Tag Archives: Hebrews

Enough, and more than enough

Today is, so to speak, a “patronal feast” of this blog, since this is one of three times in the two-year Daily Office lectionary that Hebrews 6:19 is read.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

That verse, however, is only one part of the origin story of the “Daily Office Anchor Society.”

The name was first used as a tongue-in-cheek description following a retreat for newly-ordained GenX clergy held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin many (increasingly many) years ago.

At one point in the weekend we all realized that each of us had received at our ordinations a copy of the leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book along with the well-meaning expectation that of course “you’ll be saying the Offices every day now.”

Dave Walker’s “Cartoon Church” from the Church Times paints a pretty good picture of what we were up against.

That expectation of piety, coupled with virtually no exposure to the Offices (how often does *your* church have Evensong, huh?), we all experienced as an anchor dragging us down.

Being a card-carrying member of the “Daily Office Anchor Society” was not really a good thing.

The leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book, displayed on our shelves but rarely used, became a visible symbol of our failure to meet expectations — other people’s expectations, the Church’s expectations, and our own.

Daily Office Book

These days, nearly 20 years later, I no longer feel that the Daily Office represents a weight of expectation, a letter of law or institutional requirement against which I am judged.

Praying the Daily Office is instead a portable practice (I use a leather-bound BCP and Bible, but you could use the Forward Day by Day app on your iPhone) that allows me to participate in the Church’s ceaseless prayer and to “travel light” like the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out in today’s Gospel passage.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:1-6)

There is a sense of lightness, I think, that is the fruit of time spent in Jesus’ presence.

The seventy found, even though they had no supplies (no buildings, no tools, none of the stuff we usually haul around with us), that their relationship with Jesus was enough — and more than enough.

It’s this sense of lightness, I think, that the recent Memorial to the Church seeks to recall us to.

The Episcopal Church has enough, and more than enough, if it accepts the call:

To recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines [Daily Office, Eucharist, etc.] at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.

The seventy returned to Jesus with joy, exclaiming over the power they had been able to tap into. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

I have found in my own life, through experiences of loss and grace and through practices of recovery that build hope — what Richard Rohr calls the “coded Gospel” — that my relationship with Jesus is enough.

The Daily Office, for me, is the way I spend time in Jesus’ presence most mornings so that for the rest of the day I can travel lightly into my neighborhood and hold lightly my expectations about what success looks like.

In this way, the Office serves me as a “sure and steadfast anchor” connecting me to Jesus, who is my hope.

How do you stay connected to Jesus? What builds hope in your life? What helps you to set aside expectations and find that you have enough, and more than enough?

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Kings and priests and friends | Sermon for Good Friday

Kings

Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant,

Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. (Isaiah 52:15)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master” (John 13:16). Consider some of the servants of the king – the Roman emperor and the imperial government – in this Passion Gospel:

  • The detachment of soldiers – who coordinated with the Temple police in a tactical raid to arrest Jesus
  • Pilate – the governor of Judea, who bowed to political pressure and for expediency released a convicted killer and sentenced an innocent man to death
  • The soldiers at the headquarters – who beat and taunted and humiliated an innocent man, parading him around in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns
  • The emperor himself – whose hold on power depended on brutal, efficient force and military might
  • The soldiers at the cross – who shared their sour wine with Jesus and who did not break his legs to hasten his cruel death, because he was dead already.

“Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see.”

Priests

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach …. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1, 11)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.” Consider some of the servants of the Temple hierarchy in this Passion Gospel:

  • The police from the chief priests – who came with lanterns and torches and weapons (and a SWAT team of Roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus; who bound him and took him to …
  • Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas – who questioned Jesus, who had his police strike him for blasphemy, who had him bound as though he were dangerous.
  • Caiaphas, the high priest – who “advised that it was better to have one person die for the people.”
  • The chief priests – who complained “Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said ‘I am King of the Jews.’” and who shouted to Pilate “We have no king but the emperor!”

Kings and priests, priests and kings …. upholding the law, administering the law, enforcing the rule of law, executing the sentences of the law.

“[The law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.”

Friends

Kings and priests …. and friends.

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.”

But Jesus went on to say more, after he had shared a meal with us, after he had washed our feet as an example, and after his betrayer had gone out from among us.

“I do not call you servants any longer, for servants do not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Br. David Vryhof writes in the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s online meditation today that:

We are invited to take our stand at the foot of the Cross, joining the small company of Jesus’ friends who are already gathered there. We stand there together, under a dark and threatening sky, to witness the suffering of our Savior, to be with him in his hour of immense pain and desperate need.

Consider the small company of Jesus’ friends:

  • Peter – whose early-morning bluster and swordplay in the garden earned him a silent rebuke from Jesus, who was undone by a servant girl’s questions, who denied his friend before the sun even came up, but whose confession would become the rock on which Christ would build his Church.
  • Mary – who with her sister and two other Marys stood at the foot of the cross, all of them pierced through the heart for the son and master they had loved, but whose faithfulness meant they would be first witnesses to his resurrection.
  • The disciple Jesus loved – who could not only bear witness, but who could bear up his friend’s mother in her grief, laying her head on his breast just as he laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the table last night.
  • Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who had much to fear from the chief priests and the council, but who stayed firm in their resolve to do their part.

“Kings shall shut their mouths at him,” for his gentle power undoes their shows of force, and “priests by their sacrifices can never take away sins,” for their law of might betrays their true allegiance.

But let us – the small company of Jesus’ friends, the Master’s friends – “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Hope

Sure and Steadfast Anchor

 

I’m being interviewed this morning by the local newspaper on the subject of Advent and the theme of “hope.”

The title of this blog comes from Hebrews 6:19 — “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Our hope, of course, is Christ.

In the season of Advent, particularly, we focus on the hope of the resurrection and look forward to the coming kingdom of God.

More generally, though, I think hope springs from knowing you’re not alone, from receiving help given by those who have been through difficulty, and from sharing what has helped you with other people.

I’ll talk with the reporter today about my parish, about local nonprofit organizations I work with and support, about recovery groups, and about other places where people find (and give) hope.

Where do you find hope? Where do you give hope to others?

 

 

Bound by the vow I made

Rothko grey blue

I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God;
I will present to you thank offerings.

For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of the living. (Ps. 56:11-12)

The discussion in my Education for Ministry (EfM) group yesterday centered on two topics — rehearsing the stories of our faith and shaping our lives with practices that distinguish us from the society around us.

Those who are reading in Year One of EfM had read Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which recount and reflect on the return of the Jews from the exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple. While in exile, the Jews focused on the Torah, circumcision, and the Sabbath as practices that distinguished them from the society around them.

Those in Year Two had read the Letter to the Hebrews, which is an extended theological argument, as much a sermon as anything else, recounting Christ’s divinity and his humanity. The EfM commentary notes:

The recipients [of the letter] needed it to help them understand, but even more to help them endure, to remain steadfast in the hope that God had given them through Christ. This letter reminds us that, although we are not likely to suffer for our faith, we do need to remain faithful in a world that seems to be increasingly uninterested in or even hostile to the Christian faith.

How are you strengthened by hearing the stories of your faith? What practices help you claim your identity as a Christian distinct from the society around you?

A sure and steadfast anchor

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Three times in the two-year cycle of Daily Office readings we get the chance to celebrate the “patronal feast,” so to speak, of the Daily Office Anchor Society.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19).

The other readings assigned for today give us a sense of the particular flavor of the Christian hope.

Ezekiel is prophesying against Israel, speaking God’s word of wrath against the wayward people. “According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. And they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 7:27). God is mighty and holy, and we are prone to fall away into sin and forget how we have been blessed.

Canticle 13, suggested for Tuesday mornings, is a song of praise, but it underscores God’s remoteness as we sing of God “seated between the Cherubim … in the high vault of heaven” (BCP 90).

In the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, however, we see Jesus, our great high priest, bridging the gap between us and God. For “we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19-20).

No longer are we distant from the mighty and holy God, who in “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). No longer can anything separate us from the love of God, for now God’s only Son intercedes for us. Jesus, having ascended into heaven, takes our humanity — takes us — with him into the inner shrine, into the presence of God. We now live for all time in the heart of God.

That intimate and enduring union with God is ours through Jesus, the “forerunner on our behalf,” and this particularly Christian hope is indeed a “sure and steadfast anchor” for our souls.

Hasten the coming of your kingdom

kingdom-of-heaven2

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Morning Prayer on Thursdays has a baptismal flavor.

After the Old Testament reading on Thursdays, we say or sing Canticle 8: The Song of Moses, in which we praise God for saving the people of Israel at the Red Sea. For Christians, the Exodus story is especially linked with the Easter Vigil and baptism.

At the Vigil, we retell the Exodus story and make it our own, singing in the Exsultet that “this is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell.” The Easter Vigil has been, since the earliest days of the church, the time when new Christians are baptized.

The Prayer for Mission above reflects that same baptismal emphasis. It is our prayer that everyone will come through the waters of salvation, that everyone will enjoy new life, that everyone will be filled with God’s spirit, that God’s kingdom, already here in part, will become fully realized.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes the kingdom as “sabbath rest” in the passage appointed for today. He suggests that the way is still open for us to enter into God’s rest, to enjoy life and peace in the kingdom of God.

He writes, quoting Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7). Every day we begin Morning Prayer with that same sense of urgency.

Come on in, the water is fine! Bring your friends, too! Don’t wait — jump on in!

God hates nothing God has made

Pinned Insects

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 217)

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Since late last year, following a serious lack of judgment at a company event, I have been on a disciplinary plan at work and have been seeing a counselor through our Employee Assistance Program.

Having my failings made visible is really uncomfortable — the first image that comes to my mind is an insect pinned to a board — but the process of dealing with the issues openly and with help from other people has led to some long-overdue changes in my life.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of discipline in the reading appointed for today.

Endure trials for the sake of discipline … [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems unpleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7, 10-11).

On Ash Wednesday, we rehearse the heart of the Christian message about sin and forgiveness.

God hates nothing God has made, even though we fall short of the mark again and again.

When we confess our sins and get them out in the open, when we allow others to help us deal with our failings, we open ourselves up to receive from “the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

Having received forgiveness, having been trained by discipline (not just once, but as often as it takes!), we in turn extend that forgiveness to those around us.

Yes, we are mortal — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — but we are God’s. “He himself has made us, and we are his” (Jubilate, BCP 83).

God hates nothing God has made, and God forgives the sins of all who are penitent.

Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises,
and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)