Category Archives: Bible

Continue in what you have learned

O God, you have taught me since I was young, *
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:14-18)

The Thursday morning Bible study group I belong to is reading Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, and today we discussed chapter 14, “Is the Bible Inspired?”

Hamilton starts with Paul’s reminder to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As the image on today’s blog suggests, I am one of those who “from childhood [has] known the sacred writings.”

Without going into too much detail, I really appreciate how Hamilton draws out the various meanings we attach to the notion of “inspiration.” The writers of Scripture are inspired, we readers find inspiration as we read, and the community’s traditions and teaching inspire us in certain ways (129-38).

He also gently teases apart how some notions read into the Scriptures something that really isn’t there — notions like the “verbal, plenary inspiration” and the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Hamilton disagrees with those who would suggest that “every word in scripture is equally inspired” (140-41).

Today’s Daily Office readings offer an object lesson in one of the stories about David from the tumultuous time just before he is made king of Israel.

David answered Rechab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when the one who told me, ‘See, Saul is dead,’ thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag — this was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house! And now shall I not require his blood at your hand, and destroy you from the earth?” So David commanded the young men, and they killed them; they cut off their hands and feet, and hung their bodies beside the pool at Hebron. But the head of Ishbaal they took and buried in the tomb of Abner at Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:9-12)

None of the details of the story specifically represent the will of God. None of them offers a command binding down to our time and place. None of them answers the question, “What, then, should we do?” (Luke 3:10).

Instead, they paint a picture of human ambition, ambivalence, power, cruelty, and sentimentality. These are the people through whom God will accomplish his purpose?

Reading this passage in the context of the Daily Office is also important, I think, because immediately after we read this lesson, we respond by saying Canticle 8 – The Song of Moses, which is appointed for Thursday mornings.

The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
….
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
with your might you brought them in safety to
your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
for ever and for ever. (BCP 85)

The juxtaposition between these two passages of Scripture further accentuates the difference between David’s political power and cruelty and God’s saving power and constant love.

The Lord has become my savior,” we remind ourselves, not David the king. God will bring us in and plant us, not any human leader or authority.

Reading the Scriptures in the context of the Daily Office is one way to remember “what [we] have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom [we] learned it.”

That is, allowing the tradition of the community to speak is part of the process of inspiration that we trust is at work. The practice of engaging with the Scriptures in the context of prayer will bear fruit over time if we, like those who came before us, “continue in what we have learned.”

A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Transformed by the renewing of our minds | Sermon for June 28, 2015

I subscribe to the daily emails sent by the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr, who said once at a lecture at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena that:

Religion distinguishes between education and transformation. They’re not the same thing! You can be educated and not transformed, and you can be uneducated and profoundly transformed.

But the apostle Paul blends the two in his letter to the Romans, where he writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Education and transformation go together in the program called Education for Ministry, or EfM, which Joanne and Barb invited me to talk about today here at St. Luke’s.

EFM as education

Students in EfM really are students. They read textbooks chosen by staff at the Beecken Center of the School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee (one of the 11 historic Episcopal seminaries).

EfM was created 40 years ago as a “four-year distance learning certificate program of theological education,” and students will testify that they learn a lot.

EfM students in Year One listening to today’s Gospel might be thinking about the Old Testament’s (excuse me, the Hebrew Bible’s) ritual purity laws.

John Petty of ProgressiveInvolvement.com writes that:

Mark does not explicitly mention violations of the ‘purity code,’ but there are two of them in this reading. First, the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus, rendering him unclean. Second, Jesus touched the dead young woman, which also would have rendered him unclean.

EfM students in Year Two might be thinking about the New Testament and how to interpret documents written in Greek nearly 2,000 years ago.

Mark Davis, on his blog Left Behind and Loving It, translates the Greek of each week’s Gospel reading directly and comments on the problems or insights he discovers.

Mark the Gospel writer’s prose is urgent and breathless anyway, but this passage takes the cake:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for 12 years and having suffered much by many physicians and having spent all that she had and not having benefitted but having gone from bad to the worse having heard about Jesus having gone into the crowd she grabbed his garment from behind.

Davis goes on to say, “She is as defined by her determination as by her suffering. That is the value of respecting Mark’s string of participles and being patient for the main verb. After all that she suffered and did, she grabbed his garment.”

EfM students in Year Three might be thinking about how the political maneuverings and bloody wars of 3,000 years of church history are seemingly unrelated to today’s Gospel.

As one student in my group observes nearly every week, “The church history author hardly mentions Jesus at all!”

The church history we read is really the history of 3,000 years of religious change.

The last couple of weeks have seen momentous changes, with the events in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the ACA and marriage equality, with President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Episcopal Church’s election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, another African-American preacher, as our 27th Presiding Bishop.

And yet we realize that the past is prologue, that history repeats itself, that even today girls in Zimbabwe, Kenya, or Haiti who have reached the age of menstruation often have to miss school because their period is seen as shameful. Girls in Bangladesh and India suffer infections for lack of clean supplies.

As for their hopes of an education or independence, they might as well be dead — like the synagogue leader’s unnamed daughter.

And EfM students in Year Four will have been reading stories and academic analyses about how people in different cultures read the Gospel differently, about how men and women read the Gospel differently, about how the powerful and powerless read the Gospel differently.

Deborah Blanks, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University, writes for the African-American Lectionary.org:

[Jesus’] message is clear – that the unnamed woman is of no less importance than the ill daughter of a person of power. She becomes a perpetual reminder that the socially marginal have a conspicuous place in the realization of God’s reign.

EfM might help us learn a lot that enriches our appreciation of the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop there.

EFM as reflection

We don’t simply gaze in admiration at all of the pictures our teachers have painted.

Instead, we deliberately – in a process called theological reflection – look more closely at the pictures, entering into the emotions and dilemmas and questions they depict.

In our “TRs” (as we call them) we seek a glimpse of how God is acting in our lives and share with each other our transformed understanding.

If we were doing a theological reflection on efficiency, for example, we might picture Jesus as a paramedic and look closely at his presence in this chaotic and emotional scene.

Peter Woods, on his blog The Listening Hermit, writes an entry called “Jesus has no time for triage”.

With all the drama of a novel rushing to its climax, Mark inserts the older hopeless woman into the story of Jesus’ mission to heal the just girl. The old bleeding woman is an interruption and an energy thief to boot! Yet, as the story unfolds both are healed. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless. There is enough time, power, compassion, and grace to go round so that no one needs be written off.

Or, if we were doing a theological reflection on vulnerability, we might remember that the woman is ritually impure, shunned because of her bleeding; the child is unclean (and her father prostrate with grief) because she is dead. We might see ourselves in the portrait before us.

David Lose of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia writes on the blog Dear Working Preacher:

We tend in our culture to avoid vulnerability – to avoid admitting that we don’t have it all together – because of the way it can leave you feeling exposed, desperate and, well, vulnerable. And there is something of that in these stories. But we’ve also seen that only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently.

Being transformed for ministry

Jesus’ presence in the whirlwind encounters with the woman and the child transformed them. The child was brought back to life, and the woman was brought back into life.

Jesus transformed and encouraged them both.

He encouraged Mark and the other disciples to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and the world keeps turning upside down.

Having “the courage to be and to act differently” – that’s what it means to be transformed by Jesus.

Admitting our vulnerability – admitting that we don’t have it all together – and receiving help, that’s the renewing of our minds in Jesus that helps us to “discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Transformation is for all of us. Reflection is for all of us. Education is for all of us.

Shameless plug: Education for Ministry is for all of us.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – that’s for all of us.

Amen.

[Sermon preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.]

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations

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 for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Bible as Canon

The Bible as canon, according to John Dally of Bexley Seabury, provides a narrative arc offering salvation by helping us understand our place in the universe.

My notes from the first of three sessions of Fr. Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” are reproduced below.

The canonical story is organized into four parts: the creation of the world, the creation of Israel, the creation of the Church, and the end of the world.

The story begins in perfection, moves through imperfection, and ends in perfection.

Creation of the World

The creation of the world is characterized by intimacy, purpose, and naming.

The Lord God formed human beings and breathed life into us, invited us to name every other living creature, and walked in the garden with us at the time of the evening breeze (Gen. 3:8).

However, sin enters the story when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were under the illusion of need, the illusion that the garden and the intimacy and the purpose were not enough.

Humankind is “cursed” by having to leave the garden and earn the knowledge that we stole.

Creation of Israel

Following the catastrophe of the Exile into Babylon, the people of Israel looked back over their history and came to understand their origins in the Exodus from Egypt.

During the Exodus, God freed the Hebrews from slavery and made them a chosen people in special relationship with him. God gave them the Law to guide them in that relationship.

Over time, the people of Israel came to desire a kingdom and anointed first Saul, then David, then Solomon as their kings.

The Temple — built eventually by King Solomon — grew in importance as evidence of God’s presence and as the focus of religious practice.

The simple relationship of covenant with God was not enough. Israel labored under the illusion of need and created a Kingdom and a Temple.

Creation of the Church

Jesus came in opposition to both the Temple and the Kingdom, and the catastrophe of the Cross revealed the depth of their violence.

Jesus spoke of living in direct relationship with God, praying in secret (intimacy with God), and giving away the knowledge that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The Temple fails to bring knowledge of God, and its hierarchy exploits the poor. Likewise, the Kingdom of the world (in Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire) rules through military might and exploitative power.

As the Church becomes linked with the Roman Empire under Constantine, Temple and Kingdom become one. The Church continues to obscure the believer’s direct relationship with God and to exploit the poor.

End of the World

The story begins in a garden, but it ends in a city.

The Kingdom and the Temple (which were never God’s idea) are taken up into “the holy city, the new Jerusalem,” but John says that “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

In the center of the city are the river and the tree of life, just like in the garden … only this time, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The perfect creation of the Garden is restored to perfection in the City, and humans are reconciled to God.

“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.”

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NT Wright on Scripture in worship | A big, exciting room we come in and inhabit

I couldn’t possibly agree more with N.T. Wright’s comments in this five-minute video on Scripture in worship from Glenn Packiam’s Mystery of Faith Blog.

With attention to what we are doing, we are fortunate in our “gentle Anglican liturgy”  — in the morning and evening offices and in the Holy Eucharist — “to inhabit the world of Scripture” just as Wright describes:

What one is doing is turning Scripture into a world where you come in and live, a big exciting room that you come in and inhabit.

Wright gently bemoans how the public reading of Scripture is too often sidelined in worship. He even describes being invited to preach at a “modern-style” service and at the last minute being asked, “Would you like a Scripture reading?”

The public reading of Scripture is itself the primary act of worship. It is not conveying information to the congregation; it’ll do that as well, but it does that as the byproduct … of celebrating the mighty acts of God.

And so what do we do in this “big exciting room that you come in and inhabit”?

When you have built this great house of praise and worship, which is the scriptural story surrounded with the psalms and the prayers of the people of God, then you turn it into intercession, because you’re now living in a room where intercession makes sense.

I’m reminded here of what the founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, says about praying for others:

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.

In the first half of the video, Wright has actually been describing the Daily Office, a point that I think might have been lost on his listeners, because he then goes on to clarify that the same thing is happening in the Eucharist.

I am grateful to Packiam and his colleagues for sharing this short glimpse of Wright’s deep, lifelong meditation on Scripture.

However, I find Packiam’s comment as he introduces the clip so poignant:

It is precisely because Prof. Wright is an ‘outsider’ to our modern worship world that his thoughts may be helpful. He may see things we miss. What he chose to address was the absence of Scripture in worship.

Here as elsewhere in his books and videos, I think N.T. Wright is explaining historic Christian worship from the “inside,” especially when he calls it “an act of humility, a way of saying ‘I’m not making this up as I go along.’ It’s a gift from the whole worldwide church, and I inhabit it gratefully.”

The public reading of Scripture — and especially the pattern we have inherited in the Daily Office — is a gift from the worldwide church, indeed, and I inhabit it gratefully. I hope you do, too.

More like a literary festival, really

A nearby church posted this message on their sign last week.

Seems to me that the presence they describe would be less of an author signing and more like a literary festival, really.

Point/Counterpoint

The Priestly editor and the Deuteronomic editor will discuss their project to finally get the early history of God’s people (now available in a five-volume set called The Pentateuch) in order after their return from exile. They share stories of their uneasy collaboration and editorial disagreements with flashes of humor.

Israel Did What Was Wrong

They will be joined by their colleague the Deuteronomic Historian, who will discuss the ups and downs of Israel’s relationship with neighboring cultures. All six volumes are now available in paperback: Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings.

Protest singer, he’s singin’ a protest song

The Major Prophets Ezekiel and Daniel (feat. The Three Isaiahs) will headline a panel discussion and karaoke session entitled “The Suffering Servant: Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Burnin’ While the Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Jeremiah requests lamentations only at karaoke.

The minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos (“I hate, I despise your festivals”), Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, disgusted by the commercialism and frivolity of the event, will appear outside the festival grounds in a dramatic reenactment of Israel’s harlotry (NSFW).

Rebuilding the Walls

Ezra and Nehemiah, with special guest the Chronicler, will describe the monumental task of rebuilding that faced the exiles upon their return from Babylon.

I Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Sing

The Psalmist (“Call me David”) will talk about the challenge of writing church music about both the love of God and human frustration with pain and suffering.

50 Shades of Grey

The couple featured in the Song of Songs (rated M for Mature Content) will share their honeymoon photos and videos. 18+ only, please.

Pithy Sayings

Don’t forget to follow the “men of Hezekiah,” who will share their images and uplifting quotes from the Proverbs of Solomon on both Instagram and Facebook throughout the festival.

We’re From the Philosophy Department

Landowner Job will join Qoheleth, Ecclesiastical Professor of Philosophy, and give his first-person account of losing everything and finding God. Prof. Q, lyricist for the Byrds (“To everything, turn, turn, turn”) will offer reflections on the vanity of striving.

A reception will follow — everyone’s invited to eat, drink, and be merry!

Storytellers’ Hour

Don’t miss Jonah and his tragicomic “Fish Tales of Nineveh.”

Esther will tell the story of how Purim came to be such a great party (spoiler alert: Haman gets it in the end), and Ruth is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face with “How to Win a Man and Get Along Great With Your Ex-Mother-in-Law.”

Remainders

The Maccabees will thrill audiences of all ages with their stories of hardship and courage during the war over the Temple. Free menorahs and dreidels to the first 100 kids.

Ben Sirach and his fellow Wisdom writer “Anonymous” will read from their books, accompanied by Ben Sidran and his fellow jazz pianists (set list TBD).

From the Good News Department

Writers Matthew and Mark are joined by Dr. Luke (whose two-volume history is now available in audiobook form) to share their perspectives on Jesus and to discuss similarities and differences in their work.

Here’s Your Sign

Gospel writer John will discuss his approach to the life of Jesus and talk about the “signs” he weaves throughout his account.

Free wine tasting.

 My Baby, He Wrote Me a Letter

Megastar author Paul (“I Don’t Want to Boast”) of Tarsus will talk about the churches he founded and the leading apostles who owe everything to him, if he does say so himself.

Several other minor litterati will join Paul each day of the festival. Check the schedule for appearances by James, Peter, and John.

Coffee Talk

He brews. Get it? Hebrews!

Seriously, join the author over coffee to ask your questions about “this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.”

Leaving Laodicea

Join John of Patmos as he describes the mystical visions he saw while vacationing on Patmos. “Hunter J. Thompson’s got nothin’ on me!” exclaims the author of the final book to be featured in our festival.

Day by day I will fulfill my vows

So will I always sing the praise of your Name,
and day by day I will fulfill my vows. (Psalm 61:8)

Nineteen years ago today, I was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. About four years before that, however, I really became serious about reading the Bible.

Like most cradle Episcopalians, I grew up in the church hearing Scripture read Sunday by Sunday. I was in Sunday School every week. No choice, really, since my father was the parish priest.

I was six when I started serving as an acolyte, and I was 12 when I first read a lesson in church — the story of Creation (Genesis 1:1 — 2:2) at the Great Vigil of Easter.

I knew from an early age that I would eventually be ordained to serve the Church.

After I married my Lovely Wife in 1989, we attended her Seventh-Day Adventist church on Saturdays with her mother and sang in the choir of my Episcopal church on Sundays. Among the Seventh-Day Adventists I was confronted with the truth that though as an Episcopalian I was familiar with the Bible, I really did not know my way around it at all. I had heard it all my life, but had never really read it.

By 1992 I was in the discernment process that leads to ordination, about a year from beginning Deacons’ School, and that lack of knowledge of the Bible troubled me.

So I resolved to begin reading the Bible in a more disciplined way. The first thing I did to jump-start the project was to read the whole Bible in a year, and two books helped me do that.

The first was Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook, which includes a plan for reading the books of the Old and New Testament in an order that makes sense of the Scriptural story rather than just beginning “in the beginning.” Though Blair’s book is long out of print, I have found inexpensive copies on Amazon over the years (since I keep loaning mine out and having to replace it!).

The second was the Revised English Bible, the translation recommended by the Book-of-the-Month Club for its readability. The fresh English translation (at least it was fresh more than 20 years ago) makes reading the Bible feel like reading a novel — the stories feel less stilted and reading flows more naturally.

However, the most important Bible reading resource I ever found is The Prayer Book Office by Howard Galley. Sadly, this introduction to the Episcopal Church’s Morning and Evening Prayer is also out of print. Copies are hard to find and precious.

The primary way Anglicans and Episcopalians read Scripture is in the context of our worship. We organize Scripture readings not only for our Sunday services of the Holy Eucharist, but also for the prayer book services of daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The tables of readings that we organize for Sundays and for weekdays are called lectionaries. In the Book of Common Prayer you will find the Sunday lectionary starting on page 888 and the Daily Office lectionary on page 934.

After I had read the Bible through in a year, it was the Daily Office that proved to be the mainspring of my spiritual practice.

In the Daily Office lectionary, we read through the bulk of the Old Testament once every two years, the New Testament every year, and the Psalms every seven weeks.

That means in the 22 years or so since I began praying Morning and Evening Prayer regularly, I’ve read through the Old Testament at least 11 times, the New Testament 22 times, and the whole Psalter more than 165 times.

And that doesn’t count all the Bible reading I did for three years in Deacons’ School, or every Sunday since then in church, or for four years now as an Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor rereading the Old and New Testaments with my students each year.

This is honestly not about boasting (as St. Paul might say), but about beginning.

The rector of the parish where I now serve as deacon, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, reminded us last Sunday that you can read the Bible in a year anytime. If you missed starting on New Year’s Day, you can start now, and when February 2 of next year rolls around, it will have been a year!

I simply urge you to read the Bible as much as you can. Perhaps you’ll follow a one-year plan like the Bible Challenge, perhaps your favorite translation is the New International Version or The Message, perhaps you’re not Episcopalian but your denomination also has a lectionary you can follow.

Whatever else may be going on in your life, begin.

Start reading the Bible. Day by day, let the Scriptures work in you. Week by week, make Bible reading part of the rhythm of your life. Year by year, let the Scriptures teach you what it means for you to sing the praise of God’s Name and to fulfill your vows.

+ + + + +

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.