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, April 22, 2006

Rest and Possession: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 12 with poem by Phillips Brooks, Our Burden Bearer

Daily Readings
Psalm 69, Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 12, Matthew 17

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 12

Rest and Possession
Rest and possession, says Moses, is going require a very different regimen than we have experienced so far. What it is going to require is centralization of our worship and practice. No longer will twelve tribes be able to govern themselves more or less autonomously (cf. 185:1424). We will be governed by the LORD our God and from a central place where he will choose to place his name. Well what does ‘rest and possession’ imply? Possession, of course, implies the inheritance of the land that God has promised. ‘Rest,’ implies more than peace, the cessation of warring and security. Those surely, but more, and that more has to do with being the ‘possession,’ pun intended, of the LORD God himself. Gerhard von Rad (496:983) writes “…according to Deuteronomy’s conception, a condition in which Israel will belong altogether to its God and be wholly in his safe keeping. Rest is personified by the Garden of Eden and the Promised Land, both paradises. In the Christian literature, Hebrews in particular, rest is that place of empowerment found when one moves beyond verbal assent to God into a relationship of complete trust with action for Him growing out of that. The author of Hebrew’s assumes that the ‘rest’ Moses was talking about and von Rad refers to, was never realized by those who followed God and the Torah imperfectly, but was still possible as a result of the atoning work of Christ in the Christian era.

Deuteronomy 12 focuses on the centralization of worship in Israel and does so through clear prohibition of worshipping, or leaving intact or even inquiring about the worship practices of the other nations. They were to destroy the sites, the idols, the images, the pillars of every foreign holy place, once they had dispossessed the former inhabitants and come into possession themselves. Gods were devoted to nations and to places. The idea that a new people could come in with a different God and displace old gods was a radical, and perhaps culturally ‘foolish’ conception. That very notion is the subject of Moses’ peroration. It would normally be considered disastrous to offend the old gods, but Moses is saying, if you don’t completely destroy and ignore these old gods, it will surely be disastrous for you. This is a gigantic issue and one over which Israel stumbled.

To increase the likelihood of success of both replacing the old gods and centralizing Israel’s worship to one center, the killing of meat was secularized. That is, it was no longer required that they had to be at the approved altar to slaughter, say a beef. Rather, they could do it any time in any place and eat it as long as they did not consume the blood. The blood was simply poured out on the ground and disposed of. Whereas, if it was a sacrificial slaughter the blood would be poured on or around the altar as a part of the acceptable sacrifice. Chapter 12 thus becomes a keystone in the observance of the Torah.

Our Burden Bearer
Phillips Brooks

1835-1893

The little sharp vexations
And the briars that cut the feet,
Why not take all to the Helper
Who has never failed us yet?
Tell Him about the heartache,
And tell Him the longings too,
Tell Him the baffled purpose
When we scarce know what to do.
Then, leaving all our weakness
With the One divinely strong,
Forget that we bore the burden
And carry away the song.
407:249

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, God of our hope; you restore the fallen and rebuild the broken walls. Teach us the song of thanksgiving, for you are the strength of your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:794:69 psalm prayer]

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Good Land: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 11 with poem by Rufus Learsi, On to the Promised Land

Daily Readings
Psalm 67, Numbers 17, Deuteronomy 11, Matthew 16

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 11

The Good Land
There may be resident in Deuteronomy 11 two notions of the LORD’s discipline or instruction: first, that of the mighty signs and deeds done in Egypt to Pharoah, and subsequently to the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the great wilderness sojourn of 40 years with water, meat, manna, the cloud by day and cloud of fire by night—so many signs. The second notion of His discipline or instruction is that of binding the Ten Words on their hands and foreheads. This sort of instruction would remind the children and all others who had not known the former signs and wonders of the loving and clear commands of the LORD. Through it all the LORD teaches those he loves the benefits of obedience and the dangers of willfulness.

In the middle of these instruction foci is a piece on the geography of the good land promised to the people of God. It is, compared to Egypt, thought to be a far superior land. It has mountains and valleys, and is watered by rain rather than by the back breaking work of digging irrigation canals. Actually, the rainfall, though only coming early and late between October and April. sees is as plentiful as in the temperate zone. While most temperate zones see rainfall year around on about 180 days and Canaan receives all of its rainfall on 40-60 days in the aforementioned months, Northern Galilee still has up to 44 inches a year. Undoubtedly, at the time of the Exodus its forests were much more extensive and the rainfall far more efficiently absorbed than it is today, but still it is part of the Fertile Crescent, in a well-watered part of the world (cf. 185:1410).

Finally, the conclusion of Deuteronomy 11, verses 26-32, introduces the subject of blessings and curses that are tied to the coverage of the law in chapters 12-26, and provides with chapters 27-31 an envelope for the descriptions in chapter 27:11-26 as relates to the curses and chapter 28:1-14 for the blessings.

On to the Promised Land
Rufus Learsi


I
A dawning sun breaks through the sable cloud!
Oh, see the East ablaze n crimson hue!
There peals a mighty blast triumphant, loud,
A call to rouse the ever-striving Jew!

Chorus
Arise my people grand in story,
Thy little ones and patriarchs hoary,
Illumined by they pristine glory,
And form one mighty band!
And let thy shout ascend to heaven,
For lo! the clouds thy dawn hast riven,
Behold fulfilled the promise given,
On to the promised land!

II
Now beam the rosy rays throughout the lands,
And eyes with sorrow dim light up anew!
In every clime the call is joining bands
Who swing aloft the standard of the Jew!

III
Oh! let the mountain land beloved of God,
Where heroes bled and prophets falsehood slew!
No longer mourning-wrapt, the sacred sod
Blooms forth to greet the home-returning Jew!

IV
The torrent sweeps and melts the crags away,
A nation’s cherished dream at last comes true!
For now indeed has come the promised day
Of freedom for the never-conquered Jew!
403:471

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, Lord our God, light of the earth and health of the nations; you lead us in the way of justice and mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:788:67 psalm prayer]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What is Required of You?: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 10 with poem by Clinton Scollard, Petition

Daily Readings
Psalm 106:1-18, Numbers 16, Deuteronomy 10, Matthew 15

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 10

What is Required of You?

What is required of you? Reverence, awe, the fear of God. Deuteronomy 10 not only is a major source for the second giving of the Ten Words or Commandments, it is also a source for the great words of Micah 6:1-8—“to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”. But here it is summed up in the words “only to fear the LORD your God”. The summary is then extended to the details: serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, and keep the commandments. Part of that is to love the stranger and do so not only because you were once a stranger in Egypt, but because your LORD God loves the stranger. That is, your moral imperatives reside in God and as one created in His image you live them out as part of your reverence of this awesome God.

Petition
Clinton Scollard
1860-1932

I, for long days a stranger
To all high thoughts austere,
Lord, smite my soul with Danger
Touch thou my heart with Fear!

Out of dull sloth upraise me;
Be my worth fully weighed;
Adjudge me and appraise me
With some keen tempered blade.

Lest in an hour of trial
I fail, I faint, I flee,
In blank shame faced denial
Of both mankind and Thee.
407:403

Collect for the Day
I will lift up my hands unto thee, O my God!
So shall I praise thee.
As the flower breaketh from the bud
And from the blind earth riseth fast
The stem, and pusheth from the root
The eager shoot—upwards and upwards—
So shall I praise thee, Lord of light,
With lifted hands.

Deep planted is the soul—alone
It dwelleth in a secret place
And sleepeth until the spring;
Then it hungereth and thirsteth,
And thou art rain and sunsine
And the voice of birds at dawn.
So will I praise thee, Lord,
With lifted hands.
[By Amy K. Blank 477:242:34]

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hedging: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 9 with poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Whoso Loseth His Life"

Daily Readings
Psalm 66, Numbers 15, Deuteronomy 9, Matthew 14

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 9

Hedging
Moses is hedging in Deuteronomy 9. Not once does he praise his people. Not once does he give them cause to rejoice or feel they are right or privileged. Not once. They are going into the land promised, oh, yes, but have no illusions it is only because God is judging the people of the land for their sin that he is going to give the Israelites their land. If you think otherwise, he says, remember your history of disobedience, rebelliousness, stiff-necked opposition to the Lord from the moment he brought you out of Egypt. Even at Horeb when God was giving you his beloved commandments you were busy creating an alternative to God—the golden calf. At Masseh, at Kadesh-Barnea, everywhere you defied him. In the end, it was only my prayers that kept God from striking you dead. And I prayed not because of your worthiness, but based on three points I knew God might listen to. First, He is identified with you; you are his possesion, no matter how defiant you are. Second, he promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be with them and their descendants forever, and could he go back on his own word? Finally, I told him the Egyptians would snigger at him, taking this slave people out into the desert only to kill them, unable to bring them to the fabled promised land.

Interesting that Moses’ intercession for the people was effective, while his intercession for himself to be allowed to go into the land was not (cf. 3:26)! Leadership, while it has its own rewards, often must give its life for the people. In Deuteronomy 9, Moses gives an impassioned image of his own struggle with the LORD on behalf of this people. But is the Jewish people so different from the rest of the world’s peoples? No. They are an apt paradigm for us all—defiant to the end. In Christianity there is not as much emphasis on our defiance, but there is clear understanding that only because of the sacrifice of Christ can we stand before God. Sinners all, we come only because the Christ mediates for us even more effectively than Moses for the Exodus peoples.

“Whoso Loseth His Life”
Algernon Charles Swinburne

1837-1909

Unto each man his handiwork, unto each his crown,
The just Fate gives;
Whoso takes the world’s life on him and his own lays down,
He, dying so, lives.

Whoso hears the whole heaviness of the wronged world’s weight
And puts it by,
It is well with him suffering, though he face man’s fate;
How should he die?

Seeing death has no part in him any more, no power
Upon his head;
He has bought his eternity with a little hour,
And is not dead.

For an hour, if ye look for him, he is no more found,
For one hour’s space;
Then ye lift up your eyes to him and behold him crowned,
A deathless face.
407:1366

Collect for the Day
God of power and might, you bring your people out of darkness and slavery into light and freedom through the waters of salvation. Receive our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and keep us always in your steadfast love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[476:788:66 psalm prayer]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Remembering: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 8 with poem by Rudyard Kipling, Recessional

Daily Readings
Psalm 65, Numbers 14, Deuteronomy 8, Matthew 13

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 8

Remembering
The beauty of Deuteronomy 8 is a singular beauty. Its parallel thoughts and ideas of remembering and forgetting, of wilderness and Promised land, of human provision vs. divine grace dot the landscape of this ‘tightly constructed literary work of art’ [494:174]. The much loved people of Israel might have free will (5:29), but God also has the freedom to remind in reverential detail the benefits of recollected obedience and the terrors of forgetful narcissism. He reminds them that he has led forty years in the wilderness to humble and test what was in their hearts (vss. 2, 16). Would they or would they not learn to trust and obey the LORD? He fed them with manna, allowed their clothes to grow with them and to last for forty years, keep their feet from swelling in those deserts sands, all to show his love and purpose. Miracles these, no explanations as to how God did them. Even the knowledge that there is a kind of manna produced by two types of sucking insects (homopterans) from the tamarisk bush in the semi-arid regions of the Sinai wilderness (494:175) provides no explanation. For, even if that were the manna, it is produced at a maximum to the total of 600 pounds over a period of six weeks in the whole Sinai Peninsula. Obviously, not enough, not long enough, not available as needed for the whole people for 40 years! God’s provision must be taken on trust, and even then ‘one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’ (8:3). There is this reminder also that the wealth that the LORD has promised will not be gotten by your own efforts. It comes from the God. Remembering and not forgetting is forever enjoined.

Recessional 1
Rudyard Kipling
1865-1936

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath Whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient Sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard—
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!
Amen.
407:1672
1Written on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee, June 1897

Collect for the Day
Lord God, joy marks your presence; beauty, abundance, and peace are the tokens of your work in all creation. Work also in our lives, that by these signs we may see the splendour of your love and praise you through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:786:65 psalm prayer]

Monday, April 17, 2006

Holy War: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 7 with poem by Eleanor G. R. Young, The Man from Sangamon, at Gettysburg

Daily Readings
Psalm, Numbers 13, Deuteronomy 7, Matthew 12

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 7

Holy War?
From the perspective of contemporary society there is an almost universal desire to distance oneself from a command to ‘destroy them all’ such as we find in Deuteronomy 7. A holy war is now considered a contradiction in terms. This in spite of the fact that we are busy killing indiscriminately in places like Iraq. In fact, since warfare is no longer face to face, but remote controlled, war is more indiscriminate than it has ever been in the history of warfare. We may select one site over another, but there is no control or first hand knowledge of who or what will be there when we fire upon that target. And the difference between today and in the time of the Exodus is that our goals are totally political, while their’s were religious as well as political.

The image of the divine warrior fighting for his treasured people was not that the LORD hated the gentile, but that he loved and longed for the righteous life of the covenant people. Such a life was humanly impossible in the midst of people’s with numerous other gods. That is, for a people with free will, a ‘hedge’ was necessary if there was to be a people with focussed ethical, moral and religiously righteous behavior. Is that so difficult to understand in a nation that struggles continuously with ‘keeping the immigrant out,’ much of which has become paranoid over the Muslim ‘menace?’ That not all of us agree with that characterization of our society does not change the reality that we all understand it. The Mesopotamian culture of 3000 years ago was so different from our own that to even try to lay our values upon it is to be hypocritical. Let us reserve our criticism for our own culture, and our ‘understanding’ for the one not our own. In many societies throughout time the military paradigm was an honored one. That it is not honored today by everyone is something we can be thankful for, but our thankfulness need not project superiority on to the distant past. Rather, thoughtful understanding of the underlying reasons needs to take precedence. How can a society, a community, even a Christian congregation live the exemplary life it is called to by God if every behavior, every idea, every religious persuasion is not only accepted as valid, but embraced as good? Such a community is simply without any standard for holiness and probably without any real connection with the God it names. That was no less true in the Fertile Crescent 1000 years B.C.E.

The Man From Sangamon, at Gettysburg
Eleanor G. R. Young


I am a man who knew Abe Lincoln well;
We logged together on the Sangamon.
Abe was a thinker then, we noticed that;
Noticed the way he used to go apart
And watch the sunset flush the western sky
Until the river seemed a thing of flame.
Abe would sit there, a little off from us,
The soft wind blowing his unruly locks,
His face alight with deep, unspoken dreams.
It was as if he visioned the long way
His great, gaunt frame would one day have to go;
As if he heard the distant roar of war.
I have seen tears start in Abe Lincoln’s eyes
And run unheeded down his wind-bronzed cheeks
Even as long ago as those old days
When we were logging on the Sangamon.

After the day’s hard work we would sit there,
Lost in the wild, still beauty of the place;
(I can recall the smell of early spring
That settled on the river after dark);
Would sit and watch the stars come slowly out
And hear the water lap against our boat
And lose ourselves in quietness and sleep.
But Lincoln would sit on, deep in his thoughts.
One day we saw a slave sold on the bank:
That night Abe Lincoln’s heavy brows were knit
In troubled thought. That night
He did not close his brooding eyes,
But sat there thinking till the morning sun
Turned the pale sky into a flood of light.

Today, when I stood there at Gettysburg,
And saw that figure that I knew and loved
Take its quiet place—
How can I put in words
The thoughts that surged so swiftly through my heart?
This was the man I knew so well and long—
This man who spoke such simple, tender words—
Truths that would root and grow and bear much fruit!
Somehow, when he had finished, I ran forth
And caught his great hand close within my own:
“Abe!” I cried, huskily. “You know me, Abe?”
There, in the great crowd, he leaned on my arm.
Tears of delight were on his homely face.
“It is as if,” he told me, brokenly,
“The years of war and horror were wiped out
And we were on the Sangamon again.
My heart has hungered after you, my friend.”

That was Lincoln, the friend of all the world.
404:287

Collect for the Day
Heavenly Father, you gave your Son victory over those who plotted evil against him and when he cried to you in his agony, you delivered him from the fear of his enemies. May those who suffer with him find refuge in you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:785:64 psalm prayer]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Shema: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 6 with poem by Solomon ibn Gabirol, Thou Art One

Daily Readings
Psalm 78:40-72, Numbers 12, Deuteronomy 6:4-25, Matthew 11

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-25

The Shema
For observant Jews the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, (5-9), is the central structure of their faith. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.” In point of theology, it combined with 6:5, is perhaps the most profound and important revelation of the nature of God in all of Holy Scripture, including the Christian Testament.

The Christian Testament reinforces that the love of this One God is the first commandment and the second is Leviticus 19:18b, 34 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). How Christians ever came up with an understanding of the nature of God which in any way could confuse and make troublesome this clear understanding of both Hebrew and Christian Testaments is a sad story driving wedges where there ought to be no wedges. An Hasidic wrote: “Three times the Torah asks us to love: twice, in Leviticus (19:18, 34), we are commanded to love human beings; then, in Deuteronomy, our love is directed toward God. Only after we have learned to love people can we come to love God” [185:1375]. Jesus seemed to emphasize them in reverse order, but the content is the same.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”

Thou Art One
Solomon ibn Gabirol


Thou art One, the beginning of all computation,
the base of all construction.
Thou art One, and in the mystery of Thy Oneness
the wise of heart are astonished,
for they know not what it is.
Thou art One, and Thy Oneness neither diminishes
nor increases, neither lacks nor exceeds.
Thou art One, but not as the one that is counted
or owned, for number and chance cannot
reach Thee, nor attribute, nor form.
Thou art One, but my mind is too feeble to set
Thee a law or a limit, and therefore I say:
“I will take heed to my ways,
that I sin not with my tongue.”
Thou art One, and Thou art exalted above
abasement and falling—not like a man,
who falls when he is alone.
185:1373

Collect for the Day
God of pilgrims, strengthen our faith, we pray. Guide us through the uncertainties of our journey, and hold before us the vision of your eternal kingdom, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:811:78 psalm prayer]