26 February 2010

The Third Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2010

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
I Corinthians 10:1-13
Saint Luke 13:1-9


In the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter an old and a popular story – the story of the Burning Bush.  In the reading we are given the opportunity to learn something about how the scriptures were transmitted, and how they were written.  The Hebrew word for bush is SNH (seneh), and the name for the Sinai is SN.  Some commentators have the opinion that originally the story was about a fiery and burning Sinai (see Exodus 19:16-18).  The story still makes sense whether it is bush or mountain.  One can see , however, how the addition of a single consonant, can change the meaning of a passage.  Also of interest in the manner in which God is mentioned.  The names used are either “Lord” (the word “adonai” , or Lord, was substituted when the unpronounceable divine name (YHWH) was used), or “God” (elohim).  Most commentators think that Genesis and Exodus were written by a combination of four authors.  One of them, the Yahwist, is discernable by his use of the name, “Lord”, and the other, the Elohist, by his use of the word “God”.  In this passage we see an interweaving of these two traditions.

Exodus 3:1-15


Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you':

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

There are three separate aspects to this well-known reading.  In the first we have the story of the “Burning Bush”  (you may want to reading the Background information above).  What we are really introduced to is a theophany (an appearance of a god) and the idea of “holy space.”  Such spaces, such as at Beth-El, where Jacob saw the vision of the ladder reaching up into heaven, or the several places that Abraham designated, were related to experiences there.  In this case, it is God, who designates the space as holy, not Moses.  In the revelation of this space, God also reveals the relationship that God has with the patriarchs, the history of the people.  The second aspect, is the revelation that God knows the suffering of the people, and promises to bring them out of Egypt to a new land.  This proleptic (vision of the future) serves as a map for Moses, who will now be sent to reintroduce this God to the people.  The final aspect is perhaps the Most intimate, and the most powerful.  In this section God reveals God’s name, “I-Am-Who-I-Am”, in Hebrew, YHWH – unpronounceable.  This story is about the relationship God has with the people God has chosen, and the future he wishes to draw them into.  The story is of Place, Mission, and Name.
Breaking Open Genesis:

  1. What names do you use for God?
  2. In what ways has God freed you, and from what?
  3. Do you feel that you have been given a mission from God?  What is the mission?
  4. What was the God of your fathers and mothers like?  Is it like your conception of God?

Psalm 63:1-8 Deus, Deus meus

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.

Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.

For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.

So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.

My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.

For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

This psalm might be used as a reflection of Moses’ thoughts as he approached the holy place and the burning bush, “I have gazed upon you in your holy place.”  Indeed, its introduction in the Hebrew Bible indicates a similar provenance, “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea”.  That Moses and David should share an experience of the holy in the wilderness, is not unusual in the Bible – many found holiness there.  In the middle of this nothingness, the psalmist finds satisfaction: contentment, fatness, and marrow.  This psalm gives evidence of the intimacy with God, that we experienced in the Burning Bush story, where God shares God’s very name.  Such knowledge brings not only satisfaction, but confidence, and trust.

Breaking open Psalm 63
  1. Where are your holy places?
  2. Do you seek after God?  How?
  3. Does your faith bring you a sense of satisfaction?  How would you describe that?
  4. How does God protect you?


I Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
This seems to be Moses’ day.  In this reading from Corinthians, Paul uses a device common to his work in which he uses an incident from the Hebrew Scriptures and then preaches on it or uses allegory to expound its message for his hearers/readers.  In this reading Paul uses the wanderings of Israel and their being fed by manna and the parting of the Red Sea as allusions to the Eucharist and Baptism.  In the second paragraph he expounds on the Golden Calf story, urging the Corinthians to eschew idolatry and to not test God. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How important is the Eucharist to you?
  2. How important is your baptism to you?
  3. What might be idols in your life?  Can you name them?
  4. Paul talks about not being tested beyond our strength.  Has God tested you?  How?  How did you endure?

Saint Luke 13: 1-9

There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

The fig tree figures into all of the synoptic (of one eye; Matthew, Mark, and Luke) gospels.  In Matthew and Mark, Jesus harshly curses the fig tree, but in Luke we meet a gentler Jesus, who gives the unfruitful three one more chance.  All of this is a homily on repentance and sin.  The first paragraph relates a ruse on the part of some to get Jesus to comment on the political situation, which Jesus refuses to do.  Instead, he makes theological hay out of their request, and exhort them to repent, and then by extension to “bear fruit.” Horrible consequences, such as illness or disaster were often connected in the common mind to the “sin” of the victim.  Jesus moves away from such connections on several occasions.  The discussions of destruction may have been keenly understood by Luke’s readers.  Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed ca. 70 CE, and Luke may have taken that into account as he tells this story about Jesus.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Are there consequences to sin?  Is there a “karma” about bad deeds?
  2. Do you see others as being punished for their sins?
  3. What do you understand repentance to be? 
  4. Jesus asks the man to give the fig tree another chance, and to care for it.  How do you take care of yourself when you have failed at something?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

24 February 2010

The Second Sunday in Lent, 28 February 2010

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
Saint Luke 13:31-35


If Lent is indeed a period of preparation for either baptism or the renewal of baptism, then we need to ask ourselves what it is that we can learn from today’s readings.  There is one aspect to the selection from the Hebrew Scriptures that serves as a background to so much of Jewish and Christian theology, and that is the notion of the covenant.  In today’s world, where agreements between individuals is hemmed in on every side by legalese designed to confound the reader, the notion of the covenant (read “contract”) probably needs some explanation.  Agreements of this sort were the stuff of the Ancient Near East, and we have examples of many of them.  Such covenants and contracts were either written down, or witnessed to in a ceremony such as we have in the first reading.  Gods were always a part of such agreements, and heaven and earth often served as witnesses to these agreements.  I shall comment on the covenant with Abraham in the comments below.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11


The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

This is an amazing reading concerning one of several covenant ceremonies that are made between Abraham and God.  In the initial paragraph, Abraham complains to God about the fact that he has no heir – and God responds with language of call and of promise.  Even before this conversation begins we recognize that this is not an ordinary audience, but rather one born of the Spirit – the session begins with “The Word of the Lord (read “Spirit”) came to Abraham…”.  What follows is a rehearsal of Abraham’s history and a request for an offering.  In Hebrew one doesn’t “make a covenant”, the verb is to “cut a covenant” and we see the results of that in the sacrificial request.  Here the offerings are cut in half – the blood offering a testament to the agreement about to be entered into by Abraham and God.  In daily life such contracts were common, often made between two individuals, who both participate in the shedding of blood (the sacrificial animals) that “seals” the covenant.  Both individuals would walk in the midst of the offerings that had been cut (hence “cut a covenant”) in half.  The smoking fire pot and torch that pass between the halves of the offering represent God’s presence as a party to the contract with Abraham.
Breaking Open Genesis:

  1. What religious promises have you made in the past?
  2. Why does God rehearse Abraham’s history of moving into a new land?
  3. Why was having an heir so important at this time?
  4. How does the last sentence of the reading figure into the current politics of the Middle East?

Psalm 27 Dominus illuminatio

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? *
the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.

Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the LORD will sustain me.

Show me your way, O LORD; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me, and also those who speak malice.

What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD *
in the land of the living!

O tarry and await the LORD'S pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the LORD.

This psalm, represented to us as one work, is actually two.  The first section, verses 1-6, has a relatively happy and positive tone.  There is an immediate response to life’s troubles, mediated by a loving and accessible God. The tone becomes darker at verse 7, continuing on through the end.  Here the threat of “enemies” is more palpable; indeed, they are represented as voracious beasts.  There is one notion that binds both of the sections together, and that is the presence of God in his temple.  It is here in the presence of the psalmist’s God (literally in God’s face), that the psalmist is able to confess his faith in the protective nature of God with the statements, “I trust” and “I believe.”

Breaking open Psalm 27
  1. Do you have people in your life that you consider enemies?
  2. How do you deal with them?
  3. How does this psalm suggest you deal with people who are against you?
  4. Why is the temple so important in this psalm?

 Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
The church at Philippi was both generous and beloved of Paul.  It is accepted that he wrote this letter, probably around 62 CE, expressing his love for them.  In this reading, Paul, as he is wont to do, sets up a contrast and dichotomy for his reader.  Set against the “enemies of the cross of Christ” is the example of the Philippians themselves.  The former group is of this world, completely obsessed with possessions and their appetites.  Paul sees the Philippians as “heavenly citizens” whose humiliation in the world is a representation of the suffering Christ (who of course is glorified in the resurrection).  Such is the inheritance of those who believe.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. Which two groups of people does Paul contrast in this reading?
  2. What do you think that Paul means by “earthly things”?
  3. What does it mean to be a citizen of heaven?
  4. What might be the realities of what Paul calls the “body of our humiliation” for the Philippians?  What about you?

Saint Luke 13: 31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

This reading from Luke is filled with so many images, the most touching of which is the picture of God (Jesus) as a hen gathering and protecting her brood under a protective wing.  In a sense, this passage is similar to the question of the disciples of John the Baptist, who ask Jesus “are you the one, or are we looking for another.”  To the cynicism of the Pharisees, Jesus responds with lists of deeds, signs, really, of the messianic era.  There is a reference to the three days, and to the fate of prophets, especially in Jerusalem.  All of this has a result, however, in a statement of faith of those who see Jesus and his works, “Blessed is the one who comes…”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why is Jerusalem depicted as a place “that kills the prophets”?
  2. Why does Jesus need to go to Jerusalem?
  3. What does this reading say about Jesus’ “destiny”?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

19 February 2010

The First Sunday in Lent, 21 February 2010

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Saint Luke 4:1-13


The Lenten Journey is really a preparatory period for celebrating the great events of Holy Week, especially The Triduum (The Great Three Days), and even more importantly was a period of preparation for those who were to be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter.  For those of us who have already been to the font, Lent can serve as a reminder of what we have turned from and what we have taken on in Baptism.  As we read through the lessons for these five Sundays, we will see a Jesus who teaches by both word and example, so that we can walk with him through these Forty Days.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11


When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us." When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

At various points in their national histories, the Jews who settled in Palestine made great efforts to remember how it was that they got there, and under certain of the kings, and certainly upon their return from their captivity in Babylon there were attempts to set all of this history and oral tradition down in writing.  In Deuteronomy we have an excellent example of what was attempted either in the reforms of King Josiah (8th Century BCE), or with the return from Babylon (6th Century BCE).  Tradition holds that Moses was the writer of the book, a series of “sermons” meant to inculcate Jews as to their origin and their freedom under God.  In this reading we have the stipulations for a “thanksgiving ceremony” followed by a remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt.  The verse that begins with “a wandering Aramean…” is an integral part of the Haggadah, the liturgy for the Passover Seder.  I shall discuss its relationship to the Gospel under the notes for the Gospel.

Breaking Open Deuteronomy:

  1. What did the Israelites call Palestine during their wanderings to get their – The Land of ______ and ___________.
  2. What was one of the biggest temptations as Israel wandered in the desert?
  3. Why does the writer suggest that a thanksgiving is due?
  4. Why would later priests want the people to remember this event?

Psalm 103 Qui habitat

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

He shall say to the LORD,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust."

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

One commentator calls this psalm an “amulet psalm” because its recitation invites God to continue a providential care of the reciter.  In a way, it compliments the first reading where we hear of Israel’s God who delivers the people from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  Its use in the lectionary for this Sunday is obvious in that verses 11 and 12 are quoted in the Gospel reading for the day – quoted by Satan.  The psalm underscores the ordinary dangers of life in Palestine around 900 BCE.  It wasn’t until the Romans came with their great public works projects and provided the country with paved roads.  Traveling from one village to another on rocky paths represented a real danger, that the psalmist illustrates in his psalm.  God’s providential care was not just for the whole of Israel, but for its individuals as well, according to this writer.  This is a different ideal, that is developed in other psalms as well.

Breaking open Psalm 91
  1. What are all the protections that are offered in the psalm?
  2. Does God protect you?  How?
  3. What images come to mind in the first verse of the psalm?
  4. Who is the speaker in the last three verses of the psalm?


Romans 10:8b-13

"The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart"

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Romans is the letter in which he makes his strongest arguments about the claims that he makes about Jesus, his ministry, and his sacrifice on the cross.  To do that, Paul uses images, quotations, and analogies from the Hebrew Scriptures.  In this reading Paul loosely quotes Deuteronomy 30:14, as he takes up the familiar theme: “today is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”  Here he uses the Deuteronomist to make the point concerning our present salvation by saying that the word is “near us” and “on our lips and hearts”.  More importantly, however, is Paul’s arguments about what results from this present salvation that God has accented and punctuated with the Resurrection of Jesus.  Now, because of what God has done in Jesus, there is no difference between Jew and Greek.  This does not mean that the Jew is left behind and forgotten, but rather that the Greek is taken in and welcomed.  Paul closes with the important understanding that “everyone…shall be saved.” 

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What prerequisites for salvation does Paul enunciate in this reading?
  2. What do you think is the background to the statement, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame”?
  3. To whom is Paul writing in Romans?  Jews? Gentiles? Both?
Saint Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'


'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Fresh from his baptism and John the Baptist, Jesus retreats to the desert.  It is almost the opposite of what is recounted in the first reading from Deuteronomy, where Israel is freed from the wilderness and its privations.  Jesus willingly takes it on – and it is here, in his spiritual quest that he meets the tempter.  Jesus is in full prophetic mode, for his is “full of the Holy Spirit.”  In Nikos Kazantzakis’ book, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus continually retreats to the wilderness to escape a “dark angel” that pursues him relentlessly.  The “dark angel” is the Spirit, and his vocation.  Satan wants to draw him elsewhere – away from God, to worship at the tables of bread, power, and self-confidence.  Jesus will have none of it.  Luke, who is interested in the poor and dis-enfranchised, wants us to see a Jesus who has a “poverty of care” as well.  He does not walk into the wilderness and into temptation as the all-powerful Son of God, but rather as an individual, facing all the assaults and all the tempting possibilities.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Is Satan done with Jesus? (See the last verse)
  2. Have you been tempted with the same things with which Jesus was tempted?
  3. How does Jesus deal with Satan?
  4. How do you deal with temptation?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

15 February 2010

Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103
II Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
Saint Matthew 61-6, 16-21


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and counts Forty Days until Easter (not counting Sundays, which are technically not a part of Lent).  The practice of using ashes to mark the beginning of this penitential season began in the eight century, and reflect an even more ancient practice of sprinkling ashes on one’s head as a sign of mourning, or of indicating sorrow for sins.  The ashes are made from the palms used on the previous Palm Sunday, and are mixed with water and chrism (oil) to mark the foreheads of the faithful.  In the liturgy the great penitential psalm 51 is read or sung, and confessions are made.  People are asked to take up the Lenten Fast, and from that invitation have come the various behaviors around “giving up something for Lent.” 

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17


Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--
a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, where is their God?'"

We don’t really know when the prophet Joel wrote these passages, but we do know what it was that caused him to write.  Joel indicates a huge plague of locusts as the cause for his speaking the “word of the Lord.”  Such a catastrophe, which can still be seen in Africa, and the Near East today would merit comment by a prophet.  Joel, however, moves beyond the immediate and comments on the meaning of the plague.  As one of the Twelve Prophets, he indicates that this natural disaster has something to do with the national situation, but he also sees it as something beyond the immediate consequences of the locusts.  The natural phenomenon gives way to a spiritual meaning as well.  Here the framers of the lectionary have chosen the reading that invites the people to assemble, fast, and repent regardless of the reason or circumstances.  All are affected, from bridegrooms to nursing babies.  Thus Joel helps us to begin our Lenten fast.

Breaking Open Joel:

  1. What does Joel mean when he says “rend your hearts and not your clothing”?
  2. Where does this scene take place?
  3. What is the bargaining chip that Joel suggests we use with God?

Psalm 103 Benedic, anima mea

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.

The LORD executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.

He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.

As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;

When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.

But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him, *
and his righteousness on children's children;

On those who keep his covenant *
and remember his commandments and do them.

The LORD has set his throne in heaven, *
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the LORD, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding, *
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the LORD, all you his hosts, *
you ministers of his who do his will.

Bless the LORD, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion; *
bless the LORD, O my soul.

The Psalm begins with an invitation to bless God, and then goes on to rehearse just exactly why we ought to be blessing God.  It is here that the concepts concerning the God of Israel begin to differ from the gods of the peoples who lived with the Israelites in Canaan.  Just like its counterparts in other Ancient Near Eastern religions, the psalm praises God, especially the final verses.  It is in the middle, however that we see the difference – repentance and forgiveness.  Though this God has thunder and lightning at his beck and call, this God is one who forgives, who treats the people as a loving parent.  In a way Joel (First Reading) sets the scene for the action of repentance, and the Psalmist shows the result of the assembly and fast – a God who forgives and sets our sin aside.

Breaking open Psalm 103
  1. How does the psalmist describe the compassion of God?
  2. What analogies does he draw to illustrate God’s nature?
  3. Do any sections of the psalm mirror parts of the Ten Commandments?


II Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul addresses a theme that Jesus addressed in his unsuccessful sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, namely the immediacy of salvation.  In commenting on the quote from Isaiah, Paul, like Jesus, wants to convince his hearers that what was promised has already happened.  In his argument, Paul exhibits two of his writing techniques: the list, and dichotomies.  Paul lists all the good things he has done, or has attempted to demonstrate to convince the reader of his assertion about salvation.  In the other technique, Paul contrasts ideas (“as dying, and see we are alive). 

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. Is there an aspect of salvation for which you are still waiting?
  2. Paul mentions that he has tried to all the obstacles away, so that people might believe.  What obstacles do you experience in your effort to believe?
  3. What do you think of Paul’s contrasting of ideas?  Do you experience two aspects of faith at the same time?

Saint Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

In this reading Jesus launches a period of instruction for the disciples, and our section surrounds the instruction on prayer that contains the Lord’s Prayer.  This particular reading is chosen for this day, because it instructs us on holiness, and its primary lesson is one of stealth.  What is done must be done, to best effect, in secret and in private.  Whether it be worship, almsgiving, prayer, or fasting, no one must know.  The status that flows from such acts of piety, the kind that we encourage in Lent, must be private and spiritual.  This is in marked contrast to our society where Public Relations persons encourage us to make such good deeds known. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Who knows about the private pieties that we offer?
  2. How do you feel about such pieties?  What is your own experience with almsgiving, prayer, or fasting? 
  3. Do such practices work for you?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.