Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Sufficiency of YHWH

Daily Readings
Psalm 22 Genesis 20 Isaiah 20 Acts 18

Daily Text: Isaiah 20

The Sufficiency of YHWH
Another of Isaiah’s signs occurs in this passage. It is not the name of one of his three children, but his own nakedness, including bare-footedness. Like a captive he wanders for three years as a sign to Philistia, perhaps, and Judah, surely, that joining others against Assyria will lead to disaster and captivity. In 715 B.C. Shabako of Ethiopia became Pharaoh of all Egypt. Because of his prowess and great strength he offered hope to the oppressed peoples of the Fertile Crescent. Philistia rebelled first and in verse 1 we see the loss of the city of Ashdod. Verse 3 shows the significance of Isaiah’s act for Ethiopia and Egypt, and that came in 701 B.C. Verse 2 is a parenthesis, giving details of Isaiah’s instructions. Philistia’s rebellion occurred from 713 to 711, ostensibly the same years Isaiah paraded nude. The upshot of the prophecy is that Egypt was defeated in 701 and their captives were taken in like fashion to Assyria.
Verse 5 probably refers to Judah’s disappointment in both 711 and 701. Notice how the one prophecy is used at two different times, and yet the times are combined in an undesignated fashion within a few sentences. Verse 6 is again reflecting the Philistines, the people of the coastland and their renewed despair at seeing Egypt also broken. “How shall we escape”, they cry. Implied is the LORD’s answer for Judah, ‘no one can escape without my assistance.’ Any other reliance is foolish and hopeless.

Alone God Sufficeth
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.

Collect for the Day
Father ,
imprint upon our hearts
that because we belong to you
no one can pluck us from your hand,
and because we fear you
we need fear no other.
[A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 628,
Collect #1, The Church of the Province
of New Zealand, Collins, Auckland, 950 pp.]

Friday, January 20, 2006

To Strike and To Heal

Daily Readings
Psalm 21 Genesis 19 Isaiah 19 Acts 17

Daily Text: Isaiah 19

To Strike and To Heal
There is a tantalizing reference in verse one to the Lord’s riding on a swift cloud that may be a reference to the swift messengers of the papyrus vessels in the opening verses of the previous chapter. But the LORD is no ambassador, he carries his own message, does his own work and fearsome indeed we see it is, for with him comes fear, confusion, and dissension. In the land of Egypt, the Nile dries up leaving the country without food, commerce or employment. The leadership dissolves as the LORD ‘pours in a spirit confusion.’ One of the remarkable highlights of this poem is the amazing detail, particularly reflected in verses 5-10. Whoever wrote this knew this country. Could Isaiah have traveled there in his youth?
Finally, in a powerful prose section, 16-25, the author pens five ‘On that day’ segments that take us back to the concept of the Day of the LORD.

On that day, trembling—fear
On that day, five cites will speak Hebrew—allegiance to the Lord of Hosts
On that day, an altar of the LORD–known to them, the LORD strikes and heals
On that day, a highway from Egypt to Assyria—worship together
On that day, Judah the equal of Egypt and Assyria—all three blessed.

The pattern here is discipline, repentance, forgiveness, renewal, and blessing. Arresting is the dual action taken by the LORD to both strike and heal. In the 21st century we don’t want to consider that ‘striking and healing’ must go hand in hand. We want healing without discipline for ourselves as well as for our children! Not possible. This is such a remarkable vision that it is unlikely that it has historical roots. Rather it is an eschatological projection of the Kingdom of God. This prophet’s vision soars. He takes historical nations and sees into the eternal beneficence of God. This is God’s will for the nations—that everyone will serve him and honor each other.

The Burden of Egypt
from Holy Flame
Georgia Harkness

Behold, Jehovah rideth on the storm
To come to Egypt, sunk in strife and sin.
Each smiteth each his brother: war’s alarm
Has put to flight all counsel, and within
The fertile meadows is dry, driven dust.
The Nile yields naught. Confusion takes its toll,
For wisdom dies, struck down by fear and lust,
And they that work for hire are grieved in soul.

But though destruction stalk, an altar to the Lord
Shall bring to men salvation in that day.
No longer need they smite with lifted sword
For enemies shall walk in one highway.
That nation shall be blessed whose inner light
Makes clear the pathway for God’s healing might.

Collect for the Day
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP, 815, 3 For the Human Family]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Divine Banner

Daily Readings
Psalm 20 Genesis 18 Isaiah 18 Acts 16

Daily Text: Isaiah 18

Divine Banner
Ethiopia is the focus of chapter 18 and a delightful focus. They are described as tall and smooth, that is, without beards. Kaiser quotes Herodotus in saying that the Ethiopians are the tallest and most beautiful people of the world [472:93]. The first stanza of this poem refers to ‘whirring wings’ and papyrus vessels. If these references are seen in parallel, then it is sensible to conclude that the ‘whirring wings’ are not those of birds or insects, but the quiet sails of their papyrus skiffs, seen in 4th dynasty sculptures [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1967, volume 17, p. 297]. That they were seen as formidable warriors enhances their stature. The world is called to attend to the signals of invasion, ostensibly to come from Jerusalem, the dwelling place of YHWH, who in the meantime will quietly bide his time, neutral and unaggressive. This undoubtedly would have been a message to Hezekiah of Judah to do the same. If trimming grapevines is similar in Palestine to the process in the United States, then great piles might be made of the trimmed canes readying them for burning. But in this case they are left as feeding grounds for raptors, as wild creatures use them as cover for their lairs. Both images, that of creature shelter and preparation for burning might well have been readily understood in that time. In that case, the recommendation for patience and neutrality might well have been made to and accepted by the ambassadors of Ethiopia that came to Mount Zion bearing gifts for the LORD and for Hezekiah. Certainly, in both chapters 18 and 19, the LORD is central to multinational peace and decision-making.

The Flag of Peace
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Men long have fought for their flying flags,
They have died those flags to save;
Their long staves rest on the shattered breast,
They are planted deep in the grave.
Now the world’s new flag is streaming wide,
Far-flying wide and high.
It shall cover the earth from side to side
As the rainbow rings the sky.

The flag of the day when men shall stand
For service, not for fight;
When every race, in every land,
Shall join for the world’s delight;
When all our flags shall blend in one,
And all our wars shall cease,
‘Neath the new flag, the true flag,
The rainbow flag of peace.

Collect for the Day
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. [BCP, 816:5 For Peace Among the Nations]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On That Day

Daily Readings
Psalm 17 Genesis 16 Isaiah 17 Acts 15

Daily Text: Isaiah 17

On That Day
Judgement Day! It has come and in this chapter it reaches to Damascus, Samaria and Assyria. In the chapter thee stanzas begin with the words: “On that day.” The first is judgement on Samaria, Israel, the Northern kingdom and the image is of one starving, becoming lean of flesh and the image is not one of health, but of death knocking. The second is not strictly verse, but is a prose insertion. It begins, however, with “On that day.” “On that day people will regard their Maker, and their eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.” When all is lost people do not turn to the work of their own hands, they turn to their maker, in this case, the God of Israel, YHWH. Who else can help? In our time we see it most often when one is struck with a life-threatening illness. Then one’s priorities become very clear and God our Maker is at the top of the list. It was no different in Isaiah’s time!
The third instance of “On that day” is in verse 9, again prose, and the reference is to the complete destruction of Damascus, Samaria and their surrounding towns. Desolation is the predominant emotion, reminding us of the desolation that possessed New Orleans and the Mississippi gulf coast with the passing of Katrina. Judgement it may not have been, but desolation sweeps in where total destruction reigns. The contemporaneous nature of Isaiah’s poetry is again remarkably prescient. That he will prove true in regards to sin and righteousness in our time, as well as his own, should not come as a surprise. Like the editors of old, we can roll Isaiah’s words into our own lives and know their remarkable validity.

Last Judgment
Stanton A. Coblentz

No grim last judge recording on a slate
His evil deeds, he met beyond the Gate,
But an appraiser still more stern and just:
His own accusing conscience roused too late.

Collect for the Day
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death, between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living, pardon and rest to the dead, to your holy Church peace and concord, and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [BCP, p. 282, final prayer of the Good Friday liturgy]

Monday, January 16, 2006

Utterly Stricken

Daily Readings
Psalm 14 Genesis 15 Isaiah 16 Acts 14

Daily Text: Isaiah 16

Utterly Stricken
Moab pleads for Judean asylum and is refused, refused with contempt. Even though Moab promises to become a Judean client state, a tent in Judah’s camp, Judah remembers only Moab’s recent pride, arrogance, and insolence, therefore she is left to wail impotently. Her former export wealth, based on her grain and fruit, is no longer available and being economically bereft the fugitive has nothing to trade for protection.

Sons of Failure
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

There is a close companionship of pain,
There is a clinging brotherhood of woe,
That children of success may never know,
That darlings of the world may never gain.

There lies in misery a subtle tie
Only the brokenhearted understand;
Look feeds on look, hand waits for trembling hand,
Unnoticed of the careless passer-by.

And they, the sons of Failure, sit around,
And in Life’s antechamber sleep and wait,
As day melts into night. It grows too late:
No bed or board on earth for them is found.

Sometimes the doorstep is at midnight crossed,
Follows a muffled movement on the stair:
Jesus, the Son of Heaven, enters there
And takes the lowliest seat among the lost.

Collect for the Day
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP, 816, #6, For our Enemies]

Sunday, January 15, 2006

In A Night

Daily Readings
Psalm 13 Genesis 14 Isaiah 15 Acts 13

Daily Text: Isaiah 15

In a Night
Kaiser quotes Procksch as saying that Isaiah 15 and 16, the oracle against Moab is ‘the problem child of exegesis (interpretation) [472:60]. The author is unknown, the historical period is guessed at from the 9th century to the 2nd century B.C., the enemy, or should we say, agent of destruction, is unknown, only that the populace fled generally south. From the lament, taunt song, we know that whatever happened, happened in a night, and the whole country from the Arnon in the North to the Wadi of the Willows in the South was affected simultaneously! Sounds like a natural phenomenon of some sort and yet in 16:8 ‘the lords of the nations’ are mysteriously mentioned. What has happened is uncertain, what is certain is that this proud people are reduced to a vagabond lot without any sign of resistance in the passing of one night! It makes 9/11 seem like child’s play. There is probably not even the possibility of the land sustaining anyone after this night. Even the poet’s heart ‘cries out for Moab’ and the poet is from another people.
In the final verse, however, God speaks up. The disaster seems total, a remnant only is left, and God says, “yet I will bring upon Dibon even more—a lion for those of Moab who escape, for the remnant of the land” [verse 9b]. The God of Jacob has no sympathy. This is not the simple report of a great disaster; this is a prophecy of destruction for the evils of a people. What sets it aside for a special look is that the description of the destruction is sympathetic. It is difficult to step back and see that at least the God of the universe sees it as necessary.

God Prays
Angela Morgan

Last night I tossed and could not sleep.
When sodden heavens weep and weep,
As they have wept for many a day,
One lies awake to fear and pray,
One thinks of bodies blown like hail
Across the sky where angels quail;
One’s sickened pulses leap and hark
To hear the horror in the dark.

“What is Thy will for the people, God?
Thy will for the people, tell it me!
For war is swallowing up the sod
And still no help from Thee.
Thou, who art mighty, hast forgot;
And art Thou God, or art Thou not?
When wilt Thou come to save the earth
Where death has conquered birth?”

And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be,
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies,
Till the people rise!
Till the people rise, my arm is weak;
I cannot speak till the people speak;
When men are dumb, my voice is dumb—
I cannot come till my people come.”

And the Lord God’s presence was white, so white,
Like a pillar of stars against the night.
“Millions on millions pray to me
Yet hearken not to hear me pray;
Nor comes there any to set me free
Of all who plead from night to day.
So God is mute and Heaven is still
While the nations kill.”

“Thy people have travailed much,” I cried,
“I travail even as they,” God sighed.
“I have cradled their woe since the stars were young—
My infant planets were scarcely hung
When I dreamed the dream of my liberty
And planned a people to utter me.
I am the pang of their discontent,
The passion of their long lament;
I am the purpose of their pain,
I writhe beneath their chain.”

“But Thou art mighty, and need’st no aid.
Can God, the Infinite, be afraid?”
“They, too, are God, yet know it not.
‘Tis they, not I, who have forgot.
And war is drinking the living sod,”
Said God.

“Thy people are fettered by iron laws
And each must follow a country’s cause
And all are sworn to avenge their dead—
How may the people rise?” I said.
And then God’s face! It was white, so white,
With the grief that sorroweth day and night.

“Think you I planted my image there
That men should trample it to despair?
Who fears the throe that rebellion brings
Hath bartered God for the will of kings.”

“Help them stand, O Christ!” I prayed.
“Thy people are feeble and sore afraid.”
“My people are strong,” God whispered me,
“Broad as the land, great as the sea;
They will tower tall as the tallest skies
Up to the level of my eyes,
When they dare to rise.
Yea, all my people everywhere!
Not in one land of black despair
But over the flaming earth and sea
Wherever wrong and oppression be
The shout of my people must come to me.
Not till their spirit break the curse
May I claim my own in the universe;
And this the reason of war and blood
That men may come to their angelhood.
If the people rise, if the people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies
Where Herculean hosts of might
Shall spring to splendor over night.
Blazing systems of sun and star
Are not so great as my people are,
Nor chanting angels so sweet to hear
As the voice of nations, freed from fear.
They are my mouth, my breath, my soul!
I wait their summons to make me whole.”

All night long I toss and cannot sleep;
When shattered heavens weep and weep,
As they have wept for many days.
I know at last ‘tis God who prays.