Monthly Archives: November 2013

Greater love hath no man

From John Ireland’s lovely anthem Greater Love Hath No Man (1912):

“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath call’d you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

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In this world and in the age to come

hanukkah_4160 egg2cake

 

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name, you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. (BCP 102)

Knowledge of God’s truth

In this morning’s reading from 1 Maccabees we have the story of the rededication of the Temple — the event celebrated at Hanukkah each year. Judas Maccabeus and his followers have liberated the Temple and labored to rebuild it, replacing the desecrated altar and all of the vessels and fittings for the sanctuary.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. (1 Macc. 4:54-56)

The rededication of the Temple is part of the story of salvation history — the understanding that God continually acts on behalf of his people, bringing them back again and again from their sin and neglect of his covenant with them.

Life everlasting

The rededication of the Temple echoes through the Christian story, too, but is transformed in the visions recorded in the Revelation to John. He pictures a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, with no more need for a Temple because of the presence of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Even the lampstands of the Temple will no longer be necessary, “for the Lord God will be their light” for ever.

When two or three are gathered

These stories have been a source of hope and encouragement for Jews and Christians alike, visions of heaven and reminders of God’s continuing care for those who follow him.

Our hope for life in the age to come, however, should also govern how we act here and now. Today’s teaching from the Gospel of Matthew underscores that fact.

Jesus addresses the question of disagreements among believers, outlining a sort of progressive response — first speak to the person alone, then with two or three, then with the whole assembly. If they still don’t agree, he says, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”  (Matt. 18:17).

This is a critical point that we usually miss. What does Jesus do with Gentiles and tax collectors?

He seeks them out, talks with them (men and women alike), dines with them, has his mind changed by them, comes into their households, and proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near to them.

Our hope for life in the age to come should create in us the same urgency for reconciliation that Jesus demonstrated, seeking out the one lamb that was lost from the hundred, even giving up his own life in order to break forever the separation of death.

“When two or three are gathered together,” Christ who is in the midst of us sends us out to fulfill our mission: to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP 855).

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Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

Searching and fearless

Step Four
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

“We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their correction … Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions).

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” at Seabury.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about one of the central ideas from the class I am taking at Seabury this fall: that the Bible is organized around two 9/11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, in particular, came into its present shape after the destruction of the Temple and the exile into Babylon. John Dally suggests that Israel’s judgment upon themselves is that “it’s our fault.”

So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he provided for them food enough.

But they did not stop their craving,
though the food was still in their mouths.

Whenever he slew them, they would seek him,
and repent, and diligently search for God.

But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him,
and they were not faithful to his covenant.

(Psalm 78:25-37 passim)

Perhaps the Hebrew Bible is also, to use the language of the 12 Steps, Israel’s “searching and fearless moral inventory.”

Step Four concludes with this reminder: “Therefore, thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory. In this connection, it is wise to write out our questions and answers. It will be an aid to clear thinking and honest appraisal. It will be the first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward.”

What the priest Ezra and the people are doing in this morning’s reading from the Book of Nehemiah is repenting of their sins and laying before God and each other their written confession:

You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them …. Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests. (Nehemiah 9:33-34, 38)

In a larger sense, the whole of the Hebrew Bible is the written confession of the people of God regarding their failure and their renewed desire to live as God intends, the “tangible evidence of their complete willingness to move forward.”

It is difficult to commit to a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” but I also draw comfort knowing that I am by no means alone in my struggles, that others have found a way forward into a “faith that really works in daily living.”

How do your prayers and your reading of Scripture both challenge and comfort you today?

No longer strangers and sojourners

genuflect

I stretched forth my hand against myself;
I have broken my covenant.

My speech is softer than butter,
but war is in my heart.

My words are smoother than oil,
but they are drawn swords.

Cast your burden upon the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous stumble.

(Psalm 55, adapted)

The class I’m taking this fall at Bexley Seabury is called “This Dangerous Book” for a reason.

We’re together investigating how texts, images, and sounds in juxtaposition can help us experience the Bible at a heart level rather than in our heads.

Our exercise last night was to do some free association on a text appointed for All Saints’ Day. The reading from the Book of Daniel stirred up in me various “beasts” like Daniel saw “in the visions of his head as he lay in bed.”

I saw in my vision by night
the four winds of heaven
stirring up the great sea
and four great beasts
came up out of the sea
different from one another.
(Dan. 7:2-3)

Though I am struggling with several “great beasts” — various kinds of sin in my life — the experience of the saints reassures me that I am not alone. I am not unique in my struggles, and in fact I can learn how to live from those “who have come out of the great ordeal” before me (Rev. 7:14).

In many recovery programs, those who have gone before are called sponsors; in our tradition they are called saints. Thanks be to God that we are not left to deal with our “great beasts” alone, that we are not left to swim the great sea by ourselves.

We are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19).