Readings Review 12 Aug.

One of the things we’re going to do on this blog on Mondays is look back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying.  I’m not always going to touch on all four reading tracks, much less give a play-by-play review of the week past or preview of the week to come, but just look more generally at where we’ve been and where we’re going.  I can’t turn this blog into a group Bible Study, especially since not all of you are actually using the daily office lectionary from the 2019 prayer book.  Plus, by sticking (usually) to a larger scale review of recent or upcoming readings, there’s a better chance of recent overlap with other similar lectionaries, and the ability to keep this weekly theme from going stale after a while.

The Readings

Last week: 1 Samuel 24-29, Romans 5-10, Hosea 2-8, John 7:25-11:44
This week: 1 Samuel 30-2 Samuel 5, Romans 11-16, Hosea 9-14, Joel 1, John 11:45-15:17
Special lesson for St. Mary the Virgin (15 Aug.) = Luke 1:26-38

One of the big “story arcs” here, so to speak, is the dramatic saga of David and King Saul in the morning OT lessons.  All of last week and for a few days this week we’ve been reading about the tension between the two of them: King Saul is frequently hunting his former bodyguard and musician, David, often with intent to kill.  And yet, David twice refuses to kill Saul when he has the chance even though he knows that God has chosen him to be the next king.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, David was quite a sinner himself; we’ll see more of that later.  But in the interactions between David and Saul, David is clearly in the right nearly 100% of the way through.  He understands that as long as Saul lives, he is the current anointed one of God to be king over Israel.

This sheds light on the interaction between Jesus and the scribes and pharisees and priests.  He knew that he was the Messiah – the Christ, the Anointed One – to whom their ministry pointed, and must eventually yield.  And although he exchanged words with them many a time, he never overthrew their authority.  For the time being, they were supposed to be “the clergy”, as we might say; they were supposed to be the teachers of the things of God.  And once Jesus ratified the New Covenant in his blood, only then did he cease to pay them the respect of their God-given office.  Indeed, the New Testament barely ever mentions them again after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For us we learn the virtue of patience, of waiting, of respect for the present while anticipating the future.  We often like to “move on” once a deal is signed, and live and act as if The Future Is Now.  But if that’s really what we do, then we never actually respect and live in The Now.  This is especially important in spiritual things: we are now regenerate, adopted children of God.  We are now God’s people, cleansed by the blood of Christ.  But for now we are also still sinners, and we cannot deny that reality.  Just as David and Jesus kept their hands off their rightful crowns until God’s appointed time, so should we not pretend to have attained to sinless perfection, or the full consummation of the glory of Christ-in-us before the Kingdom of God is actually fulfilled when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  As David was persecuted by King Saul, and Jesus scorned by the Jewish rabbis and priests of his day, so too do we suffer under the reign of sin and death.

So, by all means, read these Old Testament stories with a keen interest in what David is demonstrating here.  He is not always such a clear typological picture of Jesus, but for many of these chapters he definitely is.

The Transfiguration: Living Between Two Worlds

The feast of the Transfiguration, celebrated today, August 6th, is a special holiday to me in the Church calendar.  As a child, the story of the transfiguration was (ironically) utterly veiled to me.  It was a weird story of Jesus glowing on a mountain and confusing the three disciples with him, and it made no sense to me at all.  Only in the liturgical tradition, seeing the various texts of Scripture appointed for this day, did I piece together the biblical significance of the transfiguration, and the way it points to (and prepares for) the Gospel events surrounding our Lord’s death and resurrection.

This holiday also ended up being my wife’s and my second-born’s birthday.  It was a funny story – he was due around the 10th of August, so my last Sunday serving our church before paternity leave for the rest of the month was August 6th, Transfiguration Day.  I was responsible about it, though, and made sure I had my sermon fully written out just in case our baby was early and I would have to hand the sermon to someone else to read in my place.  Sure enough that’s exactly what happened.  I even got some positive feedback on it, so I’ve dubbed it “my best sermon I never preached”.

So now, two years later, I’ve recorded it, so others can celebrate this feast day and begin to put the pieces together too, if you haven’t before.  The Gospel text of the transfiguration event is from Luke 9, which you should probably read before listening to the sermon about it.  If you’ve said Morning Prayer already, then you’ll have read Mark’s account of the transfiguration, which I’m sure should also suffice.

St. James’ Day

It’s July 25th, you know what that means!  No, no “Christmas In July”… it’s Saint James’ Day, I warned you this was coming!  One of the “inner three” of Christ’s apostles, James’ story comes to an abrupt end in Acts 12.  Let’s start with prayer though:

O gracious God, your servant and apostle James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ: Pour upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service, by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Though he tends to get less press than a few of the other apostles, James is one of the ones we know the most about from the New Testament.  This is reflected in several of the Scripture readings appointed for today.  The special reading for this feast day in Morning Prayer is from Mark 1, where we see the call of James with his brother John, sons of Zebedee.  At the Communion today the Gospel (from Matthew 20) has Jesus’ subtle prediction of James’ death, and the reading from Acts 11 & 12 (in the place of the Epistle) accounts for James’ death directly.

If you chose to make use of the Midday Lectionary provided by this Customary, you’ll also read from 2 Kings 1 today – a curious story in which the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven upon multiple groups of soldiers until a group entreats him with the honor due his office as a Prophet.  This sets the Old Testament background and precedent for another story of James (and John) in Luke 9, wherein they ask Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus’ teaching.  One can see that St. James was indeed a zealous disciple of our Lord!

So, as the Collect of the Day, how about taking a little time today to pray for pastors, deacons, priests, bishops, that they might be ready, like St. James, to lay down their life for you and those whom else they serve in the name of the Lord?

Let’s pray Evening Prayer together!

We’ve got a daily hymnody plan available, an order for using the Occasional Prayers, and some insight on how to sing Simplified Anglican Chant.  Let’s put it all together and see what Evening Prayer can be like. We did this with Morning Prayer last week, but now let’s add some chanting to spruce up this feast day commemorating St. Mary Magdalene.  I should warn you that there are a couple of stumblings, hesitations, and even mistakes as I read, pray, and sing.  That’s life, that’s reality.  I’m not here to perform for anyone, and I just want to encourage you to pray and sing, yourself, too.  Anyway, grab your 2019 Prayer Book, ESV Bible, and 2017 Hymnal, and listen and pray along!

 

Order of service (so you can get your books ready)…

  1. Opening Sentence (BCP 41)
  2. Confession *
  3. Invitatory Dialogue with Hymn #444 instead of the Phos hilaron **
  4. Psalms 108 (tune #748) and 109 (tunes #747 & 746)
  5. Old Testament: Ezra 10
  6. Magnificat (tune #743)
  7. New Testament: John 1:1-28
  8. Nunc dimittis (tune #750)
  9. The Apostles’ Creed
  10. The Prayers
  11. The Anthem (Hymn #175)
  12. Brief homiletic reflection
  13. Occasional Prayers #11-15
  14. The General Thanksgiving ***
  15. Closing Sentences

* I don’t read either absolution after the general confession when I’m praying the Office alone because there’s no “you” for me to speak to, so I take on the words of the laity in the prayer for forgiveness instead.

** The rubric at the top of page 44 allows for a hymn to replace the Phos hilaron.  Since the Phos hilaron is not a feature of classic prayer books I typically prefer to replace it with an Evening Hymn (or other hymn as in this case).

*** I tend not to pray the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom when alone, as the rubric indicates it’s optional, and because its language of being gathered for corporate prayer is not exactly fulfilled in private.

Overview of the book of Esther

Evening Prayer in our Daily Office Lectionary begins the book of Esther in a couple days.  I had the joy and privilege of preaching all the way through this book a few years ago; it was a lot of fun, and I get kind of enthusiastic about it.  So please forgive me as occasionally stutter over my words in excitement as I talk about this book!

Subject Index of the video in case you want to skip around:

  • 00:00 – it’s an unusual book
  • 02:11 – Characters
  • 05:46 – A Tale of Two Esthers (Hebrew & Greek)
  • 09:50 – Authorship & Origin Questions
  • 13:58 – Canonical Purpose of the book of Esther

1 & 2 Thessalonians

This morning in the Daily Office, our new lectionary starts our brief journey through 2 Thessalonians.  We just finished 1 Thessalonians.

There are a few New Testament books that have both the same author and same recipient: Luke & Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and probably 1 & 2 Peter.  When this happens, it pays to look at what some of the primary concerns of each book is, and see why a sequel or follow-up was necessary.

In the case of the epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, one of the noteworthy themes is that of eschatology – the return of Christ at the end.  A handy oversimplification of these two could be:

1. Christ is coming soon!  2. But not that soon.

For in 1 Thessalonians there is that famous passage in chapters 4 & 5, “we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope“, and “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God“, and “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night“.  Popular evangelicalism has right and truly muddled up many believers’ understanding of these verses with erroneous teachings about a “rapture” and I encourage you who preach to make sure you help people rightly understand verses such as these.

But then in 2 Thessalonians St. Paul encourages them “not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” and teaches them “if any one will not work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”  It was as if there was a group of people there so excited for the return of Christ that they gave up their earthly labors to focus entirely on spiritual exercise until the Day of the Lord.  Those who misunderstood his first letter to them needed the correction of a second letter to help them get balanced.

Perhaps this example will help you as you read through this epistle, reminding you to think back to what was read in the first one, and see how the situation, and St. Paul’s response, has developed over time.

Reading the book of Daniel

This evening the Daily Office Lectionary of the 2019 BCP starts us into the book of Daniel.

Daniel is an interesting book in modern Christian experience because the first half of it is so well known through its popular stories, and its second half is so… inaccessible.  It’s almost like two different books stuck together, linked only by the appearance of the main character in the first half as the one receiving the visions of the second half.  This, and other considerations, has led a number of scholars in the past two centuries to conclude that it is in fact two separate books: the first half collected from various “Daniel traditions” (stories about Daniel and his friends) and the second half written by an anonymous apocalypticist in the 150’s B.C. attributing Daniel’s name to it.  There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and I have yet to dig through the evidence and arguments, myself, in any great detail, so I won’t bore you with further details on that here.

The book of Daniel is one where the Anglican lectionary tradition of reading one chapter at a time pays off exceedingly well: the first six chapters are six different stories about Daniel (and/or his friends) which span a very long period of time (perhaps one of the factors that lead some to question the strict historicity of this book).  Time after time, faithful believers are persecuted for their faith, and God rescues them in the midst of danger.  They are exciting stories of faith standing strong, heroic, even, and popular for children’s Sunday School curricula.

Starting in chapter 7, things take a turn for the weird.  There were hints of this new style in a couple of the visions that Daniel dealt with in the earlier stories, but now it’s full on: this is apocalyptic literature.  An apocalypse is a “revealing” or “unveiling” or a “revelation”, and is a highly stylized version or subset of prophetic writing.  Usually looking at the end of history, an apocalypse is typified by a black-and-white approach to judgment and mercy, a full disclosure of the divine will, and the utter destruction of all that is evil.  There is a lot of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writing from the few centuries immediately preceding and proceeding Christ, and very little of it ended up in the Bible.  For more on biblical apocalyptic writings, click here.

The apocalypse of Daniel, unfolding in chapters 7-12, gives us some of the Old Testament’s most vivid and explicit visions of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, of world events leading up to his time period, of the resurrection of the dead, and of angelology.  It makes for exciting reading to a Christian, even though recent groups (especially the dispensationalists) have come up with some very contentious interpretations.  Curiously, Jewish thought did not seem to be quite as positively excited about this book; in the Hebrew Bible Daniel is not placed among the “prophets” but among the “writings”, their tertiary layer of biblical canon.  Granted, some of the key visions of Daniel did get revisited in the book 2 Esdras which is among our Ecclesiastical Books, but that’s only a fringe interest.  Perhaps this is another piece of evidence for a later date of origin or compilation for the book of Daniel.

Regardless of its literary history, the book of Daniel is simultaneously one of the most and least accessible books of Old Testament Prophets that we’ve got.  If you’re like most people, “come for the stories, stay for the apocalypse!”  But, in line with lectionary wisdom, if we keep returning to these visions year after year, along with the rest of the Bible read throughout the year, then one should be better-equipped to make sense of these writings each time.

Learning from the Liturgy: Ascension Day

Happy Ascension Day, everyone!
Here’s what I wrote for my congregation last year about this holy day:

Leorningcnihtes boc

Ascension Day is perhaps the most under-celebrated important holiday in the calendar.  Representing one of the lines of the Creeds (“he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”), this holiday marks a significant turning point in the Gospel story and sets the stage for how the Christian’s relationship with God is defined.  We often think of it as an awkward point between the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), but even in itself the Ascension is a major event.  What I’m setting out to do in this post is draw from the various Scriptural and traditional resources of the Church’s liturgy to explore some of the basic teachings and implications of this great and underappreciated day in the year.

The Event of the Ascension

Christ’s ascension is described in three books: Mark, Luke, and Acts.

In Mark’s Gospel…

View original post 2,092 more words

Reading Acts at this time of year

We saw a few weeks ago how the book of Acts has a prominent place in the modern Communion lectionary through Easter week.  We’ve seen that the book of Acts may be read from in place of the Old Testament lesson through Easter season.  Now it’s time to look at why Acts shows up at this time of year, in the Communion lectionary, and at none other time.

The book of Acts holds a unique position in the canon of Scripture.  It is not an Epistle, nor is it a Gospel.  It’s like the Epistles in that it’s looking at the life of the Church after Jesus ascended; it’s like the Gospels in that it’s a collection of narratives.  Its very introduction makes it out to be a sort of sequel to the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  Ultimately its literary contribution to the Bible is much more like the historical books of the Old Testament – showing us the power and presence of God in the world through his people.  That likeness, perhaps, is why the book of Acts is almost always provided in place of the Old Testament lesson in the Communion lectionary.

As for the time of year… Acts has a particular focus on the life of the Church immediately after the Gospel work of Christ Jesus.  It re-tells the story of his ascension, it tells the story of the Day of Pentecost, and provides first-hand insight into the immediate history of a few of the apostles, as well as some of the missionary and church-planting ministry of St. Paul and others.  As the great feast of Easter (due in part to the ancient custom of holding baptisms at the Easter Vigil) has a particular liturgical emphasis on new life in Christ, it was only natural that the book of Acts came to be a go-to book in the season following.  Let’s take a look at how the book of Acts is read in the ACNA Sunday Communion lectionary:

Year A

Easter II – 2:14a, 22-32 – Peter preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Easter III – 2:14a, 36-47 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter IV – 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60 – diaconate established, Stephen martyred
Easter V – 17:1-15 – Paul is attacked for preaching the Gospel to Greeks as well as Jews
Easter VI – 17:22-34 – Paul preaches to the Gentiles
after Ascension – 1:1-14 – the ascension of Jesus

Year B

Easter II – 3:12a, 13-15, 17-26 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter III – 4:5-14 – Peter and John examined by the Jews for healing in the name of Jesus
Easter IV – 4:23-37 – the church rejoices and grows in generosity
Easter V – 8:26-40 – Philip preaches to and baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch
Easter VI – 11:19-30 – the church grows among Gentiles and is generous abroad
after Ascension – 1:15-26 – the replacement of Judas with Matthias

Year C

Easter II – 5:12, 17-22, 25-29 – the apostles are arrested for preaching Christ
Easter III – 9:1-19a – Saul (to be Paul) converts on the road to Damascus
Easter IV – 13:14b-16, 26-29 – Paul preaches Christ mostly from the Old Testament
Easter V – 13:44-52 – Paul is abused for his conviction to preach to the Gentiles
Easter VI – 14:8-18 – Paul and Barnabas heal a cripple
after Ascension – 16:16-34 – Paul exorcises a demon, is imprisoned, and preaches to his jailer

Noting the Patterns

If you just look at the chapter and verse numbers, it’s hard to see there’s any rhyme or reason to these tours through Acts.  But when you note what those readings contain, similar contours can be traced in each of the three years of the lectionary cycle.  The first three Sundays mostly follow a pattern of preachingresistancetriumph & growth.  Easter V and VI then deal with the spread of the Gospel among the Gentiles, typically to the chagrin and anger of the Jewish synagogue members.

The odd Sunday in this sequence is the Sunday after the Ascension.  In Year A it just repeats the Acts 1 lesson from Ascension Day; in Year B it (sensibly) deals with something that occurred between the ascension and Pentecost.  But in Year C it seems to be rolled into the Eastertide progression of readings from Acts, noting some of Paul’s ministry (and abuse) among the Gentiles.

Advice

When preparing for Eastertide and the Sunday after Ascension, the preacher(s) ought to make a decision: either commit to using the Acts readings each Sunday along the way, or commit to using none of them during this period.  These readings are not paired with the Gospel or Epistle, much less the Collect of the Day, but form a sequence of five or six Sundays exploring the spread of the Gospel from the apostles to the Jews to the Gentiles.  Whether they are the preaching focus or not, they form a sequence that ought to be carried through from start to finish, if they are to be used at all.

In my case, I was committed this year to preaching the “Epistle” texts from Revelation, so I opted not to use the Acts lessons, preferring to have OT lessons that would match the Gospels so there’d be more unity to the liturgy on a given day.

Whatever you decide is appropriate, be sure you stick with it through the season to maximize the liturgical benefit, one way or the other!

Reading 1 John in Eastertide

This evening we begin reading the epistle 1 John at Evening Prayer, and will go through it over the course of the whole week.  As I noted with 1 Peter a little while ago, this is an appropriate daily lectionary experience because it matches up with the Sunday Communion lectionary on one of the three years of its rotation.  It doesn’t match up perfectly in real time, of course, but the idea of reading 1 John in Eastertide is achieved both in Year B on Sundays and in the middle of May in daily Evening Prayer.

What makes 1 John an Easter-appropriate epistle such that it got assigned to this season in one year of the Communion lectionary?  In part, it’s an echo of the historic lectionary for Eastertide, which features 1 John and 1 Peter and James as the Epistle lessons through the season.  Digging deeper, the style of 1 John is very similar to the Gospel of St. John, which also gets heavy coverage in Eastertide and other major festal seasons and occasions throughout the year.  1 John has emphases on community, belonging, love, and release from sin, which all connect easily with the tradition of reading Acts in Eastertide, and the more general “result of the resurrection” frame of mind that this season is all about.

The opening prologue to 1 John also betray the unusual status of this book.  It is billed as an epistle of John but its writing style is much more like a homily or address.  Thus it makes for great reading and hearing but a far more difficult study than a more orderly epistle like those of St. Paul (at least in my opinion).  Despite the general challenge of making sense of how this book is structured and organized, the opening verses are one of my personal favorite passages of Scripture.

If you’d like a homily to accompany you in Evening Prayer today, here you go: