Tag Archives: 2 Corinthians

Through the Red Door | Clothed with joy

My post entitled “Clothed with joy” was featured yesterday on Through the Red Door, the blog of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church.

Some of the material comes from reflections on this blog, but I appreciated the opportunity once again to draw a connection between common recovery practices like Steps 10 and 11 and the ancient wisdom of the Church in those areas.

“One day at a time,” says Alcoholics Anonymous. “Daily we begin again,” say the Benedictines.

I am grateful for the Daily Office as a framework for living each day, and for the recovery community which has revitalized my spiritual life.

Longing to be clothed

You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:12)

I carry on my person everywhere I go two talismans of my recovery. 

The first is a medallion celebrating my first year of sobriety. 

  
The second is a bracelet — the last thing I bought without telling my wife — that helps me remember I don’t need to spend money when I am feeling “restless, irritable, and discontented.”

  
But what recovery really looks like for me is the Pendleton shirt I’m wearing in this picture with my grandson. 

  
After I lost my job, I was at home a lot more often. I would usually wear jeans and a turtleneck and my favorite plaid shirt. 

I remember sitting on the couch one evening thinking, “I really like this shirt; I should buy another one.”

It took only a few seconds for my new inner voice to respond. “Don’t be an idiot. This is a Pendleton shirt, and it will last forever. You won’t outlive this shirt; you don’t need to buy another one.”

Paul writes that:

We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day …. in this tent we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed” (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:4). 

Even though God is working in us to renew our inner nature, we may need reminders of that hidden process from time to time. 

How often? 

“One day at a time,” says AA. “Daily we begin again,” say the Benedictines. 

Even though we “wish not to be unclothed,” we may have to spend time being uncomfortably open and vulnerable — honestly sitting with our restlessness and our “stinking thinking” — before we can experience a new kind of peace and serenity.

Being content, being at peace, being calm — these are what it means to be “clothed with joy.”

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (BCP 102)

That they might lovely be

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Over on Twitter this morning, Charles Hawkins (@Parish_Parson) shared an article by Rowan Williams on Augustine and the Psalms. It’s a typically dense read, but well worth attempting on this feast day.

Williams says that “the psalms represent the unifying of the divine and the human voice in Christ.”

What is distinctive about any hermeneutic of the Psalms is that singing them is quite simply and literally an appropriation of Christ’s life, in history and eternity. And, from this act of appropriation, the church as a whole is revealed as the community where humanity is allowed full scope to say what it is, in terms of its failure and pain, so that it may fully become what it is created to be, the multiple echo of the Word’s response to the Father. “Do not hear anything spoken in the person of Christ as if it had nothing to do with you who are members of the Body of Christ” (Enarrat. Ps. 143.1).

He goes on to say that “the singing of the psalms becomes the most immediate routine means of identifying with the voice of Christ. And that identification carries implications for the kind of mutual relation that concretely defines the life of the church.”

What we try to do in the Daily Office as we sing or recite the psalms morning and evening, day after day, is to more and more become the Body of Christ, in which one member cannot say to the other “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12).

The more there is love, the more suffering at the lovelessness of others in the church (Enarrat. Ps. 98.13, referring to Paul in 2 Cor 11). But such love is precisely what we have to offer the loveless within the Body; thus the cost must be borne.

Here Williams’ words call to mind the hymn by Samuel Crossman:

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.

This love which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13) is precisely the bond of our unity as the Body of Christ, the unity we pray for in the Collect appointed for this week:

Grant, O merciful God, that your people, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 232)

The Grace

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Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Cor. 13:11-13)

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At the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer, we have a choice of several concluding sentences. In the economy of the Prayer Book, the first option printed is usually preferred (as when the rubrics say “stand or kneel” they are suggesting we “stand”).

So the most familiar closing words of the Daily Office are these: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.”

Sound familiar?

What I find so intriguing is that we end our daily worship not with a pious proclamation of our goodness, but with the same appeal for unity that Paul prayed for the fractious church in Corinth. It’s as if we should sigh like he probably did: “Oh, for God’s sake, be gracious like Jesus, and share the love of God, and get along in the Spirit, wouldya?”

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Bonus trivia points: Who else noticed that in the NRSV Bible the last verse of 2 Corinthians is 13:13, but in the Book of Common Prayer, the closing sentence is noted as “2 Corinthians 13:14” (BCP 102)? Turns out the KJV Bible numbers the last verse as 14. I’ll have to dig a little and see if I can find out why the NRSV only goes to 13.

And before you send your cards and letters, folks, remember that verse numbers are artificial constructs not present in the biblical manuscripts. But still, it’s a little puzzle.

 

They gave me vinegar to drink

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They gave me gall to eat;
and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink. (Ps. 69:23)

Sometimes I wonder at the Church’s obsession for getting the society around us to do what we want. We spend a lot of energy trying to get laws passed that guarantee our rights, that grant us certain privileges, that impose our ideals on others.

We don’t get that impulse from Jesus, whose words and actions led to his arrest, scourging, and crucifixion.

We don’t get it from Paul (much), since he positively glories in the hardships he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for you,” he writes in his second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 12:15).

In Canticle 10, appointed for this morning, we sing about God’s word, whom we would name Jesus:

So is my word which goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty.
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it. (BCP 87)

God’s purposes are accomplished precisely in the gall and vinegar, precisely in Jesus’ faithfulness to the way of the cross.

Why do we think it will be different for us? Why do we think in terms of legislating behavior instead of demonstrating faithfulness?

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 our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

 

First fruits and offerings

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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. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. (Deut. 26:8-10)

Tithes and offerings are two different things.

The tithe, or “tenth,” is the giving of one’s first fruits back to God in gratitude. It is an objective giving — that is to say, tithing is meant to be done deliberately and first. Some people make their tithe the first check they write each month. Others set up an automatic payment. In either case, tithing is a deliberate, routine practice.

Offerings, on the other hand, are more subjective. Paul spends a fair amount of time in his letters talking about the offering he is taking up for the benefit of the church in Jerusalem, and we will read one such appeal tomorrow:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:7-8)

Offerings are free gifts, given generously as specific needs arise, and given out of our abundance.

Like most Americans, I’m pretty good at offerings. I’m ready to contribute when asked, whether it’s through a neighbor’s foundation or through Episcopal Relief and Development, or by donating to Goodwill or spending time to help with a fundraising event. When asked, I tend to rise to the occasion, and I think most people do, too.

Where I do not do well at all is in tithing — the objective offering of my money to God.

I have only tithed for brief periods in my life, and while I can easily offer the first fruits of my time (rising early for the last 20 years to say Morning Prayer, for example), I struggle to make the same routine offering of my money.

Let the lessons today sit with you as you think about your own relationship with money and with God.

How do you make routine giving a habit? How do you respond with offerings for specific needs? How might God’s generosity draw from your abundance in a new way?

Our heart is wide open to you

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All glorious is the princess as she enters;
her gown is cloth-of-gold.

In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king;
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.

With joy and gladness they are brought,
and enter into the palace of the king.
(Psalm 45:14-16)

It’s a little hard to place ourselves in this picture.

To the Psalmist, we are the singer describing the scene at a royal wedding. To the Deuteronomist, we are God’s chosen people, set apart and soon to worship in a Temple in our own land.

To Paul, we are that Temple ourselves:

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people”
(2 Cor. 6:16)

The Church has also understood itself to be the bride in mystic union with Christ the Bridegroom.

Open your heart wide today to these images of glory and beauty and worship and relationship. What is your place in this picture?