28 August 2012

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17 - 2 September 2012

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Background:  The Deuteronomist
It is probably not correct to speak of this movement in the singular, for there were probably several individuals, if not a school that functioned as the Deuteronomist.  In the Documentary Hypothesis, in its earliest form, scholars identified four strands in the Pentateuch (the Books of Moses): J for the Yahwist, E for the Elohist, D for the Deuteronomist, and P for the Priestly source.  All of these sources seemed to have operated with older materials and traditions, editing them to support a particular view or theology.  The Deuteronomic materials include the Book of Deuteronomy, which is essentially a book of the Law, and parts of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Jeremiah.  This school operated at several points during the development of the Hebrew Scriptures, notably during the reign of Josiah, ca. 641-609 BCE, and in the case of the Deuteronomic History a post-Exilic author/editor that flourished in the sixth century.  The theology of the Deuteronomist centered on the Law, a covenant piece patterned after the suzerain treaties of the Ancient Near East, and on a strong monotheistic model with YHWH as the God of Israel.  The school was influenced by refugees pouring out of the Northern Kingdom of Israel when it was conquered by Assyria in the eighth century.  Their ideas form the basic foundations of the theology of this school.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Moses said: So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.

You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children.

The section from which our reading is taken serves as an introduction to a repetition of the Mosaic Law.  Note the prohibition (common in the treaties after which these laws are patterned) to not change the provisions of the covenant (the agreement, or the treaty).  Of interest is the opening notion in verse six, “for this will show your wisdom”.  The Hebrew word here is normally indicated “prudence”, but here the intent is really “wisdom”, which reflects not only the theology of the Deuteronomist but also the slow identification of the Law with Wisdom.  Also of note is the phrase, “has a god so near to it as the Lord”, which points to the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, which occupies a great place in the Deuteronomic History.  The fiction here is that this speech by Moses takes place after the Sinai/Horeb event, and Moses sharply recalls it to the collective memory and tradition of the tribes.  The role that this oracular memory and tradition plays in the transmission of the people’s common history is quite stunning, and it is underlined by the injunctions that Moses gives to the parents of Israel.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. How do you see “wisdom” and “law” as being related?
  2. Do you have Bible passages committed to memory?  How are they useful to you?
  3. How have you transmitted the message to succeeding generations?

Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the LORD.

He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.

He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

In the first verse of the psalm we are projected across time, from the “tent – the tabernacle” to the “holy hill”, thus Zion, Jerusalem and the Temple.  The verse represents the history of the people from their nomadic days to their urban days.  What follows is a set of virtues that accrue to those who are faithful, and whose lives are acceptable so that they might enter the place where God dwells.  It is a list worthy of Paul: just, honest, a protector of his/her family but not to the point of dishonesty, ready to point out evil, good for his/her word, and generous without expecting profit. 

Breaking open Psalm 15
  1. Where is a place for God that you observe in your life?
  2. What virtues do you think that your church teaches you?
  3. What virtues do you encourage in others?

James 1:17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The author may have, in the first verse of this ready, quoted a proverb of the day, “Every gift is good, and every present is perfect.”  However, the thought is not left there, as the author goes on to add the source of every “perfect gift”,  “the Father of lights.”  Here God is pictured as the Creator, and thus creation becomes the “perfect gift”.  Indeed it is our own created nature and not just “the lights” that is called to mind here.  God is our father, and thus like Christ is the “first fruits” (Paul) so we are to be a first fruits.  The gifts that we are to give are then suggested to us.  The author contrasts behaviors – doing and not just hearing, observing and not forgetting, speculating on the law rather than enacting the law (caring for orphans and widows).  These concrete actions then become doable gifts such as have come down from God.

Breaking open James:
  1. What is God’s perfect gift to you?
  2. How is creation a gift to you?
  3. How do give a perfect gift to others?

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

This people honors me with their lips, 
but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me, 
teaching human precepts as doctrines.

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

The juxtaposition of all the readings for today becomes the question that is engaged – “how do we follow the Law”?  For the Deuteronomist it was the tradition of the elders, and for the psalmist it was a common-sense list of everyday virtues.  For James it was a generosity that is modeled on the God who is a profligate giver of all good things.  For Jesus and the Pharisees it is another conundrum.  What do such goodly behaviors indicate?  The Pharisees call to Jesus’ mind the traditions of the elders, and the rules about food and cleansing.  There is nothing overtly wrong here, excepting that Jesus thinks that they have gotten the wrong idea.  He latches onto the idea of uncleanness, and quickly identifies the source – not what has been eaten, or eaten with defilement (not cleansed) but rather what proceeds from our hearts or minds, our lusting, or our pride.  All are on a correct path; Jesus just corrects the point of view.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. What is Jesus’ point in this saying?
  2. How do you follow the Law?
  3. What is the Gospel in this reading?

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

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

21 August 2012

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16 - 26 August 2012

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
St. John 6:56-69

Background:  Joshua
The Book of Joshua reflects several aspects of the history of Israel, not only in the materials that it has preserved, but in its editing as well.  The first major section of the book is a narrative concerning the conquest of Canaan (2:1- 11:23) and these are largely etiologies, i.e., stories of explanation about landmarks, place names and such.  A later editor completed this section with a closing commentary in the final chapters of this section.  This is followed by a list on conquered kings, and then an account of the allotment of the Promised Land (13:1 – 21:45), which began as an item of record and then was edited as a narrative in which Joshua allots the land.  The final sections: Regarding the tribes in the Trans Jordan, Joshua’s Farewell Address, and an Epilogue, were added later.  Much of the work was assigned to an author working as the Deuteronomist, with other editors performing their work during the divided monarchy, and some after the return from Exile.  Joshua is depicted as the political, and theological heir to Moses, and serves as a transition leader as the tribes insinuate themselves into Canaan.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
"Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Joshua 24:25-26 

This reading comes at the end of the book of Joshua where the editor seeks to tie together the tumultuous and essential history of transition that Israel has just taken.  Preceding these verses, we witness the Farewell Address of Joshua, which has its roots in the Renewal of the Covenant ceremony held on occasion at the shrine at Shechem.  This was a rehearsal of the tribes’ common history, the covenant rules, and the “Blessings and Curses” that accompany such a covenantal agreement.  The section that comprises our reading was probably added as a commentary on the “farewell” by a later editor at the time of the return from exile.  As such, it restates the material from chapter 23, but here the tribes are queried as to whom they will serve.  This is a poignant question, if it indeed was composed at the time of the return from exile.  The question Joshua asks of the ancients could have been asked of the returnees as well – “whom will you serve.”  Like the ancients, who came under the influence of Canaanite culture, so the returnees came under the influence of Mesopotamian culture.  The question was proper and good – whom will you serve?  Thus the reading reflects more a nationalistic bent than a theological bent.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. Have you promised anything to God?
  2. Has God promised anything to you?
  3. How do you renew such promises?

Psalm 34:15-22 Benedicam Dominum

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to their cry.

The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.

The righteous cry, and the LORD hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.

Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the LORD will deliver him out of them all.

He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.

Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.

The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.

This is our final reading from the 34th Psalm.  At the twelfth verse, the psalmist gives us a clear indication of his agendum in the words, “Come sons, listen to me, the Lord’s fear will I teach you”.  The verses that follow comprise a definite turn toward “wisdom literature”.  The verses state proverb after proverb, and then return to the original intent of the psalm.  It is blunt in its recognition of the trials of life, “many the evils of the righteous man,” but it is equally hopeful about the God of Israel who “ransoms his servants’ lives.”

Breaking open Psalm 34
  1. What “wisdom” has your faith taught you?
  2. How is that wisdom useful in the world?
  3. How does your faith make life less difficult?

Ephesians 6:10-20
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In this final section in Paul’s discourse on “the Christian Life”, Paul compares our life in Christ to armor.  Here he speaks of a conflict not with the usual suspects in the world, but rather conflict with evil.  He lists the foe: “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil.  The necessary defense is the “armor of God.”  Such vocabulary would have made sense in Asia Minor where there were military garrisons, whose soldiers were becoming attracted to the Christian faith.  Fond of lists, Paul also lists what this armor consists of, truth, righteousness, a readiness to proclaim the Gospel, faith, salvation, and finally the Spirit – the Word.  Thus facing those outside, Paul bids his readers to pray – to maintain a communication with God as the world is faced with all its evils and troubles.

Breaking open Ephesians;
  1. How do you defend yourself in life?
  2. How is the world evil, in your regard?
  3. What do you think that the “armor of God” is?

John 6:56-69
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

The first verses of this reading summarize and complete the Bread of Life series with which we have been instructed over several Sundays.  Jesus teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum that the manna, which was part of the remembrance and history of the Jews, serves only as a slight reflection of what he, Jesus, truly is – the Bread of Life.  However here we reach a cusp, a cusp of believability and commitment.  Some of the disciples state it quite bluntly, “This is hard stuff.”  In previous readings we have commented on the cultural barriers on the part of both Jew and Greek to these sayings about the flesh of Jesus.  Jesus acknowledges the difficulty, and makes a differentiation between a worldly sense to these words (the flesh is useless) and a more spiritual direction (spirit and life).  It is impossible for some, and they leave.  Once again Peter is called upon to confess the faith, and he does so with an almost pitiable answer, “Lord to whom can we go?” that is followed by a spirit of resolution, “you have the words of eternal life.”

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. How do you feel about Jesus’ command, “unless you eat of my flesh…”?
  2. Are you offended by Christianity at all?  In what respect?
  3. What could you confess about Jesus?

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

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

15 August 2012

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15 - 19 August 2012

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
St. John 6:51-58

Background:  Wisdom
In the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and other apocryphal books, wisdom is personified as a righteous woman.  The role of wisdom in ancient literature is ubiquitous, being found in most ancient near eastern cultures.  She is often present at creation, and serves as focus and reimagining of God’s work with humankind.  In Christianity, the concept becomes an icon of Jesus, the Savior – Jesus being wisdom.  The central church of Constantinople was dedicated to Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom – Jesus being the reality of the Wisdom that God has revealed to us.

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
"You that are simple, turn in here!"
To those without sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight."

In this text, Wisdom as a woman builds not only a house, but sets a table for who would “walk in the way of insight”.  In a section of Proverbs called “The Banquets of Wisdom and Folly” we are given insights into the gifts that Wisdom offers to the faithful.  The seven pillars mentioned in the first verse are the number of perfection and completeness.  This is a metaphorical statement, rather than a comment on actual architectural practice.  The foods mentioned comprise a feast, a celebrative meal.  Spices would have been mixed with the wine so as to make it more flavorful.  The meal is suggestive to the various groups reading about it.  It is intended for “the simple”, the audience of the Proverbs.  Israelites saw in the meal the messianic banquet with Abraham and Sarah, Christians saw the wedding feast, or Christ’s messianic banquet.  A pointing to the Eucharist is not out of hand either.  Christ, as Christians would read these verses, is the Wisdom – the Holy Wisdom.

Breaking open Proverbs:
  1. What is wisdom to you?
  2. Is there a wisdom that transcends all knowledge?  How would you describe it?
  3. How is Jesus wisdom?

Psalm 34:9-14 Benedicam Dominum

Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.

Come, children, and listen to me; *
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.

Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it.

Linked again to the Bread from Heaven (Taste and see the Lord is good) the psalmist sets a table for us.  The food is redolent of God’s good favor toward the people – God’s protection and justice given to all.  Warnings are given so that we might not be separated from this goodness.  Evil, seen in the behaviors of speaking no good, and of lying, is something to be repented of.  The image is of turning away from such deeds and looking a God instead.

Breaking open Psalm 34
  1. What does a feast mean to you?  Have you ever had one?
  2. How is the Eucharist a feast?
  3. Where does hunger fit into these themes?

Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul continues with his lecture on the Principles of Spiritual Renewal.  The central focus for such renewal is the wisdom that comes from God, thus making the whole body wise.  The wisdom here is one that is cognizant of the times in which the church is living.  Paul is candid in his pronouncement that the times are evil.  What follows is a warning against drunkenness, and we should not misunderstand his intent here.  The comment has more to do with the temple than the tavern.  In the mystery religions that were popular at the time, and that served as a constant temptation to the faithful, wine was used in abundance.  Perhaps a state of drunkenness heightened the initiates’ experience of the “mystery.”  Some of this experience influenced the celebrations of the Eucharist, and thus Paul warns them about maintaining a strict understanding of and use of the Eucharist.  He suggests a substitute, namely being filled with the Spirit, and in this state there would be song and prayer.

Breaking open Ephesians;
  1. Are our times evil?
  2. What do you try to avoid in our culture?
  3. What does it mean to you to be filled with the Spirit?

John 6:51-58
Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus continues with the series on the Bread of Life.  In this pericope, the statements of Jesus are unabashedly Eucharistic, which has caused some commentators to see this as a later interpolation.  What is interesting about this text is the vocabulary assigned to Jesus.  The word “flesh” is used rather than the word “body.”  This usage actually approximates the Semitic vocabulary that Jesus would have used.  It is even more interesting, and perhaps a bit confusing in that Paul contrasts “flesh” sarx, with “spirit” pneuma in his writings.  Flesh represented to him the way of the world, and the Christian was to be caught up into the Spirit.  The usage of this term also has other complications, especially for the Jews for whom the notion of eating the flesh of a human being was an abomination, as well as drinking blood, i.e. drinking the life source of a person or animal.  A further complication is that “to eat another’s flesh” was a Semitic term that signified “slander.”  Thus there are many roadblocks here, but Jesus’ focus is pronounced.  He is the bread of life.  He is the Eucharist.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. How do you understand Christ to be present in the Eucharist?
  2. How is he food for you?

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

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

14 August 2012

Saint Mary the Virgin - 15 August 2012

Isaiah 61:10-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
St. Luke 1:46-56

Background: The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Anglican Churches
In popular opinion, it seems that Mary is the big divide between the so-called Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.  The truth, however, is that there is not a “protestant” consensus on Mary and her status, as she enjoys some level of devotion in some of the churches.  In the Anglican Church, at the time of the reformation, the Church of England concentrated its teachings about Mary as the Theotokos, “The Mother of God”.  All other ideas about her center on her role as the mother of Jesus.  Roman Catholic doctrines and speculations about Mary such as her role as “co-redemptrix” are not generally honored.  The devotion to Mary has had both high and low moments in the history of the English Church, ranging from an outright rejection of the historic devotions to resurgence of devotion, such as Our Lady of Walsingham. 

Isaiah 61:10-11

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

Found in a section of Second Isaiah called the “Songs of the First Return” these verses compose a vision of the new Jerusalem.  These specific verses describe the relationship between the city and YHWH, and the words of the verses are put into the mouth of Jerusalem.  The Targum depicts the intent of these lines by introducing them with the line: “Thus says Jerusalem”.  There is an innate messianic sense of theses verses, a new sense of creation springing from this relationship of Jerusalem and God.  Thus these verses are appropriate on this day in which we celebrate Mary as the Theotokos

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What images come to your mind as you read these verses?
  2. How do they relate to the idea of a messianic age?
  3. How do they relate to your image of the Virgin?

Psalm 34:1-9 Benedicam Dominum

I will bless the LORD at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

I will glory in the LORD; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.

Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *
let us exalt his Name together.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.

Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.

I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.

The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!

Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

Since this psalm was read last Sunday, I will reprint the commentary from that day here.  The use of the psalm on this day seems to be related to its themes of lowliness, themes which are repeated in Mary’s song, the Magnificat.  A perfect example of this theme is the verse: “I will glory in the Lord, let the humble hear and rejoice.” 

This psalm enjoys an unusual introduction that does not appear as a header to the psalm in the BCP.  The psalm is described as “for David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech who banished him, and he went away.”  The scene which can be read in I Samuel 21:14, finds David surrounded by his Philistine enemies at the city of Gath.  In order to evade them, David plays the madman (“he altered his good sense”), and thus avoids a confrontation with the king (not Abimelech, an error by the psalm’s author, but rather Achish). The opening verses, then in this context, are quite rich, with the author, as David’s vicar, asking for God’s intervention and strength.  The psalm is an acrostic with only the letter waw missing.  The closing lines, which are not included in today’s psalm, are quite evocative of the original theme, “The Lord ransoms his servant’s lives.”

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. How has God defended you and come to your rescue?
  2. What was your response of thanksgiving?
  3. Have you seen God protect others?

Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Here Paul lectures the people of Galatia on the topic of Christian Freedom.  The opening line, “his son, born of a woman” seems to be the tie in to the celebrations of the day.  The verses are about the relationship that we enjoy in the freedom that comes with Christ.  The relationship with the law is abrogated through Jesus offering on the cross, and from that all other relationships fall into line: adoption as children, the relationship with “Abba, Father”, our status as heirs and children, no longer slaves. 

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. How would you describe your relationship with God?
  2. In what way is God either Father or Mother to you?
  3. What does St. Paul mean by calling us “heirs”?

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

This song of Mary is in some manuscripts attributed to Elizabeth, her cousin.  Such an attribution makes sense in that the song is sung at the Visitation (31 May) of Mary to Elizabeth, and the composition’s dependence on the Song of Hannah (I Samuel 2:1-10) and the similarities of Hannah and Elizabeth, both being depicted as childless and having the gift of a miraculous son. 

The actual song is a collection of phrases and themes from other biblical poetry.  It does express, however, dramatic themes from the Gospel of Luke.  Primary in these themes is the notion of “lowliness”.  Luke depicts Jesus’ mission and message to the lowly, and they occupy a central place in Lucan theology.  Mary mirrors that not only in her own state but also in that of others.  Lines such as “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” demonstrate not only Mary’s emotion and concern in the song, but Luke, and therefore Jesus’ concern as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. When Luke talks about the lowly, who comes to your mind?
  2. How is Mary both the lowly and the exalted?
  3. What early traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures do these verses call to mind?

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

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.