Posts Tagged 'gifts'

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 Aug. 5, 2012: Proper 13, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In last week’s reading, King David got another man’s wife pregnant, because he could, and then attempted to cover his tracks by arranging for that man to die in battle. There is no such thing as private sin, however. In today’s reading the prophet Nathan, acting for God, tricks David into pronouncing judgment on himself. The penitential Psalm 51 that follows is David’s heartfelt response.

 

Response            Psalm 51:1-13

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:1-16

Psalm 51 is David’s reaction to Nathan’s affirmation of his guilt—and our own, as we survey the devastation our behavior causes. The fourth chapter of Ephesians teaches us how to live so as not to do such damage: by bearing with one another in love, by speaking truth in love, and by building up the Body of Christ in love.

 

The Gospel            John 6:24-35

 

Further thoughts

The books of Samuel paint a highly mixed portrait of David. On the one hand, it is David who connives and cheats, who keeps wanting more and who is not above manipulating his friends and fighting for their enemies to get it, whose appetite for power and its perquisites grows the more he gets, and who has the valiant Uriah disposed of, perhaps at least as much because Uriah’s self-control contrasts so tellingly with David’s self-indulgence (and one always wonders how much real choice Bathsheba ever had in all of this). On the other hand, it is David who follows God and God’s gifts to greatness, who dances unselfconsciously before the Ark of the Covenant, who repeatedly protects Saul even when Saul keeps trying to kill him, whose yearning for God pervades the psalms that he really does seem to have composed, and who—when Nathan finally gets his attention—genuinely and contritely accepts that he has offended not just the humans around him but the God whose man he is.

How can one reconcile those two Davids?

One reconciles them, because one must, the same way each of us must reconcile the warring selves within all of us. Earlier chapters of the letter to the Ephesians make it clear that I also am God’s creature, born with the yearning to make good with my gifts—and so is everyone else; bitter experience tells me that I am just as capable as David of abusing my gifts stupidly or even wickedly, sometimes even out of good intentions—and so is everyone else.

Today’s epistle reminds me that all God’s children are born this way, with gifts that surely need to be channeled but that it is a sin against the Spirit to deny. The foundational gift, as today’s epistle notes, is love, by which I understand the ability to see others not through the lens of my own wants and hurts but through the eyes of the God who died for the sake of even the worst of us.

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.


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