Tag Archives: Rothko

The stone which the builders rejected

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The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone. 
This is the LORD’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. 
On this day the LORD has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:22-24)

How is it that people associate Christians with holier-than-thou attitudes and an insistence on purity? How is it that judgment is the face the world too often sees?

We are built around “the same stone which the builders rejected” — Jesus, a convicted criminal executed by the Romans. The foundation supported by that cornerstone, the Church, was built out of his followers, who rejected him, denied him, grasped for power, and persecuted each other. They generally got it wrong throughout Jesus’ life, and only the Spirit of God could get them going in the right direction. We still get it wrong more often than not.

If we are a holy temple, acceptable to God, we are built out of broken bricks and rocky rubble, not smooth and shining stones.

Why should people think they have to be holy in order to come in to the Church? We ourselves weren’t holy; we’ve been made holy by having our pitted pebbles grafted into others’ cracked concrete.

Unity in the Spirit is what makes the temple beautiful, not the uniformity of the building material.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)

 

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Who are we to hinder God?

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Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he has done for me.
I called out to him with my mouth,
and his praise was on my tongue.
If I had found evil in my heart,
the Lord would not have heard me;
But in truth God has heard me;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer,
nor withheld his love from me
.
(Psalm 66:14-18)

I think it is easy to miss how astonishing Peter’s rooftop vision in Joppa truly is, and how completely it overturns the Church’s notion of who and what is acceptable to God.

Peter sees a vision of a sheet being lowered before him. It contains all sorts of animals, especially animals that are considered unclean by the Jews according to the Torah.

Peter hears a voice from heaven saying to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 11:7). Over Peter’s protest — he is an observant Jew who follows the dietary laws — the voice says “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 11:9).

Not only are the animals themselves clean, the act of eating them is also clean.

Peter is being commanded to act in a way that God previously called sinful. He is being commanded to break a law that identifies him as a Jew — that sets him apart from the people around him.

When he is taken to Caesarea, to the house of Cornelius the centurion, Peter sees the evidence of the Spirit in the lives of Gentiles. He begins to understand: “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:17).

This report silenced the objections of the Church at Jerusalem, we read, “and they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'” (Acts 11:18).

Those who do acts that once were forbidden to the Jews, but which now are commanded to Peter, have the repentance that leads to life. Those who were previously set apart by their observance are no longer to be set apart, but share in the same Spirit.

The acts themselves do not separate us; our racial or cultural identity does not separate us. We are all sinful, though we must be careful not to call profane what God has called clean. All who repent share life in Christ and the gift of a new Spirit.

Who are we to hinder God?

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 102)

When he draws near

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Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;
call upon him when he draws near. (BCP 86)

Little does Saul realize (1 Samuel 9) that while hunting for his father’s lost sheep he will find instead the crown of the king of Israel. The Lord wills to be found, and through his servant Samuel God’s word “will prosper in that for which I sent it.” Saul will be made king, and he will pave the way for David’s reign.

Likewise, Stephen, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8), seizes the opportunity at his trial before the Council to preach about God’s salvation history being fulfilled in Jesus. God’s word will prosper through Stephen, we will learn in the next couple of days, because his stoning makes an impression on another young man named Saul.

The Lord wills to find Saul, and eventually he will heed the words of Isaiah we read in Canticle 10:

Let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,
and to our God, for he will richly pardon. (BCP 86)

The renamed Saul (our apostle Paul), becomes a fresh witness to the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, the “word that goes forth from [God’s] mouth.”

The Lord wills to be found in your life, too. Keep an eye out for his presence, and call upon him when he draws near to you.

Piercing darts of love

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But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Lord, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me? (Psalm 88:14-15)

In our English spiritual tradition one of the landmarks is a book from the late 1300s called The Cloud of Unknowing.

The anonymous author, most likely a country parson from the East Midlands, is counseling a younger monk with practical, pastoral advice about mystical prayer, especially dealing with the difficulty that arises when it seems that God has withdrawn — what John of the Cross some 300 years later called “the dark night of the soul.”

The author suggests that we should imagine, as it were, a “cloud of unknowing” hiding God from our senses. Our prayers should be as “piercing darts of love” aimed toward God through the cloud.

The hope of this pastoral approach to prayer is that eventually we will come to love God as he is, not for the consolations he provides. God’s seeming withdrawal, and our time spent under the cloud, can help us to mature in our love for God.

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Our Old Testament reading this morning is a poignant story of another wise priest, Eli, counseling the young man Samuel. Though “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Sam. 3:1), Eli helped Samuel to recognize that God had something to say to him. When Samuel heard the judgment of God against Eli’s sons, he “lay there until morning,” as if under a cloud.

Eli insists that Samuel tell him everything; he knows God is judging him and his sons, but he says “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). Though Eli will receive no consolation, he continues to love the Lord.

And Samuel? I can’t help but see the “piercing darts of love” foreshadowed when the story tells us that “as Samuel grew up, the Lord let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19).

Can I get a witness?

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Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the LORD, in the presence of the priest Eli. (1 Sam. 2:11)

I wonder whether the boy Samuel “ministered to the Lord” by singing songs like the canticle we read this morning right after hearing the beginning of his story:

A Song of Praise Benedictus es, Domine
Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever. (BCP 90)

We also read in the Acts of the Apostles this morning about the followers of Jesus in the days after his resurrection and ascension. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,” we read (Acts 1:14). Their prayer, like ours, probably consisted largely of the Psalms. We minister to the Lord, in part, by singing his praise and joining our voices with all those who have gone before.

One of the first pieces of business the apostles have to attend to is selecting someone to replace Judas, to bring the number of apostles back up to 12. They want someone who has accompanied them during Jesus’ ministry — “one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

I wonder what song Matthias sang after he was chosen to be a witness? What song do you sing to honor God and witness to his love?

Your going out and your coming in

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The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe. 
The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

Noonday Prayer, like Compline, is meant to be short and relatively the same every day.

Where Compline is a brief pause before going to bed, Noonday Prayer is a brief pause in the middle of a day full of “going out and coming in.”

Many years ago, I worked as editor of The Covenant, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. The diocesan offices are in Nicholson House, the former bishops’ residence. A lovely feature of the house is a small chapel off the landing of the main staircase; at the time I worked there it had just been restored.

The staff of the diocese got into the habit of stopping for Noonday Prayer in that little chapel each day; it took only about 15 minutes, but it centered the day and reminded us that the Lord was watching over our activity.

We used the service from the prayer book to create a simple handout and inserted seasonal readings and collects to give a little bit more variety over the course of the year.

Perhaps you might also benefit from a pause in the middle of the day. Are there others where you work or at home who might join you?

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.