Tag Archives: New Testament

Daily Office Basics – Lessons and Canticles

Today’s video is number four in the Daily Office Basics series.

We have looked at the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, spent a few minutes finding our place, and begun praying the office by reciting Psalms.

Here we turn to the second part of the office, the Lessons and Canticles.

In the Episcopal Church, the schedule of readings for the Daily Office has you do a lot of course reading. That is, you will often read a “chapter” (a short selection) of the same book in the Bible day after day until you’re through with that book.

Over the two-year lectionary cycle, you basically read the majority of the Old Testament once, the whole New Testament twice, and the Psalms every seven weeks.

Separate from any other studying I’ve done, that means that by praying the Daily Office for just over 23 years now I have read the Old Testament about 23 times, the New Testament 46 times, and each of the Psalms about 171 times.

Today we try to demystify the Daily Office lectionary and this middle portion of the office so that you feel more comfortable soaking yourself in Scripture in the context of daily prayer.

The last video in this series will look at the specific Prayers that conclude the office.

All of the videos, as well as the downloadable resources, will make their home at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online.

 

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Five ways to become a data-driven pray-er

The company I work for supports leaders in healthcare and higher education with research, consulting, performance technologies, and talent development.

Staff of our member organizations appreciate not only our detailed research studies but also tools like our one-page infographics, which boil down key insights into memorable suggestions.

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This particular infographic, it seems to me, bears not just business acumen but spiritual wisdom.

Why not try using these five principles to better incorporate data into your daily prayer life?

Be data-literate

Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Read the Bible.

If you want to be a follower of the God who is made known through the Bible — the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — you’ve simply got to be familiar with the source texts.

Nothing substitutes for regular Bible reading, whatever plan you may follow.

My personal favorite comes from Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook (Abingdon 1985), long out of print but still available on Amazon.

But not all plans are equal, and the Church has long practiced reading the Bible — putting data, that is — in context.

Consider praying the Daily Office, the Church’s preferred method for regular Bible reading in the context of prayer.

Morning and evening, if you follow the Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer, over the course of two years you will read the bulk of the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms about every seven weeks.

Soaking in the Scriptures will over time make you very familiar with its stories and songs, its letters and lamentations, its biographies and prophecies.

Be curious

As you read the Bible and pray the Offices, give yourself permission to wonder about the strange language, the startling metaphors, the upside-down picture they paint of the Kingdom of God.

Just when the religious leaders think they’ve got everything figured out, a judge or a king or a prophet or the Messiah himself comes along and overturns their world.

The term “lectio divina” refers to an ancient monastic practice of letting Scripture catch your attention, then pausing to ruminate over a passage or even a single word.

To ruminate is to “chew the cud,” so to speak — to get every bit of juice and other nutrients out of what you’re eating.

Follow the data trail wherever it leads, and keep being curious about what else might be revealed to you.

Be action-oriented

One common method of Bible study for small groups is the so-called “African method,” which builds on lectio divina and invites you to consider what you will do based on the passage you have just read.

It’s a three-part method.

First, like in lectio divina, read a passage of Scripture and note a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Second, as you re-read the passage (in a small group you would have a different person read it the second time), listen again for the word that Scripture is speaking to you. Often it will be the same as you heard the first time, but sometimes a new phrase comes to the fore.

Third, resolve to take a specific action this week in response to what you have heard.

The higher education project I work on at my company has the inspiring tagline “analytics with a bias to action.”

Similarly, becoming a data-driven pray-er means looking for inspiration by asking “what must I do in response to God?”

Be communicative

In his sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Fr. Ralph Osborne — the rector of the parish I serve — invited us during the season of Lent to speak to others about our relationship with God.

Share with someone else the insights you’ve gained as you read the Scriptures more deliberately. Share with them the actions you’ve resolved to take based on your reading.

Ask them how their reading of Scripture strengthens their relationship with God. Ask them how they feel led to act in response to Scripture.

Speaking to others about what you’re reading and how it informs your prayer will also help keep you accountable to act as you have resolved to do.

Be skeptical

Finally, the infographic above suggests that being data-driven involves asking the right questions of the data you’ve collected:

Have I drawn the right conclusions?

Am I looking at these results correctly?

Are these good goals and benchmarks?

Whether you’re in the office, or at school, or in church, or at home, it’s good to ask questions in order to be sure you’re on the right track.

In spiritual terms, this is called “being humble.”

People have been writing and editing and proclaiming and teaching and arguing about and meditating on the words of the Bible for more than three thousand years now.

Being a data-driven pray-er means recognizing that your own interpretation is by no means the only one out there. Millions of Jewish and Christian believers have written millions of words about the Scriptures and the God who is revealed in them. Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask the question that’s on your mind.

Likewise, just as God will reveal himself to you as you read the Scriptures, so has God given insights and encouragement to other people. It could be that what they have learned will be important for you to know, too.

There are a lot of data points to consider, so keep asking questions in order to see how your conclusions line up with the voice of the tradition and the other data-driven prayers around you.

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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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.

Evolution of the Word

Over the weekend I practically devoured the new book by Marcus Borg, Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written.

The idea of the book is simple. By placing the letters and Gospels and other books of the New Testament in chronological order and looking at the historical context in which they were written, we get an idea what the Good News of Jesus Christ meant for its first hearers and for the earliest generations of Christ’s followers.

There is general consensus that the earliest documents in the New Testament are seven letters of Paul, written in the 50s. Mark was written around 70, and was used by both Matthew and Luke as they composed their Gospels. Revelation was not the last to be written, but came in the 90s. The latest work is 2 Peter, which dates to the middle of the second century, about 120 or so. The book consists of introductions to each book followed by the full text from the NRSV.

We can also see the impact of current events on the language of the New Testament writers. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, most likely written in the 80s or early 90s, reflects the conflict between Christian Jews and other Jews. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70, many synagogues “closed ranks” and ostracized or expelled Christian Jews. This sheds light on why Matthew and John (both written late in the first century) contain harsher language about “the Jews.”

Reading the New Testament in this way makes me feel more connected to my brothers and sisters of those distant centuries, and it makes the issues they dealt with in their “life in Christ” feel as real as the ones I deal with. It also gets me excited for the upcoming year of Education for Ministry (EfM) when the eight students in my group will be studying Old Testament, New Testament, and Church History.

Building one’s knowledge of God through study of the Scriptures is as important as building one’s devotion to God through the use of the Scriptures in the Daily Office. Through the Scriptures, we come to know the power of God in our own time just as the very first Christians knew that power in theirs.