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, April 15, 2006

Torah & the Living Community: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 4:44-6:3 with poem by Isabella R. Hess, At Sinai

Daily Readings
Psalm 78:1-39, Numbers 11, Deuteronomy 4:44-6:3, Matthew 10

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 4:44-6:3

Torah & The Living Community
Deuteronomy 4:44-6:3 is one of those meaty texts that call for Torah study and action. Continually, 4:44 is the call to worship in the synagogue—‘This is the Teaching (Torah) that Moses set before the Israelites.’ That call goes out with the Torah scroll elevated before the congregation. You might note the similarity followed by Christians with the Gospel reading. Here the Ten Words are spelled out as they were in Exodus 20. Essentially, they are the same with very few differences. For the Jews the commandments line up as follows:
1. I the LORD am your God.
2. You shall have no other gods before me.
3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
5. Honor father and mother.
6. Prohibitions against murder,
7. Adultery,
8. Stealing
9. False witness and
10. Covetousness
There has been much fussing around with the content of the commandments, is number one here one of the words at all, should the prohibitions on other gods be divided, and should covetousness be one or two? Even the Jews are not always agreed, but in this comment they stand as shown. God demands utter loyalty from Israel. The covenant was made with them, even though it was their fathers and mothers who were originally at Sinai. Verse 3 names them and in 29:13, 14 future generations are included. This covenant is with a living community, one that at one point in time stood face to face with God, through Moses, vs. 5. This vision of God is like no other, and the Words express that. There is only one God and to him alone must Israel be true. His name is part of the divine essence and must not be manipulated for personal advantage. Remembering the Sabbath Day and its implications has to do with redemption in Deuteronomy, creation in Exodus. This day has itself worked a social revolution throughout the world where ‘rest’, shabbat, is seen as part of everyone’s right. Previously, leisure was the privilege of wealthy men. Slaves, poor men, women had no right to leisure—it was a class and gender privilege. No more, but beyond that it is a rest that implies connection with the LORD, it is not simply recreation [494:118-120]. Today’s Christians have very little understanding of this Word.

Honoring father and mother was addressed to adults, not children, per se, and can by implication include the natural order of authority: parents, leaders, rulers, God. As such it ties in very well with the first table, all five commandments. The last five commandments are also related in a single prohibition against manipulating others for your own benefit. These include murder (premeditated yet unauthorized killing), adultery (fidelity in marriage is a primary analogy for commandments one and two [494:124], stealing, including material and spiritual theft as well as kidnapping, bearing false witness, and coveting anything that is one’s neighbor’s.

Commandments they are, but enforceable they are not and so God recognizes in 5:29.. Even God cannot force human beings to obey him. He can require it; he cannot enforce it, and here lies the rub in all of human experience with the divine. No matter how important serving God is, man is free to focus on himself instead, the nature of all sin. In Deuteronomy 5:29 there is a passage that has become the bedrock passage for Jewish understanding of the doctrine of free will. There in the words of YHWH we find, “If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever!” There the LORD acknowledges that he can command, but cannot compel. It might be noted that as free as humans are to respond or not respond, so the witness of Scripture is that God likewise is free to be who he will be. And we will not always understand God’s choices anymore than he does ours [185:1361].

At Sinai
Isabella R. Hess

Down from the mist-clad mountain Moses came,
His face aglow with some strange inward flame—
Down the long slope with winged feet he trod,
And vision clear, for he had talked with God!

Before the mount he saw his people stand,
As he had bidden. Slow he raised is hand—
A solemn stillness bound them as they saw,
Their restive hearts athrill with reverent awe.

Deep was his voice and tender. E’en the birds
Poised on their moveless wings to hear his words.
From out the misty cloud that wraps the hill,
There came the voice of God, so small and still.

And thus it said: “These words to Israel bring:
As I have borne them forth on eagle’s wing
From Egypt’s bonds, so will I guard them still
If they obey my voice, and do my will.

“Yea, Israel shall a priestly people be,
A most peculiar treasure unto Me;
If they do heed the Law that I do give.
My people, say! Will ye obey and live?”

With hands uplifted stood the leader there,
His face ablaze! And on the desert air
There rose a murmur swelling loud and true,
“All that the Lord doth bid us, will we do!”

So went he once again within the mist
That hid the somber mountain, grey, cloud-kissed;
And as they watched, the waiting people saw
Him come again, and in his arms, the Law!

Thus came the Word—and thus the right to hear
The message, that the world might know and share.
Yea, theirs the gift! But theirs the promise, too.
Whate’er the Lord hath spoken, that we’ll do.

Tho’ there at Sinai’s foot, in age long dead,
Our fathers hath the sacred covenant said,
Their blood is ours! And their promise true!
What’er the Lord hath bidden, shall we do!

Collect for the Day
Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who separates sacred from profane, light from darkness, the seventh day of rest from the six days of labor. Blessed is the Lord, who separates the sacred from the profane. [471:635]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Exodus, Exile, Election: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 4 with poem by Judah Ha-Levi, The Immortality of Israel

Daily Readings
Psalm 68, Numbers 10, Deuteronomy 4:1-43, Matthew 9

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-43

Exodus, Exile, Election
Deuteronomy 4 is a high point in the text of Scripture covering exodus, exile and election in the redemptive experience of Israel. When one reads this text the sense of being at the very heart of God and God’s people comes singing home. Christensen (494:73) after surveying the literature on this chapter makes the claim that “This text is a carefully constructed literary whole, from the hand of a single literary artist.” Whether early or late in the history of textual submission, this notion of integrity certainly leaps from the page.

The instruction that “You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it” (4:2) has taken on a life of its own in both Judaism and Christianity and the implications reside dynamically with us as much today as in any other era. The notion that living according to God’s way will bring one honor and respect from the surrounding peoples also fuels the principle in both Judaism and Christianity that the God-fearer lives very differently in moral and ethical terms from those who do not live in the fear of God. Plaut says that the word in verse 10 translated ‘revere me’ in the JPS translation and ‘fear me’ in the NRSV translation “does not convey the full meaning of the word. In the biblical view, man’s relationship to God goes beyond reverence. Yare means to stand in awe and deference, amazement, trembling, and fear” [185:1340]. Failure to live this way will lead to exile (4:27) and faithful observance will lead to honor, longevity in the land and full redemption (4:39-40). Grace and ecstatic thankfulness permeates the possibilities promised in vss. 32-40.

The Immortality of Israel
Judah Ha-Levi
translated by Israel Cohen

The sun and moon unchanging do obey
The laws that never cease or night or day.
Appointed signs are they to Jacob’s seed
That life eternal hath been them decreed.
And though, O Lord, thy left hand dealeth pain,
Thy right shall lead them back to joy again.
Let not despair oppress their quailing heart,
Though radiant Fortune from their midst depart.
But let this constant faith their soul uphold,
That ni the Book of Life their name’s enrolled
For all eternity: nor shall they cease
While night and day do alternate in peace.

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, Lord God of truth and justice; you open our hearts and our mouths to pray and to praise. Guide now our feet in your holy way, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[476:791:68 psalm prayer]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Cross-over: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 3 with poem by Robert Browning, Pisgah-Sights. I & II

Daily Readings
Psalm 63, Numbers 9, Deuteronomy 3, Matthew 8

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 3

So successful is this first foray in possessing the land that Moses suddenly expresses his longing to be able to cross-over and view the good land on the West bank of the Jordan. Perhaps he was encouraged by the Lord God’s willingness to allow him continued leadership as it all begins. But God’s response in return is to be ‘cross’ with Moses. Thus in this play on words we have a pun. Intimates, even when they are God and man, often share these sorts of inside humor. Rather, God tells him to go atop Mt. Pisgah and there achieve what he so desires—to see.

Transition time it is, however, as the text of Deuteronomy 3 begins to signal the passing of Moses, even though its finality is at the end of the manuscript. Joshua is being groomed and the words said to him that must be said.

Pisgah-Sights. I & II
Robert Browning

Over the ball of it,
Peering and prying,
How I see all of it,
Life there, outlying!
Roughness and smoothness,
Shine and defilement,
Grace and uncouthness:
One reconcilement.

Orbed as appointed,
Sister with brother
Joins, ne’er disjointed
One from the other.
All’s lend-and-borrow;
Good, see, wants evil,
Joy demands sorrow,
Angel weds devil!

‘Which things must—why be?’
vain our endeavour!
So shall things aye be
As they were ever.
‘Such things should so be!’
Sage our desistence!
Rough-smooth let globe be,
Mixed-man’s existence.

Man—wise and foolish,
Lovr and scorner,
Docile and mulish—
Keep each his corner!
Honey yet gall of it!
There’s the life lying,
And I see all of it,
Only, I’m dying!

Could I but live again,
Twice my life over,
Would I once strive again?
Would I not cover
Quietly all of it—
Greed and ambition—
So, from the pall of it,
Pass to fruition?

‘Soft!’ I’d say, ‘Soul mine!
Three-score and ten years,
Let the blind mole mine
Digging out deniers!
Let the dazed hawk soar,
Claim the sun’s rights too!
Turf ‘tis thy walk’s o’er,
Foliage thy flight’s to.’

Only a learner,
Quick one or slow one,
Just a discerner,
I would teach no one.
I am earth’s native:
No rearranging it!
I be creative,
Chopping and changing it?

March, men, my fellows!
Those who, above me,
(Distance so mellows)
Fancy you love me:
Those who, below me,
(Distance makes great so)
Free to forego me,
Fancy you hate so!

Praising, reviling,
Worst head and best head,
Past me defining,
Never arrested,
Wanters, abounders,
March, in gay mixture,
Men, my surrounders!
I am the fixture.

So shall I fear thee,
Mightiness yonder!
Mock-sun—more near thee,
What is to wonder?
So shall I love thee,
Down in the dark, --lest
Glowworm I prove thee,
Star that now sparklest!

Collect for the Day
Eternal Love, our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Let your glory shine on us, that our lives may proclaim your goodness, our work give you honour, and our voices praise you forever; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:784:63 psalm prayer]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Learned Lessons: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 2 with poem by May Riley Smith, Sometime

Daily Readings
Psalm 61, Numbers 7:89-8:26, Deuteronomy 1:46-2:37, Matthew 7

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 2

Learned Lessons
Back toward the Red Sea the people traveled from Kadesh Barnea, all the while the people of the adult generation were dying. As they began years later to move once again North toward the land, they passed through the region of Mount Seir, the land given to Esau, none of which they were to touch or claim. Beyond that land they came to Moab, another land they were not to touch until they came to the Wadi Zered. It was thirty eight years of traveling from Kadesh Barnea south, and wandering, until they came once again to the Wadi Zered. Deuteronomy 2 states that during those thirty-eight years the ‘entire generation of warriors’ died, and the people were now made up of those who had been children when they left Egypt. Across the Wadi Zered lived the Ammonites with whom the Israelites were to keep the peace. Coming to the Wadi Arnon, across which lived the Amorites with Sihon as their king. These the Lord promised to people of Israel, their land would be taken as a possession. It was the resistance of Sihon and his people which God used to show his work among Israel. It would seem that Israel had learned its lessons.How often difficulties light the way to new opportunity. Has it ever been different?

May Riley Smith

Sometime, when all life’s lessons have been learned,
And sun and stars forevermore have set,
The things which our weak judgments here have spurned,
The things o’er which we grieved with lashes wet,
Will flash before us out of life’s dark night,
As stars shine most in deeper tints of blue;
And we shall see how all God’s plans are right,
And how what seemed reproof was love most true.

And we shall see how, while we frown and sigh,
God’s plans go on as best for you and me;
How, when we called, He heeded not our cry,
Because His wisdom to the end could see.
And e’en as prudent parents disallow
Too much of sweet craving babyhood,
So God, perhaps, is keeping from us now
Life’s sweetest things, because it seemeth good.

Then be content, poor heart;
God’s plans, like lilies pure and white, unfold;
We must not tear the close-shut leaves apart,--
Time will reveal the chalices of gold.
And if, through patient toil, we reach the land
Where tired feet, with sandals loosed, may rest,
When we shall clearly see and understand,
I think that we will say, “God knew the best!”

Collect for the Day
God of our salvation, when we are depressed and fearful, teach us the way of quiet confidence and hope. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:782:61 psalm prayer]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lost Generation: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 1 with poem by Eva Gore-Booth, The Cross

Daily Readings
Psalm 62, Numbers 6:22-7:88, Deuteronomy 1, Matthew 6

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 1

Lost Generation
In a very tight narrative, with one excursus, Deuteronomy 1 tells the tale of the initial generation’s Exodus experience. They were led by Moses after Horeb right up into the border of the land they had been promised. Leery, the congregation asks that spies be sent ahead and twelve are. They come back with a glowing report of the promised land, and a fearful report of a daunting military campaign ahead. The people latch on to the military report and refuse to go further. When the LORD becomes angry and swears that this generation with two exceptions will never enter the land, the people repent of their rebelliousness and go up even after the LORD and Moses tell them it is no longer any use. They go up anyway, refusing thus to listen to the LORD and Moses! The upshot is a complete disaster and the beginning of 38 years of wandering from place to place. They become the lost generation. Not until all of them have died is the march to Canaan resumed.

In the wilderness Moses becomes overwhelmed by his task. The people are so many and the numbers keep increasing. He appoints military judges, in a manner different from the two other accounts of this same event (cf. Exodus 8:13-23 and Numbers 11:11-17). And he also gave them a specific charge:
• Give everyone a fair hearing
• Judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or alien, for justice is critical
• Be impartial with small and great alike. Avoid intimidation for your work is God’s work.
• Bring the difficult cases to me, Moses
There are historical precedents for Moses action among the Hittites (13th c. B.C.E.) and the Egyptians (14th c. B.C.E.). Hittite military officers functioned as judges, the very difficult cases were sent to the king, justice was emphasized and bribery prohibited. In Egypt persons of integrity and good character were sought out to become judges. They were instructed not to associate intimately with the people whom they were to judge and also warned against taking bribes [495:140]. In every land, in every time, the matter of finding honest and effective leaders is the task. However, it is often believed that the most important quality is effectiveness. There are always combinations of these two qualities available. The honest man may be effective and may not be. The dishonest man may be effective or ineffective. It seems the smallest number is the honest and effective person, leaving the all too frequent choice being the dishonest effective person, who also seems to be the most easily available in the population. Leadership requires vision and justice. Too often one or both of these qualities is missing. But the LORD always calls for both to be present. Moses, Caleb and Joshua are all good examples of the latter.

The Cross
Eva Gore-Booth


Talk not of Justice and her scales of woe,
We know no justice, weighing gain and loss,
Save the balancing arms of love held wide
That cannot sway or falter to and fro,
Mercy on this side and the other side,
The adamantine justice of the Cross.

Collect for the Day
Lord God, in a threatening world we look to you as our rock of hope. Hear us as we pour out our hearts to you, and give us your grace and protection, through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:783:62 psalm prayer]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Guidelines for Vows: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 27 with poem by Thomas Ken, Morning Hymn

Daily Readings
Psalm 59, Numbers 6:1-21, Leviticus 27, Matthew 5

Daily Text: Leviticus 27

Guidelines for Vows
Leviticus 27 is a collection of guidelines for carrying out vows that have been made at an earlier time. Three sorts of vows are characterized. The first is a vow dedicating a human being to God. The redemption price for each is set out by age and gender. The second relates to animals and real property that have been pledged as divine gift, and names the procedures for redeeming them. The final vow has to do with irreversible or devoted animals or property that must be given. 'Cherem' means devoted and frequently was something taken in battle and promised without qualification to the Lord. Generally, these matters are explained elsewhere and only the redemption procedures are listed in this appendix to the Law of Holiness.

Morning Hymn
Thomas Ken

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sin
High praise to the Eternal King.

All praise to Thee, Who safe hast kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept!
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless life partake!

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew:
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest this day
All I design, or do, or say;
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him, all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Collect for the Day
God of power, deliver us from evil and confirm our trust in you, that with our rising we may sing of your justice and exult in your mercy. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:780:59 psalm prayer]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Relational Blessing: Bible Comment on Leviticus 26 with poem by Theodore Spencer, from Heritage

Daily Readings
Psalm 58, …Numbers 5, ……Leviticus 26, ….Matthew 4

Daily Text: Leviticus 26

Relational Blessing
Following an introduction of the commandments, Leviticus 26 has the promise of abundant blessing for following them and horrible curses if they do not. Such belief in material rewards and punishments for the obedience and disobedience of a nation is ever a thorny issue. The realities of history do not confirm such teaching. In Ezekiel, in the Psalms and in the New Testament this is often individualized and proves to be just as unsatisfactory. Everyone knows evil people who do wonderfully, and saints who face disaster after catastrophe. The Book of Job is clear about rejecting this sort of prima facie distortion of reality. Matters are not so cut and dried. Relationship with God is something like relationship with others, there is much give and take and those who attempt to live rightly before God do it not out of fear of punishment or promise of blessing, but because relationship with God teaches us right action for its own sake. Blessing when it comes is embraced and disaster when it comes is simply dealt with, knowing God is close at hand through either. Is that not true in all relationship?

from Heritage
Theodore Spencer

What fills the heart of man
Is not that his life must fade,
But that out of his dark there can
A light like a rose be made,
That seeing a snowflake fall
His heart is lifted up,
That hearing a meadow-lark call
For a moment he will stop
To rejoice in the musical air
To delight in the fertile earth
And the flourishing everywhere
Of spring and spring’s rebirth.
And never a woman or man
Walked through their quickening hours
But found for some brief span
An intervale of flowers,
Where love for a man or a woman
So captured the heart’s beat
That they and all things human
Danced on rapturous feet.
And though, for each man, love dies,
The rose to his children’s eyes
Will flower again, again,
Will flower again out of shadow
To make the brief heart sing
And the meadow-lark from the meadow
Will call again in spring.

Collect for the Day
God of justice, sweep away all tyranny and viiolence that righteousness and equity may prevail among your people. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ. [476:779:58 psalm prayer]