong can be a powerful act of healing.

Matthew 18:15-20 is sometimes taken to mean that a churchgoer who feels wronged by another is permitted or even required to shun the other, have the other excluded, and expect the Father to follow suit in heaven. As D. Mark Davis notes, however, in his blog Left Behind and Loving It, the Greek text can support a different reading. First, the topic of Matthew 18 as a whole is the “little ones” and our duty to put no stumbling blocks in their way. Second, though the NRSV translates ἔσται δεδεμένα and ἔσται λελυμένα as ‘will be bound’ and ‘will be loosed’, these phrases are more accurately if less idiomatically ‘will have been bound’ and ‘will have been loosed’, which suggests not that earthly binding causes binding in heaven but the other way around. Third, Jesus’ own approach to the despised Gentiles and tax collectors is to heal (15:21-28) and feed (15:32-39) them, associate with them (9:9-10, 11:19) and even make disciples of them (10:3).

Who do I regard as a Gentile and a tax collector? Is that who I need to love as Jesus loves?

Davis, D. Mark. “The Power of Reconciliation.” Left Behind and Loving It, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014. <http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/&gt;