Archive for the 'Jeremiah' Category

For August 31, 2014: Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 17, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 15:15-21

A jeremiad is a scathing denunciation of bad faith, in any of several senses. In Jeremiah 15:15-21 the prophet, who has proclaimed God’s word and been rebuffed, turns his anger and disappointment on God Almighty. The Lord chides Jeremiah, reminding him not to stop speaking precious words, but promises strength and comfort.

The Response            Psalm 26:1-8

Unlike Jeremiah, the composer of Psalm 26:1-8 seems not to have a bone to pick with the Lord. It is clear, though, that the psalmist is challenging the Lord with his integrity, trust, faithfulness, and innocence.

The Epistle            Romans 12:9-21

In the first reading, Jeremiah complained of being persecuted and insulted for speaking the words of the Lord, and the Lord promised him vindication and deliverance. Romans 12:9-21 takes a different tack, counseling Jesus’ followers to live in harmony with all and to overcome evil with generosity.

The Gospel            Matthew 16:21-28

On announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, Simon was renamed Peter and receives rabbi-like power to bind and loose in the kingdom of Heaven. In the verses that follow, he takes initiative, rebuking Jesus for predicting a horrible death—and Jesus calls him Satan. This kingdom must not be business as usual.

 

Further thoughts

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus stated that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church. Hades is not Hell, the place in which the wicked are punished eternally for their bad deeds. In fact, the ancient Greek concept of Hades comes close to the early Hebrew Sheol, where all souls go when they die. Like Hades, Sheol is a place of oblivion and obliteration: in the stark King James translation of Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, “The living know that they will die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Death cuts us off from life and the living and consumes our work and those we love, inevitably. And we can’t help but feel death as a cutting off from God, for the most compelling metaphors for faith and closeness to God all invoke life and breath: the word Spirit itself derives from the Latin spiro ‘I breathe’.

So Simon, newly named Peter and steward of Jesus’ life’s work, sensibly demands an end to Jesus’ talk about dying—and gets called “Satan” and “a stumbling block”. One wonders whether it’s that Peter is really so culpable in saying this, or perhaps that his plea to stay safe hits Jesus right where his own human body’s fear of dying intersects his divinity’s revulsion that such a waste as death even exists.

Yet, Jesus has already said, unstoppable death will no longer have the last word, for not even the prospect of death will stop him from laying himself down to conquer sin, separation, and death for the world he so loves.

He calls us to follow—literally, to come behind him. Does that mean dying exactly as Jesus did? For most of us, no. But what if Romans 12:9-21 sketches out the path? What if the task for me is to live, day by day, as though other people’s hopes and fears matter as much to me as I like to think I matter to God?

For June 29, 2014: Proper 8, Year A, St Alban’s Day

The Reading            Jeremiah 28:5-9

As this reading opens, most Jews are captive in Babylon, just as Jeremiah prophesied. The prophet Hananiah gladdens the king by predicting an early end to Babylonian rule and restoration of Israel to Jerusalem. Jeremiah responds to Hananiah skeptically: only if a prophet’s words come true is that prophet sent by the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

From verse 37 onward, Psalm 89 laments Israel’s subjugation, for which there is no end in sight. The beginning of the psalm, however, celebrates the eternal love of the Lord for David and Israel. The speaker in verses 3-4 and 19b-26 is the Lord.

The Epistle            Romans 6:12-23

The reading from the letter to the Romans continues the argument against persisting in sin because God keeps giving grace. Putting oneself in service to God for righteousness is the slavery that leads away from death and to both sanctification and eternal life.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:40-42

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus finishes his instructions to the disciples as he sends them out. His words are also for us: whoever welcomes anyone—especially as God’s agents, but not exclusively so—welcomes us and Jesus and the Father; moreover, even the humblest of good deeds by or to the humblest looms large to God.

 

Ponderables

June 29, 2014 is the third Sunday after Pentecost or the thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, which covers the two parts of the church year that fall outside the major seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. On this Sunday we also celebrate the feast of St Alban, our patron saint—a week later than usual, partly because the Rev. Allisyn Thomas is here to celebrate the Eucharist with us in her capacity as Canon to the Ordinary.

Wait: Everyday time? Canon to the commonplace? How can we make sense of these two uses?

The term ordinary time originated in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1970s, as part of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Instead of counting Sundays after Epiphany and then Sundays after Pentecost, Catholics started counting all 33 to 34 Sundays as a unit, starting with the four to nine Sundays after Epiphany and resuming after Pentecost; if Ash Wednesday fell early in the year, readings that were skipped in the shorter Epiphany would shift to the end of Pentecost to round out the church year. In English and most modern European languages, that unit is called ordinary time. In the everyday sense of ordinary, the phrase sounds odd—Eucharists that are boring?—so some sources in English assert that ordinary is a corruption of ordinal, as in ordinal numbers: first Sunday, sixteenth Sunday…) That sounds plausible, except that the original 1970s Latin phrase should be tempus ordinalis, and it isn’t: it’s tempus per annum ‘time through the year’.

Let’s shift for a moment to the other ordinary. Its roots go back much farther, to nearly the beginning of the church. While the source of our English word bishop is the Greek episcopos (literally ‘overseer’), Latin also used a term derived from Latin ordo ‘order or rule’: the ordinarius is ‘the one who keeps order’. In English, that would be ordinary, and the word remains in the vocabulary of church law and common law: a judge ordinary has jurisdiction over a case in his own right, as is to be expected, whereas a judge extraordinary has been specially appointed outside her normal sphere. So the Canon to the Ordinary is the clergyperson who assists in carrying out the customary duties of the bishop, such as visiting St Alban’s for its patronal feast day. We can argue, then, that ordinary time is a matter neither of time that is nothing special nor of weeks in sequence but rather of Sundays that are celebrated not for a special feast or fast but because they are Sundays and therefore worthy in their own right.

For June 22, 2014: Proper 7, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah the prophet preached in hard times; he spoke truth to power, and got grief in return. In this Sunday’s reading, he as good as accuses God of seducing him to make him a laughingstock, and he complains that even his close friends have it in for him—and yet, he says, and yet: the Lord is with him and will deliver him.

The Response            Psalm 69:8-11, 18-20

Psalm 69 covers much the same ground as the lament of Jeremiah. Everything that the psalmist has done at the prompting of the Lord has brought the psalmist nothing but reproach, shame, alienation, and scorn. And yet, says the psalmist, and yet: the love of the Lord is kind, and the psalmist waits on God’s great compassion.

The Epistle            Romans 6:1b-11

The beginning of Romans 6 sets up and knocks down a straw man: that it is all right to keep on sinning because God’s grace will then abound. The epistle tells us that that view makes no sense. Baptism is the sign not only of our new life in Jesus but also of our own death—by crucifixion, yet—to the old life of sin.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39 is part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples as he sends them out into the world. He offers some comfort: the Father who knows when a mere sparrow falls is watching out for them. Much more, however, he warns them (and us) that, even with the love of God, the way ahead will be painful and full of conflict.

 

Ponderables

The ancient Jews considered an orderly, long, prosperous life a sign of godliness and God’s approval. In the 21st century, it’s easy to agree: the mega-wealthy Walton heirs appear more blessed than a homeless druggie in Wells Park, and the booming megachurch seems better at doing God’s will than the mainline parish with the shrinking attendance. This Sunday’s readings suggest differently, however. If Jeremiah preaches as he is called to, he is sneered at and his closest friends wait for him to fall, but not preaching leaves him burning inside. The psalmist, complaining of reproach and alienation, begs for God’s help—but it is not clear from the psalm what God’s answer is. The writer of Romans asserts that baptism, before it is a sign of grace and redemption, betokens death. Matthew’s Jesus prepares the twelve disciples for their first adventure without him by warning them that they may not intend to stir up trouble among family, friends, and neighbors, but trouble will surely find them.

Following Jesus thus does not land us in a protected bubble in which neither criticism nor illness nor disaster can touch us or those we love. Conversely, bad things—being criticized or even ostracized, falling ill, losing positions or reputations or loved ones—don’t mean that God no longer loves us. The great good news is that even the most horrible things we can imagine happening to us—or imagine doing—cannot make God stop loving us. It follows that nothing can make God stop loving anyone else.

So we are called to be followers of God. What if this entails that we’re not entitled to stop loving all God’s other children even when they reproach us, sneer at us, ignore our counsel, get sick or alienated in spite of us, or simply disagree with us?

For Jan. 5, 2014: Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:7-14

From the part of the book of Jeremiah called the “Book of Comfort”, chapters 30 to 33, comes this remarkable song of praise: though Jacob—that is, Israel—has been scattered and afflicted, the Lord will gather the people back together, even the blind and the lame, and will give them comfort and joy.

The Response            Psalm 84:1-8

In the reading from Jeremiah, God comes to the people to give comfort. Psalm 84 depicts the joys to be found in the house of the Lord—but not only in the house of the Lord, for even dry places will flow with water.

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

The letter to the Ephesians may or may not have been written to inhabitants of Ephesus, which in Roman times was a great trading city of Asia Minor, or by the apostle Paul. Whoever its author and original audience, its first chapter glowingly describes the great grace of God in choosing to adopt us humans as God’s own children.

The Gospel            Matthew 2:1-12

The passage from the gospel of Matthew, familiar from the Epiphany lections, tells  of the wise men or Magi seeking the newborn King. A striking feature of the story is that they depend on astrology to identify his star. It would seem that the Star and the baby whose birth it foretells speak in ways people can hear—if we will listen.

 

Ponderables

The Episcopal lectionary mostly follows the Revised Common Lectionary, and in it the readings for the second Sunday in Christmas are the same each year aside from choices in the Gospel reading that emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ birth or early life. Often the Epiphany displaces the second Sunday of Christmas, and as a result the readings (except for the reading from Matthew) are relatively unfamiliar for the date.

The relative newness offers a useful shift of perspective: with the visitation of the Wise Men, we have not Isaiah’s exuberant welcome of the wealth that will stream into Jerusalem for the King of Kings, but Jeremiah’s prophecies in the Book of Comfort. Those singled out for comfort, alongside people obviously blessed, are the blind, the lame, and those pregnant or in labor—who would have been ritually unwelcome among the perfect, clean, and righteous. Yet, thanks to Jesus, one can come before God exactly as one is.

Nevertheless, the promises were not fulfilled in the lifetime of the original hearers. Jacob (which is to say Israel) has not been restored as promised, nor did the House of the Lord in the psalm withstand Roman assault, nor did Christ come again within the lifetimes of those to whom the epistles were written, nor did the Holy Innocents escape slaughter at the hands of Herod.

It is possible to raise the question of credibility here. Jeremiah for one seems to feel the tension between hope and lack of fulfillment: unlike Isaiah, he sees and greets the darkness as well as the light.

But what if it is the task of those who persist in hope to hold hope on behalf of all who have lost hope?

For Dec. 15, 2013: A Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

First Reading            Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25: God creates man and woman to live in obedience to God in the Garden of Eden.

Second Reading            Genesis 3:1-15: Adam and Eve rebel against God and are cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Third Reading            Isaiah 40:1-11: God comforts God’s people and calls on them to prepare for redemption.

Fourth Reading            Jeremiah 31:31-34: A new covenant is promised which will be written in our hearts

Fifth Reading            Zechariah 9:9-10: The humility of Jerusalem’s King is foretold.

Sixth Reading            Haggai 2:6-9: The Lord will restore the splendor of the house of David.

Seventh Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25: God promises a new heaven and a new earth.

Eighth Reading            Luke 1:26-38: The Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of the Most High.

The Gospel            John 1:1-14: The Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory.

 

About the Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

The format of this Sunday’s service dates back to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols devised by Edward White Benson, then Bishop of Truro in southern England, for Christmas Eve 1880. In 1918, shortly after the fighting in World War I ended, this order of service was adapted for use at King’s College, Cambridge UK, by the Dean of the college chapel, Eric Milner-White. With the revisions that Milner-White made in 1919, this is the service that is broadcast every year by the BBC.

In 1934, Milner-White devised a similar service for Advent: its purpose, he said, was “not to celebrate Christmas”—as the Christmas Eve service does—“but to expect it.” It is in that spirit that we offer today’s lessons and carols.

The nine short lessons or readings are chosen to show the story of salvation unfolding. God’s creation of humanity in the first reading from Genesis is followed by the fall into disobedience in the second. The remaining readings, except for the last two, come from Israel’s dark time during and after the destruction of the Temple and the deportation to Babylon. Isaiah foresees comfort and return from exile for God’s people, in words that inspired much of the first part of Georg Friedrich Handel’s masterful Messiah; Jeremiah announces the new covenant, not between God and the whole people but between God and each human soul; Zechariah foresees a King who combines the power to end war with the humility to ride a donkey; Haggai foresees the restoration of the house of David and of the temple to which all people will come in worship; Isaiah returns to prophesy a world order of unimaginable peace and harmony under God. The eighth lesson is Luke’s account of the  invitation to Mary to become the mother of God and of her astonished but ultimately obedient response. The ninth lesson, from the beginning of the gospel of John, tells of Jesus as Word, God, Light—and, wonder of wonders, flesh like us.

“For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” Thanks be to God!

For Nov. 24, 2013: Last Sunday in Pentecost, Year C

The last Sunday in Pentecost is also known as Christ the King Sunday, and the lections for the day reflect this.

The Reading            Jeremiah 23:1-6

The English word “jeremiad” is based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, most of which are bitter denunciations of bad behavior that leads to bad results for Israel. Today’s reading starts out that way, as bad shepherds are called to account—but then, behold: God announces something new.

The Response            Psalm 46

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:11-20

In the first century A.D., the little church at Colossae in western Turkey bubbled over with theories about angels and other supernatural powers and with questions about the nature of Jesus. This Sunday’s passage explains in terms that are reminiscent of our Nicene Creed: Jesus is God’s firstborn and God’s champion on our behalf.

The Gospel            Luke 23:33-43

“‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him.”

 

Further thoughts

What does “king” mean, and how does that change when it’s predicated of the Son of God?

That the rights of kingship are easily abused is an article of faith in the US; we vacillate between being skeptical of kinglike figures and adulating them. Sports and entertainment stars loom like kings in terms of the attention they attract and the cultural influence they have. Billionaire owners or executives of big corporations won’t draw thousands to a concert, but they are kingpins or kingmakers whose riches buy them political clout equal to hundreds of thousands. It is prudent to assume that any human with great power can and will do whatever he chooses, whenever he chooses. Thoughtless or even evil acts are not entirely unchallengeable, but we recognize that the process is likely to bring the challenger humiliation and pain and possibly defeat.

Some lore of kingship goes in a very different direction, however. In most of the ancient world, the king was consort of the land itself, personally responsible for it; if his health declined, its health did too, and his individual virtue was embodied in its fertility. The touch of a true king could even heal diseases. This is power exerted to serve, and it is reflected in Jeremiah’s vision of the coming Davidic king as a righteous shepherd of his people. We understand this as real leadership: using the power at one’s disposal to do right.

The epistle depicts Jesus as infinitely more powerful than any earthly king. Because Jesus is also depicted as infinitely more good, he can be expected to do right—but when he seems to fail to intervene in stopping this natural disaster or illness or that madman with a machine gun, we feel devastated and deserted.

Then there’s the vision of kingship that the gospel gives us. Hanging on a cross. In unspeakable humiliation and agony. Verbally and physically abused for being who he can’t help being. Wrongly accused by ignoramuses whose hate-filled faces look unsettlingly like our own. Taking it and taking it, all of it.

Why doesn’t this King teach these wretches a lesson?

Because he is teaching them and us a greater lesson: to love as he loves, not because he makes us but because it’s what the world needs.

And that is what it means to reign as the Son of God.

 

For Oct. 20, 2013: Proper 24, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:27-34

In this Sunday’s reading, from the closing chapters called the Book of Consolation, Jeremiah prophesies a new covenant, not written in stone but written on hearts because it is no longer between God and the nation as a whole but between God and each one of us.

The Response            Psalm 119:97-104

“I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

This Sunday’s second reading counsels the young church leader to continue in belief that is founded on faith in Jesus and to persist in proclaiming the message “with the utmost patience in teaching”. Those with “itching ears” can as well be those who insist on biblical literalism as those who never open the book.

The Gospel            Luke 18:1-8

“‘And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’”

 

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings deliver mixed messages, comforting even as they make us squirm.

The last several weeks’ readings from the book of Jeremiah have cemented for us his reputation as “the weeping prophet”. This Sunday’s closing reading begins with a promise to repeople, as plentifully as wheat in a field, the lands of Israel and Judah that were deserted in the exile. In addition, in place of the covenant with the entire nation—which required good-faith performance on both sides, with the result that, when the leaders led badly, the whole operation went off the rails—the Lord is instituting a new covenant with each individual, written on each heart. Great news… except that I can no longer legitimately blame the government or my dysfunctional family or my lousy job for my failures to love God and all those around me: it’s now all on me.

Could that be too much? The selection from Psalm 119 praises the individual relationship with God, perhaps to the point of preening or the pride that goeth before a fall. Salvation is individual, but its means are communal, and its ends are also: notice how much of the hard work recommended in 2 Timothy is work in community.

The parable of the widow and the crooked judge is a tidy little package with its moral right there in the first line. Parables rarely work that way. With respect to God and others, I am surely the Widow Nobody, with no more right to salvation or others’ intervention than God and they give me, and therefore the onus is on me to express what I need and to keep expressing it. But I am also the crooked judge, well-bribed by the baubles of the world or my own sense of entitlement to ignore the expressed needs of those around me, and the onus is on me to reject the goodies in favor of listening and responding to the cries of all the other Widow Nobodies. And thus may the Son of Man find faith on earth.


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