Monthly Archives: November 2014

Not “Black” but “Good”

I have said to the LORD, “You are my God; *
listen, O LORD, to my supplication.
O Lord GOD, the strength of my salvation, *
you have covered my head in the day of battle. (Psalm 140:6-7)

Days of Special Devotion

“Good Friday, and all Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons …” are days of special devotion for Christians, according to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 17).

Fridays, which Christians have observed as fast days since about 60 AD, are to be observed with “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

For generations of Roman Catholics this has meant not eating meat on Fridays, for example. Here in Wisconsin, we all enjoy “Fish Fry Fridays” because so many of our neighbors do not eat meat when they go out for dinner.

Fridays for Christians are about doing without, sacrificing even a little something in imitation of our Lord, who sacrificed everything for our sake.

Blessed is the King

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he heads toward his final confrontation with the religious authorities.

We commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life each year during Holy Week, and we often reenact this scene as we process into church on Palm Sunday, carrying palm, branches and singing “All glory, laud, and honor / to thee, redeemer King.”

Three of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — tell the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the courts of the Temple, a deliberately provocative act as the feast of Passover approaches that effectively sets him on “the way of the cross.”

Throughout the rest of Holy Week the tension mounts as Jesus says farewell to his disciples, prays that he be spared from the trial, determines to do God’s will, and faces arrest, beatings, and denunciations from soldiers and from the crowd that was with him just days before.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he replies in response to Pilate’s questioning. The Roman governor can do nothing but send him off to be crucified.

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

Not “Black” but “Good”

The prayers in the Daily Office remind us that every Friday is for us a commemoration of that “Good” Friday, just as every Saturday we rest and remember God’s goodness in creation, and every Sunday we rejoice in the power of the resurrection.

Though that Friday was a dark and terrible day, we call it “Good” because in it we see the first act in a three-day drama of salvation.

Every Friday — this Friday after Thanksgiving Day just like all the rest — the Church invites us to live a cross-shaped life, imitating our Lord, “who stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that the whole world might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace” (BCP 101).

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

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Food for the last and the least

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:39)

First fruits

The Morning Prayer reading from the book of Deuteronomy on this Thanksgiving Day is set off with italics in my Bible: First Fruits and Tithes.

The people of Israel are grateful for their physical deliverance from slavery in Egypt. “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders, and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:8-9).

In their gratitude, they are to give the first fruits of the land as an offering to God. But the story doesn’t end with their gratitude and offering; it also includes those who might easily be overlooked.

Their offering will be shared, the people with produce and food “giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns” (Deut. 26:12).

Anyone who comes

The people following Jesus don’t realize that what he is offering goes beyond bread, goes even beyond the manna that the children of Israel ate in the desert.

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).

“I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Sounds like he’s still talking about a physical deliverance.

But he goes on to talk about the will of the Father, and to hint at a much larger purpose.

“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 26:37-38).

Just like the first fruits and tithes were not only gifts and offerings to God, but also served as food for the last and least, so Jesus is bringing not just salvation for the chosen, but also for the despised and overlooked.

“Anyone who comes to me” — insider or outcast, Jew or Gentile, resident or alien, soldier or prisoner, family man or widow, mother or orphan — anyone and everyone is invited to share the feast.

Our “worthy service” is to extend the same invitation that Jesus extends. Anyone may come; everyone is to eat their fill.

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham,Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his Name. (BCP 372)

For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

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)

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Being remembered

The server I mentioned in this post from last September recognized me in the Delta SkyClub again tonight.

“Are you a pastor? You’ve been here before, about a year ago.”

And as it happens, the Scripture passage I was reading that night, James 5, came up again in the lectionary yesterday.

“I have a memory for faces,” Angela said.

Thank you, Angela, for remembering me.