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Juxtaposition

The interplay between Scripture readings and the prayers and canticles in the Daily Office sets up resonances in the biblically educated ear.

Take, for example, this morning’s Old Testament lesson and the canticle appointed to be read immediately following.

In the reading from Genesis, we have a vivid picture of murderous jealousy. Joseph, the dreamer, is stripped of his cloak and thrown into a pit by his brothers who “saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, … conspired to kill him” (Gen. 37:18).

After saying “The Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God” we turn back to the service of Morning Prayer and see that Canticle 13 is appointed for Tuesdays.

Glory to you, Lord God of our Fathers; *
You are worthy of praise; glory to you. (BCP 90)

What an enormous gulf there is between our jealousy and God’s glory! The abrupt transition brings that truth home.

The regular patterns — Scripture readings over a two-year period and canticles day by day — mesh in surprising and illuminating ways.

The same thing happens with the New Testament reading: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by the world’s standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26-27).

The Office continues with Canticle 18:

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God.
And yours by right, O Lamb that was slain, *
for with your blood you have redeemed for God,
From every family, language, people, and nation, *
a kingdom of priests to serve our God. (BCP 93)

How little we deserve to be juxtaposed with God’s glory. How little a detail in the Daily Office drives home that truth.

George Herbert

From the notes on his feast day in Lesser Feasts and Fasts:

Lines from his poem on prayer have moved many readers:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth.

Herbert was unselfish in his devotion and service to others. Izaak Walton writes that many of the parishioners “let their plow rest when Mr. Herbert’s saints-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotion to God with him.

George Herbert was a parson in the Church of England in a very different age, one that was much less mobile than ours. When he rang his “saints-bell” to announce the saying of the Offices, his parishioners would all have been within earshot of the church.

How much more fragmented our congregations are today, but how much we still need to “let our plows rest” and “offer our devotion” with each other.

I hope these reflections ring a saints-bell in your daily routine, however far away you may be, and that you will find a way to pause and pray before returning to your work.

Never again hide my face

The last few days we have been reading from the “High Priestly Prayer” of John’s gospel — the extended discourse of Jesus in the Upper Room on the occasion of the Last Supper.

As Jesus prays for his disciples, he paints a picture of his desire for our unity in relationship to God and to each other. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:21-22).

Our visible unity is mean to convey the glory of God. If the promise of God given in Ezekiel this morning — “I will never again hide my face” — is to be fulfilled, it will be in part because God’s glory is visible in us.

Unity does not mean sameness, of course, but it does mean encouraging one another instead of shaming and disparaging. It means giving generously toward the needs of the saints, as Paul’s church at Philippi did. It means rejoicing in the splendid variety of God’s created order and “putting away all earthly anxieties,” as we do especially on Saturdays in the Office.

Look around you today. In whom do you see God’s face? On whom has God poured out God’s spirit? With whom are you called to join so that God’s face will shine?

False apostles and the impulse to split

The Collect for St. Matthias pulls no punches: “Grant that your church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors” (BCP 239).

The reading from the First Letter of John is equally harsh. On the subject of antichrists, John says “by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

These two statements about leadership in the church run counter to our American way. We generally prefer to go off and start our own churches — I remember reading once that there were 24,000 Christian denominations in America — so this judgment about “going out” hits hard.

I think there’s also a plain meaning of falsehood that gets cloaked in pious language in an attempt to justify the impulse to split. I am a salesman, and if I were to promote a competitor’s product, I would be fired for not doing my job. If an apostle — in our church, that’s a bishop — leads people out of the church he or she has sworn to guard, that bishop is false, not doing his or her job. I am not talking here primarily about teaching or correcting those in error, but about the separating of the body. You cannot both leave and stay.

John comes back to his real theme at the end of today’s passage. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). John is urging us to stay, to abide in the fellowship of the church.

This may be particularly hard for us as Americans. What might you need to do in order to more fully abide, to more fully stay in the church as it is, rather than as you might prefer it to be?

Fret not yourself

The psalmist’s refrain this morning is repeated several times: “Fret not yourself.”

As the Education for Ministry (EfM) curriculum suggests in its chapter on John, “ears that are biblically educated” will hear the resonance between the psalmist’s urging and the angels’ message in the Gospels.

“Be not afraid,” the angels always say. Be not afraid, do not fret.

What if you could live without fretting? What if you could let go of slights and grudges? What if you didn’t have to react to every second of the 24-hour news cycle?

This is not about retreating from the world. It’s about defining your circle of influence (which may be much bigger than you think) and then letting God and God’s other people care for their circles.

The psalmist acknowledges that he’s living in troubled times — the times are always troubled. Nevertheless, he trusts that God is in control.

Let those with ears to hear, listen. Fret not yourself.

The God of those who repent

On Ash Wednesday, we read Psalm 95 in its entirety at Morning Prayer.

The first seven verses are familiar, of course. Many of us read them every morning. Today, however, the familiar line “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice” continues with the plea, “Harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:8).

With the psalmist, far from hardening our hearts, we also acknowledge our sin to God, and we do not conceal our guilt (Ps. 32:5). Repenting is the characteristic of those who follow God.

The Collect of the Day reminds us that God hates nothing God has made. We are not to hate ourselves or anyone else, but instead to work every day to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1). It takes discipline to repent, discipline that “seems painful rather than pleasant at the time” (Heb. 12:11).

But “you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,” says Manasseh in Canticle 14, “and in me you will show forth your goodness.” The discipline of repenting, of not concealing our sins, “later yields the pleasant fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

May the God of those who repent, the God who hates nothing God has made, open your heart in this Lenten season so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. Every blessing for a holy Lent.

Integrity and uprightness

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his ways to the lowly. (Psalm 25:7-8)

I once worked alongside a priest whose word was true. If she said a thing was so, it was so. I knew I could trust her guidance, and I did.

At the same time, I worked for a boss whose dedication to his job was complete. He spent extremely long hours in his office, but did not expect everyone else to copy him. He gave wise counsel that I use to this day in my work.

These people of integrity and uprightness shared another quality, and that is grace. They are both gentle, unfailingly kind, generous, and attentive.

Through Christ, we believers have come to know God as gracious. Jesus’ self-offering, so beautifully lauded in Philippians, epitomizes the love that puts others first. That love “guides the humble in doing right,” and it is a deeper kowledge of that love that we seek day by day in our prayers.

Changed into his likeness

In the office readings today, we get three pictures of glory: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

We see Moses with his face veiled because God is too terrible for the people to see directly. We see Elijah, riding the skies in a fiery chariot, making God’s power more directly visible. And in Jesus “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

“If there was glory in the ministry of condemnation,” Paul writes, “much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! … Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness …” (2 Cor. 3:9, 12).

“Our Father in heaven,” we are bold to say ….

And in the Collect for today we are also bold to say: “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and changed into his likeness from glory to glory” (BCP 217).

Changed into Jesus’ likeness! What a wonderful hope!

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Duly prepared

Today I will be leading a workshop for members of my parish’s Altar Guild, both new and experienced. We hope to be “duly prepared for the service of [God’s] sanctuary,” as we pray in the Collect for Saturdays (BCP 99).

I really love the “artifacts” of our Episcopal tradition — the altar, the vessels and vestments, the beautiful books, the ribbons (especially the ribbons), the crosses and torches and candles.

I’m also glad that they are in our churches to be used, not just admired. The most beautiful candlesticks at St. Thomas are heavy and worn. One of the men of the parish reshaped a stand so now we can use both processional crosses. The prayer books we use on Sundays keep having to be replaced.

What beautiful things aid you in your life of prayer? What holy things surround you and spur you to devotion? I’d like to know.

Gracefully limping toward forgiveness

From the Collect for 6 Epiphany: “Because in our weakness we can nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace” (BCP 216).

How it must have hurt Israel (Jacob) to look up and see Esau coming, knowing that he was in the wrong. How it must have hurt to bow himself to the ground seven times as he approached, the morning after having his hip put out of joint in a wrestling match with God.

Israel limped on to meet his fate.

But Esau ran to meet him! Esau embraced him! Esau fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. Can you imagine the tear tracks running down Israel’s dusty face?

Have you been forgiven? I have, and it is both awful and wonderful.

In the Collect for Fridays (BCP 99), we pray that “we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.” In today’s “Brother, Give Us a Word” email from the SSJE, Geoffrey Tristram reminds us that “the Gospels are clear there is only one way to be changed and transformed. And that is to die …. and then to allow Jesus to raise us to new life in him.”

What in you needs to die today? What do you need God to wrestle out of you today, even if you means you limp from now on?