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

Friday, July 21, 2006

Culling for a Remnant: Bible Comment on Zephaniah 3 with poem by Howard Arnold Walter, I Would Be True

Daily Readings
Psalm 34, I Samuel 21, Zephaniah 3, Romans 9

Daily Text: Zephaniah 3

Culling for a Remnant
All of the keen, descriptive language of the human condition is employed in Zephaniah 3 to describe the sullied city of Jerusalem. The city that because of its pugnacious and treacherous leaders does not listen, does not accept correction, does not trust and does not draw near to the LORD. This leadership is characterized by officials that openly pounce on their weaker prey, judges that under cover of darkness (and their judicial duty) act as ‘evening wolves’ doing what the officials do openly. Prophets are faithless and treacherous and the priests profaned the sacred, doing violence to the Torah, and all of this in contrast to a blameless LORD who gives judgement in the light of day. The LORD’s solution is to remove this leadership and the people like them, culling for a remnant of those who do listen, accept discipline, trust and draw near to the LORD. One of his actions is to change impure speech for pure speech, speech that reflects no mixed messages, no lies, i.e., clear, singular communication. And finally, there is a call for celebration, celebration in which the LORD joins. Sometimes insisting on inclusiveness appears self-defeating. It does reflect one side of God’s will, but it also neglects God’s will.

I Would Be True
Howard Arnold Walter

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift,
I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
I would look up, and love, and laugh and lift.

Collect for the Day
Hear us, Lord, when we cry to you. Calm our bodies and minds with the peace which passes understanding, and make us radiant with the knowledge of your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [476:746:34 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Those in Every Nation: Bible Comment on Zephaniah 2 with poem by Thomas Curtis Clark, The Message of Zephaniah

Daily Readings
Wisdom of Solomon 10, I Samuel 20, Zephaniah 2, Romans 8

Daily Text: Zephaniah 2

Those in Every Nation
Zephaniah 2 opens with a suggestion that the nation could still repent and be saved, at least the humble could. But is this referring to Judah or to Philistia? The context seems at first to be one and then the other. This writer prefers to see vs. 4 and the reference to the cities of Philistia as setting the context for the first four verses. If so, the prophet is recognizing that there are those in every nation that serve the LORD. Philistia is expanded upon in verses 5-7, thereafter being followed by messages about Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia and Assyria in that order. It might be helpful to say that these are not prophecies against these nations so much as messages to Judah about the LORD’s power over these nations. If these nations will not escape the judgement of the day of the LORD, how can Judah expect to escape [cf. Berlin 511:117]?

An interesting note is that the prophecies include nations to the West, East, South and North of Judah, obviously suggesting that God will bring into judgement all of those around, regardless of their strength. But then, why not mentioned Edom or even more particularly, Egypt, which is skipped to name Ethiopia? It may be, of course, that Zephaniah is being politically sensitive since Josiah would like help from Egypt. We cannot know, however, political sensitivity is seldom a prophetic quality.

The Message of Zephaniah
Thomas Curtis Clark

The day of Jehovah is at hand! And they
Who violate the sacred places shall die.
Their wealth shall vanish and their land
Shall be despoiled, their houses desolate.
Gaza, Ashkelon shall be forsaken’
Ashdod and Ekron shall be rooted up;
And the lords of wrath shall be no more.
Jehovah hath spoken!

Nineveh, that bloody city which said,
I am, and there is none beside me,
Shall be a place for beasts to lie in.

Sing, O daughters of Zion, my people;
Be glad and rejoice, for Jehovah thy God
Hath cast out the enemy. And I,
The God of Israel, am in thy midst.
And I will make you a name and a praise
When I bring back your captivity.
Thus saith Jehovah!

Collect for the Day
O thou who art the everlasting Essence of things beyond space and time and yet within them; thou who transcendest yet pervadest all things, manifest thyself unto us, feeling after thee, seeking thee in the shades of ignorance. Stretch forth thy hand to help us, who cannot without thee come to thee; and reveal thyself unto us, who seek nothing beside thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Johannes Scotus Erigena, 810-890
[489:95:May 5]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Unraveling of Creation: Bible Comment on Zephaniah 1 with poem by Jonathan Swift, The Day of Judgement

Daily Readings
Wisdom of Solomon 9, I Samuel 18:28-19:26, Zephaniah 1, Romans 7

Daily Text: Zephaniah 1

The Unraveling of Creation
Zephaniah was apparently the great great grandson of Hezekiah, King of Judah. His days as a prophet were lived out during the reign of Josiah, sometime between 640-609 B.C. Whether he wrote during that same period or whether his oral prophecies were recorded at a later date is open to question. But for the sake of our thinking and believing, his words reflect those late days of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

“The book of Zephaniah is a study in intertextuality. A highly literate work, it shares ideas and phraseology with other parts of the Hebrew Bible to such an extent that at times it may appear as nothing more than a pastiche of borrowed verses and allusions…. The general effect is the creation of a strong link between this otherwise obscure prophet and the rest of the canon—not only the Prophets, but also the Torah and the Psalms. Zephaniah participates in the textual world of the Hebrew Bible. This suggests that this textual world, in one form or another, was known and accepted by the book’s first audience (whether that audience was in the time of Josiah or later), for only then would invoking it be rhetorically effective” [Raabe, Obadiah 514:31].

The message of Zephaniah 1 begins with a prophecy of the Day of the LORD that will rain a storm of destruction upon the whole earth, the whole creation. In poetic terms it is the unraveling of creation. But in the second strophe of this poem, it is the population in Jerusalem that is targeted with punishment as an illustration of God’s unhappiness, and it is the wealthy that are singled out for unique attention. For it is these, these who spend their time nursing the wine bottle, and these who seek to aggrandize themselves first of all, who have the attitude that God is a paper tiger, one who makes a lot of noise, but will actually not act for good or ill. The prophet’s ringing tones gainsay such an attitude: “…in the fire of his (the LORD’s) passion the whole earth shall be consumed” [1:18b].

The Day of Judgement
Jonathan Swift
With a whirl of thought oppressed
I sink from revery to rest.
An horrid vision seized my head,
I saw the graves give up their dead.
Jove, armed with terrors, burst the skies,
And thunder roars, and lightning flies!
Amazed, confused, its fate unknown,
The World stands trembling at his throne.
While each pale sinner hangs his head,
Jove, nodding, shook the heavens, and said,
“Offending race of human kind,
By nature, reason, learning, blind;
You who through frailty stepped aside,
And you who never fell—through pride;
You who in different sects have shammed,
And come to see each other damned;
(So some folks told you, but they knew
No more of Jove’s designs that you)
The World’s mad business now is o’er,
And I resent these pranks no more.
I to such blockheads set my wit!
I damn such fools! Go, go, you’re bit.”

Collect for the Day
We saw pictures on the television of…
Lord God, be the strength
of all those who are in terrible sorrow,
that they may be helped in their despair
and find your light,
even where all seems to be utter darkness.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bible Comment on Ezekiel 47 with poem by Russell Bowie, God of the Nations: Provision for Everyone

Daily Readings
Wisdom of Solomon 8, I Samuel 17:55-18:27, Ezekiel 47:13-48:35, Romans 6

Daily Text: Ezekiel 47:13-48:35

Provision for Everyone
The summary of Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 47:13-48:35 includes a provision for everyone, aliens receiving full citizenship in the new Israel, a re-division of the land among the twelve tribes in a smaller country bounded by the Jordan on the east and the Great Sea on the west. The division is evidently an equal one this time, with Dan being the northernmost tribe with a strip of land running from the west, east to the Jordan. Every other tribe’s allotment runs similarly, and evidently of equal size. The half-born tribes, Dan and Asher in the North, Zebulon and Gad in the South are the furthest from Jerusalem. Five full-born tribes are north of Jerusalem and three south of it. The lands set aside for supporting the temple priests and Levites, the city dwellers and the prince follow chapter 41, again with strips of land running from the Great Sea to the Jordan River. To everyone a place.

The significance of this passage seems to lie in its provision for the newly created Israel, returning, or should one say, returned from exile. It has a national structure, a religious base, economic provision, a king and a capital city. Most important of all, its God is present. Jerusalem is even to be re-named, ‘The LORD is There.’

God of the Nations
W. Russell Bowie

God of the nations, who from dawn of days,
Hast led thy people in their widening ways,
Through whose deep purpose stranger thousands stand
Here in the borders of our promised land.

Thine ancient might rebuked the Pharaoh’s boast,
Thou wast the shield for Israel’s marching host,
And, all the ages through, past crumbling throne
And broken fetter, thou hast brought thine own.

Thy hand has led across the hungry sea
The eager peoples flocking to be free,
And, from the breeds of earth, thy silent sway
Fashions the nation of the broadening day.

Then, for thy grace to grow in brotherhood,
For hearts aflame to serve thy destined good,
For faith, and will to win what faith shall see,
God of thy people, hear us cry to thee.

Collect for the Day
O God of love, we pray thee to give us love:
Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,
Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls;
Love of our neighbours near and far;
Love of our friends, old and new;
Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,
And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;
Love of those with whom we work,
And love of those with whom we take our ease;
Love in joy, love in sorrow;
Love in life and love in death;
That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee,
Who art eternal love.

William Temple, 1881-1944
[489:202:November 4]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bible Comment on Ezekiel 47:1-12 with poem by James Montgomery, The Earth is Full of God's Goodness: River of Life

Daily Readings
Psalm 151, I Samuel 17:1-54, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Romans 5

Daily Text: Ezekiel 47:1-12

River of Life
Flowing out from the ‘podium’—the standing place of God [503:582], a spring issues water that comes out of the South gate flowing east toward the Jordan Rift and ultimately into the Dead Sea. Again, in chapter 47:1-12 Ezekiel is led by the man from God who measures the river with a cord, 1000 cubits at a time. Within 3600 feet of the temple the water is up to his knees. With another 3600 feet it would have to be swum, otherwise one could not cross. Wherever the water flowed life throve. The banks became lined by fruit-bearing trees, the Dead Sea gave up its salt and boasted a large variety of fish equal to that of the Mediterranean Sea. John in the Revelation quoted this passage in 22:1-2 and there the rivers of life flowed likewise from the heavenly throne room and the presence of God. O what a vision Ezekiel had, for this is assuredly part of his original vision. Contributions to it may have come from Genesis 2 and the river that flowed from the Garden of Eden. Whatever God is doing in Israel at this time, this vision is meant to draw a portrait of life and health and the availability of universal salvation. We too are invited to be part of Eden.

The Earth is Full of God’s Goodness
James Montgomery

If God hath made this world so fair,
Where sin and death abound,
How beautiful, beyond compare,
Will paradise be found!

Collect for the Day
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were,
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together:

But while I grow in a straight line,
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

George Herbert, 1593-1633
[489:125:July 3]

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bible Comment on Ezekiel 46 with poem by Alfred Noyes, Watchers of the Sky, III: Pragmatic Regulations

Daily Readings
Wisdom of Solomon 7, I Samuel 15:34-16:33, Ezekiel 46, Romans 4

Daily Text: Ezekiel 46

Pragmatic Regulations
Ezekiel 46 parallels chapter 45 in that it deals with the prince’s requirements, land issues and offerings. However, the regulations set down are distinct. The prince could come to the threshold of the closed inner east gate, and there observe the performance of his sacrifices, making obeisance on the threshold of the door before departing. The people could look in through that gate on the Sabbath and days of the New Moon, but they could not penetrate even to the threshold. Festival sacrifices required that the people and the prince enter by either North or South gate and proceed across, presumably without stopping to the gate opposite, thus keeping the flow of those making sacrifice continuous. These sacrifices were required so every person with a concern for keeping the Torah would be there.

Land matters were again arranged so that landholders would not be deprived of their land by the prince, and inherited land, even of the prince, would not pass out of the family. The priest’s kitchens are described in the final verses. They must cook and eat their portions of the sacrifices out of contact with the non-priestly population so that the holiness of the sacrifices might not be communicated to the people. Such separation seems strange from a Christian perspective, but we must remember that regulations were not part of Ezekiel’s original vision either. Rather these chapters (40-48) consist of practical and pragmatic regulations of the operating Second Temple, many of them harking back to those of the First Temple. It is ever thus, the vision giving way to order.

from Watchers of the Sky, III
Alfred Noyes

This music leads us far
From all our creeds, except that faith in law.
Your quest for knowledge—how it rests on that!
How sure the soul is that if truth destroy
The temple, in three days the truth will build
A nobler temple; and that order reigns
In all things. Even your atheist builds his doubt
On that strange faith; destroys his heaven and God
In absolute faith that his own thought is true
To law, God’s lanthorn to our stumbling feet;
And so, despite himself, he worships God,
For where true souls are, there are God and heaven.

Collect for the Day
Almighty God who hast sent the Spirit of truth unto us to guide us into all truth: so rule our lives by thy power that we may be truthful in thought and word and deed. May no fear or hope ever make us false in act or speech; cast out from us whatsoever loveth or maketh a lie, and bring us all into the perfect freedom of thy truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Brooke Foss Westcott, 1825-1901 [489:167:September 20]