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, February 04, 2006

Heavenly Retribution

Psalm 37:19-42 Genesis 32 Isaiah 34 Mark 2

Daily Text: Isaiah 34

Heavenly Retribution
Edom represents the world of nations in this prophecy. The whole world is to heed the Holy One of Israel, for he is enraged over their hoards. One imagines that this hoarding is not simply the matter of piling up wealth, but the implications of that in a lack of trust in the LORD. His rage works itself out first in the heavens, that is in heavenly places where there are presumably beings that have set an example for the nations in the working of deep iniquity. That this is seen in earlier segments of Isaiah (e.g. 24:21), in the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John (Revelation 12:7-9), simply confirms what is obvious that the realm of the eternal also had its rebellion, its conflict, and its judgment. Always, it seems, what happens in heavenly spheres is then carried out in earthly and ‘timely’ ones. Whereas the Greeks saw their gods as being sort super humans, with the same traits and sins, the biblical view is different. There are ‘gods’ and angels, archangels, principalities and powers and they lead in both holiness and in iniquity. The iniquitous ones influence the sons of men and are held accountable first. Then their human counterparts are likewise held accountable. These ‘heavenly’ ones of iniquity are not super humans or even modeled after humans. They are part of the creation, simply removed from time, and some of them rebel and lead the way in rebellion. How they communicate with humans is never suggested, however, that they do influence them is unquestioned.
When the LORD attacks the earth, he leaves the bodies unburied. This is the greatest offense in both ancient and contemporary times. It is a mark of great disrespect and the LORD makes it against these nations. Subsequently, he moves against Edom and the most terrible revenge is taken leaving the land unfit for human habitation. At the same time this move against Edom reassures Judah that she is different. God, while he punishes her, also loves her and will treat her differently in the end time. All of this is presumably ‘end time’ material, last days, if you will.

The 34. Chapter of the Prophet IsaiahAbraham Cowley
Awake, and with attention hear,
Thou drowsy World, for it concerns thee near;
Awake, I say, and listen well,
To what from God, I, his loud prophet, tell.
Bid both the poles suppress their stormy noise,
And bid the roaring sea contain its voice.
Be still thou Sea, be still thou Air and Earth,
Still, as old Chaos, before motion’s birth,
A dreadful host of judgments is gone out;
In strength and number more
Then e’er was raised by God before,
To scourge the rebel World, and march it round about.

I see the Sword of God brandished above;
And from it streams a dismal ray;
I see the scabbard cast away.
How red anon with slaughter will it prove!
How will it sweat and reek in blood!

How will the scarlet-glutton be o’er-gorged with his food!
And devour all the mighty feast!
Nothing soon but bones will rest.
God does a solemn sacrifice prepare;
But not of oxen, nor of rams,
Not of kids, nor of their dams
Not of heifers, nor of lambs.
The altar all the land, and all men in’t the victims are,
Since wicked men’s more guilty blood to spare,
The beasts so long have sacrificed been,
Since men their birthright forfeit still by sin,
‘Tis fit at last beasts their revenge should have,
And sacrificed men their better brethren save.

So will they fall, so will they flee;
Such will the creatures wild distraction be,
When at the final Doom,
Nature and Time shall both be slain,
Shall struggle with Deaths pangs in vain,
And the whole world their funeral pile become.
The wide-stretched scroll of heaven, which we
Immortal as the Deity think,
With all the beauteous characters that in it
With such deep sense by God’s own hand were writ,
Whose eloquence though we understand not, we admire,
Shall crackle, and the parts together shrink
Like parchment in a fire.
Th’exhausted sun to th’moon no more shall lend;
But truly then headlong into the sea descend.
The glittering Host, now in such fair aray,
So proud, so well appointed, and so gay,
Like fearful troops in some strong ambush ta’en,
Shall some fly routed, and some fall slain,
Thick as ripe fruit, or yellow leaves in autumn fall,
With such a violent storm as blows down tree and all.

And Thou, O cursed Land,
Which wilt not see the precipice where thou dost stand,
Though thou standst just upon the brink;
Thou of this poisoned bowl the bitter dregs shalt drink.
Thy rivers and thy lakes shall so
With human blood o’erflow;
That they shall fetch the slaughtered corpse away,
Which in the fields around unburied lay,
And rob the beasts and birds to give the fish their prey.
The rooting corpse shall so infect the air;
Beget such plagues, and putrid venoms there,
That by thine own dead shall be slain,
All thy few living that remain.
As one who buys, surveys a ground,
So the Destroying Angel measures it around.
So careful and so strict he is,
Lest any nook or corner he should miss.
He walks about the perishing nation,
Ruin behind him stalks and empty desolation.

Then shall the market and the pleading-place
Be choked with brambles and o’ergrown with grass.
The serpents through thy streets shall roll,
And in thy lower rooms the wolves shall howl,
And thy gilt chambers lodge the raven and the owl,
And all the winged ill-omens of the air,
Though no new ills can be foreboded there.
The lion lthen shall to the leopard say
Brother Leopard come away;
Behold a land which God has given us in prey!
Behold a land from whence we see
Mankind expulsed, His and our common enemy!
The brother leopard shakes himself, and does not stay.

The glutted vultures shall expect in vain
New armies to be slain.
Shall find at last the business done,
Leave their consumed quarters, and be gone.
Th’unburied ghosts shall sadly moan,
The satyrs laugh to hear them groan.
The evil spirits that delight
To dance and revel in the mask of night,
The moon and stars, their sole spectators shall affright.
And if of lost Mankind
Ought happen to be left behind,
If any relics but remain
They in the Dens shall lurk, beasts in the palaces shall reign.

Collect for the Day
You have kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day—
Every prophet’s dream,
Every seer’s vision:
A dream no more,
No longer a will-of the-wisp.
The vision is real.

With my own eyes I see
where those few,
gaunt with hunger,
so thin they cast no shadow,
dropped the seed
in the Valley of Jezreel,
And, lo!
The grain rises and grows—
The state of Israel!
[by Sh. Shalom, trsl. CS 477:251:45]

Friday, February 03, 2006

Zion's Treasure

Daily Readings
Psalm 37:1-18 Genesis 31 Isaiah 33 Mark 1

Daily Text: Isaiah 33

Zion’s Treasure
Reading Isaiah 33 and finding its integrity is like unraveling a skein of yarn. Roughly it may be broken into two sections 1-6 and 7-24. The latter section has four subdivisions: a lament 7-9; YHWH’s Response 10-13; Conditions for Participation in Redemption 14-16 and A Future Promise 17-24. However, tying these poetic elements to historical situations is like fitting together a puzzle of a Jackson Pollock painting!
On the other hand, the familiar themes of man’s inhumanity to man, the inevitability of punishment for iniquity, the promise of a remnant of God’s people as well as a future triumph of evil over good, and more to the point, the vindication of YHWH within his creation are all present. These prophetic poets like Isaiah sound and resound God’s inevitable presence in history and the judgment that will follow the lines of a clear moral order. ‘Betrayal will beget betrayal (vs. 1).’ The one who lives righteously can suffer and overcome the terrors of other’s iniquities (vs. 15). ‘God’s anger is fierce because man’s cruelty is infernal’ (Heschel 478:80, vs. 14). Humankind is a unity and YHWH is ruler over all (vs. 13). One of God’s great promises lies in vss. 5 & 6: again the prophet sees the conjunction of time and eternity and within that conjunction he testifies that the LORD fills Zion with justice and righteousness, forget human chicanery, and see divine wholeness. Look beyond human iniquity, power grabs, inhumanity and gaze on the stability that is our LORD. See also that fear or reverence of the LORD is the great treasure to be found in Jerusalem, among his people.

A Hymn to God the Father
John Donne

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
For, I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two: But wallowed in, a score?
When Thou has done, Thou hast not done,
For, I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I fear no more.

Collect for the Day
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may be you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [BCP: Proper 15:232]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Effect of Righteousness

The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Daily Readings
Psalm 84:1-6 Malachi 3:1-4 Isaiah 32 Hebrews 2:14-18

Daily Text: Isaiah 32

The Effect of Righteousness
Beautiful is the imagery of this passage. Verses 1-8 contain two six couplet stanzas, each completed by a subject the opposite of the five preceding couplets. So at the end of the poem about the righteous rulers comes the couplet about the scoundrel or fool. And at the end of the stanza about the iniquity of the scoundrel comes the couplet about the one of noble mind.
The carefree women of Judah are addressed, not because they are alone, but perhaps because they more vulnerable, physically, spiritually and emotionally, than the men. Verse 10 seems better translated as in the New English Bible (NEB) ‘when the year is out.’ That desolation will continue until a ‘spirit from on high’ is lavished upon them. It will take the spirit of the Holy One of Israel to bring about the new order. And order begins with righteous living, which leads to justice, which itself (abhors war) yields peace; prosperity is a secondary effect. They are linked, and linked in any other progression they lead to the breakdown of all order. This is the Holy One’s vision not only for Judah, but for the whole people of God and the Creation. Why is it that the Church can not see this, advocate this, practice this?

“Seeking Perspective in a Hate-Torn World”
Madeleine L’Engle

Seeking perspective in a hate-torn world,
Leaving, for respite brief, the choking city,
I turn to trees, new leaves not quite unfurled,
A windswept blue-pure sky for pity.
Across a pasture, over a stone wall,
Past berry brambles and an unused field,
Listening for leaf sound and the brook’s clear call,
Turning down path by bush and tree concealed,
Forgetting human sin and nature’s fall
I seek perfection in the cool green still.
Small trees with new spring growth are tall.
Here is no sign of human hate or ill.
Unexpecting any pain or shock
I turn to climb upon my thinking rock.

The rock stands high above the snow-full brook.
Behind the rock an old tree breaks the sky,
And on the tree where bird and beast may look
An icon and a cross are hanging high.
So strong are they, placed lovingly together,
I need have little fear for their protection
Through wind and snow and bitter wintry weather.
They speak to me of joy and Resurrection
And here my self-will stills, my heart beats slow.
God’s presence in his world is bright and strong.
Upon the rock I climb, and then—No! No!
The sky is dark and here is hate and wrong.
O God! make it not be! Oh, make it not!
The icon: target for a rifle’s shot.

A wave of dark blasts cold across my face.
My stomach heaves with nausea at the dirt
Of hate in this pure green and loving place.
The trees pull back and cower in their hurt.
Rooted, they could not stop the vicious gun
Fired straight at God’s birth-giver and her child.
There’s only death in this. It’s no one’s fun
To blaspheme love. A shot has made a wild
Distortion of the young and ancient face.
I give the broken fragments to the brook
And let the water lap them with its grace.
And then I sit upon the rock and look
At the great gouge in the tree’s wood.
Evil obscures all peace and love and good.

As I sit looking at the shot-at tree
The rough wound opens and grows strange and deep
Within the wood, till suddenly I see
A galaxy aswirl with flame. I do not sleep
And yet I see a trillion stars speed light
In ever-singing dance within the hole
Surrounded by the tree. Each leaf’s alight
With flame. And then a burning living coal
Drops hissing in the brook, and all the suns
Burst outward in their joy, and the shot child,
Like the great and flaming tree, runs
With fire and water, and alive and wild
Gentle and strong, becomes the wounded tree.
Lord God! The icon’s here, alive and free.

Collect for the Day
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP 828:44 for the Future of the Human Race]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cost of Discipleship

Daily Readings
Psalm 36 Genesis 30 Isaiah 31 Acts 28

Daily Text: Isaiah 31

Cost of Discipleship
This chapter makes sense if verses 6, 7 are treated as a parenthesis. It is an important parenthesis, but taking it out of the flow of the chapter allows for the following reading. Woe is Judah who has gone to Egypt for protection against Assyria. The LORD is the only sure protection. He will fight for Jerusalem and then Assyria will fall. The parenthesis fits into the logic of the passage because it is the repentance of Judah that is required for the LORD to throw his ‘weight’ towards Judah.
The phrase in vs. 2 that the LORD will ‘not call back his words….’ is a reaffirmation that God’s loyalties are fixed, were fixed when he first covenanted with Abraham, with Moses, with David…. Once his loyalties were fixed they stand fast. Later condemnation, like seen in this chapter, when he promises Judah that they will fall with their Egyptian allies, is only a temporary step on the road of a permanent commitment.

I Am The Last
Edward Shillito

Stricken to earth, the sword snapped in his hand,
Shield cast away, down-beaten to the knee,
He sees the foes he made above him stand—
Now he has only Me.

The towers are fallen; at his feet they lie
Wrecks of the hopes that now he will not see,
Naked unto the blast, Death drawing nigh—
Now he has only Me.

But he has Me. The last illusions fade,
The trumpet sounds no more, and man, set free
From tyranny of dreams his pride has made,
At last has only Me.

For many loves he now has only one,
His many gods before the tempest flee,
His light is dying, and his day is done,
But he at last has Me.

Collect for the Day
God of justice and mercy, open the eyes of sinners that they may see the light of your truth, know the power of your love, and share in the bounty of your heavenly table; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [476:749:36, Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wait, Listen, Obey

Daily Readings
Psalm 35 Genesis 29 Isaiah 30 Acts 27

Daily Text: Isaiah 30

Wait, Listen, Obey
God’s rebellious children have sought worthless help from Egypt to save them from Sennacherib. One of the funniest images in Scripture may be the one in vs. 7 when God names Egypt “Rahab who sits”. The story of Rahab of Jericho is an ancient one in Israel. She is the prostitute who hides Joshua’s spies and smuggles them out of Jericho when they are being hunted. She was help indeed. But Egypt is like a ‘Rahab who sits’—a woman of promise, but no cigar! She doesn’t deliver.
For a priest of the church the passage from 8-11 speaks resoundingly. The people do not listen to Isaiah’s word. In fact, they instruct the seer’s not to see, the prophets not to prophecy, the preachers not to preach--not to preach the clear implications of the word of God, at any rate. They want to hear illusions, nice words, comfortable words. No politics, as if God’s word will ever ignore what is going on in His world! Isaiah is all politics, that is, all words addressing and criticizing Judah’s politics. What in the world do we think this material is about? How appropriate is this 8th century B.C. material for the 21st century!
These sons of Jacob reject Isaiah’s word and because of it their downfall will be ruthless. Their salvation lies not in outside help but in simple relational postures toward their God: repentance and rest, quietness and trust. Note that rest and trust are concomitant responses in serving God. This is the ‘rest’ spoken of in the Psalms and in the book of the Hebrews. Serving God does not require busyness (business), that state of living (dying) that fills every moment of every day with activity, depending on ones own strength. Actually, the LORD wants to be, waits to be, gracious to you, to show you mercy, and to do so this God of justice blesses those who wait for him, but he does wait until we wait on him.
The coming redemption of the LORD is interwoven with his discipline. Though the LORD may give you the ‘bread of adversity and the water of affliction’ he will also show Himself as your rabbi, your teacher. And when you turn left or right he will be with you to direct you: ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ When that begins to happen, then your obedience will flower and you will throw away your idols whatever they may be. This is a most amazing promise. He will never let you go, although, that will not necessarily be appreciated in the middle of his discipline.

Stand Still and Wait
Author Unknown

Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it; when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left..—Isaiah 30:21

“Stand still,” my soul, for so thy Lord commands:
E’en when thy way seems blocked, leave it in His wise hands;
His arm is mighty to divide the wave.
“Stand still,” my soul, “stand still” and thou shalt see
How God can work the “impossible” for thee,
For with a great deliverance He doth save.

Be not impatient, but in stillness stand,
Even when compassed ’round on every hand,
In ways thy spirit does not comprehend.
God cannot clear thy way till thou art still,
That He may work in thee His blessed will,
And all thy heart and will to Him doth bend.

“Be still,” my soul, for just as thou art still,
Can God reveal Himself to thee; until
Through thee His love and light and life can freely flow;
In stillness God can work through thee and reach
The souls around thee. He then through thee can teach
His lessons, and His power in weakness show.

“Be still”—a deeper step in faith and rest.
“Be still and know” thy Father knoweth best
The way that leads His child to that fair land,
A “summer” land, where quiet waters flow;
Where longing souls are satisfied, and “know
Their God,” and praise for all that He has planned.

Collect for the Day
Drop thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.
John Green leaf Whittier (1807-1892) [475:258:538]

Monday, January 30, 2006

If Not Now, Later

Daily Readings
Psalm 33 Genesis 28 Isaiah 29 Acts 26

Daily Text: Isaiah 29

If Not Now, Later
From threat to Jerusalem (Ariel) [vss.1-4] to threat to Jerusalem’s enemies [5-8], back to remonstrate against those who, with Hezekiah, have concluded a secret agreement with Shabako of Egypt against Sennacherib of Assyria [9-14] and finally to an eschatalogical future that will see Abraham’s progeny return to the LORD [vss.22-24], Isaiah introduces God’s concerns to Judah. Jerusalem had never fallen since the day David took it from the Jebusites until now, at the end of the eighth century. But fall it would. And then, God turns right around and reassures them that Judah’s enemies would feel God’s hand against them, as well. Isaiah 9-16 includes a tri-partite section of warning for Judah that their leaders are like sleep-walkers when it come to seeing and ‘reading’ Isaiah’s vision. Also they pay lip service to God, but their heart is not in their worship and third they try to hide even from God their secret agreement with Egypt against Assyria. It will not ever work. They are the one’s formed, not God, they are the ones who misunderstand, not God. They are the one’s who have turned things upside down. Why is it that God continually comes back to restate his commitment to Israel and Judah? Over and over again he will reaffirm his covenant with them even if it is to be at the end of the age, at the end of time, he will be true to that.
The point is that God never gives a ‘last’ word, only the ‘first’ one. That is, it is his covenant word that is eternal. He will discipline, punish, distress his faithless ones, but in the midst he will reaffirm his covenant. Regardless of our behavior, he will live out his covenant with us. We may reject it, but he will not give up on us until we run out of time to repent and return to Him. And there will always be a remnant who will do just that. God will be faithful. I think this may explain the ‘confusion’ of loving and punishing words in Isaiah. God is a just God, and he will relate to our actual behavior. Having said that, he continues to be steadfastly committed to us through his covenanted word.

Isaiah by Kerosene Lantern Light
Robert Harris
Isaiah 29:11-14

This voice an older friend has kept
to patronize the single name he swears by
saying aha, aha to me.

The heresy hunter, shifting these lines
another shrieks through serepax and heroin
that we have a ‘culture’.

These are the very same who shall wait
for plainer faces after they’ve glutted on beauty,
a mild people back from the dead

shall speak the doors down
to the last hullo reaching the last crooked hutch
in forest or forest-like deeps of the town.

These who teach with the fingers and answer
with laughter, with anger, shall be in derision
and the waiting long, and the blue and white days

like a grave in a senseless universe.
I believe this wick and this open book
In the light’s oval, and I disbelieve

everything this generation has told me.

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, Creator of the universe. In your loving kindness you watch over your chosen people. Make us witnesses to your truth and instruments of your peace, that all may know you as the God of justice, and praise your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [476:744, Psalm prayer 33]

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Precious Stone of Trust

Daily Readings
Psalm 32 Genesis 27 Isaiah 28 Acts 25

Daily Text: Isaiah 28

The Precious Stone of Trust
Complex-seeming, chapter 28 could be reduced to some simple, and for the reader of the Hebrew scriptures, familiar themes. Beginning with charges of unrighteous behavior against Ephraim, that is, Samaria, the prophet promises in vss. 5 & 6 that YHWH will become a garland of glory on the heads of that remnant that follows him. He will give them a spirit of justice and the courage to defend the city. Following, he turns to Jerusalem and condemns them for the same drunken, gluttonous and untrusting behavior that he used to condemn Samaria in vss. 1-4. They evidently liked it when he condemned the Northern nation, but the religious leaders of the Southern nation mock Isaiah in vs. 9 &10 when he turns to them. Their mockery consists of drunken chanting of syllables used to teach the very young. Isaiah responds to say that God will indeed teach them with simple phrases in an alien tongue, ostensibly Assyrian! He tried to teach them his way, that of rest and repose, and they simply didn’t learn it. Now they will, for they will be taken by the enemy (vs. 13).
In vss. 14-22 Isaiah then proposes one of the most imaginative and forthright of his prophecies. The rulers of Israel, and one does not have to posit a different set of leaders from vss. 7, 8, simply an expanded set, are deluding themselves when they believe that their agreement with Egypt to defend them against Assyria will work. Rather they are relying on false hopes, sheltering themselves with lies. YHWH responds to say that he will lay a cornerstone in Zion, a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone and that stone will be unvarnished trust in YHWH. In laying the stone he will test its trueness with a plumbline, a plumbline of justice and righteousness, that is, outward justice and inward integrity. Such wholeness will confirm the rightness of trust or faith in God, and at the same time will demonstrate the falseness of trust in Egypt’s power to save. On the one hand, God offers himself as trustworthy and on the other he punishes those who do not behave as if he were. So God is both saviour and destroyer, teacher and disciplinarian, mentor and menace.
Finally, Isaiah give us a parable in vss. 23-29. In it he compares God to a provident farmer, one who does everything needed: preparing, planting, tending, harvesting and nourishing or redeeming. Implications suggest that preparing may include discipling as well as disciplining, planting may differ from one seed and season to another, tending varies on the need, harvesting requires differing techniques, and using the results will nourish himself, his family and his guests. Note that the parable may be interpreted to cover all of the text of the preceding passage. Complete trust, that is all that is required.

The Day’s Demand
Josiah Gilbert Holland

God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor—men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice sleeps.

Collect for the Day
Lord, we are not so arrogant as to pretend
that the trial of our lives
does not reveal our flaws.
We know ourselves,
in this moment of prayer,
to have failed ourselves and others,
the ones we love and the stranger,
again and again.
We know how often
we did not bring to the surface of our lives
the hidden goodness within.
Where we have achieved, O Lord,
we are proud of ourselves
and grateful to You;
where we have failed,
we ask forgiveness.
Remember how exposed we are
to the chances and terrors of life.
We were afraid.
We sometimes chose to fail.
And we ask:
Turn our thoughts from the hurt to its remedy.
Free us of the torments of guilt.

Forgiven, O Lord, help us to forgive others;
Failing, help us to understand failure;
Renewed and encouraged, help us to be like
those who came before us:
human. Sinners sometimes, yet a blessing.