Tag Archives: Isaiah

Feet don’t fail me now | St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:11-15)

Gospel means good news

How often do you hear from Christians about God’s generosity?

How often do you hear from Christians that no one will be put to shame?

How often do you hear from Christians that there is no distinction between people of different cultures and races?

Within the church, I hear about these things a lot. I am fortunate to serve with many generous, empathetic, and open-minded people.

But outside, especially in the world of social media and TV news, not so much. In the popular culture especially, the Christian message too often sounds exclusive, judgmental, and fearful.

Who are you afraid of?

For the LORD spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:11-13)

Who do we fear?

Refugees … prisoners … all who are in danger …

The poor and the oppressed, the unemployed and the destitute, prisoners and captives …

Those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit …

Those who do not yet believe, and those who have lost their faith …

Our enemies and those who wish us harm … all whom we have injured or offended …

Who are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of them?

Perhaps more importantly, who tells you to fear them, and why do they do that? Who paints a picture of the world that causes you dread instead of joy?

How beautiful the feet!

Teresa of Ávila said,

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We are surrounded by stories and images designed to cause us to fear the stranger, the poor, the unbeliever, the other.

But hear the word of God that came to Isaiah: “Do not call conspiracy what this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears.”

And hear the word that Paul preached: “The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.”

And hear the collect that we pray every Monday, even on Mondays like today when we remember one like Matthew who preached the good news — the gospel — about Jesus.

Let these words remind you of the good news of God’s generosity and let them guide your feet into the way of peace.

Let them make you a beautiful messenger of the gospel like Matthew.

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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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).

In all we do, direct us

Collect for Grace

O Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Members of Christ’s body

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about the power, the giftedness we have received through our participation in the dying and rising of Christ, symbolized by our baptism:

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

Not just a faithful remnant 

With the Ephesians, we are no longer just a faithful remnant, like “whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem [and] will be called holy” (Isa. 4:3).

Instead, we are called to “the measure of the full stature of Christ,” to a much larger vision of ministry to the whole world. As we sing in Canticle 11 this morning:

Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut. (BCP 87)

We are not secure within the walls of the city, but welcoming to those who would come in.

We are no longer left behind, separate from the world, but sent out into it.

Certainly not anxious neighbors 

And out in the world, we ought to be recognizably different from the anxious neighbors Jesus meets in today’s Gospel (Matt. 8:28-34).

Too often, we respond just like the townspeople. “Why are you helping those dirty, wild, Gerasenes?”

“And, wait a minute,” say the swineherds, “those are my pigs!”

“You’re upsetting everything! This was such a quiet neighborhood until you came along; we were secure and separate.”

Instead, we ought to look for and recognize God’s purpose at work, for we are a whole community of gifted, grace-filled ministers being directed, in all we do, to the fulfilling of that purpose.

Peace a pathway for his feet

Detail from Salvador Dali, Crucifixion ('Corpus Hypercubus'), 1954.

Detail from Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (‘Corpus Hypercubus’), 1954.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
(Psalm 85:10-13)

On this feast of the Annunciation I can’t help seeing in Mary the “peace” that the Psalmist sings about: kissed by God’s righteousness and making a pathway for the Messiah’s feet.

God’s righteousness did indeed go before Jesus, who spent his earthly ministry walking from place to place announcing that the Kingdom of God had come near.

His mother Mary’s firm assent to God’s purposes and her role in them, her pondering them in her heart, the “sword that pierced her heart also,” these all became part of the pathway for Jesus’ feet, helping not only to set but also to confirm the direction his life would take.

And when his path led him to Jerusalem, to conflict with religious leaders and imperial authorities, to betrayal and scourging and crucifixion, peace came again and stood at his feet.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger
who
announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
(Isaiah 52:7)

 As we say the Benedictus at Morning Prayer today, may we also take to heart our role as members of Christ’s Body to follow Christ in the way of the cross, to proclaim God’s kingdom, and to participate like Mary in the unfolding of God’s righteous purpose for creation:

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
(Canticle 16, BCP 93)

You who remind the Lord

Church-Circle-Graphic

You who remind the Lord, take no rest,
and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
(Isaiah 62:6b-7)

As the meeting ends, we all stand and form a circle, joining hands in a moment of silence.

“Whose Father?”

“Our Father …” we begin to pray.

+ + + + +

As the Eucharistic Prayer draws to a close, the priest looks out over the congregation: “And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say …”

“Our Father …”

+ + + + +

Morning and evening, after the Psalms, after the readings and canticles, after the Apostles’ Creed, we begin the Prayers by saying:

“Our Father …”

+ + + + +

We “who remind the Lord” take no rest.

We give him no rest, our Father in heaven, and that’s the way he wants it.

We ask him to be faithful to his promises, and he will.

Listen:

“You have promised through your well-beloved Son that where two or three are gathered together in his name, you will be in the midst of them” (BCP 102).

“Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (BCP 332).

“We came to understand that we … could not manage our own lives … but that God could and would if He were sought” (Blue Book 60).

+ + + + +

A Collect for Grace

O Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

 

To unity, knowledge, and maturity

Ss_Simon_and_Jude

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Unity

We often hear in the Church the old saw that “unity does not mean uniformity.” What we are trying to express, I think, is that we don’t have to march in lockstep, we don’t all have to be believers in the same exact way.

The Church is gifted — not only with those who guard the faith (apostles) but also with those who upbraid the faithful (prophets); not only with traveling preachers (evangelists) but also with local leaders (pastors and teachers). We all have the same purpose, though: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

You may serve in the food kitchen, you may lead youth group, you may knit prayer shawls, you may provide pastoral care, you may give generously, you may go on mission trips, you may host a fellowship group in your home, you may advocate for political change, you may lead a Bible study. As David Allen says, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Whatever you do, then, do it in order to equip the saints and to build up the body.

Knowledge

My own particular interests are in teaching the Bible and the practice of the Daily Office.

Isaiah has harsh words in today’s Old Testament lesson for religious leaders who teach nothing more than “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10).

That is to say, teaching only Bible facts without teaching saving wisdom is no help in equipping the saints. It puffs up the teacher (as Miracle Max would say, “hoo hoo hoo, look who knows so much!”), but it does not build up the learner.

How do the words of Scripture become “living and active” in our lives? How do they soak into us until they are there when we need them?

One reason I teach about the Daily Office is that it is a method for reading Scripture in the context of worship that has helped Christians throughout the centuries to “inwardly digest” the Scriptures even as they “read, mark, and learn” (BCP 236) them in Bible studies and other forums. Again, no one method is complete or self-sufficient; each has a particular purpose.

Maturity

The gifts given to the Church are “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Equipping the saints” ultimately means enabling them to stand on their own two feet — to help learners become believers, and to help believers become ministers themselves.

Another program I’m involved in is Education for Ministry, a program of theological education for lay people created by the School of Theology of the University of the South. This year there are 11 students in my group at St. Thomas Church.

Along with the study we pursue in the four-year curriculum — Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, and theology — we also engage in a process of theological reflection, learning to identify where our beliefs and positions come from and how to turn our insights into action.

As we share our “spiritual autobiographies” with one another, we start to trace how God has acted in our lives. As we study the Scriptures, we learn about how God has acted in the life of Israel and of the Church. Reading church history is a humbling exercise in seeing how we keep getting it wrong, over and over again. And our study of theology is no academic exercise, but an attempt to go from “milk” to “solid food” (1 Cor 3:2) as we serve in our various ministries.

Being “lifelong learners” is wonderful, but as St. Benedict puts it, “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (RB Prologue).

Collect of the Day

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

 

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?