Posts Tagged 'spiritual gifts'

For Oct. 27, 2013: Proper 25, Year C

The Reading            Joel 2:23-32

The verses that precede this Sunday’s reading tell a grim story of Israel’s devastation by locusts. But then the prophet Joel turns to song: God will restore the people’s physical fortunes. More wondrously yet, God will pour out spiritual gifts on all: men and women, young and old, even the most humbly born, all like true children of God.

The Response            Psalm 65

“Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18

This Sunday we read verses from near the end of the second letter to Timothy, and near the end of Paul’s own life. A libation is the ritual pouring of a drink in offering to a deity, and it was part of Greek burial customs. As the voice in 2 Timothy tells it, Paul has persevered—though not by his own strength but God’s.

The Gospel            Luke 18:9-14

“‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’”


Further thoughts

The readings for Proper 25 this Sunday ring variations on a theme of reaping as one has sown—or has not. In prior verses Joel depicted the impact of drought and ravenous locusts: as verse 2:3b has it, “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.” Joel, seeing this as the Lord’s judgment on Zion’s sin, called upon all the people, from the king on down, to stop whatever they were doing and repent. They do so. Then God promises to give again the plenty that the natural disasters took away. Is this a deal, with the penitence of the people buying restitution for the nation as a whole? No, for greater gifts of the spirit come as well, and to even the seemingly least significant. It is as Jeremiah 31:33-34 said last week: God will make a covenantal relationship with every single individual, just because it’s God’s choice.

The gospel parable is commonly read as a cautionary tale: strutting Pharisee versus humbled tax collector. Jesus’ listeners would have understood that Pharisees were widely admired (if less widely imitated) for their piety and adherence to religious law, while tax collectors were despised sellouts and thugs who lived off the sums they extorted from the defenseless, minus the taxes they passed through to the hated Roman overlords. The parable thus upsets expectations: for a tax collector to be the one coming out right with God is shocking!

The gospel can also be read, however, in counterpoint to the epistle reading. Paul himself was noted from youth as a Pharisee’s Pharisee, and his own writings suggest that he never really got over that; at the same time, they depict a man aware of his own limitations. The Paul-voice looking back in 2 Timothy 4 depicts—perhaps more accurately than Paul himself would dare—the untiring early hero of the Christian faith who has sown in the fields God set before him and, on balance and with God’s help, done it well; his also will be the harvest.

For there is no more wrong with knowing that one has diligently used God’s gifts to good ends than there is in recognizing in others that they can rightly say the same.

For Jan. 27, 2013: 3 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

The Book of Nehemiah was written almost one hundred years after the exiles in Babylon rejoined those who were left behind in the ruins of Jerusalem. It was under Nehemiah’s direction that the city walls were finally rebuilt and the gates hung, and at long last all the people were brought together to hear the Law read and explained.

The Response            Psalm 19

The Second Reading            1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Paul today continues his counsel to the church at Corinth, expanding on last week’s insight that each of us is God’s gifted child. If we are in Christ, we are one body—and each of us needs all the gifts and guidance of the rest of us, in our function as “God with skin on”, to grow into the full measure of God in us.

The Gospel            Luke 4:14-21


Further thoughts

The CEO of Hilton International, Chris Nessetta, touts the hotel industry as requiring, and rewarding, a broad range of abilities and gifts. “We’re a very complex business… I mean if you’re interested in accounting, finance, tax, development, construction, marketing, you know, the online space… Every one of those and a hundred other things we do every day to make this business work.” He himself began, he says, by plunging toilets.

That breadth permeates today’s readings about the nature of life in the kingdom of God. The men and women of Nehemiah’s account—some of them returned deportees, others the remnant who eked out lives in a city crumbling around them—are hearing the Word read in Jerusalem and in Hebrew for the first time in decades. It is a day to feast, but first a day to weep for joy. Surely they would agree with the psalmist’s assessment of the Word of God as more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. Just as surely they recognize the thousands of small actions undertaken with thought and grace that make this glorious day possible.

The epistle and the life of Christ underline this point. Paul enumerates desirable gifts of the Spirit, yes, but not before emphasizing and reemphasizing the indispensability of even the least of us to the whole body of Christ. Jesus announces himself as the very fulfillment of the Law that had made Nehemiah’s people weep, but later, we know, he will stop en route to his execution to wash others’ dirty feet and he will take the time once arisen to gut, scale and broil fish for breakfast.

Solemn occasions and grand spiritual gifts have their place, certainly—but in this world, toilets need plunging. Glorifying and enjoying God is not a matter of dazzling display on special occasions but rather of going our way every day, sleeves rolled up, to live out God’s call and to seek God’s good in each other’s faces.

For Jan. 20. 2013: 2 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 62:1-5

Last week’s reading from Isaiah, written during the exile in Babylon, foresaw the lengths to which God would go to save Israel. In today’s reading, written after the return from exile, Isaiah proclaims not only the saving of Jerusalem but its vindication. He sings of God’s deep delight in Jerusalem—and in every one of us.

The Response            Psalm 36:5-10

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 12:1-11

In the church that Paul founded at Corinth, spiritual gifts became a matter of contention, as so often they do today. Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, that every one of us is God’s gifted child, graced with gifts for the good of all. If so we, are also called to encourage each other in the exercise of those gifts.

The Gospel            John 2:1-11


Further thoughts

Easter comes unusually early this year, on March 31. In consequence, Epiphany season is unusually short, and therefore more than usually easy to look past as we move from the exuberance of Christmas toward the solemnity of Lent.

In much of the world, Epiphany looks like a lean, mean season. The ground is snowy or bare and local produce is in short supply: my second year in England saw my first attempt to cook Brussels sprouts, because literally no other green thing graced the local market’s vegetable bins. Even in Southern California, the neighbor’s huge walnut tree and our little pomegranates stand leafless and seem dead. And in Southern California as elsewhere, the bills for Christmas coincide with the annual church budget discussion and the onset of tax season.

Today’s readings, however, relentlessly point us toward abundance. Isaiah poetically shows us a God who is not merely fond of Jerusalem but head over heels in love with the City of Peace and with her children. The psalmist shows us a God whose bounty produces feasts and whose grace extends to the “critters”: all dogs, and cats and horses, go to heaven, though one can’t help balking at the concept of eternity with mosquitoes. Paul’s letter to Corinth details God’s openhandedness with gifts of the Spirit and hints rather broadly that any gift to do good is from God and should be honored accordingly. And then there is the gospel, with Jesus’ first public sign the conversion of ritual water into very fine wine—in the quantity of a hundred or so gallons!

At the same time, the brevity of Epiphany reminds us that time itself is short. Seasons end; bills and budgets have deadlines; people die. However we are going to use the gifts large and small that we have been given, and however we mean to encourage all those around us to find and explore and deploy the gifts large and small that they have been given, and whatever else we do to love God back, the time is right now.

Right now, as in this very minute, and every minute we draw breath.

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