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, March 11, 2006

Clear Expectations: Bible Commentary on Micah 6 with poem by Allen Eastman Cross, What Doth the Lord Require of Thee

Daily Readings
Psalm 95 Exodus 17 Micah 6 I Corinthians 5

Daily Text: Micah 6

Clear Expectations

Micah 6 presents YHWH taking Israel, the Northern Kingdom, into the court of creation. There the foundations of the earth, the ancient hills, are witnesses to the controversy between YHWH and Israel. Israel’s response is made by the prophet, and the final judgment is handed down by YHWH, one of the contenders. That is the structure of this historic passage.

The intimate relationship between creation, humanity and the Creator are highlighted. In contemporary society we are beginning to understand that our actions will be held accountable in the court of the created order. There is no way to escape that. It seems that the LORD enabled Micah to catch a glimpse of this truth in the eighth century B.C. (While scholars debate whether or not this chapter dates to the 8th century, there is little reason to believe it could not have done, and if it was addressed to the Northern Kingdom, as it appears to be, it must have been that early.)

In a recital of the Exodus, vs. 4, Moses, Aaron and Miriam are mentioned explicitly. Why these three? “The Targum (the late Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament that was regularly read in the synagogues) explains why these three persons are mentioned. He sent Moses as revealer of God’s will, that Israel might learn what was right. He sent Aaron as the atonement-making priest, who should free Israel from the burden of guilt when the people failed to live up to God’s will. And he sent Miriam to be the special teacher of women” [485:102].

The people respond in Micah’s words with ill-disguised and troubled questions about ritual sacrifice only to be corrected by Micah’s clarity that what God seeks is for us ‘to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.’ To do justice is to create a social order that reflects respect for every person, and each of us is responsible in our domain. To love kindness has a community component that suggests that we make common cause with our whole community, ‘that I have practiced a sense of community solidarity with you’ [485:109]. The Hebrew word, hesed, found here, bears that connotation of a communal bond that suggests a broad loyalty to others. To walk humbly with one’s God incorporates the first two and recognizes that we serve the community because that is what God desires, and we are under the authority of the God who created the universe, and who loves humankind enough to come himself in human form to die for that same humanity. Some of the details of justice, love and humility are found in the judgment of vss. 11, 12. The rest are found in the Torah and elsewhere. The summary of the law reminds us of this in New Testament terms. ‘Love God and your neighbor as yourself.’

What Doth The Lord Require of Thee
Allen Eastman Cross

1864-1943

What doth the Lord require of thee,
Friend of the friendless poor?
Put out thy hands upon thy cross,
And take the nails He bore!

What doth the Lord require of thee,
Son of the living God?
Challenge the whips that harry thee,
And break th’ oppressor’s rod!

What doth the Lord require of thee
If Justice be His name?
Let Mercy be the altar fire
To set thy soul aflame!

O Flame of God, O Son of Man,
Dare us to drink Thy blood,
To make our world of wrath and tears
A House of Brotherhood!
407:1548

Collect for the Day
Lord, help me to know that:
he who is down need fear no fall,
he that is low, no pride;
he that is humble, ever shall
have God to be his guide.
Make me content with what I have,
little be it or much;
and, Lord, contentment ever crave,
because thou savest such.
475:255:528 adapted from John Bunyan

Friday, March 10, 2006

Double Themes: Bible Commentary on Micah 5 with poem by John Hay, God's Vengeance

Daily Readings
Job 27 Exodus 16 Micah 5 I Corinthians 4

Daily Text: Micah 5

Double Themes
Two themes reappear repeatedly in this chapter and they affect both Assyria, the aggressor, and Judah, the people of God. The themes are those of peace and vengeance, both attributed to God. Let us look at how they work. At the outset Judah is besieged and her ruler is ritually abased by being struck on the cheek. McKeating documents that from Mesopotamian sources the king is struck on the cheek by the priest and is thus abased only to resume his dignity following the ritual. This could be tied into the ruler from Bethlehem Ephrathah in 5:2-5a who will give up his tokens of rule only for the amount of time it takes a woman in labor to deliver! This, of course, could refer to Jesus, also, who was abased for a day or so and after three days took up his life and his majesty at the right hand of God. But he does so as “the one of peace.” At the end of the chapter, the Lord addresses Judah declaring that he will strip her of every inappropriate practice and symbol, exercising his vengeance against her. Peace and vengeance in relationship to Judah.

In 5:5 Assyria invades and what is the preparation to oppose her? Seven shepherds, usually the symbol of pastoral attention, and eight military princes are set up to oppose Assyria militarily. Shepherd and soldier, both given to address the invasion!

In the middle of the chapter, 5:7-9, again we have two images, metaphors in this case, those of dew and a lion. The remnant of Jacob, in both cases, surrounded by many nations will be like dew and then like a lion. The dew will provide all of the moisture needed to make productive the land. It will come, presumably on righteous and wicked alike, providing what is needed. The lion, on the other hand, will with violence address Jacob’s adversaries and will cut them off.

It is fascinating how the God of Hosts will not let himself be bound by expectations and the limitations of most cultures. He will both be God of peace and God of vengeance. Can we not expect the same?

God’s Vengeance
John Hay

Saith the Lord, “Vengeance is mine”;
“I will repay,” saith the Lord;
Ours be the anger divine,
Lit by the flash of his word.

How shall his vengeance be done?
How, when his purpose is clear?
Must he come down from the throne?
Hath he no instruments here?

Sleep not in imbecile trust,
Waiting for God to begin;
While, growing strong in the dust
Rests the bruised serpent of sin.

Right and wrong,--both cannot live
Death-grappled. Which shall we see?
Strike! Only justice can give
Safety to all that shall be.

Shame! to stand faltering thus,
Tricked by the balancing odds;
Strike! God is waiting for us!
Strike! for the vengeance is God’s.
377:539

Collect for the Day
O Christ, Ruler and Lord of the world,
to thee we consecrate this land,
its sceptre and its power.
Guard thy land, guard it from every foe.
[475:242:494:Emperor Constantine 272-337]

Thursday, March 09, 2006

World Peace: Bible Commentary on Micah 4 with poem by Ernest Bourner Allen, A Hymn of Peace

Daily Readings
Job 26 Exodus 15 Micah 4 I Corinthians 3

Daily Text: Micah 4

World Peace
One of the most famous passages in Holy Scripture appears here in 4:1-3. It is that of an image of world-wide peace and the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” [from vs. 3]. Chapter 4 addresses the refurbishing of Mount Zion as a center for religious instruction for the world. There the LORD teaches his ways and out of that comes this vision for peace. It is an eschatological vision, but before the chapter ends Micah comes back to the present. Oh, the ever-present present. Like the poor, it is with us always. But the prophecy along with its woes also suggests that once again God’s people will become an instrument in his hand to judge the nations. Conflicting visions: one that sees the nations streaming to Mount Zion to learn from the Lord, and one that sees the nations following their own gods, bent on thrashing Judah and being thrashed (threshed) in turn by daughter Zion.

Taken in turn, the Lord destroys Jerusalem and the temple mount in Micah 3:12, then builds it up again in chapter 4. If God can do that with his temple, he can do that with the Church. But for some reason, in the Church we have some triumphalist notion that the Church should always be flourishing. If it is not, it can again do so. Well, it is not, at least the main line church in the United States is not. It may be well and good that it triumphs in the last days, but who knows when that will be. Certainly, no human being knows, regardless of the hopes and predictions that abound. Perhaps we should turn and read the LORD’S sign and focus on a remnant of the faithful to build the LORD’s congregation in the land and let the institution go its way without further energy. In God’s time it may revive, but until then exile may be the most hopeful place for it. If Micah has something to say to us, let us take his image of world peace and pray and work towards that within our remnant congregations. That, coupled with remnant faith, is a sign of hope desperately needed in our world.

A Hymn Of Peace
Ernest Bourner Allen

1868-1931

The Son of God goes forth for Peace,
Our Father’s love to show;
From war and woe He brings release,
O, who with Him will go?
He strikes the fetters from the slave,
Man’s mind and heart makes free;
And sends His messengers to save
O’er every land and sea!

The Son of God goes forth for Peace,
That men like brothers live,
And all desire the other’s good,
And other’s sin forgive,
He turns our spears to pruning hooks,
Our swords to ploughshares warm,
And war no more its death-blast brings,
Nor men their brothers harm!

The Son of God goes froth for Peace,
Nor lands nor pow’r to gain;
He seeks to serve, to love, to lift,--
Who follows in His train?
A glorious band, in every age.
In spite of scorn and pain,
True sons of God, His peach have made;
Who follows in their train?

Now let the world to Peace be won,
And every hatred slain;
Let force and greed be overcome
And love supreme remain!
Let justice rule in all the earth,
And mercy while we live,
Lest we—forgiven much—forget
Our brother to forgive!

We send our love to every land—
True neighbors would we be;
And pray God’s Peace to reign in them,
Where’er their homeland be!
O God, to us may grace be given,
Who bear the dear Christ’s name,
To live at peace with every man,
And thus our Christ acclaim!
407:1791

Collect for the Day
Almighty God,
From whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed;
Kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all men
The true love of peace,
And guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom
Those who take counsel for the nations of the earth;
That in tranquillity thy kingdom may go forward,
Till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. [475:260:542:Bishop Francis Paget (1851-1911)]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pleasing One's Congregation: Bible Commentary on Micah 3 with poem by James Russell Lowell, Stanzas on Freedom

Daily Readings
Job 25 Exodus 14:5-31 Micah 3 I Corinthians 2

Daily Text: Micah 3

Pleasing One’s Congregation
Micah 3 is an entity that is a self-contained essay that addresses the injustice of Jerusalem’s leadership with special emphasis on Micah’s own colleagues, the prophets. Within the essay is a well-defined description of the problem in verses 1-4, application to the prophets in verses 5-8 and a reading of consequences in verses 9-12.

The problem is stated in verse 1 and 2a. The leaders fully understand that the nature of justice requires the embracing of the good and the rejection of evil for the sake of the people the leaders govern. But they do the opposite, hating the good and loving the evil.

A special word from the LORD is addressed to the prophets who are tailoring their message to those who give them food, that is, those who support them. Pleasing their congregation requires for them a message that is Peace and Salvation. For those who for whatever reason do not support them, the prophets reserve a kind of war. Since they keep their ear on their supporters and their eye on the rest, these prophets have no time or inclination to listen or see to the revelation of God. Contemporary pastors know this conundrum well. If they please their congregation they must remain virtually silent on the political and justice issues of the day. If Micah had done that, we would not have this prophecy, as we do not have the messages of those he is criticizing! But congregations inevitably do not want the preacher to question their own behavior or the behavior of those they may support. Rocking the boat is dangerous to the pastor. It was no different in Micah’s day. But because he was willing to rock the boat, and God knows he well nigh capsized it, his willingness to do so left him free. He was free to be filled with the spirit and the authority of the LORD. He was free to take up issues of justice, free to exercise courage, free to denounce injustice and sin. He was determined to have his mouth filled by God and not by the national leadership or the weight of congregational opinion.

Another big question is what the goal is of having such authority as Micah claims? Hans Walter Wolff says it this way, “The goal is public accusation and indictment: ‘to declare to Jacob his rebelliousness and to Israel his delinquency.’[485:76]” God is interested in the entire sweep of human and creation life, not some abrogated form of spiritually insipid personal religion. No reading of the Hebrew Scriptures can lead to any other clear understanding. This understanding is found over and over again throughout the Hebrew and the Christian testaments. Why then do we not hear it from our pulpits?

Micah’s conclusion of his essay gives us a pretty clear picture. The rulers are taking bribes. They had lobbyists with money to be passed out even in the eighth century B.C. The priests taught only if they were paid extra stipends. The prophets refused to preach unless they were paid. Is this a diatribe against public and religious servants being paid? No. It is an accusation that money was speaking more loudly than God. Reimbursement bought more than service; with it the man was also bought [485:77]. That is no less true today than it was 2800 years ago. For the sake of ‘peace’ we fail to cry ‘wolf’ even when we see it at the door.

Stanzas on Freedom
James Russell Lowell


Men! whose boast it is that ye
Come of fathers brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?
If ye do not feel the chain
When it works a brother’s pain,
Are ye not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed!

Is true Freedom but to break
Fetters for our own dear sake,
And, with leathern hearts, forget
That we owe mankind a debt?
No! True Freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear,
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!

They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think:
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.
407:1122

Collect for the Day
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life’s battle-field, but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved, but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone;
but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
[395:1205:Rabindranath Tagore]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Preach no Politics or Economics: Bible Commentary on Micah 2 with poem by Henry C. Spear, The Message of Micah

Daily Readings
Job 24 Exodus 13:1-14:4 Micah 2 I Corinthians 1

Daily Text: Micah 2

Preach No Politics or Economics
Micah 2 is more straightforward that his opening chapter, at least for English speakers in the 21st century. But his clarity is little comfort. He preaches against political and economic chicanery that deprives the poor, the widow and the orphan. The rich objects of his scathing attack protest that he should not preach such things. The LORD, they say, is not in his message. They might be a little guilty, but not enough for the LORD to lose all patience. Micah’s retort ends with him crying out for them to leave Israel because of their filthy iniquity. And, then, sarcastically, he mimics that they need preachers who will stick with personal sins like excessive drinking, but will soft pedal their heinous behavior. How contemporary this discussion resonates! Any pastor could give a numerous examples. Don't preach politics, indeed.

The Message of Micah
Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil—Micah 2:1
Henry C. Spear

A peasant from Jerusalem to the sea
Declared to Isr’el transgression and sin;
Proclaimed God hurt by immorality;
Pronounced the doom he saw was surging in.
What was the sin of old Jerusalem?
It was the grandeur, ground out of the poor;
Devisers of iniquity, condemn!
The mills of God grind slowly, but so sure.
“What doth a holy God require of thee?”
(But princes, prophets, priests knew not their God)
“It’s justice, kindness, and humility,”
That stays Almighty’s disciplining rod.
Those who cry, “Peace,” and then prepare for wars
Will not be in the remnant that restores.
377:545

Collect for the Day
Incline us, O God!
to think humbly of ourselves,
to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct,
to consider our fellow creatures with kindness,
and to judge of all they say and do
with the charity which we would desire from them ourselves.
[475:257:535 Jane Austen]

Monday, March 06, 2006

Washington Needs Laundering: Bible Commentary on Micah 1 with poem by Eric H. Daniell, The Silent Stars

Daily Readings
Psalm 105:23-45 Exodus 12 Micah 1 II Thessalonians 3

Daily Text: Micah 1

Washington Needs Laundering
Micah was an 8th century prophet, overlapping with Isaiah and Hosea. Most likely Micah 1 was written in about 722 B.C. just before Samaria was sacked by Assyria. Anderson and Freedman (p. 250) see a unity in the chapter as follows: 1:2 Invocation, 1:3,4 Theophany, 1:5 Accusation, 1:6-7 Judgment and 1:8-16 Lament. International calls to see the Lord as witness against Samaria are followed by a ‘description’ of divine attention, divine travel to the high places of Samaria. An accusation is made against Samaria followed by judgement and a warning of disaster in the form of a lament. This lament, particularly from vs. 10-16 is very difficult to read. Virtually, all scholars see it as word play on town names, puns if you will. Wolff creates a contemporary translation that approximates its meaning, but the reader should see beyond to the terror these puns must represent for the inhabitants of these towns.

10Don’t “boast” in Gath! Weep; yes, weep!
In Dustville roll yourselves in the dust!
11You inhabitants of Horntown, they are blowing an alarm for you on the ram’s horn. Rootberg will be uprooted.
Lament for Standton, your standing place shall be taken from you!
12How can the inhabitants of Eviland hope for good?
Indeed misfortune is coming down from the Lord upon the very gates of the
City of Fortune (Jerusalem)
13Harness the steeds to the chariot, ye inhabitants of Chariotsburg (Lachish)!
(That is the chief and first sin of Zion’s daughter,
for in you are found Israel’s rebelliousnesses.)
14Give parting gifts to Gath’s Possession (Moresheth-Gath)!
Deceitville’s fortifications are a deception for Israel’s kings.
15I am against bringing an army of occupation upon you, you inhabitants of
Occupation town (Mareshah).
The glory of Israel is coming to hide in the Refugees’ Hiding Place (Adullam).
16No hair on your head as you howl in mourning for the children you loved!
Bare yourself bald like the beaked bird (the eagle),
in mourning for your children who are leaving you and going into exile.

As elementary as this seems, the puns would not be forgotten. “Lynch no more in Lynchburg” or “The rich will perish in Richmond” might be pretty frightening if there was a moving army to back up the warnings! Micah made his point, you may be sure, whether it is easy for us to understand or no.

The Silent Stars
Thoughts while on guard before Ypres, October 1917
Eric H. Daniell

The bark and boom of guns and shrieking flight
Of shells;--then silence. Torn and half-decayed
Lie scattered fragments; all is overlaid
With nauseous mire. Some flick’ring fire leaps bright
In sudden majesty, its very might
In thund’rous self-extinguishment displayed.
The lonely sentry, restless, half-afraid,
Finds comfort in the stars’ unchanging light.

Ye strugglers mid the sordid things of life:--
Degrading poverty’s unequal strife,
Triumphant evil’s smug complacency,
Thoughtless impurity, cold unbelief,
Avarice, war, and death, and blinding grief—
Look up, and see God’s loving constancy.
407:131

Collect for the Day
God of our salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you have fulfilled your promise to our ancestors in the faith to redeem the world from slavery and to lead us into the promised land. Grant us living water from the rock and bread from heaven, that we may survive our desert pilgrimage and praise you for ever, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. [476:848:Psalm prayer 105]

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Penitential Liturgy: Bible Commentary on Hosea 14 with poem by Coventry Patmore, The Toys

Daily Readings
Job 23 Exodus 10:28-11:10 Hosea 14 II Thessalonians 2

Daily Text: Hosea 14

Penitential Liturgy
Hosea 14 is considered a penitential liturgy. Was it used as a way to encapsulate all of Hosea’s prophecy? It certainly touches on Israel’s apostasy, God’s call, Israel’s confession, recognition of her orphaned status arising from her adultery/idolatry, God’s willingness to restore her and to provide the conditions wherein she might thrive and become a faithful consort.
God’s call is seen in 14:1-2a
Ephraim’s/Israel’s confession is found in 14:2b-3
God’s forgiveness and restoration is seen in 14:4-8

The liturgy is carefully constructed calling for a return because Israel has stumbled, preparing words for return. In 14:2b the stumbling is acknowledged and sacrifice is made of ‘the calves of our lips,’ i.e., through words. In addition 14:3 names their sin with Assyria, the iniquitous longing to become a military power (riding upon horses), idolatry, saying ‘Our God’ to the work of their own hands, and by recognizing that even the fatherless discover mercy in YHWH, calling to mind the predominant image of Hosea wed to an prostitute and claiming her children whether or not they were his.

In the LORD’s response, God freely loves them, heals them and turns his anger from them. Then he provides the moisture that makes possible the flourishing of the metaphor of a garden recognizing in the end that all of their fruitfulness is due to God’s provision.

Finally, in the Epilogue that point is driven home by the emphasis on understanding of the wise. Such theology is critical to all understanding of the Judeo-Christian God. All possibility of faith, righteousness, love and fruitfulness originates with God and subsequently appears in the follower.

The Toys
Coventry Patmore
1823-1896

My little Son, who look’d from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey’d,
I struck him, and dismiss’d
With hard words and unkiss’d,
--His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken’d eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a re-vein’d stone,
A piece of glass braded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells,
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray’d
To God I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with trancèd,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou has moulded from the clay,
Thou’lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
“I will be sorry for their childishness.”
407:1082

Collect for the Day
Confession: Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, and 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 loved 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.

Absolution: Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen. [BCP:360:Confession and Absolution]