Posts Tagged 'Episcopal'

For April 14, 2013: Celebration of New Ministry

The Reading            Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25a

The book of Numbers is the account of Israel’s progress out of Egypt to the land that God had promised. Today’s reading opens shortly after God’s own redeemed people have exasperated Moses again, this time by complaining about the menu. God’s prescription also works well for a population that is not fed up with manna.

The Response            Psalm 146

“He sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.”

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16m

Scholars disagree on whether the letter to the Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul or even whether it was originally addressed to the church at Ephesus. There is little dispute, however, as to the importance of the teaching in today’s passage: we are called to welcome each other’s gifts and our own as we help build the church in the love of Christ. 

The Gospel            Luke 10:1-2

“‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for today at St Alban’s Episcopal, El Cajon, depart from the normal course of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, to celebrate a return to normality: our church is officially inducting a new rector. The event will feature a blessing from the bishop of the diocese and an assortment of gifts to launch the new ministry. Most of the gifts are standard for an event of this type—a Bible and prayer book, vestments, oil for anointing, bread and wine and water. Some, however, are peculiar to our church; a food basket and school book, for our ministry to refugees; a shovel, for the community garden recently launched in conjunction with our near neighbors of First Presbyterian; the soup ladle, for our ministry of feeding the homeless. One final gift is specific to the new man: the Ecclesia cross, for a ministry without walls to the homeless in Boston that our transplanted-Easterner rector means to plant here. 

Today’s readings quite properly remind us that the sharing of gifts with our rector does not and must not stop today. To be sure, Fr. Dave faces rather fewer people than did Moses—it is easy to forget that the two censuses in the book of Numbers each counted over 600,000 Israelite men of fighting age, not counting the women, children, and Levites; seventy assistants to help with the Israelites’ fractiousness and grumbling doesn’t sound like much, until one realizes that Moses just acquired seventy times the help he’d had before. In any case, “seventy” tends to be Bible-ese for “a whole lot”, and perhaps this makes slightly better sense of the fact that the quantity of help that Yahweh orders in for Moses tallies with the quantity of help that Luke tells us Jesus ordered out to serve as his advance troops.

Whoever really did write the book of Ephesians sheds light on what we could call the Numbers numbers game. The larger the number of individuals who stand ready to offer their gifts, and the more willing they are to foster and recognize both their own gifts and those of others, the likelier it is that a gift that is suited to a specific need can be found. The ladle and book and basket and shovel are gifts not just from us but for us, and not just for us but through us to God’s world—and all the evidence indicates that it will take every one of us doing things we weren’t sure we could do in God’s grace to help this world live into “Thy Kingdom come.”

For Sept. 23, 2012: Proper 20, Year B

The Reading            Proverbs 31:10-31

“The Song of the Virtuous Woman” is the name for today’s passage from the book of Proverbs. In form it is an acrostic poem—that is, its lines in Hebrew begin with successive letters of the alphabet as a memory device (and this may help explain why it is so detailed). Interestingly, the Hebrew words present this woman not merely as capable and busy but as valiant, like a warrior.

The Response            Psalm 1

The Epistle            James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

The virtuous woman of Proverbs deals generously with the poor and speaks with wisdom and kindness. The letter from James, which is addressed to communities whose Christian unity is fraying, picks up on these themes, showing the fruit both of their presence and of their absence in our lives.

The Gospel            Mark 9:30-37

 

Further thoughts

In some respects, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s is anticipated in the account of the virtuous woman of Proverbs. She spins fiber, weaves cloth, and makes garments, she does the shopping and manages the household, she’s strong, she buys real estate and plants a vineyard on it, she raises the children, she looks after the poor, she runs a business and markets her wares, and she’s kind and wise. In short, she does it all, apparently, with the possible exception of obsessing about her looks: it is because of all that she does that her husband is proud, her children call her happy, and we deem her virtuous.

What a winner—and what an exhausting example to try to live up to!  But the epistle and the gospel present a different perspective.

The epistle reminds us that the source of virtue—of living the truly good life—is not all the good works that we do: in fact, the good works are the fruit of submission to God, just as the wisdom is the gift of God. No gift of God is to be won through ambition or greed, for these lead only to exactly the kinds of conflicts and disputes that the epistle condemns. As the epistle points out, we don’t receive the good things God means for us if we don’t ask. The act of asking underscores that it’s not our right to demand these goodies or that privilege for being a child of God. Fortunately, it’s also not our burden to be in charge of more than God has given us.

Jesus makes a related point in the gospel. Those who need to be important work to prove their importance by the goodies with which they surround themselves and the accolades they garner. The truly great one in God’s Kingdom, however, is the one who upholds and protects the importance of others—the one who can look at little people and see them first as people. Such a person also practices gratitude and in so doing teaches it.

Which brings us back to the virtuous woman. Her children will bless her name not because she’s made them aware how much she does for them, but because her generosity and grace have taught them how to ask and how to receive—from her, from each other, and from the God from whom all blessings flow.

For Sept. 9, 2012: Proper 18, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 35:4-7a

In the time of the prophet Isaiah, when Israel and Judah are two distinct kingdoms threatened by the Assyrian Empire, the king of Israel joins in a treaty with another nation—but Isaiah tells Ahaz, king of Judah, to trust in God, and the miraculously good things he prophecies in today’s reading will come to pass. The references to vengeance and terrible recompense sound like odd things about which not to fear, but the Hebrew they translate can also be rendered as ‘vindication’ and ‘restoration’.

The Response            Psalm 146

The Epistle            James 2:1-10, 14-17

Today’s psalm picked up the thread of God coming to rescue those in need. The letter from James reminds us of two things. The second is that God uses agents to bring about the justice that Isaiah prophesied: each and every one of us who bear the name of Christian. The first is that the one who plays favorites breaks the law as surely as if she had committed murder. It is a challenge to square this assertion with the gospel story of Jesus initially refusing to heal the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter.

The Gospel            Mark 7:24-37

 

Further thoughts

The claim in Isaiah’s prophecy that good things are coming to the outsiders and the admonition in the letter of James not to play favorites play disquietingly with today’s gospel.

As the gospel opens, Jesus is still mourning the recent assassination of his cousin John, who baptized him, he’s fairly new to ministry, and he’s been working very hard; Tyre, in Gentile country, may have looked like the place for a nice anonymous rest. Found at once, however, he initially and rather rudely refuses to heal a child because her mother is Syrophoenician. It is a troubling reading: why on earth would compassionate, generous Jesus blow anyone off with the comment, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”?

Many commentators assert that Jesus must be joking with the woman and that she must know it to respond as she does. A related interpretation is that he is testing her faith. Somehow, though, like D. Mark Davis (http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/09/comparing-humans-to-dogs.html), I just can’t accept that Jesus would knowingly stoop either to joshing a desperate mother or to intentional disrespect.

What if Jesus said what he thought and the woman’s response made him rethink not only her request but the scope of his ministry? This view is not original with me: see the David Henson’s blog Edges of Faith (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2012/09/jesus-was-not-colorblind-racial-slurs-and-the-syrophoenician-woman-lectionary/), among others. It makes sense to me, though. Human beings are classifiers: we like to know what the categories are and what is and is not inside the boundaries, and we use what we know or think we know to construct parameters by which to judge. This bent is a strength of our cognition—emergency medicine depends crucially on being able to make snap judgments—but it is a weakness when our categories box us in. For the Jews of Jesus’ time, the inhabitants of Tyre were definitely Them, not Us. Second, insofar as historical Jesus is human and not just God through and through, he would have learned the attitudes of his culture just as we do, even as he had to learn how to operate one of these fleshy bodies just as we do.

This raises the prospect that what we see here is Jesus’ continuing education. I for one find this both comforting and challenging: if Jesus could listen to dissent and rethink things, then far be it from me to continue to shelter behind my own prior beliefs and attitudes. I still won’t match Jesus’ step for step on the way, of course—but I have much less excuse not to try.

For August 26, 2012: Proper 16, Year B

The Reading            Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

The book of Joshua tells of the complete conquest of Canaan, though that conquest was more like a gradual encroachment. In any case, at the end of his long life, Joshua presents all the people with a choice: to follow the gods of the world around them or to enter into a covenant—a formal treaty—to be faithful servants of the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 34:15-22

The Epistle            Ephesians 6:10-20

The Old Testament lection omits the verses in which Joshua tells God’s people that they—we—are bound to fail to follow the Lord as we ought. Psalm 34:18 hints at the way out, and today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians underlines it: what keeps us in righteousness is the power of the Lord.

The Gospel            John 6:56-69

 

Further thoughts

The lectionary selections today are an interesting mix. In the Old Testament reading, Joshua, having led Israel to ownership of Canaan, confronts the people of Israel with a choice between the old gods and The One God and more or less dares them to pick the right one. They brightly announce their allegiance to the Lord. The lectionary cuts off before the verses in which Joshua repeats the question, twice and with rising skepticism, then, after announcing that this is a covenant, tells them flatly that they’re going to fail at keeping up their end.

Joshua’s right, of course: when it comes to keeping covenants with God, they are—I am—no darned good. The flesh, as Jesus says, is useless. My insufficiency is partly a matter of meatheadedly human bad choices, but it is also simply that being righteous enough and compassionate enough and smart enough and simple enough and alive enough for God, all at the same time, takes more God-ness than even the best purely human being can manage under his or her own power. It requires more more than I can even really imagine.

Which leaves the unimaginable. The epistle offers God’s armor against superhuman enemies, which makes sense—but the gear is that of the Roman legions, who, though Rome has made Ephesus splendid and wealthy, are regarded with the esteem one reserves for playground bullies. In the gospel, Jesus presents as the means to salvation his own body and blood to be eaten and drunk—a flagrant violation of the foundational laws of the Torah, in which even animal blood is much too holy to take lightly, and thus literally unbelievable.

Both sets of instructions pull me way outside my comfort zone. That seems to be the point. I can’t plan or reason or bargain or scheme my way to being righteous and compassionate and smart and simple and alive enough for God. I can, however, say “Yes, with God’s help”—though with the package comes the sobering truth that God’s help may come to me from sources I’d thought myself better than or by means that may turn my world entirely upside down.

For July 15, 2012: Proper 10, Year B

The Reading            Amos 7:7-15

Around 750 BC, with Assyria and Egypt occupied elsewhere, Israel enjoys peace and prosperity—for the wealthy and powerful, and at the expense of the poor. God calls Amos out of Judah, the southern kingdom, to pronounce judgment. The plumb line that Amos sees in God’s hand is a string with a heavy weight at one end that shows whether or not a wall is perfectly upright. The wall that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 24

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:3-14

Today we begin reading from the letter to the Ephesians. The church at Ephesus in modern Turkey, like the church at Corinth in Greece, was a mixed Jewish and Gentile community. In the opening verses of the letter to this church, a Jewish apostle—possibly Paul—writes poetically of God’s intention before the world ever existed to adopt in Jesus Christ not just the people of the covenant of Abraham but all of creation, including each one of us.

The Gospel            Mark 6:14-29

Further thoughts

Late last week the commission investigating the Penn State football program released the results of its investigation of the climate in which sexual abuse of young boys went unreported and unstopped for a period of fourteen years. The report is unsparing in assigning blame at the highest levels. Like today’s Old Testament reading and gospel lesson, it gives a terrifying picture of the urgency of doing the right thing sooner rather than later: the longer one holds off, the more horrifyingly pervasive the damage will be and the less likely it is to be remediable. These readings also point to the unanticipated costs of doing and saying the right thing: Amos is shamed and exiled and John the Baptizer loses his life.  We ourselves are likely to see ourselves in the roles of Amos or John here; as human beings, however, we are surely at just as great risk of being so caught up in our own prerogatives or even our own human-crafted “righteousness” as are Amaziah, Jeroboam, or Herod.

In between, though, and counterbalancing the horror of being human, is the vivid and poetic rhetoric of the letter to the Ephesians. In the original Greek, the passage is one very long sentence that blesses God for blessing, choosing, designing for love, adopting, redeeming, giving grace to, forgiving, gathering up, giving an inheritance to, and sealing with the Holy Spirit not just the physical descendants of Abraham but all peoples. In short, God is crazy in love with us and has no hesitation about showing it. To put it another way, it’s not just that our pictures are in God’s brag book: we ourselves are God’s brag book.

That is a very tall order to live up to. I for one can’t do it on my own. The key here is love: by me, of you, through God. If I can walk in love as Jesus shows me, and if I let your love help me back to my feet when I stumble, and if each of us loves everyone else in exactly that way, then our love through God helps you and me and him and her and them uncover the real “you” and the real “me” and the real “him” and “her” and “them” that make each of us, in God’s eyes, just exactly what God always wanted.

For July 8, 2012: Proper 9, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Today we resume the story of David. The shepherd boy whom Samuel anointed has fought and schemed his way to the kingship of Judah, in the south. Now the northern tribes of Israel come to David’s capital at Hebron and ask him to become their king, for God is with him. On the strength of this David conquers a city of the Jebusites, on neutral ground between Judah and Israel, and makes it his capital—Jerusalem, the city of David.

The Response            Psalm 123

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 12:2-10

The church of Corinth was wracked by division, some of it centered on Paul himself: people said he was not physically perfect enough or spiritual enough to be God’s champion. In today’s reading Paul counters both claims: he mentions his own exceptional revelation—he himself is the “person in Christ”—only to dismiss it, and he points to the derided disability as precisely the means by which the Lord keeps him grounded and aware that the power is not his or ours but Christ’s.

The Gospel            Mark 6:1-13

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary, which we in the Episcopal Church follow, gives today’s reading as 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. Here are the omitted verses:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

Since David is the ruler chosen by God, and the one through whom Israel achieves its own greatness, this is a powerful rejection. Combine it with the list of physical impairments that disqualified a man from being a priest, and one can see the ground from which Paul’s detractors in Corinth were arguing. It’s easy to infer that God really only loves the perfect and really only works through the one who looks the part.

What if David meant something different, however? What if the point is that David is turning the taunt of the apparently whole Jebusites back on them? They were so sure of themselves that they failed to see a major flaw in their defenses: the humble water shaft, which could be either the water supply or the sewer. It lay in their power to remedy—but they did not.

So much depends on what we notice and how. Jesus did mighty works—everywhere but in his own home neighborhood, among those who “knew him when…” They saw him as just the carpenter, just the kid of Mary. They figured they knew what they could expect from him—not much—and that is exactly what they got.

Let’s not be too hasty to judge the skeptics of Corinth and of Nazareth, however. Corinth was a busy port town, which means it doubtless saw more than its share of con artists and schemers. Committing too deeply to the Next Big Thing without asking the hard questions could be bad for one’s money—and one’s health. For its part, Nazareth was a hardscrabble town in a land that was well and truly under Roman domination. The people had surely learned the hard way that getting one’s hopes up would just lead to disappointment.

The mix of pride, fear, defensiveness, and defeatism that kept Jesus’ neighbors blind to him is familiar to today. It is desperately hard to overcome all that baggage in someone else; it is even harder to overcome it in me. In both cases, as Paul’s career shows, it takes persistence, generosity, grace, and a willingness to look silly.

It also helps to pay attention to mundane things like the sewers and the water supply.


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