28 September 2010

Saint Francis of Assisi, Friar (Transferred) - 3 October 2010

Canticle of the Sun
Psalm 148
Galatians 6:14-18
Saint Matthew 11:25-30


Born as Giovanni Bernadone, the man soon to be known as Francesco, was the son of a prosperous cloth merchant.  He lived a life of pleasure and work in his father’s trade.  As a knight, he fought in the regional wars of Perugia and Assisi, and after illness and imprisonment returned home.  On St. Matthias’ Day (24 February 1209) at mass in the chapel at Portiuncula he heard these words from the Gospel for the day, words which would change his life:

As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.

Tradition has it that as Francis left mass that day, he took off his shoes and cloak, and bound his smock with a piece of rope, and the Franciscan habit was born.  Slowly other men joined his order, and eventually, women as well, under the direction of St. Clare. The Franciscan Order received it’s papal mandate in 1210 under Innocent III.  Francis died on 4 October 1226 in a small hut near the chapel where he had heard the life-changing gospel reading.  He was canonized as a saint two years later.

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,
Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.
To Thee alone do they belong, most High,
And there is no man fit to mention Thee.

Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,

Especially to my worshipful brother sun,

The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give;

And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great;

Of Thee, most High, signification gives.
Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,

In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair.

Praised be my Lord for brother wind

And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather,

By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment.

Praised be my Lord for sister water,

The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.
Praised be my Lord for brother fire,

By the which Thou lightest up the dark.

And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,

The which sustains and keeps us

And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.

Praised be my Lord for those who for Thy love forgive

And weakness bear and tribulation.

Blessed those who shall in peace endure,

For by Thee, most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,

From the which no living man can flee.

Woe to them who die in mortal sin;

Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,

For the second death shall do them no ill.

Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,

And be subject unto Him with great humility.

Written probably in late 1224, this canticle entitled Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) embraces Francis’ personal theology in which he lauds the personal relationships that the creatures of creation share with one another.  It may represent one of the first compositions written in Italian (Umbrian dialect).  Tradition has it that the canticle was written during an illness at San Dmiano.  Tradition also has it that the canticle was embellished by Fra Pacifico, although there is a great deal of disagreement about this.  It is interesting to compare this canticle with psalm  148 (7-14) which is the psalm for this day.

Breaking open The Canticle of the Sun:

1.     What does Francis’ praises have to say about our stewardship of the earth and of creation?
2.     Most people think of the saint’s affection for animals.  What do you think of the poverty that he espoused?
3.     What role does death play in this canticle?

Psalm 148:7-14 Laudate Dominum

Praise the LORD from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;

Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;

Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;

Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD, *
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people
and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Again, this is one of the Hallel psalms, this one rejoicing in multiple aspects of creation.  The first six verses begin a progression of praise that begins in the heavens, and concludes beginning at verse 7, and ends with praises from the earth.  There is an observable division that the poet honors in this work – a distinction of heaven from earth.  In verse 6b the psalm reads, “He set them a border that could not be crossed.”  The remaining verses begin with the command, “Praise the Lord from the earth.”  It is in this section that we can see the affinity of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sum, and this psalm as it commands the praises of weather, countryside, creatures, and people.  The entire psalm has a cosmic ring to it, that is abandoned in the final verse – a blessing for Israel.  Some scholars think that this final verse was a later addition.

A manuscript of Psalm 148

Breaking open Psalm 148:7-14
1.       What does this psalm say about creation?
2.       Take some time and read the opening verses of the psalm.  What role does heaven play, that earth does not?
3.       How are the praises reversed in the final verses?

Galatians 6:14-18

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Saints Francis and Clare

This reading from Galatians is taken from the last verses of the epistle, in which Paul summarizes his message, and blesses the recipients.  The battle fought in Galatians is whether or not it was necessary for new Christians to follow the Jewish dietary and other ritual laws.  This gives rise to Paul’s comment, “May I never boast of anything except the cross…”  He then marks out this new time, and this new creation in which his readers live.  The old ways (circumcision) counts for nothing, and he puns on this concept of circumcision’s “wound” when he comments on the “marks of Jesus” which appear on his body.  It is for this phrase that this reading has been chosen for this St. Francis Day, making an allusion to the stigmata, the wounds of Christ that appeared on Francis’ body.  The reading closes with a blessing to the readers.

Breaking open II Timothy:
  1. Do you ever boast of your faith? 
  2. Do you ever boast?  Of what do you boast?
  3. What marks of Christ do you carry on or in your body?

Saint Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

This passage is shared by Mark and Luke, as well, with only minor variants.  It probably represents a reading from “Q”, the hypothetical collection of Jesus’ sayings that figures into the composition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  This saying follows an account in which Jesus laments the reception his works have had in the Lake Towns, which rejected his message and ministry.  (Luke places it after the return of the 72 – a sort of thanksgiving for their successes).  Matthew wants to contrast the rejection of the message by those who thought that they were learned in the Scriptures with the “infants” (his disciples) who have followed his message, if not understanding it completely.  But this message is not about knowing, or knowledge.  It is about revelation and faith. 

The second part of the reading is a saying unique only to Matthew.  It seems odd that Luke does not use it, since it encompasses so much of his theology.  Perhaps it had been omitted in his sources, or had been lost at the time of his writing.  The saying fits well with Matthew’s previous theme, and it certainly fits well with the theology and practice of Saint Francis of Assisi.  This is a humility that does not dismiss the difficulties of following Jesus.  Yes, there is gentleness and rest, and there is a yoke, however easy.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. In what ways are you “wise” in your faith?  In what ways are you an “infant”?
  2. How has Jesus revealed himself to you?
  3. What burdens do you carry in your life?  Does your life in Christ ease these burdens?
Saint Francis with the signs of the Stigmata

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

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

27 September 2010

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22 - 3 October 2010

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
II Timothy 1:1-14
Saint Luke 17:5-10

Habakkuk the Prophet

When prophets come to mind, it is either Isaiah or Jeremiah that occupies our thoughts, and then we might turn to others, Amos, or Micah.  Habakkuk, however does not leap to the forefront.  His appearance in the lectionary is brief, and indeed his appearance in the history of Israel is brief, or succinct as well.  He was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah, and made his utterances prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 597 BCE, around 605, when Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptian Pharaoh at Carchemish.  What is important to us is what he had to say.  The book is divided into three sections.  The first is a Conversation between the prophet and God, in which he complains to God about the lack of justice, and continued oppression.  The second is a series of curses against evil-doers (perhaps the Chaldeans or even the people of Judah, themselves).  In these curses, the themes of greed, unscrupulous profits, violence, cruelty, and idolatry are addressed.  The final section, a “Canticle”, is a lament, beseeching God to come to the aid of God’s people, and a description of God’s coming.  Some Jewish commentaries on Habakkuk omit this final chapter.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

The ramparts of Jerusalem

Like Jeremiah, Habakkuk lives at a time of political and real crisis.  The power politics of the Ancient Near East are shifting, and Habakkuk is wondering where God sits in the midst of all of this change.  The first paragraph from this morning’s reading is an anguished questioning of God’s motives.  What are God’s intentions?  When will God intervene.  The second paragraph are God’s answers, written in a plain vision.  God’s plans, however, will take some time “if it seems to tarry, wait for it.”  God’s plans for Judah will slowly evolve, and if we read Jeremiah along with Habakkuk we can see how agonizing the wait was to be.  The final comment, later alluded to in Paul, is that the life of the righteous person is found in faith.

Breaking open Habakkuk:

1.     Have you ever complained to God?
2.     What did you complain about and how did you do it?
3.     Was there an answer?

Psalm 37:1-10 Noli aemulari

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.

For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.

Put your trust in the LORD and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

Take delight in the LORD, *
and he shall give you your heart's desire.

Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.

He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.

Be still before the LORD *
and wait patiently for him.

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the LORD shall possess the land.

The letter "aleph"

This psalm is an acrostic, with an initial letter assigned to two verses.  It’s content, largely like a wisdom psalm, is concerned with what happens to the wicked.  In a way, it parallel’s Habakkuk’s concerns in his questions to God.  The content of the psalm is not heavy, however, largely consisting of proverbial aphorisms on the fate of the wicked.

Breaking open Psalm 37
1.       Do people in our society who do wrong cause you anxiety?
2.       How do you deal with your anxiety?
3.       How do you feel about the verse that advises: “Refrain from anger, leave rage alone”?

II Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God-- whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did-- when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Ruins at Ephesus

The Second Epistle to Timothy is one of the three “Pastoral Epistles”.  In our continuing reading in the Lectionary, we now take some time with this second letter.  Some have argued that these epistles came from a hand other than Paul’s, and others have said that if any of these three was authentically Paul’s, the second epistle is it.  The epistle begins with Paul’s usual graces and prayers, and then launches into the heart of the matter at hand.  Timothy was Paul’s representative in the region of Ephesus, whose duty it was to maintain Pauline theology amongst the congregations founded there.  In his letter, Paul addresses Timothy’s “timidity”.  This would be an important point for both Paul, Timothy, and the cause of the Gospel in Asia Minor.  Ephesus was an important cult center devoted to Diana – and any timidity or waffling on the Christian side would not be helpful. 

Breaking open II Timothy:
  1. How did you learn about Christianity?  Who taught it to you?
  2. What are your emotions when you are asked to speak about what it is that  you believe?
  3. Do you identify with Timothy’s “timidity”?

Saint Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

Mulberry Tree

The first ten verses of the fifteenth chapter of Luke are four “sayings” or Jesus that follow immediately after the parable about the rich man and Lazarus.  None of these sayings have any thematic connection.  Some are shared with Matthew and Mark, and it is almost as if Luke wants simply to record them here for his readers.  The first saying is in response to the disciples’ request that Jesus “increase (their) faith”.  Jesus uses hyperbole to comment on the power of faith in his parable of the mustard seed – mulberry three.  The final saying is a parable on faith and service.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Have you ever done anything outstanding because of your faith?
  2. Have you ever had a “miracle” happen in your life?  What was it?  How do you feel about it now?
  3. What does it mean to be a servant?

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

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.