Monthly Archives: July 2014

Being ambushed

Strap your sword upon your thigh, O mighty warrior,
in your pride and in your majesty.
Ride out and conquer in the cause of truth
and for the sake of justice. (Psalm 45:3-4)

In this morning’s reading from the book of Joshua, we have the story of the ambush of the city of Ai by the people of Israel. Joshua gives a sign, and the plan goes into action.

When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. (Joshua 8:21-22)

It’s a pretty straightforward description of the Israelites’ false retreat successfully drawing out the people from the city, then surprising them with a rearguard cutting the people of Ai off so they could not return to safety.

The only thing that keeps the ambush of Ai from being plain history is that the Israelites attribute their winning to the Lord’s leading.

In the Gospel passage appointed for today, we have the story of a different ambush.

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matt. 26:47-48)

Again, at the agreed signal, the victim is drawn out and encircled, and the ambush succeeds. But in a plot twist no one expects, Jesus doesn’t resist. “Put your sword back into its place,” he says, “for all who take the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). He is taken from the garden by the religious authorities, and he is put to death as a criminal.

The only thing that keeps the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane from being plain history is that generations of Christians have attributed their living to the Lord’s dying.

The mystery that Jesus reveals is that God does not lead us in ambushing others. God invites us, rather, to follow Jesus, the “Lamb that was slain,” in being ambushed, not “trusting in our own righteousness, but in [God’s] manifold and great mercies” (BCP 337).

A Song to the Lamb (Dignus es)
Revelation 4:11; 5:9-10, 13

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God,
For you created everything that is, *
and by your will they were created and have their being;

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.

And so, to him who sits upon the throne, *
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, *
for ever and for evermore.

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All this has come upon us

A Collect for Peace

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen. (BCP 123)

Peace which the world cannot give

The psalmist laments that “all this has come upon us” and prays to the Lord for help:

All this has come upon us; *
yet we have not forgotten you,
nor have we betrayed your covenant.

Our heart never turned back, *
nor did our footsteps stray from your path;

Though you thrust us down into a place of misery, *
and covered us over with deep darkness.

If we have forgotten the Name of our God, *
or stretched out our hands to some strange god,

Will not God find it out? *
for he knows the secrets of the heart.

Indeed, for your sake we are killed all the day long; *
we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Awake, O Lord! why are you sleeping? *
Arise! do not reject us for ever.

Why have you hidden your face *
and forgotten our affliction and oppression?

We sink down into the dust; *
our body cleaves to the ground.

Rise up, and help us, *
and save us, for the sake of your steadfast love. (Psalm 44:17-26)

In this lament, two “generations” of the children of Israel have expressed their desire for God’s peace in the middle of difficulty and in the face of enemies.

The Jews, who had prayed the Psalms in worship for at least 1,000 years before the time of Christ, were joined in that song by the Christians who, some 2,000 years ago, retained the Psalms in their daily worship and taught them to Gentile converts who had begun to follow the Way.

It’s sobering to think that the Psalms have been sung, until this week, by Christians in Mosul for 1,700 of the last 2,000 years.

Abraham and his children for ever

Another of the songs that Christians sing in their evening worship is the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary (BCP 119).

In the Magnificat, Mary’s words echo those of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2. Both women look to God to “show the strength of his arm” and to “scatter the proud in their conceit.”

Luke’s Gospel (where the Magnificat comes from) and his Book of Acts are focused on the spread of the church throughout the world.

In his telling, Mary’s song broadens in scope from God lifting up the “lowly” and looks toward the glorious day when all will be free to worship God without fear, “Abraham and his children for ever.”

It is also sobering this week to realize that the children of Abraham — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — continue to pray for peace for themselves in difficulty but to live as enemies of each other.

Prayer for Mission

O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men and women everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 124)

Though we Christians pray “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” our prayer is that all men and women everywhere may love and serve the God and Father of all in peace.

All this has come upon us; may we all turn back to God.

Holy, good, and peaceful

That this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful,
We entreat you, O Lord. (BCP 122)

Today I am grateful.

I was fortunate to spend a couple of holy hours this morning with three people who are in a process of vocational discernment.

We reflected on the promises made by all Christians in the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304) and the promises made by those being ordained as bishops (BCP 518), priests (BCP 531), and deacons (BCP 543).

We also shared which qualities — from any or all of those promises — we see operating in each other’s lives. It was both affirming and eye-opening.

This afternoon, Lovely Wife and I have been reading and dozing on our patio, enjoying the sound of birdsong and the breezes through our Japanese garden. It’s been a good Sabbath afternoon.

And even though I’m not watching the news, I am mindful of the blessing of peace that we enjoy.

Pray for those “who go so heavily while the enemy oppresses [them]” (Psalm 42), and work to make God’s peace come alive for all.

In a besieged city

At Morning Prayer today (I was onboard an airplane, as usual) we read Psalm 31, one of the most poignant psalms of confidence in God in the face of difficulty.

Blessed be the Lord!
For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city (Psalm 31:21)

The news of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, of war in the Ukraine and the Middle East, makes the notion of a besieged city real — at least as far as we can imagine it from newspaper photos and headlines.

But where are those who are actually besieged — whose loved ones died in the crash, whose homes are being destroyed by war — where are they to find hope?

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Denise Levertov

Hope is not something that simply exists. Hope is something we create as we share our presence, our stories of falling and rising, with those who are struggling.

We build hope as we encourage one another — not only by listening but by acting. We must not only grieve, we must also work to eliminate the violence and greed that destroys people’s lives.

In our case, it is Christ — guest, brother, Word — who inspires us to serve and helps us bring hope into a besieged city.

Prayer for Mission

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

Lord, when was it?

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)

We citizens of the United States may certainly disagree on how the country should be managed, and how our tax dollars should be spent, and what priorities should be reflected in the national budget. Our country is organized in a way that encourages checks and balances, that requires at least some give and take, that assumes some compromise with other points of view.

Healthy debate is a strength of our country, and the freedom to disagree is an important right we should cherish.

Similarly, in the church, we do not always have to agree on how the church should be managed, how our tithes and offerings should be spent, what priorities should be reflected in the parish or diocesan budget. The Episcopal Church (to which I belong) is even organized at a national level along the same bicameral lines as the House and Senate. Our structure encourages debate, requires give and take, assumes some compromise with other points of view.

And yet.

There are some things that we as Christians simply must agree on, some things that are so clear that they really brook no argument.

Caring for the poor, the sick, the naked, the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the prisoner are right there at the top of the list.

Even speaking in a parable, Jesus’ point is crystal clear — we are to care for the poor because they are members of God’s family. Period. What we do for the poor we do for God. Period.

We are citizens of the United States, it’s true. But we are also (and first) members of God’s kingdom.

How caring for the poor should be managed, how our offerings and tax dollars should be spent, how that care is made a priority in our church’s budget and in the the national budget is open to debate and compromise.

That it must be a priority is clear, at least for us who are members of God’s kingdom.

Collect of the Day

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 231)