27 October 2015

All Saints' Day, 1 November 2015

All Saints' Day - 1 November 2015
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
St. John 11:32-44

Background: All Saints Day 
the origin of this day is a bit murky, perhaps originating in the Eastern Church, where it was observed in May, or the Sunday after Pentecost.  In 609, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs.  In the eighth century celebrations of all the Saints emerged in England, celebrated principally on 1 November, which was brought to England either through the ministry of Egbert of York, or perhaps from earlier celebrations either in Ireland or Gaul.  It is a day in which the Church celebrates saints living and departed, a representation of the totality of the Body of Christ.  The present celebration in the Book of Common Prayer is classed as a Principal Feast, one of seven.  It is also a date on which is recommended the administration of Holy Baptism. 

Isaiah 25:6-9
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

In this hymn of thanksgiving, the first Isaiah anticipates a great victory on the part of YHWH.  It falls in the midst of oracles against the cultures and nations that are seen as hostile to Israel.  The vision is one of a messianic banquet that is not limited to the people of Israel, but to “all peoples” – a development that moves this prophet’s vision from one that is bounded by nationalism to a much broader perspective.  The notion of the celestial banquet is common to both Israelite and Canaanite culture. 

In a way, this oracle or hymn is a completion of the cycle begun in Genesis with the account of the Fall, for here the threat of sin and death and their consequences are vanquished.  That the Christian Scriptures rely so much on Isaiah (both of them) is not surprising, for this note of universalism and salvation represents beginning steps to the theology found in the Gospels.  If we were to plumb the depths of the Eucharistic Meal, its roots would be found in this very vision.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1   How do you imagine heaven?
2   How does Isaiah image heaven?
3   What are the differences?

Psalm 24 Domini est terra

The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.

For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

"Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? *
and who can stand in his holy place?"

"Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."

Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.

"Who is this King of glory?" *
"The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle."

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.

"Who is he, this King of glory?" *
"The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory."

This psalm is interesting in its question/answer format, which explores the beauty of the work of God’s hands.  The second verse, noting the foundation of the world “upon the seas” refers to the Canaanite (and Mesopotamian) beliefs about the primeval battle between the deity and the chaos of the sea.  So in creation, God separates the land from the sea.  Then we are transported to the temple, and the question as to who can rightfully ascend its heights.  The question is answered with a series of qualifications that are represented in the people of God. 

Verse seven probably begins a separate work, in which the question posed wishes to identify whom it is that the pilgrims are ascending to worship.  Some commentators think that this work actually was commenting on the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the field of battle (The Lord who is valiant in battle).

Breaking open Psalm 24
1   What allows you to enter God’s holy space?
2   Do the requirements keep anyone out?  Whom might it keep out?
3   How is the Lord “valiant in battle?”  What does this mean?

Revelation 21:1-6a
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."

Again we are confronted with the foundation of creation, this time in the vision of the Divine.  Here he has a vision of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.  That the “sea is no more” is a comment on the ancient myths regarding God’s victory over chaos, represented in the sea itself.  What follows are a series of aspects of the new creation.  There is the new city (a heavenly Jerusalem) and a loud voice proclaiming new realities from the Throne of God.  One of the canons at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City opined that the only proper way to read these proclamations, which appear elsewhere in the book, especially in the letters to the churches, was to shout them in a loud voice.  The signs of the proclamation are a reflection of what the first Isaiah wrote in the first reading for the day.  Again, it is a vision as if it had already had been completed.  Thus the one seated on the throne (the Resurrected One) states emphatically, “It is done,” and then encapsulates all of it in his own existence as the “Alpha and the Omega.”

Breaking open Revelation:
1   Is the new creation a future or a present event?
2   What would you like to see renewed in creation?
3   What do you need to have renewed within yourself?

St. John 11:32-44

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

In Jesus last journey to Jerusalem we see previews of things to come, and the seventh (the number of perfection) sign.  It is the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  The term “greatly disturbed” can either be translated as “anger”, “trembling”, or “intense emotion”.  What is clear is that Jesus, as well as the sisters and on-lookers are facing the existential reality of death, and all react to it.  What follows is like a drama, complete with stage directions.  Jesus seems to comment in sotto voce so that the emphasis of the action might be heard, seen, and understood.  What is operating at a different level is the communication of the Father and the Son – knowing the mind of the other.  Thus follows then, another “Loud Voice”, this time the voice of Jesus communicating to the dead Lazarus.  The final comment of Jesus is almost ironic, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  It is a comment on the practical requirements of the situation, and a bit of Gospel proclamation intended for all the witnesses of this sign – a proclamation about their own freedom.

Breaking open the Gospel:

1   Which emotions are visible in this Gospel reading?
2   How does Jesus involve the crowd?
3   What emotions would you assign to Jesus in this story?

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

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

18 October 2015

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 25 October 2015

Job 41:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22
Genesis Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28
St. Mark 10:46-52

Background: Jeremiah and Politics
Jeremiah occupied a difficult position. His ministry stands on the cusp of an ancient world that is rapidly changing. Stuck in the middle are the People of God and their Prophet (whom they do not trust, and whose message is disdained and disregarded). It was a practical issue made of the stuff of our own time – side with Babylon, or side with Egypt. Trusting in the east was probably not a reasonable or acceptable choice. One only had to think of how the Assyrians had savaged the Northern Kingdom. Could anything better be expected from the Babylonians? That, however, is Jeremiah’s choice. Carolyn Sharpe in an article on the call of Jeremiah[1] brings our attention to Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:5:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”

The phrase, “a prophet to the nations” ought to leap out to us. Sharp’s article seeks to define whether such a phrase was original to the text, and what its import might be. She finally sees the redaction of the book as having a political stance that was layered over the text in subsequent editions. It matters not, actually, for the political reality forces us to understand a Jeremiah who stands up against the position of the elites, and frames his own political stance with a theology that attempts to pull God (and God’s people) into the center of the dilemma. Meditating and analyzing Jeremiah’s statements, and his stance should prove helpful to us who live in such a wildly politicized time.

Track 1:

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Then Job answered the LORD:
"I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
`Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

`Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.'
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

One wonders what people in the Christian assembly will make of this series of readings from Job.  One can only hope that some pastors and rectors will have made other materials and teaching moments available to congregations. This reading gives us Job’s insights following God’s revelation from the whirlwind. All along Job has seen God’s presence in the values of righteousness, and, interestingly, in these speeches repeats some of God’s own observations on Job, his righteousness, and situation. Job is the favored one, and God repents (if you will) restoring his fortunes and the future of his line.

The fate of the three companions to Job is elided by the Lectionary, and probably for a good reason. We have more than enough grist for the philosophical mill, without adding in their story. Nevertheless, it would be good for anyone reading or proclaiming this text to read through the elided material. It gives the complex context in which the original questions are posed, and at the end sees what reduced answers are.

The translations of the names of the daughters (oddly the sons are not so blessed) give us a sense of the poem’s devotion to beauty and to a resolution of Job’s suffering and defacement. The names are evocative of a beauty that transcends Job’s turmoil – Jemimah (dove), Keziah (Cinnamon), and Keren-happuch (Horn of Eyeshade). The women enjoy something beyond what their culture and society might have afforded them – an inheritance from Job’s hands. It is the thankful act of a man who began this conversation by bemoaning his own birth. Now he lives the promise given to Abraham.

Breaking open Job:
  1. Is the ending of Job a fairy-tale ending? Why?
  2. Why do you think that the final verses are so outrageously beautiful?
  3. What is the point of the Book of Job for you?

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) 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!

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.]


We have encountered this psalm several times during this liturgical year.  It’s ascription, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.” Seems to form a good reason for pairing this psalm with the reading from Job, read from that vantage point, the phrases of the psalm invite a greater sense of understanding, “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and from all that I dreaded he saved me.” It is more than well matched when we come to verse twelve (which is not included in our reading), “Come, sons, listen to me”, Such an introduction sets us to understand the following material is in some sense Wisdom literature. Verses 19 on until the end of the poem are directly related to the Job reading, and to the psychology and theology of the Book of Job. This poem is not afraid of the “dark side”, “Many are the troubles of the righteous.” And balance is attained in the second strophe, “but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.”

Breaking open Psalm 104:
  1. How do you see this psalm as connected to the Job story?
  2. How does it remind you of God’s saving grace to you?
  3. How has God delivered you from harm?


Track Two:

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Thus says the LORD:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
"Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel."
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

In spite of Jeremiah’s troubled stance and sayings, this pericope comes from his Book of Comfort (30:1 – 33:26).  Jeremiah’s call was to speak of terror, destruction, and exile, but here another agendum obtains. In this pericope we hear of a calling back, a return from the troubles of exile. What is interesting is not only the promises that God gives to the exiled nation, but also the audience that witnesses God’s actions. Unfortunately, the verse is not included in the liturgical pericope, but seeing it here may give greater context and power to what God promises.

Hear the word of the LORD, you nations,
proclaim it on distant coasts, and say:
The One who scattered Israel, now gathers them;
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.

This is not an isolated grace given only to Israel, but is also a witness to the nations of the actions of a gracious God. It smacks of Jeremiah’s growing sense of universalism, and of the call that God gives him in the first place, to be a prophet to the nations (see Background above). This is not the import of this reading on this day, however. More attention needs to be paid to what Jeremiah and Isaiah share, “among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together.” Here we can connect God’s ancient promise with the actions of Jesus with blind Bartimaeus. The old serves as a foundation for the new, but the promise and the actions are from the Ancient of Days.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. Why does Jeremiah temper his horrific visions with this one of hope?
  2. Have you ever lived in exile? Describe?
  3. Whom has God gathered around you?

Psalm 126 In convertendo

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations, *
"The LORD has done great things for them."

The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

I love this psalm, especially the phrase, “then were we like those who dream.” It is not an emotion that we see in the Christianity of today – our dreams seem to be made of darker stuff. This is a song sung as one ascended to Zion, sung with joy. The verses reflect the ascent from the wilderness to the hill country, and finally to Jerusalem. The images are telling, “Restore, O Lord, our fortunes like freshets in the Negeb.” If one were to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, up from the desert to the treed hills of Zion, one would understand the beauty and promise of this image. The sudden rains, the sudden richness of water, all refreshing God’s people. This psalm is linked to the first reading from Jeremiah, but the themes of restoration and new fortunes also link to the Gospel reading.

Breaking open Psalm 126:
  1. What are your dreams?
  2. How do they relate to your being saved?
  3. How does God refresh you?

Hebrews 7:23-28

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

We continue our readings from Hebrews, and again the author greets us with a reading that exults the superior nature of Christ’s priestly service.  The author sees the Levitical priesthood as a weak succession, “they were prevented by death.” There mortality stifled their service, but Jesus, given to us as the Risen One, raised by the Father, is the priest that continues forever. Jesus is viewed as totally other, “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” However, he is the incarnate other – sharing our humanity, and yet praying for and making our salvation. It is all God’s design.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What is Christ’s ministry?
  2. How would you describe your own?
  3. How are they different?

St. Mark 10:46-52

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

It is the blind man here that sees! We are coming closer to Jerusalem, and this reading serves as a sort of preview of the Palm Sunday entrance. There is shouting along the road from Bartimaeus, who not seeing, yet sees Jesus as “the Son of David.” Similar shouts will be heard on the way into Jerusalem, but here the shouts are followed by actions. Bartimaeus has faith, and believes, and this is the attitude that brings the recovery of his sight. As before the disciples urge silence, a silence that is related to their denial about Jesus’ pronounced and real destiny. In this story Jesus has his own actions, invitation, asking the man to articulate his request, and the command to go because faith has been the saving element here. Although the final verse notes the regained sight and then the following, it is actually the following that came first.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does Baritmaeus express his faith?
  2. Why do the others try to silence him?
  3. Has your faith ever made a difference in how you see things?

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

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Sharpe, C. (2000), “The Call of Jeremiah and Diaspora Politics”, The Journal of Biblican Literature, Volume 119, Number 3, pages 421 – 438.