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.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Indictment

Daily Readings

Job 3 Genesis 39 Amos 2:6-16 Mark 9

Daily Text: Amos 2:6-16

Indictment

Amos does not spare these folks. His appearance is not just a diatribe against their enemies; he strikes deep into the heart of Israel’s private and communal sins. Injustice is rampant in these poignant images of vss.6b-8. The innocent are being sold for money with the consent of the legal system (mention of a ‘pair of shoes, symbol for concluding a legal arrangement). Fathers and sons are sexually using the same helpless woman, and the rich are taking the garments of the poor in pledge and then bedding on them in a triple offense: keeping the garment of the poor, prostituting women and doing it beside God’s altar! For Amos and for YHWH it can’t get any worse.

This indictment then shifts to an historical recital of YHWH’s goodness to Israel in the 13th century conquest of the land, benefits of the exodus from Egypt, and the provision of prophets and nazirites to remind them of their covenant with the LORD. These same nazirites have been forced by the people to violate their life-long oath by drinking prohibited wine, and the prophets, including Amos (cf. 7:12-13), have been prohibited from prophecying God’s own word!

Judgement is inevitable. YHWH has been burdened down with their sin like a cart loaded with sheaves (New English Bible), and no Israelite will escape from the weight of God’s burden.

How Far, O Rich?

St. Ambrose

How far, O rich do you extend your senseless avarice?

Do you intend to be the sole inhabitants of the

earth? Why do you drive out the fellow sharers

of nature and claim it all for yourselves?

The earth was made for all, rich and poor in common.

Why do you rich claim it as your exclusive right?

The soil was given to the rich and poor in common

--wherefore O ye rich, do you unjustly claim it

for yourselves alone?

Nature gave all things in common for the use of all;

usurpation created private rights.

Property hath no rights. The earth is the Lord’s and

we are His offspring.

The pagans hold the earth as property. They do blaspheme

God.

377:766

Friday, February 10, 2006

Crimes Against Humanity

Daily Readings
Job 2 Genesis 38 Amos 1:1-2:5 Mark 8

Daily Text: Amos 1:1-2:5

Crimes Against Humanity
Amos’ date is marked by the natural disaster, the ‘Katrina’ of his day. ‘His’ disaster was an earthquake known to all in his era. Though most scholars are not willing to hazard a guess on the available evidence, the excavators of Hazor found traces of an earthquake which they dated around 760. This would place Amos at 762 B.C. well within the reign of Jereboam II, 786-746 B.C. [Mays, 480:20]. A herdsman of a particular kind of sheep, the animal is known for its ugliness, the wool for its beauty, Amos is thought of as a poor man. His father’s name is never mentioned.
In this first chapter the prophecy is placed as coming from a Judean, to Israel. Tekoa, ten miles south of Jerusalem is the place of Amos’ call, and Bethel, and perhaps Samaria, the places of his ministry. The first seven woes are against the surrounding nations and Judah. They each begin with the same formula “for three transgressions and for four,’ that is for a limitless number of transgressions, they are being called to account. Imagine Amos showing up on market day in Samaria and denouncing the sins of all of Israel’s enemies and rivals promising that YHWH would discipline them. “Oh, this brilliant boy, this remarkable Judean, lets tell our friends about this,” one can almost hear them say. And then he continues right on against Israel. “Now he’s gone to meddling! One should never mix religion and politics,” one can hear them say. And drive him out they did. In nobody’s age do the people want to hear criticism of themselves even when they are seen in the light of the unity of the world’s peoples. No. We always see ourselves as different, as a special case, as better. Such blindness, however, never fits within God’s economy.
Damascan charioteers have driven right over the downed bodies of their enemies from Israel in Gilead. Four of the five cities of Philistia have trafficked in selling a whole people into slavery. Tyre in addition to selling slaves has broken their covenant with a brother nation. Edom is guilty of a harassing cruelty against Judah after the exile; Ammon’s soldiers ripped open the bellies of pregnant women in an attempt to wipe out the next generation of Israelites. Moab desecrated the dead body of the king of Edom burning his bones until they were lime, and Judah has rejected the Torah. Some of these crimes are against humanity, others simply stick in the craw of Israel, and Judah is a theological failure. What a wonderful sermon! One might hear it in a State of the Union message and love every word of it.
Accountability for injustice is being visited upon the guilty.

Amos, The Prophet of Justice

Thomas Curtis Clark

For three sins, and a fourth, God’s wrath was stirred.
His chosen people wallowed in the dust;
They laughed at justice, served the gods of lust,
Oppressed the poor, and scorned his Holy Word.
But there was one who reverenced the good,
Who worshipped God and tried his will to do—
The herdsman Amos, simple, plain and true.
Said God: “Go say their sin is understood.
So Amos: “God, the mighty Lord of earth,
Hast known your sins and ye shall reap reward
For all your wrongs. A strong and cruel horde
Shall devastate your land. In bitter dearth
Ye shall abide, and from your homes shall go
To alien realms, a land of wrath and woe
377:472

Collect for the Day
Lord You called us
And trembling we armed ourselves
For a stony road
Grown over with thorns.
Bodies aflame
And blazing pyres
Were alight for our path.

And yet above the howls of thugs
In every age,
Above the screams of hate
And stones whistling murder,
We heard Your voice:
A voice men have stilled—
But not for ever.

Now You cry out to us
From the ovens.
Now Your secret is a whisper within us,
Too terrible to reveal.
Too many answers for a riddle
Too hard to solve.

This people Israel:
Our cries choked off by hangmen,
Every road to safety blocked,
Every light of rescue darkened…

And yet above the noise of many throats
Thirsty for our blood,
Your voice is heard—
A voice silenced by men and their deeds:
But not for ever.
477:223:5

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Booth and the Bush

Daily Readings
Job 1 Genesis 37 Jonah 4 Mark 7

Daily Text:
Jonah 4

The Booth and the Bush
There is in this final chapter a conundrum that must be addressed before we may conclude our reading. That conundrum is the one related to the booth and the bush. Jonah leaves Nineveh, much like he left Jerusalem, walking out on the presence of God to another place. Here on the east side of the city Jonah sits down to wait and we may presume to judge. He builds a booth and initially uses is for shade, but during the first day God causes a bush or a castor bean plant, perhaps, to grow and to shade him wonderfully. He resides there under that plant happy about it for the day. But in the dawn of the following day God sends a worm to eat through the plant and it withers. Now when God approaches Jonah he is angry over the growth and death of the plant. Angry enough to die! If this is a trivial issue it is the first one in this prophecy. It is not far-fetched to assume it is not trivial. The booth may have represented the covenant, the temple, sukkāh, in Hebrew [cf. Lacocqque & Lacocque, 183:87 ff.]. When the plant grew Jonah no longed shaded himself with the booth, and when the bush died, he no longer went back to the shade of the booth. Why? What is represented here that is critical to an understanding of this story.
Could it be that Jonah finally saw that the exclusive nature of the Judahite religious vision was no longer adequate? Certainly, that is God’s take on his anger about the death of the bush! Could he have made a move from the covenant to the new vision that God has given concerning his love for the nations only to find that within 24 hours its symbol grows and dies leaving him exposed, feeling foolish, angry and bereft? Possibly. It certainly must be something like that. God’s freedom to exercise his omnipotence in forgiving as well as in punishing has been demonstrated. Could it be that exposed by the death of the bush, Jonah reads that experience as God’s abandonment of Judah and Jerusalem, the temple and the covenant? If so he misread it. He always knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishing. Perhaps he could even have accepted that he was also this way with Nineveh, but if he suspected that God had transferred his love from Judah to Nineveh, this he could not abide. That I suspect is the nature of his trauma, his anger, his judgment of God. His integrity is intact; but his trust in God, for the second time in our story, is in question. Perhaps that is the nature of obedience to the call of God, that one must believe in the face of contrary evidence! Until we can make the movement to obedience in the face of contrary evidence, we are simply following our own vision of the nature of reality.


Line After Herbert: Rondel
Madeleine L’Engle

The contrarieties crush me. These crosse actions
Do winde a rope about, and cut my heart.
Good deeds are turned to sudden malefactions.
The end was never guessed at in the start.

How these stern contradictions break apart
The simplest words, and purest actions.
The contrarieties crush me: these crosse factions
Do winde a rope about and cut my heart.

A fearsome faith provides the only cautions.
O dear my Father, ease my smart.
Reality permits of no abstractions.
The whole is visioned in each broken part.
The contrarieties crush me: the crosses’s actions
Do winde a rope about and hold my heart.
450:142


Collect for the Day
Cause the plant of justice to spring up soon. Let the light of deliverance shine forth according to your word, for we await Your deliverance all the day. [471:42]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Disobeying Ourselves

Daily Readings
Psalm 41 Genesis 36 Jonah 3 Mark 6

Daily Text: Jonah 3

Disobeying Ourselves
The common wisdom is that there are no second chances. Seize your opportunity for it will not come again. There is truth in this or it would not be received as wisdom. Heraclitus words that one cannot swim twice in the same river tends to confirm the idea. Many are the philosphers and theologians who echo this. However, this cannot be allowed to interpret Jonah’s second word from the LORD. His is a true second chance. God still has not given him his message, waiting for him to arrive in Nineveh. The beauty of Jonah is that he repented and became truly free in the belly of the fish. There he realized that he could obey God without losing his own integrity. He did not have to agree with God’s desire for the Ninevites to repent to preach their doom! And we shall see in chapter 4 that he did not agree with God. “And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists [Sermon of Father Mapple in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, 183:vi].
Allowing that God gives us many opportunities to repent—who of us would ever do so if we had but one opportunity—it is remarkable that Nineveh did so with the one hearing of her coming destruction. She did not wait for forty days, she immediately from king to kine repented her evil and her violent ways. Abraham’s greatness lay in his faith in the word of God. God says offer Isaac and he does. No heading for Tarshish for him, or in our story, for Nineveh. On the other hand, presumably Judah, for whom this story is written, fails to respond. The story illustrates for Judah that her own redemption is wrapped up with the destiny of the nations, even her enemies, and we have no information that she ever learned much from the prophet’s demonstration of the universal nature of God’s redemption.

Specula
Thomas Edward Brown

When He appoints thee, go thou forth—
It matters not
If south or north,
Bleak waste or sunny plot.
Nor think, if haply He thou seek’st be late,
He does thee wrong.
To stile or gate
Lean thou thy head, and long!
It may be that to spy thee He is mounting
Upon a tower,
Or in thy counting
Thou hast mista’en the hour.
But, if He comes not, neither do thou go
Till Vesper chime,
Belike thou then shalt know
He hath been with thee all the time.
404:182

Collect for the Day
My Lord and friend, in the quietness of this hour, reconcile my contrary motives and conflicting desires. Give me a singleness of purpose that I may come into your presence unashamed and sit under your gaze without blushing. Amen. [479:275]

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Water Taxi

Daily Readings
Psalm 40 Genesis 35 Jonah 1:17-2:10 Mark 5

Daily Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10

Water Taxi
In the belly of the great fish, Jonah called to the LORD restoring his channel of communication with the divine [183:53]. Driven from God’s sight, his presence, Jonah experiences the exile of his people. There, cut off from all that was previously holy, he makes the movement from chaos through reflection to meaning. He went into the bottom of Pit, the heart of imprisonment and death to find life, resurrection, hope. There he re-membered the LORD. The opposite of re-membering is not ‘forgetting’, but ‘dis-membering. In that moment his identification with the LORD was reconstitituted, his repentance became complete and his redemption likewise full and present. Immediately, he became ready to pay his vow, that continuing force of his old life, that is not replaced in the new, but simply renewed!
So in the new life the old values took on life. Lacocque and Lacocque [183:52] write:
“But this much remains: it raises the fundamental question of the values of yesterday. The problem cannot be ignored in the present circumstances, and it must not be smothered by the substitution of “modern” standards for old ones. It is a mistake to believe that there are substitute values available when the former ones are questioned. Only the inexperienced and the gullible can be persuaded by demagogues that a new world order will spring from the vacuum left by the rejection of the old order. On the contrary, the wise and the prophets know that a society or an individual does not change values as one changes clothes” [183:52].

Jonah revitalized his old values and in that moment the LORD spoke to the fish and it spit him out on dry land.

Losers
Carl Sandburg

If I should pass the tomb of Jonah
I would stop there and sit for awhile;
Because I was swallowed one time deep in the dark
And came out alive after all.
442:127

The Ribs and Terrors
Herman Melville

The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And lift me to a deeper doom.

I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.

In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe Him mine,
He bowed His ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.

With speed He flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.

My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.
395:446

Collect for the Day
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
[BCP 397 Confession of Sin]

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tragic Hero?

Daily Readings
Psalm 39 Genesis 34 Jonah 1:1-16 Mark 4

Daily Text: Jonah 1:1-16

Tragic Hero?
There was a prophet, Jonah, son of Amittai from Gath-hepher as is recorded in II Kings 14:25. This was during the 8th century B.C. However, the scholars are generally convinced that our book of Jonah was written during the 5th century B.C. after the Exile. What the relationship is or was to that historical figure is unknown. What is known is that the story told us in the book of Jonah is not an historical occurrence. The tale is one of symbolic narrative, a parable, if you will, like many of the stories of the Hebrew Testament and of Jesus in the Christian Testament. To say that is another way of affirming the beauty and the magnificence of this story-parable. Like many of the prophets of Israel, Jonah was charged with a message of repentance and redemption that included nations far beyond Jerusalem. In this case it was a message of repentance and hope for Judah’s arch-enemy, Assyria. Our prophet knew God well-enough to know that merciful as he was, it was entirely possible that Nineveh would repent and thus become recipient of the favor of the Lord. What then would happen to his own nation, Judah?
It was too much to ask of any man. It was too much even for God to ask of any man, and so Jonah departed for the southwestern Atlantic coast of Spain, the end of the world as he knew it. There follows the story of the ship boarding, the storm, the lightening of the ship and the sleeping Jonah in the hold of that ship? As in the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, God has asked too much. Even human beings do not have to obey such requests. Son or nation, either goes beyond the pale. But YHWH is not defined by human perception of right and wrong. And obviously Jonah knows this or he would simply have ignored his call. Instead he acts immediately to place himself in the womb of the sea and as far from Jerusalem and Nineveh as is possible. He sets himself up to become a tragic hero, except that when the mariners reluctantly throw him overboard, God has prepared a redemptive solution—no tragedy will result [cf. 183:38]. The problem for the Greek tragic hero was how to become divine. For the Hebrew, divinity was out of the question. Rather it is how to become fully human, fully who you are! That is theme of the story of Jonah and it only develops with his obedience to the divine, in spite of the divine call’s unreasonable implications.
One additional note: is it possible that the cry of the sailors in vs. 6 is essentially the articulated need of the Ninevites whom Jonah is avoiding? Interestingly, when Jonah is confronted with these Gentile fears, he takes pity and suggests they throw him overboard to save themselves! Fact to face, Jonah is full of concern….



Jonah
Randall Jarrell

As I lie here in the sun
And gaze out, a day’s journey, over Nineveh,
The sailors in the dark hold cry to me:
“What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise and call upon
Thy God; pray with us, that we perish not.”

All thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
The waters compassed me, the weeds were wrapped about my
head;
The earth with her bars was about me forever.
A naked worm, a man no longer,
I writhed beneath the dead:

But thou art merciful.
When my soul was dead within me I remembered thee,
From the depths I cried to thee. For thou art merciful:
Thou hast brought my life up from corruption,
O Lord my God….When the king said, “Who can tell

But God may yet repent, and turn away
From his fierce anger, that we perish not?”
My heart fell; for I knew thy grace of old—
In my own country, Lord, did I not say
That thou art merciful?

Now take, Lord, I beseech thee,
My life from me; it is better that I die…
But I hear, “Doest thou well, then, to be angry?”
And I say nothing, and look bitterly
Across the city; a young gourd grows over me

And shades me—and I slumber, clean of grief.
I was glad of the gourd. But God prepared
A worm that gnawed the gourd; but God prepared
The east wind, the sun beat upon my head
Till I cried, “Let me die!” and God said, “Doest thou well

To be angry for the gourd?”
And I said in my anger, “I do well
To be angry, even unto death.” But the Lord God
Said to me, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd”—
And I wept, to hear its dead leaves rattle—

“Which came up in a night, and perished in a night.
And should I not spare Nineveh, that city
Wherein are more than six-score thousand persons
Who cannot tell their left hand from their right;
And also much cattle?”
395:447

Collect for the Day
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [BCP, 215, Third Sunday after the Epiphany]

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Feeble Knees No Longer

Daily Readings
Psalm 38 Genesis 33 Isaiah 35 Mark 3

Daily Text: Isaiah 35

Feeble Knees No Longer
The prophet brought warning and after warning hope, rather like sunshine after rain. This passage is just that—hope for Judah following the forecast doom of Edom. It is also a message of hope to complete the early book of Isaiah. Following this chapter comes 36-39 which more properly belong to the historical account of I Kings and then the prophecy of Second Isaiah. So this bright message of hope completes First Isaiah’s corpus. It picks up themes which are common in Second Isaiah, but it does so in reference to the prophecy of First Isaiah.
Here the prophet attempts to ‘strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. He suggests that God’s vengeance on the nations is for the sake of Judah and her salvation. Iniquity is a terrible thing, but with repentance, God’s judgement is turned away and the land will bloom where it was formerly dry and waste. Rebellion against the Holy One of Israel has terrible consequences, but turning to him brings great delight. There in the wilderness of God’s judgment shall be a highway for the people of God. Once on that highway not even a fool can get lost. It leads inexorably, safely and joyfully to the Mount of God in Zion.

Isaiah XXXV
John Gardiner Calkins Brainard
1796-1828

A rose shall bloom in the lonely place,
A wild shall echo with sounds of joy,
For heaven’s own gladness its bounds shall grace,
And forms angelic their songs employ.

And Lebanon’s cedars shall rustle their boughs,
And fan their leaves in the scented air;
And Carmel and Sharon shall pay their vows,
And shout, for the glory of God is there.

O say to the fearful, Be strong of heart;
He comes in vengeance, but not for thee;
For thee He comes, his might to impart
To the trembling hand and the feeble knee.

The blind shall see, the deaf shall hear,
The dumb shall raise their notes for Him,
The lame shall leap like the unharmed deer,
And the thirsty shall drink of the holy stream.

And the parchèd ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land a dew-washed mead;
And where the wildest beasts held rule,
The harmless of His fold shall feed.

There is away, and a holy way,
Where the unclean foot shall never tread,
But from it the lowly shall not stray,
To it the penitent shall be ded.

No lion lhsall rouse him from his lair,
Nor wild beast rave in foaming rage;
But the redeemed of the earth shall there
Pursue their peaceful pilgrimage.

The ransomed of God shall return to him
With a chorus of joy to an angel’s lay;
With a tear of grief shall no eye be dim,
For sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
411:396

Collect for the Day
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natrual which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
[by e. e. cummings, from Selected Poems, 1923-1958;
477:241:33]