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, January 13, 2007

A Party of Inquiry: Acts 11 with poem by Stephen Phillips, Benediction

Daily Readings
Psalm 11, Genesis 12, Isaiah 13, Acts 11

Daily Text: Acts 11

A Party of Inquiry
The spread of the church following the martyrdom of Stephen must have given many a Jerusalem apostle a sleepless night. Every time they heard of a new approach to the Gentiles, or even the Hellenists, they sent a party of inquiry. Peter and John, then Peter, and now Barnabas, in Acts 11, has been sent to investigate reports of matters spinning out of Jerusalem’s control. They must have felt like modern-day bishops with the clergy and people in rebellion. And to make matters worse, the emissaries usually approved of what was happening and fostered it. They did this because they quickly became convinced that it was the work of the Holy Spirit and not that of the local Christians. God will not be bound by our assumptions. It is we who are bound by our assumptions.

From “Herod”
Stephen Phillips,1868-1915

Now unto Him who brought His people forth
Out of the wilderness, by day a cloud,
By night a pillar of fire; to Him alone,
Look we at last and to no other look we.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Kerygma: Acts 9:32-10:48 with poem by Reobert Herrick, The Widows' Tears

Daily Readings
Psalm 10, Genesis 11, Isaiah 12, Acts 9:32-10:48

Daily Text: Acts 9:32-10:48

The Kerygma
Acts 9:32-10:48 tell a remarkable story. The passage begins with Peter announcing the healing of a man paralyzed for eight years, being brought to a woman, Tabitha, who had died and raising her as simply as Jesus did the young girl in Mark 5. In fact, there are a number of parallels in this chapter with Mark’s gospel. The healing and the raising from the dead are only the first two. But we go on to the matter of Peter’s conclusion about the ending of Jewish ceremonial food laws as in Mark 7:19b. According to Bruce, these food prohibitions were a large part of the hesitancy of Jews in associating with Gentiles. With these prohibitions removed, much of the stigma was also removed. The preaching itself, this kerygma or basic message, is an outline of the book of Mark according to Bruce quoting C.H. Dodd [549:226]. And finally, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit ‘just as we have’ [10:47]. It is clear in this passage that the Holy Spirit is not a substitute for faith or for baptism. It is a separate blessing from the Lord Jesus. One could say this was only on the inauguration of the ministry to the Gentiles, but it has occurred in similar fashion with other groups and will continue to happen in this fashion. Philip’s ministry with the Samaritans was not complete until Peter and John came into Samaria and proclaimed this same blessing. Remember Simon and his bribe?

The Widows’ Tears: or, Dirge of Dorcas
Robert Herrick

Come pity us, all ye, who see
Our harps hung on the willow-tree:
Come pity us, ye passers by,
Who see, or hear poor widows cry:
Come pity us; and bring your ears,
And eyes, to pity widows’ tears.
Chor. And when you are come hither;
Then we will keep
A fast, and weep
Our eyes out all together.

For Tabitha, who dead lies here,
Clean washed, and laid out for the bier;
O modest matrons, weep and wail!
For now the corn and wine must fail:
The basket and the bin of bread,
Wherewith so many souls were fed
Chor. Stand empty here for ever:
And ah! the poor,
At thy worn door,
Shall be relieved never.

Woe worth the time, woe worth the day,
That reaved us of thee Tabitha!
For we have lost, with thee, the meal,
The bits, the morsels, and the deal
Of gentle paste, and yielding dough,
That thou on widows didst bestow.
Chor. All’s gone, and death hath taken
Away from us
Our maundy; thus,
Thy widows stand forsaken.

Ah Dorcas, Dorcas! now adieu
We bid the cruse and pannier too:
I and the flesh, for and the fish,
Doled to us in that lordly dish.
We take our leaves now of the loom,
From whence the house-wives cloth did come.
Chor. The web affords now nothing;
Thou being dead,
The worsted thread
Is cut, that made us clothing.

Farewell the flax and reaming wool,
With which thy house was plentiful.
Farewell the cots, the garments and
The sheets, the rugs, made by thy hand.
Farewell thy fire and thy light,
That ne’er went out by day or night:
Chor. No, or thy zeal so speedy,
That found a way
By peep of day,
To feed and cloth the needy.

But, ah, alas! the almond bough,
And olive branch is withered now.
The wine press now is ta’en from us,
The saffron and the calamus.
The spice and spikenard hence is gone,
The storax and the cinnamon,
Chor. The carol of our gladness
Has taken wing,
And our late spring
Of mirth is turned to sadness.

How wise wast thou in all thy ways!
How worthy of respect and praise!
How matron-like didst thou go dressed!
How soberly above the rest
Of those that prank it with their plumes;
And jet it with their choice perfumes.
Chor. Thy vestures were not flowing:
Nor did the street
Accuse thy feet
Of mincing in their going.

And though thou here li’st dead, we see
A deal of beauty yet in thee.
How sweetly shows thy smiling face,
Thy lips with all diffused grace!
Thy hands (though cold) yet spotless, white,
And comely as the chrysolite.
Chor. Thy belly like a hill is,
Or as a neat
Clean heap of wheat,
All set about wit lilies.

Sleep with thy beauties here, while we
Will show these garments made by thee;
These were the coats, in these are read
They monuments of Dorcas dead.
These were thy acts, and thou shalt have
These hung, as honors o’er thy grave,
Chor. And after us (distressed)
Should fame be dumb;
Thy very tomb
Would cry out, Thou art blessed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Turn-around: Acts 9:1-31 with poem by W. S. Di Piero, Near Damascus

Daily Readings
Psalm 9, Genesis 10, Isaiah 10:33-11:16, Acts 9:1-31

Daily Text: Acts 9:1-31

Whatever it was that galvanized Paul around the death of Stephen to lead the challenge against the Christians, that motivation carried him from Jerusalem to Damascus. But on the road near that city, he was arrested by a great light and a dialogue with Jesus. His conversion was instantaneous, and his baptism and instruction followed quickly in Damascus. Without hesitation he begins championing the cause he was previously persecuting. This was a passionate, quickly deciding individual. Even before the ink was dry on his letters to the synagogues, he was there proclaiming the Jesus he had come to persecute.

It sounds in Acts like he stayed in Damascus a few days and then headed right back to Jerusalem. Galatians 1:15-20, however, asserts that he did not go up to Jerusalem until three years later. Lacking better information, we must suppose that he knew in Galatians the chronology of his own travels. He may have stayed right there in Damascus, after a brief sojourn in Arabia, for the three years.

While his conversion was radical, involving a complete turn-around, the commitment required is that expected of all Christians. God grant us all the wisdom to receive God’s call and God’s gifts so readily that we too will be immediately serving in Christ’s name.

Near Damascus
W. S. Di Piero

The antlered scarab rolled a dungball
for its brood; a red ant, tipsy,
bulldozed a flinty wedge of chaff.
Mud slots from the recent rain,
now crusted over by the heat—
moon mountains seen close up; my mouth
plugged with road grit and surprise
just when I tried to shout no
to the blunt lightning spike that stopped me…

In the mountains of the moon I saw
a wasp dragging a grasshopper
to a frothing nest, grubs lingering
through their episode, and larvae
I’d have chewed like honeycomb
if it would have saved my sight.
Antaeus inhaled force from dirt;
he was luckier, never much
for visions, and too far gone.

In my head, I see this body
dumped flat. Painted in above,
the horse twists and straddles me,
his eyes flare, ecstatic, new,
contemptuous of the thing that fell,
while the light-shaft curries his flank
and nails me down, the unloved me,
rousted, found out, blasted, saved
down in the road’s pearly filth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Jewish God-fearer: Acts 8 with poem by Roger Williams, God Makes a Path

Daily Readings
Psalm 7, Genesis 9, Isaiah 10:5-32, Acts 8:1b-40

Daily Text: Acts 8:1b-40

A Jewish God-fearer
The first of the seven deacons, Stephen is dead and his death has sparked a persecution of the Hellenistic church in Jerusalem. Acts 8 is about a second of those deacons, Philip by name, who is forced out of Jerusalem in the ensuing persecution. Fleeing for his freedom and his life, he preaches as he travels to a Samaritan city, possibly Gitta, that history tells us was the home of one Simon Magus. That fellow responds to the signs and wonders performed within Philip’s ministry and he is converted more or less, baptized and becomes a companion of the said deacon. That is, he does until Peter and John come down from Jerusalem to instruct concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then he is so impressed that he reverts and offers Peter money (the act of simony) if he will teach him how to do this ‘trick!’ What a mistake that was, for Peter reams him out for fair. Simon Magus, if he is the same one, built a reputation for opposing Peter in Rome in later years. If that is so, Peter’s rebuke served to show him who he was, and to create an enemy not forgotten in a lifetime [cf. 549:184].

When Peter and John return to Jerusalem, Philip must have accompanied them, for the very next reference in this chapter is that of an angel appearing to Philip and sending him down the Jerusalem road to Gaza, which is southwest of Jerusalem, not at all in the vicinity of a Samaritan city. Here Philip joins a traveling Ethiopian official, a Jewish God-fearer, and explaining the words of the prophet Isaiah to him, makes another convert for Christ. Ethiopian’s have a long tradition in Jewish-Christian history dating back to the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. Many of them in Ethiopia, now with numerous Christians, continue to be Jews. They claim to have the original ark from the tabernacle of David and Solomon’s time. When Jerusalem fell in 597 the ark disappeared and the Ethiopian’s assert that they rescued it and took it to their own land for safe-keeping. At any rate, thes Ethiopian eunuch fits into this historical pattern of one who worships Israel’s God, becomes a Christian, and takes this renewed faith back to his own nation. God is quickly at work spreading the faith from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Philip the deacon is implicated deeply in this movement.

God Makes a Path
Roger Williams

God makes a path, provides a guide,
And feeds a wilderness;
His glorious name, while breath remains,
O that I may confess..

Lost many a time, I have had no guide,
No house but a hollow tree!
In stormy winter night no fire,
No food, no company;

In Him I found a house, a bed,
A table, company;
No cup so bitter but’s made sweet,
Where God shall sweetening be.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Creating a Martyr: Acts 7 with poem by Sir John Suckling, Upon Stephen Stoned

Daily Readings
Isaiah 54, Genesis 8, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Acts 7

Daily Text: Acts 7

Creating a Martyr
Stephen’s response to the queries from the high priest concerning the charges against him—that he spoke frequently against the temple and Moses—was a recital of the history of the people of God. In Acts 7 this recital was from a particular understanding of the purposes of God and this understanding said clearly that both the leaders and people of Israel continually rejected the saviours sent by God, as they have done with Jesus and unspoken though implicit, as they are doing with Stephen. In addition, he defends what he and Jesus have said about the temple by pointing out that God does not dwell in houses made with hands, but in the hearts of his people. Here he is making the point that because they are so fixated on the temple they cannot themselves be the temple of God. Certainly, he is making no effort to conciliate the Council, but by telling them the way it is he stirs up their wrath to the point that they stone him without further considerations. Stephen loses his life and the Council loses the ‘war’ by creating a martyr.

Upon Stephen Stoned
Sir John Suckling

Under this heap of stones interred lies
No holocaust, but stoned sacrifice
Burnt not by altar-coals, but by the fire
Of Jewish ire,
Whose softest words in their hard hearts alone
Congealed to stone,
Not piercing them recoiled in him again,
Who being slain
As not forgetful, whence they once did come,
Now being stones he found them in a tomb.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Ministry of the Word of God: Acts 6 with poem by John Oxenham, To Win the World

Daily Readings
Psalm 6, Genesis 7, Isaiah, 7 Acts 6

Daily Text: Acts 6

The Ministry of the Word of God
The ministry of the word of God is the choice made here both by the apostles and by the Luke. What do I mean? In Acts 6 the apostles ask the community of fractious Christians to choose seven men who may administer the economic resources of the new community in order that they, the apostles, may continue with the ministry of the word of God. They do so. Stephen is the new deacon upon whom Luke chooses to focus and what is Stephen doing? Ministry of the word of God; Luke simply doesn’t illustrate at all Stephen’s new duties as deacon in the distribution of economic resources to meet the need of the poorer of the company. No, he is arguing with the men of the Freedmen synagogue and shortly after that before the Council of the Jews.

What is this ‘ministry of the word of God?’ It seems to include ‘signs and wonders,’ articulate defense of the new Christian understanding of the faith, powerful sharing of the good news, teaching, prayer and presumably exercise of other spiritual gifts. Stephen has the same ministry as do the apostles, in addition to his duties as deacon. And he dies as a result of this ministry long before any of the Twelve. It is a wonderful example that the ministry of the word is that of every Christian even though there are some who are set apart to do only that. Verse 7 is the focus of this as Luke reports that “the word of God continued to spread.” A secondary point made in this ‘report’ verse is that ‘a great many priests became obedient to the faith.’ In the beginning there was no conflict between being a faithful and participating Hebrew, even a priest, and being one who embraced the new understanding that Jesus was the messiah, the long looked-for one, of this same Hebrew faith!

To Win the World
John Oxenham

Would you win all the world for Christ?
One way there is and only one;
You must live Christ from day to day,
And see His will be done.

But who lives Christ must tread His way,
Leave self and all the world behind,
Press ever up and on, and serve
His kind with single mind.

No easy way,--rough—strewn with stones,
And wearisome, the path He trod.
But His way is the only way
That leads man back to God.

And lonesome oft, and often dark
With shame, and outcastry, and scorn,
And, at the end, perchance a cross,
And many a crown of thorn.

But His lone cross and crown of thorn
Endure when crowns and empires fall.
The might of His undying love
In dying conquered all.

Only by treading in His steps
The all-compelling ways of Love,
Shall earth be won, and man made one
With that Great Love above.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Loving Integrity: Acts 4:32-5:42 with poem by Dylan Thomas, There Was a Saviour

Daily Readings
Psalm 5, Genesis 6, Isaiah 6, Acts 4:32-5:42

Daily Text: Acts 4:32-5:42

Loving Integrity
If there is a single theme in this passage, Acts 4:32-5:42, that theme is ‘loving integrity.’ Giving to the young church was a matter of whole-souled integrity. Note the illustration of the ones who tried to pawn their giving off as generosity. Or, be aware that the apostles continue to be the witnesses they are called to be even when threatened, when imprisoned, and when flogged. It is God whom they obey, not the authorities. They even rejoice over their suffering. They have given their lives to God. Nothing else and no one else demands of them ultimate loyalty.

There Was a SaviourDylan Thomas

There was a saviour
Rarer than radium,
Commoner than water, crueller than truth;
Children kept from the sun
Assembled at his tongue
To hear the golden note turn in a groove,
Prisoners of wishes locked their eyes
In the jails and studies of his keyless smiles.

The voice of children says
From a lost wilderness
There was calm to be done in his safe unrest,
When hindering man hurt
Man, animal, or bird
We hid our fears in that murdering breath,
Silence, silence to do, when earth grew loud,
In lairs and asylums of the tremendous shout.

There was glory to hear
In the churches of his tears,
Under his downy arm you sighed as he struck,
O you who could not cry
On to the ground when a man died
Put a tear for joy in the unearthly flood
And laid your cheek against a cloud-formed shell:
Now in the dark there is only yourself and myself.

Two proud, blacked brothers cry,
Winter-locked side by side,
To this inhospitable hollow year,
O we who could not stir
One lean sigh when we heard
Greed on man beating near and fire neighbour
But wailed and nested in the sky-blue wall
Now break a giant tear for the little known fall,

For the drooping of homes
That did not nurse our bones,
Brave deaths of only ones but never found,
Now see, alone in us,
Our own true strangers’ dust
Ride through the doors of our unentered house.
Exiled in us we arouse the soft,
Unclenched, armless, silk and rough love that breaks all rocks.