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 28, 2006

Like the Phoenix

Daily Readings
Psalm 30 Genesis 26 Isaiah 27:2-13 Acts 24

Daily Text: Isaiah 27:2-13

Like The Phoenix
The first song of the vineyard, Isaiah 5:1-6, saw the vineyard, Israel, destroyed. Now there is a second version and in this version, Isaiah 27:2-6, the vineyard is disciplined, if you will, but ultimately it becomes fruitful and will fill the world with fruit. Out of the discipline the LORD calls Israel to cling to him, to come back making peace, ‘let it make peace with me.’ The New English Bible has a wonderful possibility here obviously referencing the first song of the vineyard.
On that day sing to the pleasant vineyard,
I the LORD am its keeper,
moment by moment I water it for fear its green leaves fail.
Night and day I tend it,
but I get no wine;
I would as soon have briars and thorns,
then I would wage war upon it and burn it all up, (italics mine)
unless it grasps me as its refuge and makes peace with me—
unless it makes peace with me (27:2-5).
But in the time to come, the end time, Israel will be a productive vineyard and supply the whole world with fruit—a new ending to the first song.
Verses 7-11 could be interpreted as God having some mercy on Israel/Judah and exiling them as expiation for their sins, with the idea that they would be returning, and verses 12-13 complete that return. The song, therefore, in 2-6, foreshadows the exile of 7-11 and the return of 12-13. The Hebrew in 7-11 is very difficult, the texts in poor condition. The result is a potpourri of interpretations. The one I have suggested is certainly possible, but not widely supported. What does seem clear is that in the last day, the Hebrews will come back to the holy mountain to worship the LORD.

The Phoenix
Madeleine L’Engle

(There are many and varying legends about the beautiful gold and scarlet bird, the Phoenisk. One is that he returns to Heliopolis every five hundred years, and that he is born again out of his own ashes.)

Vulnerability is my only armour.
I, the colour of fire, of blazing sun,
A blare of yellow and gold, and not a murmur
Of feathers of grey or brown, how can I run

From friend or foe? How could I ever hide?
I shall fly freely across the threatening sky
And I shall sing. Call it, if you like, pride.
I call it joy. Perhaps it’s love. My eye

Is moist with all that brings it such delight.
I love this city thronging with the day,
And all the shadows crowding in the night.
Five hundred years since I have been this way,

O city full of children, wise men, fools,
Laughter and love, and hatred, scheming, murder,
Starvation among gluttons, brothels, schools;
I fly above the city and bring order

Out of this chaos. O small hungry child
Put up your bow, put down the piercing arrow
So that your hands may still be undefiled.
All through the city I must cleanse and harrow.

Aaaaagh! I am wounded by a hunter’s spear.
Against the earth my dying body crashes.
The child who did not shoot me wails in fear.
Hot on my golden feathers swift blood gushes.

Blood stains the faggots of the funeral pyre.
My eyes grow dim among the flames’ wild flashes.
The child is weeping still; the flames burn higher.
Hush. I shall be born from these dead ashes.

Collect for the Day
I lay my pain upon Your altar, loving God;
This is my lamb, my ram, my sacrifice,

My plea for pardon, plea for forgiveness,
For all my sins of doing and not doing.
\prayers that blossom like flowers out of pain
above the earth-pull.

My people’s pains have flamed in sacrifice
Upon Your altar through slow-moving time.

Pain for all evil, hatred, cruelty,
For the sick of body and the sick of heart,

For all the loneliness, and all the lovelessness,

The unmeasureable loss of those that know not You—

The pain of all the world, dear God, I place
Before Your shrine.

Look down in pity and forgiveness.

Cause Your countenance to shine upon us,
And give us peace.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Daily Readings
Psalm 24 Genesis 25 Isaiah 26:1-27:1 Acts 23

Daily Text: Isaiah 26:1-27:1

The four chapters of The Apocalypse of Isaiah move to their denouement in chapter 26. This passage opens with a great song for the redeemed. For those who in the end time keep a steadfast mind upon God, peace will be their gift, an eternal one. Part of that gift will be a level path, one without further obstacles (vs. 7). There is the promise that God will punish the wicked, separating them from the righteous. Verse 14 speaks of the enemies of God and his people dying and not rising, not even being remembered. But not so with God’s people, they are enlarged (vs. 15) and they shall live. Identified as God’s people, God’s corpses, (vs, 19) they shall rise from death, even though they must enter the chamber of death for a little while until the wrath of God is visited on the iniquities of the inhabitants of the earth. And finally, God also deals with the heavenly and mythological counterpart of evil, that Leviathan, that fleeing and twisting (twisted?) serpent, the dragon in the sea (27:1).
Resurrection is a ‘charged’ notion in the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly for the scholars. On the other hand it is there in the psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, Daniel, and Ezekiel to say nothing of II Esdras. And says Kaiser, it is obvious that with such brief mention in vs. 19, it must have been a fairly well understood concept among Isaiah’s readers. Certainly, it was developed quickly in early Christian circles as what happened to Jesus needed explanation within the Hebrew understanding of God’s intentions for his people. And here it was, fully laid out. Remarkable.

The Third Song of Esai
Esai. xxvi.
George Wither

A City now we have obtain’d,
Where strong defenses are;
And God salvation hath ordain’d
For walls and bulwarks there.
The gates thereof wide open ye,
That such as justly do,
(And those that Truth’s observers be)
May enter thereunto.

There thou in peace wilt keep them sure,
Whose thoughts well grounded be;
In peace that ever shall endure,
Because they trusted Thee.
For ever, therefore, on the Lord,
Without distrust, depend;
For in the Lord, th’ eternal Lord,
Is strength that hath no end.

He makes the lofty city yield,
And her proud dwellers bow;
He lays it level with the field,
E’en with the dust below.
Their feet that are in want and care,
Their feet thereon shall tread;
Their way is right, that righteous are,
And thou their path dost heed.

Upon the course of judgments we,
Oh, Lord, attending were,
And to record thy name and thee,
Our souls desirous are.
On thee our minds, with strong desire,
Are fixèd in the night;
And after thee our hearts inquire,
Before the morning light.

For when thy righteous judgments are
Upon the earth discern’d,
By those that do inhabit there,
Uprightness shall be learn’d.
Yet sinners for no terror will
Just dealing understand,
But in their sins continue still,
Amid the Holy Land.

To seek the glory of the Lord
They unregardful be;
And thy advancèd hand, oh Lord,
They will not deign to see.
But they shall see, and see with shame,
That bear thy people spite;
Yea, from thy foes shall come a flame,
Which will devour them quite.

Then, Lord, for us thou wilt procure
That we in peace may be,
Because that every work of our
Is wrought for us by thee.
And, Lord our God, though we are brought
To other lords in thrall,
Of thee alone shall be our thought,
Upon thy name to call.

They are deceas’d, and never shall
Renewèd life obtain;
They die, and shall not rise at all
To tyrannise again:
For thou didst visit them, therefore,
And wide dispers’d them hast;
That so their fame for evermore
May wholly be defac’d.

But, Lord, increas’d thy people are,
Increas’d they are by thee;
And thou art glorified as far
As earth’s wide limits be;
For, Lord, in their distresses, when
Thy rod on them was laid,
They unto thee did hasten then,
And without ceasing pray’d.

As one with child is pain’d, when as
Her throes of bearing be,
And cries in pangs (before thy face;)
O Lord, so farèd we.
We have conceiv’d, and for a birth
Of wind have painèd been.
The world’s unsafe, and still on earth
They thrive that dwell therein.

The dead shall live, and rise again
With my dead body shall.
Oh, you, that in the dust remain,
Awake, and sing you all!
For as the dew doth herbs renew,
That buried seem’d before,
So earth shall through thy heavenly dew
Her dead to life restore.

My people, to thy chambers fair;
Shut close the door to thee,
And stay a while (a moment there)
Till past the fury be:
For lo, the Lord doth now arise,
He cometh from his place,
To punish their impieties,
Who now the world possess.

The earth that blood discover shall
Which is in her concealed,
And bring to light those murders all
Which yet are unrevealed.

Collect for the Day
God of mystery and power, open our eyes to the flame of your love, and open our ears to the thunder of your justice, that we may receive your gifts of blessing and peace, to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:738 Psalm prayer for Psalm 29]

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Eucharistic Feast

Daily Readings
Psalm 29 Genesis 24 Isaiah 25 Acts 22

Daily Text: Isaiah 25

Eucharistic Feast
The universal destruction of chapter 24 moves to a new focus in chapter 25 and that focus is universal blessing and fellowship around a ‘table.’ It opens with a description of an unnamed city being destroyed, unnamed though important either because it is a world capitol (Kaiser) or because it is a principal city of Moab. For in the last verses of this chapter Moab is named as a people who are trodden under foot, and not only underfoot, but in a cesspit. Moab becomes in this passage a foil for Judah. Judah, whose capitol is Jerusalem, which sits on the mount of Zion. It is on Zion that the LORD reigns in 24:23. It is to this same mountain that the LORD of hosts offers to the nations a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. It is on this mountain that the LORD destroys death, the shroud that is cast over all peoples. There he will ‘swallow up death forever.’ And it is there that he will ‘wipe away the tears from all faces.’ Judah, but not Moab, will have its disgrace taken away. It will once again become prominent because of the care of the LORD of hosts.
Kaiser [472:200] suggests that in the Hebrew Scriptures the phenomenon of all nations coming to Jerusalem parallels the New Testament mission to go into all the world and preach the divine news to every creature. Both visions reach the nations and central to both visions, because of this prophecy in Isaiah, is a thanksgiving feast of food and wine. It is a glad image.

Sitting Around Your Table
Madeleine L’Engle

Sitting around your table
as we did, able
to laugh, argue, share
bread and wine and companionshp, care
about what someone else was saying, even
if we disagreed passionately: Heaven,
we’re told, is not unlike this, the banquet celestial,
eternal convivium. So the praegustum terrestrium
partakes—for me, at least-of sacrament.
(Whereas the devil, ever intent
on competition, invented the cocktail party where
one becomes un-named, un-manned, de-personned.) Dare
we come together, then , vulnerable, open, free?
Yes! Around your table we
knew the Holy Spirit, come to bless
the food, the host, the hour, the willing guest.

Collect for the Day
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. [BCP, 337, Prayer of Humble Access]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Dwindling

Daily Readings
Psalm 28 Acts 26:9-21 Isaiah 24 Galatians 1:11-24

Daily Text: Isaiah 24

The Dwindling
Chapters 24-27 incorporate a ‘book’ within Isaiah, a book of world-wide judgement, destruction of end-time proportions, eschatalogy defined. One question might be how this compares to the judgement at the time of Noah, for in verse 18 there is a suggestion that the ancient floods are revisited upon the earth. But somehow the theme that God is fed up and will destroy his creation does not ring true in Isaiah 24. One way of viewing this material is that God is so dreadfully weary of human sinfulness that God simply withdraws his providential support for the earth. The continual healing process withers and dwindles as humans pollute their lives and their world without care. There is a kind of ecological disaster foretold here, without laying on 21st century insights. Even when there are those who repent and begin to honor the LORD, praising him for his majesty and righteousness, the prophet wants only to grieve for he sees that there is no return to a good earth. Foundational forces, like gravity and equilibrium, have been suspended and chaos rules the dying creation not to be renewed (vs. 20). In the final stanza of this poem the prophet shifts to the heavenly spheres and reflects that what is happening on the earth has begun in the eternal spheres. Somehow there are hosts who bear much responsibility for the transgression of the earth. We may here be hearing an echo of chapter 14:12-20.

John Leax

In the beginning there was war,
and my father, hardly more than a boy,
was called. Because he had no church
to witness to the peaceful heart
that spoke a living word within
his chest, he went, and he became
a silent man. In the chasm
of his obedience I fell,
plunged with my first steps
into the wash of blood—a slash
of milky glass split my face from nose
to cheek and left me just one eye to watch
for his return. My mother wept,
I’m sure. No one told my father.
He soldiered on in ignorance of the night
Already settling on his day.

His oldest brother fell at Normandy,
and though he rose, he rose to thump
impatiently on one good leg,
on one good stump. My father had no hour
to take such news to heart. Under orders,
he drove forward, sometimes horsing an ammo
truck, sometimes a general’s jeep.
He posed for photographs and sent them
like postcards to his wife and mother, joked,
“Having a wonderful time.”

Then one April Sabbath in 1945,
his Easter prayers still moist upon his lips,
he drove into a tomb empty of all purpose:
thirty-thousand creeping skeletons,
inhuman, massed like insects behind a fence,
nine-thousand heaped bodies, bone rubble,
stacked, meticulously accounted for
in the dark books of Dachau order,
disordered every word he knew. No joke
could force the truth aside. No prayer
he’d learned in the bright bedtimes
of his farmboy youth could halt the stone
rolling inexorably between the close
enclosure of his mind and the wide
goodness of the life he knew before the word
descended void in vengeance, blood, and bone.

Thirty years from the moment, his heart gave
u the burden of his eyes. He shrugged,
gave a muffled cry, and died. It was night.
My mother’s call reached me in morning.

His body lay gravely silent when I stood
to pray beside it. What question I asked,
what answer I sought, I cannot even
now find voice to say. I think, should
God come down to answer for this world,
he too might break his silence with a shrug,
give up, and die, helpless before the blank
enormity he’d meet in flesh.
I wonder if I’d know him in his life
or in his death. The day I met my father
I was three. My aunt held me above the swirl
of eager wives jamming the station hall.
Each time a man, young, joyful, in uniform
descended from a bus, I cried,
“Is that him? Is that him?”
I can’t remember when she said, “Yes,”
or if he took me in his arms
and touched his face to mine.

Collect for the Day
Lord, You see it; You see that none comes to help, none to intervene. In the high places there is astonishment and anger. And down below, the winds carry dust to earth’s four corners, the dust of Jews. [471:409]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Sea Peoples

Daily Readings
Psalm 27 Genesis 23 Isaiah 23 Acts 21

Daily Text: Isaiah 23

The Sea Peoples
In this final chapter of oracles against the nations, the sea peoples are targeted. Note all the lands surrounding Judah—north, east and south—have been highlighted. In each case Judah’s God, YHWH, is all powerful. Now we turn west to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Phoenician cities, particularly Tyre and Sidon, the island of Cypress and Tarshish on the southern Atlantic coast of Spain are all named. The oracles focus on Sidon and Tyre, though there is much confusion between the two for the contemporary reader. At times to substitute Canaan or Phoenicia for one of the named might be helpful.
There is active disagreement about placing these prophecies historically, and disputes range from the 9th century to the 3rd! Without suggesting a solution, the text essentially speaks of the demise of both Tyre and Sidon, powerful and wealthy merchant shipping cultures, though the prophecy explicitly against Tyre, vss. 13-18, is generally thought to be later than the one against Sidon, vss. 1-12. References to Tarshish essentially speak of merchant vessels that originate on the coast of Spain or perhaps vessels with crews that originate there. Their home port, however, is Sidon, and that is destroyed. They can flee back to Cyprus, whence they have sailed when they discover the unhappy news, but if they do they will learn that Cyprus too is either under attack or seriously damaged. There were evidently Phoenician peoples in Cyprus. Isaiah tells the Judeans that it is their God that has brought this on. He has planned it. The command has been given to destroy the fortresses of Canaan or Phoenicia. Tyre, in particular, will not rise for 70 years. Is this while Israel is in exile? And when it does grow back to flourish its wealth will flow to the LORD and his people in Jerusalem. She will essentially be the LORD’s slave.
There is much fear of Moslems in the West these days. It was like that in Isaiah’s time. Not a fear of Moslems, for there were none, but there was fear of Assyria and Chaldea, Egypt and Ethiopia, Moab, Elam, Edom and the coastal peoples. Fear the stranger, fight the alien, but in the end our God is more powerful than their gods they were told. This message Isaiah gives clearly. There is no one you need fear. Serve God and live in peace. Indeed, the active practice of serving God will create peace for ourselves and for the world. Any other practice is not of God by definition. Challenge, always challenge for God’s people.

Edwin Markham

We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if
It does not make the man.

Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the work, unless
The builder also grows.

Collect for the Day
I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
[475:498, St. Patrick , 389-461]

Monday, January 23, 2006

Misreading Grace

Daily Readings
Psalm 25 Genesis 22 Isaiah 22 Acts 20

Daily Text: Isaiah 22

Misreading Grace
‘Interests’ are often shortsighted and egoistic aims both for individuals and for nations. Surely that was true in this case. The nation is devastated in 701 by Sennacherib. He boasted that he had destroyed 46 towns [470:183], but when he laid siege to Jerusalem, Hezekiah surrendered and the city was spared. This was the occasion for the celebration addressed by the prophet! He begs that they ignore him while he weeps for the people.
He prophecies in the second prophecy that their day will come, and presumably this is to be 587 when Nebuchadnezzar razes the city. There will come a time when Judah is completely exposed. The people had trusted to weapons found in the city armory rather than upon God. There was nothing really to celebrate. God called for weeping and mourning and instead these folk were celebrating with the short-sighted maxim “Let us eat, drink, for tomorrow we die: Sure enough, the LORD promises that you will not be forgiven this iniquitous celebrating of your lives while your compatriots have died. Your death will be sure. In some ways the steward Shebna takes on the representative character of the whole. Here is a man who comes in from somewhere else, hunts for a prominent tomb acting as if he has family roots that go back in the city for untold years! He will be destroyed and presumably this refers to all of those celebrating whom he represents here. God will whirl him (them) around and throw him like a ball into a wide, and presumably enemy land.
On that day Eliakim, a very responsible steward will take his place. He has an impressive genealogy and his entire family, presumably again representing the people, relies on him to such a degree that even though God establishes him with authority and security, he will fall under the weight of impossible expectations.

Pigeon Man
Robert Cording

In retrospect, it all seems so
Unlikely, how, every Easter, he’d come again,
The pigeon man from Rhode Island,
In his old truck full of wooden cages. Gathered

Once already, we’d gather again,
Outside the church on the common. I’d like to
Remember blue skies and sunny Easter hats,
But a whited-out sun and a hem of clouds is closer

Probably to the truth. Or a rain.
I can recall the strange mixture of our spirits
High on resurrection hymns, yet dampened by
Nagging reminders—Jim’s young wife dying of cancer

And their two boys who would be
Motherless in a month; a divorce of two members
Loved by everyone; a suicide bombing in Jerusalem;
And soldiers occupying the church at Bethlehem.

Looking back, no year seems free
Of grief and suffering, of one sadness or another. Still,
There were the pigeons. And perhaps a little wind
Passing its spirit along the crowns of the common’s maples

As the pigeon man opened the cages
And sent his flock into the gray sky. They went up as one,
Tumblers, rollers, and tipplers, dozens of them,
Turning higher and higher in tight spirals, the undersides

Of their wings refracting whatever light
There was when they spun all at once. They climbed
Straight up above the high school and church,
Above the houses on the green, then caught a wind

And rode it east, out past Putnam
And across the French River, toward Providence,
Becoming a slow-pulsing dot against the cloud cover.
Some of us clapped, some just watched as the flock

Seemed to disappear through a portal
In the clouds, emptiness and fullness held together
For the moment. Then the pigeon man
Gave his tacit nod and climbed into his truck,

Driving home, I guess, to await his flock.
Impassive as he was, he must have loved the thrill of
Watching his birds fly off and come back,
Just as we looked forward yearly to his coming,

To the pigeons which must have suggested,
Whether we believed or not, and even if we knew
The movement in the opposite direction was far
More common, that grief could suddenly turn to grace.
Image, Winter 2005-2006,# 48, p. 94

Collect for the Day
Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding, deal graciously with us in our grief. Surround us with your love, that we may not be overwhelmed by our loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP, 494, from the Burial Rite]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Destroyer Destroyed

Daily Readings
Psalm 23 Genesis 21 Isaiah 21 Acts 19

Daily Text: Isaiah 21

The Destroyer Destroyed
The 1st prophecy is that of the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. A stern vision comes like a dust storm out of the desert and suggests that the betrayer is betrayed, the destroyer is destroyed. Elam and Media, nations just to the west of Babylon and Assyria, lay siege to the great nation and the vision of it bowls the prophet over with gut-wrenching pain. He neither sees nor hears, and wants it that way, a sort of twilight zone, except that even that is lost to him and he trembles in abject fear.
In his vision he sees the Babylonians at a feast, at table, seated on their carpets. The Lord says in the vision, go post a lookout and the lookout should announce what he sees. Isaiah becomes the lookout. His vision is the warning to Judah of that which is taking place. He sees charioteers and cavalry come upon the hapless city. Belshazzer’s kingdom is lost in a night. With warmth and love he announces to his beaten countrymen the subject of his vision—Babylon is fallen.
The succeeding visions are of more or less nomadic peoples of the Arabic lands to the east of the Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula. Dumah, Tema and Dedan are oases from north to south in that order. Babylonia as the ‘night’ is over, but new distress is coming. The caravans of Dedanites traveling north (or south) come under attack and flee to the relative safety of the oasis town, Tema. The prophet calls for the Temanites to succor these merchants with water and bread. This same unnamed enemy is obviously an enemy also of Judah, to whom the prophecy is uttered. Finally, the prophet speaks of the downfall of the region of Kedar, north of these aforementioned oases. Kedar’s glory is her numerous warriors and they will soon be very few. In fact, they may be the’enemy’ of the previous prophecy in vss. 13-15. There is no security in this land at this time outside that offered by YHWH.

Siegfried Sasson

Babylon that was beautiful is Nothing now.
Once to the world it tolled a golden bell:
Belshazzar wore its blaze upon his brow;
Ruled; and to ruin fell.
Babylon—a blurred and blinded face of stone—
At dumb Oblivion bragged with trumpets blown;
Teemed, and while merchants strove and prophets dreamed,
Bowed before idols, and was overthrown.

Babylon the merciless, now a name of doom,
Built towers in Time, as we today, for whom
Auguries of self-annihilation loom.

Collect for the Day
O God, who through thy prophets of old hast foretold a day when the armaments of war shall be beaten into the implements of peace: Hasten we beseech thee, the fulfillment of thy most sure promise. Still the tumult of the nations, and set at naught the peoples that delight in war, that we may be speedily delivered from our present confusion into the order and righteousness of thy kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[(474) 1965. The Book of Worship for Church and Home. The Methodist Church, p. 162, #3.]