Posts Tagged 'rcl'

For July 20, 2014: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11

The Reading            Isaiah 44:6-8

The earliest books of the Old Testament proclaim that the Lord God is the greatest of the gods. Isaiah 44:1-15 relates a different claim: that the Lord is the only god.

The Response            Psalm 86:11-17

Psalm 86 combines elements of lament—begging God for aid against enemies who despise both the psalmist and God—and praise. After extolling God’s graciousness, slowness to anger, and kindness, the psalmist asks for a sign of favor with which to shame the haters.

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-25

The early church in Rome included both Jews and former pagans, though not without disagreements. Paul explains humanity’s common birthright as adopted children of God: we all share in Christ’s glory, but we are also to share humbly in Christ’s suffering while we wait in hope for our redemption.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We continue examining Jesus’ parables that use the imagery of plowing, planting, and harvesting, with his explanations. The “weeds” in this parable would probably have been darnel, a plant that looks a great deal like wheat until it ripens.

 

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is the three-year cycle of Bible readings, followed with more or less fidelity by most Christian churches, that works from first verse to last through most books of the Bible. A challenge for the RCL’s makers is that the Old Testament, even without the psalms, comprises several times more text than do the epistles and the gospel taken together. To even things out, in Pentecost season the RCL splits just the Old Testament readings and apposite psalms into two tracks. Track 1 begins with Genesis and traces the covenants, falls, and redemptions of God’s children, while Track 2 focuses on prophecy, on calls for repentance or proclamations of righteousness. That a given day’s epistle and gospel tend to be about equally complemented by either track’s pair of readings is both intentional and remarkable.

The gospel readings for Propers 10 and 11 reflect a rare but sensible choice and a surprising choice. As the gospel of Matthew has it, Jesus tells a large crowd two parables and then the disciples urge him to interpret them. The rare but sensible choice is by the makers of the RCL, who allot each sermon-worthy parable and its explanation to a different Sunday: the parable of the sower for Proper 10 last week and the parable of the bad seed this week. The surprising choice that Jesus even complies with the disciples’ demand: he almost never explains parables, and these explanations are almost painfully literal and obvious.

How does this square with the other lections? Isaiah testifies that the Lord is not merely the greatest god but the only god, who alone knows the future, and the reason we are not to fear. The psalm celebrates this God’s graciousness and compassion. Yet, as the epistle notes, suffering and decay are inextricably part of this world: from birth onward we learn that there is plenty to fear in pain, sickness, shame, disaster, and death. As I write, we mourn the 295 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines 17, including almost 100 AIDS experts bound for a conference, sacrificed for a political cause relevant to few or none of them. How can God foresee such evil and not forestall it?

For June 16, 2013: Proper 6, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel and the prophets during their reigns. In today’s reading from the first book, notorious King Ahab pouts because he wants land he does not own; Jezebel, his even more notorious wife, arranges for the land’s owner to be executed under trumped-up charges. It falls to the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab about his wrongdoing.

 The Response            Psalm 5:1-8

The Epistle            Galatians 2:15-21

As the second chapter of the book of Galatians opens, Paul defends his call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He makes a narrow point and a wider one. The first point, made in verses that we are not reading today, is that the circumcised and the uncircumcised are to share the good news together. This leads to his second point, which we read today: what justifies us with God is nothing whatever that we do.

The Gospel            Luke 7:36-8:3

“‘…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.’”

 

 Further thoughts

Today’s readings present somewhat unappetizing views of righteousness. The psalmist tells us that God shuns the bloodthirsty and protects the righteous, but righteous Naboth is publicly humiliated and killed on trumped-up charges just so Ahab can take his land for a vegetable garden. Super-righteous Paul tells us just how far his super-righteouness goes in buying him justification with God: absolutely nowhere. Jesus’ host clearly believes he has done two extraordinarily generous and superior things in inviting this controversial itinerant preacher to dinner and in not making a public issue of Jesus’ gaucherie in allowing a “sinful woman” to touch him, and then Jesus sets him straight on, among other things, Simon’s unfortunate lapse from the standards for hospitality.

It is hard not to cheer when grasping Ahab and Jezebel finally reap what they have sown, and it may be even harder (because the consequences are less) not to feel satisfaction at Simon getting taken down a peg. This may not be altogether inappropriate: as we will see in the course of the summer’s lectionary readings, justice and equity are very much on the mind of God and so they ought to be on ours.

It is sobering, though, to realize just what Jesus has to say about that nameless woman: she loves extravagantly not because she is good or gifted but because she has been forgiven extravagantly.

What might the world look like if we forgave like that?

For June 9, 2013: Proper 5, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-24

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel, most of whom are not very faithful to God, and the prophets in those times, most of whom are faithful and often suffer for it. In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah goes outside of Israel and imposes on a widow who has fallen on very hard times that then get worse. Through his faithfulness and his compassion, God’s servant works a miracle.

Lection 1 pronunciation notes: “Zarephath” is ZARE-uh-fath; “Sidon” is SIGH-don

The Response            Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:11-24

The church at Galatia was a mix of Gentiles and converted Jews; this could cause friction when the Jews expected the Gentiles to follow Judaic practice. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul sets out his biography for the Galatians with the goal of establishing both his background as a really good Jew and the insignificance of his background when it comes to salvation, which is strictly God’s to give.

Lection 2 pronunciation notes: “Galatia” is gah-LAY-shah; “zealous” is ZELL-us; “Cephas” is SEE-fuss; “Cilicia” is sill-ISH-uh

The Gospel            Luke 7:11-17

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Further thoughts

A thread that binds today’s readings together is of things not going according to plan.

The mourners in Nain know exactly where they are going and why and what will happen afterward: their friend and relative has died, so it is their duty to go get him properly buried, and then his mother is going to be destitute because that’s the way the world works. But other plans are in God’s works, and a fairly standard funeral procession turns into a unique celebration.

Saul of Tarsus knows exactly where he is going and why and what will happen afterward: he is going to save God’s people from the threat posed by people who keep preaching Jesus in spite of persecution; he will be a good guy in God’s eyes and a hero to Israel, because that’s the way the world should work. But other plans are in God’s works; the persecutor is turned around by the grace of God, and the proof that this is from God is that, though the message of grace is largely the same, Paul has absolutely not learned it from any human.

The widow of Zarephath knows exactly what she is doing and where it will end: she has no hope of protecting her son from dying of starvation, because that’s the way the world works, but she can at least feed him one last time before they starve together. But other plans are in God’s works, so the prophet from Israel says, and indeed he and they eat and live.

Elijah himself might be less certain. Zarephath, the first reading tells us, “belongs to Sidon”: it is not Israelite territory, and one senses that Elijah goes there only under orders. There, what he has heard from God comes to pass. So far, so good—but suddenly his hostess’s son sickens and dies. This is not in the script! Elijah seems in shock. He cries out at the injustice, then he does whatever comes into his head, and then he implores God… and, miraculously, the boy begins to breathe again, and grief and anger and self-blame give way to wonder.

That is precisely the message of Paul. Though my frailties and my losses bear down on me like the hand of grief on the mourners of Nain, like the hand of hunger on the widow of Zarephath, Jesus the merciful is ready to stop the bier with a touch, not because I deserve it but simply because, wherever I go and with whatever plans, I cannot help but be his.

For June 2, 2013: Proper 4, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39

This summer’s Old Testament readings begin with Israel’s history after David and Solomon. When later kings strayed from God’s way, God sent mighty prophets to get them back on track. As today’s reading opens, Elijah has challenged the priests of Baal to a competition before God’s people to see whose God is great enough to send down fire on a sacrifice. The priests’ entreaties and self-mutilation fail to produce so much as a spark. Then, before he takes his turn, Elijah has the wood and the sacrifice drenched. Now watch the fireworks!

The Response            Psalm 96

“Tell it out among the nations: ‘The Lord is king!… He will judge the peoples with equity.’”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:1-12

For centuries before and after Jesus, the plain of Anatolia in modern Turkey was part of the Greek-speaking world. In the third century BC, several tribes of Gauls or Celts from Europe conquered the central region that came to be called Galatia after them. These Galatians were among Paul’s first and most enthusiastic converts to the gospel of grace—but the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, which we read today, suggests their susceptibility to other influences with which Paul is not at all pleased.

The Gospel            Luke 7:1-10

“‘For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes.’”

 

Further thoughts

Today’s readings tell of speaking with authority, and of three responses.

In the material left out of the Old Testament reading, the priests of Baal seek to make their god set the sacrifice afire by screaming and crying for hours and gashing themselves till the blood flows. Their god doesn’t come through, and Elijah mocks them. The Lord of Israel, however, sends down fire at Elijah’s request. This vividly establishes Elijah’s authority, and reinforces God’s, in the eyes of the assembled people of Israel. I am one of the people of Israel: given a sign, I cry, “The Lord indeed is God!”—but so often I then go away wondering how to make a sign happen again, and wondering what’s wrong when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am also a priest of Baal, desperate to make God do our bidding because, well, don’t I deserve it? (Well, no: I don’t.)

The epistle may be one of Paul’s very earliest. The people of Galatia, neighbors but not kin to Paul’s native city of Tarsus, are thoroughly and Celtically enraptured by the word that salvation is in reach for them, too. In their zeal to follow Christ really well, however, they then buy the line that grace depends on this discipline or that practice, first. Paul is having none of it: as he puts it, even were an angel to announce such preconditions, that’s not the gospel. But I am such a Galatian: captivated by the gift, yet simultaneously looking for the strings that, in my human experience, are surely attached and therefore must and should be pulled.

What of the centurion? He, the outsider or the sell-out—we don’t know whether he was sent from Rome or recruited locally—should have been the one to stand on rank, the one to order a a platoon out for Jesus, the one to grasp and yank any string within reach. Instead, he cares for his servant; he is friends with the Jewish elders, who are willing to go for this Roman outsider to Jesus the Galilean outsider; and finally it is he who recognizes in Jesus the authority of One who will not be forced but who is ready when asked to do the unimaginable. I am not the centurion: it is beyond my grasp—except, of course, through God’s grace.

For May 26, 2013: Trinity Sunday, Year C

The Reading            Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

The book of Proverbs is part of what Biblical scholars refer to as “wisdom literature”; it dispenses sound advice for Old Testament living. Today’s reading, however, is about Wisdom, personified here as God’s partner in creation. We of the New Testament know Wisdom as the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

The Response            Psalm 8

“O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!”

The Epistle            Romans 5:1-5

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has sometimes been called his most important theological work. Today’s short but rich reading may well be the core of it: we have peace with God and ourselves not through our own efforts but because the incredible love of God gives us hope.

The Gospel            John 16:12-15

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

 

Further thoughts

First, a disclaimer: for a theological explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, please consult a theologian. What I can offer here is my grammatical workaround of using plural pronouns and agreement forms for singular God, as in “God are Love, and where true love is, / God Themselves are there.”

I was inspired to this in youth by T.H. White’s witty and heartrending book The Once and Future King. Toward the end of the first part, just before the Sword in the Stone reveals young Wart as King Arthur, Merlyn the magician sends him out for his last lesson among the animals. A badger tells him a story of Creation in which all the animals looked exactly like embryos until God allowed them to choose adaptations such as claws or teeth or thick hides or wings. All made their choices—except for Man, last of all, whose response begins, “Please God, I think that you have made me in the shape I now have for reasons best known to Yourselves, and it would be rude to change…” This turns out to have been precisely the right answer. God replied,

“As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful.”

This is, please note, one God, yet plural. It is possible that White intended a sort of “royal We”, but it resonates with me differently. Though I still quite naturally try to reduce God to human scale, the slight strangeness of “God are…” in my mouth keeps me mindful of God as human and more than human, and the plural verbs and pronouns avoid assigning God exclusive maleness, instead encompassing maleness and femaleness (and probably much more in addition). God as singular plural also reminds me of the eternal fellowship enjoyed by God, as suggested by the Old Testament reading, a depth of mutual knowing and being known whose fullness is quite beyond the grasp of humankind here and now; it is the fellowship for which, through Christ, the apostle Paul says we have such hope; and just as surely the fellowship for whose stunning loss on earth Jesus in today’s gospel was gently but relentlessly preparing his disciples and friends to grieve.

For May 19, 2013: Pentecost

The Reading            Genesis 11:1-9

The first reading today, from the book of Genesis, explains how human beings created by the one God of Israel have come to speak so many different languages: they imagined that they could work and scheme their way to heaven, but God had other plans.  As we will see later, however, the story does not end here.

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35, 37b

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! in wisdom you have made them all.”

The Epistle            Acts 2:1-21

The story of the first Pentecost in the book of Acts is even more familiar than the story of the tower of Babel. The Pentecost story also involves people and languages. During today’s reading, if all goes according to plan, we will hear Acts 2:4 read in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Samoan, Choctaw, Russian, Croatian, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Dutch, and Old English, and later we will hear the Lord’s Prayer in all of those languages. God’s grace through Jesus works not for division but for unity, and our differences cease to divide us.

The Gospel            John 14:8-17 (25-27)

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.”

 

In lieu of further thoughts, I offer the language texts that we read today and some comments on the 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 various languages; for most languages that are not written in a Roman alphabet I have found, devised, or begged transliterations. Within language families I have underlined cognates—related words—to show the commonalities within the differences.

1. The Semitic language family includes Arabic, Hebrew, and the ancient Phoenician language. Semitic word roots typically have three consonants; vowel patterns work like inflections to signal grammatical information, so in classical Arabic the aaa pattern gives a verb (kataba ‘he wrote’, malaka ‘he owned/seized/ ruled’, nazala ‘he dismounted’, lamasa ‘he touched’); the ā-i pattern, a doer of the action (kātib ‘writer’, mālik ‘owner’); the i-ā pattern, a result of the action (kitāb ‘book’, nizāl ‘lining up for battle where one dismounted’); ma‑Ø-a-/i- a place where something is done (maktab ‘office’, manzil ‘stopping place’, malmas ‘place touched’, mamlaka ‘kingdom’), and so on. The transliterations here differ somewhat, but ‘holy’ is q-d-s or q-d-sh and ‘spirit’ is r-w-ḥ orr-w-ch.

Arabic: (transliterated)

wametla aljamey‘ min alruwḥ alqudus wābetdawa yatakalamuwna biilsinah ākhrā kamā ā‘khṭāhumu alruwḥu ān yanṭiquwā

Hebrew: (transliterated: 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 larger Altaic family. Even though Japanese is written partly in Chinese characters, it is not related to Chinese: unlike Mandarin, Japanese is not a tone language and it is highly inflected. Seirei is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Japanese: (transliterated)

Suruto, ichidō wa seirei ni mitasare, mitama ga kataraseru mama ni, iroiro no takoku no kotoba de kataridashi ta.

3. Choctaw is a Muskogean language originally spoken in and near modern Mississippi; the ancestors of most speakers were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Choctaw is closely related to Chickasaw and may be very distantly related to Kumeyaay or Diegueño, though the evidence is not strong. The letter v is used to write a vowel that is something like the first vowel in English about. Shilombish is ‘spirit’ and holitopa is ‘holy’.

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, spoken in Burma (Myanmar), are members of the Tibeto-Burman grouping along with several languages of China (though neither Mandarin nor Cantonese). Karen languages, like many other languages of eastern Asia, are tone languages: not only are words distinguished by different vowels and consonants, they are also distinguished by six distinct tones or pitch contours. စီဆ is ‘holy’ and သး ‘spirit’.

Sgaw: (Myanmar Bible, original script)

ဒီးပှၤခဲ လၢာ်လၢထီၣ်ပှဲၤထီၣ်ဒီးသးစီဆှံ, ဒီးကတိၤတၢ်လၢအ ပျ့ၤအဂၤတဖၣ်, ဒ်သးန့ၣ်ဒုးကတိၤအီၤအသိးလီၤ.

5. The Austronesian language family probably originated in or near the island of Taiwan, off the coast of China. The Greek root nesos means ‘island’: most Austronesian languages are spoken on islands, from Madagascar off the east coast of Africa to the Easter Islands off the west coast of South America. The Polynesian languages of the South Pacific include Hawaiian, Fijian, and Samoan, all languages with relatively few consonants and simple consonant-vowel syllables. In Samoan, Agaga is ‘Spirit’ and Pa‘ia is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Samoan:

‘Ua fa‘atūtūmuina fo‘i i latou uma i le Agaga Pa‘ia, ma ‘ua amata loa ‘ona tautalatala i gagana ‘ese‘ese, e pei lava ‘ona faia e le Agaga ‘ua mafai ai e i latou ‘ona tautala atu.

6. 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 includes Russian and a number of languages spoken in Eastern Europe, such as Czech and Polish. Many but not all Slavic languages are written in Cyrillic characters; Croatian and Polish are among the languages that are written in roman script.  Dukh- and Duh- are ‘Spirit’; svyato- and sveto- are ‘holy’. Croatian and Serbian are essentially the same language.

Russian: (transliterated)

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

Croatian:

Svi se napuniše Duha Svetoga i počeše govoriti drugim jezicima, kako im već Duh davaše zboriti.

b. Greek is the sole surviving member of the Hellenic family. The Greek alphabet is descended from the Phoenician alphabet, though the Greeks converted a number of Phoenician consonant signs to symbols for vowels. Pneuma- is ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’; agiou, as in the Hagia Sophia, is ‘holy’.

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, but its traces are strong in not only in the Romance languages but in English. Among its modern descendants are Italian, Spanish, and French. Latin –pl– as in repleti ‘filled up, replete’ often shows up in Italian as –pi-, as in ripieni ‘filled’ and in Spanish as –ll-, as in llenos ‘filled’ (so chiles relleños are quite literally filled-up or replete chilis). ‘Spirit’ is Spiritus/Espíritu/Esprit, and ‘holy’ is sanct-/santo/saint.

Latin:

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

Italian:

Cosí furono tutti ripieni di Spirito Santo e cominciarono a parlare in altre lingue, secondo che lo Spirito dava loro di esprimersi.

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 has three main subgroups: Northern Germanic (Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic, but not Finnish, which is closely related to Hungarian), East Germanic (all of the languages of which are extinct), and West Germanic (including German, Dutch and English). Heilig-, hellig, and halg– are cognates of Modern English ‘holy’. Geest and gast mean ‘spirit’, though Modern English ghost now means specifically ‘spirit of a dead person’. The Northern Germanic languages instead have ånd or ande, from a Proto-Germanic word meaning ‘breath or spirit’ which is cognate with an Old English word meaning ‘malice, envy, hatred’ (that is, bad spirits) and with Latin anima ‘breath or soul’.

Norwegian:

Da blev de alle fylt med den Hellige Ånd, og de begynte å tale med andre tunger, alt efter som Ånden gav dem å tale.

Dutch:

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:

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 April 21, 2013: Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 9:36-43

The book of Acts shows us God making good on God’s promises to the early church. Jesus had assured the disciples that they would do even greater miracles than he had—and here we see it come to pass. Jesus had also told the disciples (though they did not reliably register it) that he is Messiah to more than the Jews; the fact that Tabitha seems to have gone by a Greek name suggests that she herself was living out this wider call.

The Response            Psalm 23

“You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me…”

The Second Reading            Revelation 7:9-17

Taken together with the raising of Tabitha, the vision of heaven in today’s reading from Revelation tells us many things: that in this life there is still sorrow and struggle, trial and loss, but that, if we persevere, we too may receive the bounty of life that Jesus has bought for us.

The Gospel            John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

Further thoughts

Almost a week has elapsed since the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was transformed in an instant from a place of celebration into a charnel house. Five people have died, including one of the suspects, a campus policeman at MIT, and an eight-year-old boy who was cheering his father on; 176 are injured; and life in the city of Boston came to a standstill and stayed that way during the manhunt for the other suspect.

In the aftermath, it can be difficult to believe in miracles, more difficult to pray for those who perpetrate such horrors, and harder still to confront the question of why a loving God would fail to step in to stop such atrocity.

Today’s readings give us very little help with the last question. In fact, the reading from Acts raises a further uncomfortable question: why choose Dorcas alone to raise from death, and not all the believers? Why spare a few but not all? This is the question that has troubled our elder brothers and sisters in God, the Jews, most painfully since the Holocaust. Some may say that the question demonstrates the Jews’ failure in faith, but I think they do well to ask it, and I think that, in this life, it has no truly satisfactory answer this side of the grave.

What I do know is that we follow Jesus, and that means, among other things, that we follow him into dying. But the promise of Revelation and of the reading from John is that dying is not the end. Whether we die peacefully at an advanced age or not, we still belong to God. And the works that we do in the name of Jesus—which include praying for and blessing even our enemies, even to the point of sharing with them the spread that Psalm 23 promises us—are the signs that we truly belong to God.

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 April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

 

Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?

For March 30, 2013: the Great Vigil of Easter, Year C

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD: God acts to create and restore the world

The story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

Salvation offered freely to all: 
Isaiah 55:1-11

The Response: Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)

The valley of dry bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. The first epistle we read in Easter rings out our joy, as Isaiah puts it, but it also looks back to the suffering that has freed us from sin.

The Response            Psalm 114

The Gospel            Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

 

Further thoughts

People in Jesus’ place and time had a pretty good idea what death looked like, what with infant mortality, childhood and adult diseases, death in childbirth, farming accidents, the various ailments associated with old age, and the occasional murders, executions and suicides. Adult women, in particular, knew well what they were supposed to do about it: wash the body (especially if there were blood), treat it with spices against stench, dress it, and straighten the mangled or emaciated limbs in preparation for burial.

They were clearly quite unprepared, however, for the idea of rising from death.

We postmillenials have the advantage of two thousand years of exposure to the idea through scripture, analysis, sermons, and old-fashioned hindsight, but it’s not clear to me that we are really any better prepared for the reality of resurrection than were Jesus’ grieving friends. It’s hard to imagine being resurrected to anything but a life like the one that we now lead, with its dishes to wash and its bills to pay. That’s unsurprising, of course: this is the life we know.

It’s the case, however, that many people who have undergone a near-death experience live differently, at least for a while. They wash the dishes and pay the bills, but—like Scrooge at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—they live more in the moment, and they are much more mindful of the wonder of the world around them and the people in it.

And we who still stand on this side of the grave—what if we are called to do likewise?


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