Monday, March 20, 2017

Lent 4A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  1 Samuel 16:1-13
The call of David to be King of Israel is a story meant to underscore both David’s specialness and the ability of God to see what mortals cannot. Saul, the first King of a united Israel, has been rejected by God, and, as our story begins, the prophet Samuel is still taking this rejection hard. God insists Samuel overcome both his grief and his fear to anoint a new king from the obscure town of Bethlehem. His choice is the lowliest of the sons of Jesse, although the text cannot help itself in telling us he “was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome!”

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23
The most beloved of psalms is usually taken as a personal expression of God’s steadfast love and comfort for the believer, and that it is. Yet it is clear that this pastoral expression comes out of the real experience of danger, sorrow, and, perhaps, exclusion. It is a song of how the faithfulness of our good God turns the world upside down, as Shepherd and Host.

1  The Lord is my shepherd; *
            I shall not be in want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures *
            and leads me beside still waters.
3  He revives my soul*
            and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I shall fear no evil; *
            for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                                who trouble me; *
            you have anointed my head with oil; and my cup is running over.
6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                                of my life, *
            and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Second Reading:  Ephesians 5:8-14
The first sentence of this reading from Ephesians might very well be the theme of the entire letter.  Paul emphasizes throughout it the “before and after” nature of Christian living.  The quote is probably from an early Christian hymn.

5:8 Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

The Holy Gospel:  John 9:1-41
Our Gospel reading continues the encounters of individuals with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  None is better told than the story of the unnamed blind man.  This story plays into another of John’s major themes:  light and darkness.  Notice as well at beginning and end the issue is misunderstandings about the nature of sin.  Like the Samaritan woman from last week’s Gospel, as the story progresses the blind man understands more and more who Jesus is and what the miracle means beyond himself.

9:1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains."

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy for group study purposes with attribution.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 3A Readings & Commentaries

Moses Striking the Rock
Marc Chagall
The First Reading:  Exodus 17:1-7
At this point in the Book of Exodus the people have fled from Egypt and successfully crossed “the sea of reeds.” They now find themselves in the vast wilderness of the Sinai and their elation changes to complaint. Moses is attacked as a leader and he, in turn, complains to God. God responds with the miracle of water at Massah and Meribah (Hebrew words that mean “test” and “find fault,” thus the place is a memorial not to the miracle, but to the people’s unfaithfulness).

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95
Psalm 95 (at least verses 1-7) is known in Anglican tradition as “The Venite,” frequently used as the invitatory psalm of Morning Prayer (see BCP, p. 82). The psalm is divided into two very different parts: Verses 1-7 (or 8a) as a call to worship and 8-11 (or 8b-11) as a dire warning about keeping right relationship with God, using the story of the water at Meribah and Massah as an example of having a “hardened heart.” The two parts of the psalm serve to hold up two vital aspects of our relationship with God:  praise and obedience.

1  Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
            let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2  Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
            and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
3  For the Lord is a great God, *
            and a great King above all gods.
4  In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
            and the heights of the hills are his also.
5  The sea is his, for he made it, *
            and his hands have molded the dry land.
6  Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
            and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7  For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
            Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice
8  Harden not your hearts,
    as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
            at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.
9  They put me to the test, *
            though they had seen my works.
10  Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
            “This people are wayward in their hearts;
            they do not know my ways.”
11  So I swore in my wrath, *
            “They shall not enter into my rest.”

The Second Reading:  Romans 5:1-11
“Boasting” here for Paul does not have the negative connotation it has for most of us, but is meant to convey an exuberant confidence. The sequence “endurance, character, hope” is important for Paul and is autobiographical in nature. He speaks from his experience. Yet it is equally important to know that these things are not works that come from within us. They do so only in that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts.”

5:1 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The Holy Gospel:  John 4:5-42
We began our Lenten journey with individuals from John’s Gospel last week with Nicodemus.  Each of these characters is faced with surprising newness from Jesus.  Here newness comes through his speaking to the woman at the well in the first place, his honesty with her, and his talk of “living water” available even to her, a Samaritan. She gradually comes to understand who Jesus is and her announcement of his dealings with her are the first public witness in John’s Gospel. In later Christian tradition (especially in the East), she is known as Photini, “enlightened.”

4:5 Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to copy for group study with attribution.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 2A Readings & Commentaries

Nicodemus & Jesus
The First Reading:  Genesis 12:1-4a
The call of Abram is our first reading today. Abram and Sarai have just been introduced (11:27-32) and the simple divine command is given:  “Go.” Then follows the promise of children to the couple. Sarai had been introduced in 11:30 as “barren.” For many chapters (until Genesis 21) this promise will remain constant yet unfulfilled. Abram, however, continues to believe God and follow the command, with only one instance of wavering (Genesis 16:1-6). Thus, the story of the formation of the people of God begins with faith required despite all signs to the contrary. Lot is Abram’s nephew.

4:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121
Our psalm today is one of the “Songs of Ascent,” more than likely songs sung by pilgrims on their way to festivals in Jerusalem.  Lifting up one’s eyes to the hills may be either an allusion to the inspiration of nature or (more likely) an observation of the places of pagan worship that would have dotted the hilltops, and declaring one’s allegiance to the God of the Jerusalem Temple.

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2   My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3  He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5  The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
7  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8  The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

The Second Reading:  Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What follows is Paul’s interpretation (or midrash) of the Abraham story. He makes much of Abraham’s decision to “go” as a decision of faith, which Genesis says “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul uses this to contrast “justification by works” and “justification by faith.” A “midrash” is a particularly Jewish form of interpretation, one which we might say attempts to “read between the lines” of the story.

4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

The Holy Gospel:  John 3:1-17
The familiar story of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus begins a series of Gospel readings through the rest of Lent in Year A, of individual’s encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John (still to come:  the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4, the man born blind in John 9, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John 11). Today’s reading makes most sense when one pays attention to the double entendres, which, unfortunately, depend on the Greek text, and cannot be easily seen in English translation:  Spirit/wind (the same word in Greek); “from above,” which can also be translated “again;” and the pairing of “lift up” and “crucify.”  The latter pair, juxtaposed as they are, leave the paradox of the cross, either as an exaltation or a humiliation.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission granted to copy for group study with attribution.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Readings & Commentaries

The Collect of the Day
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain:  Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Reading:  Exodus 24:12-18
In our first reading, Moses is summoned up the mountain to receive “the tablets of stone,” presumably the ten commandments. (This is clearly a separate tradition of the reception of the commandments from that found in Exodus 20). On the seventh day Moses has a theophany, a vision of God’s glory. Moses enters into that theophany and remains there forty days. Forty is a frequent number in the Bible used for a time of trial (there are at least 15 such biblical instances).

24:12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2
Psalm 2 is a royal psalm which proclaims the king as God’s son and anointed (messiah). The latter title is always used in the Old Testament of the present ruler, not a future one.

1  Why are the nations in an uproar? *
            Why do the people mutter empty threats?
2  Why do the kings rise up in revolt,
    and the princes plot together, *
            against the Lord and against his Anointed?
3  “Let us break their yoke,” they say; *
            “let us cast off their bonds from us.”
4  He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
            the Lord has them in derision.
5  Then he speaks to them in his wrath, *
            and his rage fills them with terror.
6  “I myself have set my king *
            upon my holy hill of Zion.”
7  Let me announce the decree of the Lord: *
            he said to me, “You are my Son;
            this day have I begotten you.
8  Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for
                                    your inheritance *
            and the ends of the earth for your possession.
9  You shall crush them with an iron rod *
            and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”
10  And now, you kings, be wise; *
            be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11  Submit to the Lord with fear, *
            and with trembling bow before him;
12  Lest he be angry and you perish; *
            for his wrath is quickly kindled.
13  Happy are they all *
            Who take refuge in him!

Or this

Psalm 99
This psalm is an obvious one for Transfiguration Sunday.  It is a vision of the majesty of God, involving Moses, a mountain, and a cloud, all invoking a mysterious vision.
1  The Lord is King;
     let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2  The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3  Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4  “O mighty King, lover of justice,
     you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5  Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
     and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6  Moses and Aaron among his priests,
     and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7  He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8  “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9  Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
    and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

Second Reading:  2 Peter 1:16-21
Our second reading references the story of the Transfiguration, the only place outside the Gospels which does so. The writer uses his witness of that incident to prove his trustworthiness in regards to the second coming of Christ. The prophetic witness is reliable. Scripture (the writer would have been referring to the Hebrew Scriptures) is not a matter of individual initiative or interpretation. Both rely on the Holy Spirit, working through the community of those who follow Jesus, understood in these early days of the church as the primary subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

1:16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 17:1-9
Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. On the mountain with his inner circle, Jesus’ whole being undergoes transformation. The story follows some of the details of Exodus 24, but also echoes the story of Jesus’ baptism. The presence of Moses and Elijah testify to Jesus’ inheritance of the Hebrew tradition (the law and the prophets). Peter’s desire to build booths recalls the Feast of Booths, when Israel celebrated being led by God through the desert. “Tell no one until…” indicates that Jesus understands what has just happened in terms of what he expects to happen in Jerusalem.

17:1 Six days [after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God], Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to reprint for individual or group study, with attribution.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Religion & Politics: God's Vision for Us

The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Christ & Abbot Meno
also known as
The Icon of Christ the Friend
February 2017

A series of propositions to stir up conversation in a difficult climate for faith communities in the United States, written from a Christian and Episcopalian perspective.

  1. God’s sovereignty over life is total.      We pray, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 355). We read, “’I am Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8 & 21:6). The creation is God’s gift to us and we are called to care for it in line with God’s dream for it.
  2. God's vision for humankind is not only heavenly and eternal, but earthly and present.  We pray, “Our Father…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We read, “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27, where Jesus uses both Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18). How we treat the neighbor is one of the (perhaps “the”) fundamental themes of the Scriptures. It is an unwavering part of our covenant with God (see also the Ten Commandments).
  3. Politics is both an integral part of our life and a vocation to which some are called.
    As does everything, politics falls under the sovereignty of God, and, therefore, it is among the things we think and do to which we are responsible to God. “Politics” is fundamentally how we order our life together, again, being responsible for carrying out God’s dream.
  4. God is no respecter of political parties.      We read, “I (Peter) truly understand that God shows no partiality…” We are, however, responsible for our participation in political parties, as we further read, “…but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
  5. This “no partiality” applies to the church also.      People from all walks of life are called together to struggle in common to live in the “fear” of God and do “what is right.” “Fear of God” in the Bible does not refer to being frightened by God, but acknowledging that God is, in fact, sovereign over all life and has a vision for how life is to be lived.
  6. Politics, from the church’s perspective, is primarily about relationships.
    One of the ways the church is called to be a light to the world is to be a community where difference is both accepted and celebrated, and where relationships are built across those differences. We are committed as the church to act in “faith, hope, and love” (1 Cor. 13:13) together. There ought to be nothing that is too hard to talk about in church because the members have a first and foremost commitment to love each other. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
  7. We struggle as friends, not foes, to discover the truth.      As we struggle together to think and do what is right, we acknowledge that discovering the right truth and the right way is often difficult. We acknowledge with Paul that “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). None of us has the whole truth or knows precisely the right way. It is easy to turn from struggling together as friends to striving against one another as foes in a contest that is “win/lose.”
  8. We cannot be rid of politics, but we can refuse to be caught in rigid ideologies.      When we become foes, who no longer seek to understand each other, but to win the battle against each other. We assume that we (as opposed to “them”) have found both the truth (meaning there is no more need of searching) and the way (meaning we have been shown the only right path). We must always be ready to “go home by another road” (Matt. 2:12). Ideology is idolatry, being sure of anything more than we are sure of God. (Again, see the Ten Commandments).
  9. Where politics and religion meet for the Christian is in the values we uphold.      The values we uphold as Christian have their basis in truth, though we struggle to more clearly understand and live them, which is never anything but a lifetime’s work. For Episcopalians, the groundwork for these values are found in our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, pp. 304-305). For Jesus, these values always support human beings and not institutions and ideologies, even when the latter are church or Bible-based. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
  10. It is imperative that we have ongoing conversation about those values.      The constant question for the Christian is how our values apply to our daily life, including the political decisions we make or support. To have such conversations we must be ever better practitioners of humility, holding our personal ideas and even convictions “lightly.” This acknowledges that we can be at least somewhat wrong about everything. We must never be ready to cast the first stone (John 8:1-11).
  11. We can dare to have these value conversations.      They may at times be passionate, but we rest in the knowledge that we are all loved by God and are called to love each other as God loves us, with mercy and grace. St. Paul was a passionate man, but he also proclaimed “gentleness” as an essential community value (Phil. 4:5).
  12. In the United States the institutions of religion and government are separated, but the conversation about values must go on.      To avoid such conversation is to invite the hardening of our ideologies and lapse into a system of “ins” and “outs,” where the only value is majority rule. We have been headed in this direction for quite some time; the current tensions did not begin with the latest election cycle. We in the church must call ourselves back to the fundamental question, “What’s love got to do with it?” This is not a conversation to have only if we have time and only if we are feeling especially brave. It is the conversation which our lives are called to be (see, for example how Jesus turns a question about a noun into the necessity of a verb in Luke 10:25-37).

One method of conversation recommended is that of "Continuing Indaba."  

Copyright © 2017 The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins. Published by EpiphanyEsource, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, Permission to print and share is given, so long as this copyright statement is attached.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Epiphany 7A Readings & Commentaries

First Reading:  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
The God of Israel is not only holy, he asks for holiness from his people. This comes in the form of their faithful obedience to his commandments. In this passage from the Torah (the five books of Moses), many of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) are repeated, but in different articulations. The point of the whole is that Israel obeys God in relation to the neighbor. As Walter Brueggeman says, “Holiness in heaven is enacted as justice on earth.” There is no holiness without right relationship with the neighbor.

19:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them:  You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. 11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great:  with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Psalm 119:33-40
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses. It is an acrostic poem in which every eight verses begin with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see how the psalm is laid out in The Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 763). It is a psalm in the wisdom tradition, extolling the happiness of life lived under the law. Indeed, one characteristic of the psalm is that some synonym of the law is used in every verse.

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.

Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Paul has been reacting to the divisions in the Corinthian community, based on loyalty to certain personalities, particularly himself and Apollos. Here Paul argues for unity based on the image of the community (the “you’s” here are all plural) as God’s temple (a similar metaphor to the more well-known “Body of Christ” Paul will use later in this letter). The divisions are also caused by some believing they possess greater wisdom than others. All such boasting is futile, Paul says, because all belong to Christ equally. The quotes are from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11.

3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:38-48
We continue reading from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has earlier said that he did not come to abolish the Law (5:17). Indeed, in this passage he radicalizes several laws. “An eye for an eye” is found at Exodus 21:23-24, Leviticus 24:19-20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. “Love your neighbor” is from our Old Testament reading: Leviticus 19:18 (there is no Old Testament command to hate enemies). “Be perfect” is probably inspired by Leviticus 19:2 (above). Luke says “Be merciful” (6:36). “Perfect” is an odd choice of words because it is not an attribute of God’s in the Old Testament, where “holiness” predominates (as in our first reading).

5:38 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.