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, January 19, 2007

Including Philosophers: Acts 17 with poem by H. E. Henley, Invictus

Daily Readings
Psalm 21, Genesis 19, Isaiah 19, Acts 17

Daily Text: Acts 17

The Uproar in Thessalonica

17After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’ 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

Paul and Silas in Beroea

10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 14Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

Paul in Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Including Philosophers
With the exception of Phillipi, where it appeared that there was no synagogue, Acts 17 resets Paul’s pattern of going into the synagogue to proclaim the Messiah proclamation of Jesus, until they would accept or reject Jesus. Here in Thessalonica they reject the message and in Beroea, they accept it. But in the end he is spirited away from trouble to go to Athens and await his companions. Did he have time on his hands? The synagogue isn’t mentioned, but it appears that he wanders the streets and engages in conversation with whomever he meets, including philosophers. Ultimately, he is asked to go to the Areopagus, a distinguished forum for presenting religious ideas, and Paul does that. There he makes an argument based on an altar or two which he has seen dedicated to an unknown god. He claims his God as that unknown one. In his presentation he quotes in turn from Epimenides, an Epicurean, and Aratus, a Stoic. Epimenides’ lines, from which he quoted one, are as follows:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead; thou livest and abidest for ever;
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

The Epicureans, founded by Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), espoused pleasure as the chief end of life, a pleasure bounded by great tranquillity. They paid little attention to the gods for they were convinced that the gods paid little or no attention to humankind. The Stoics, on the other hand, were pantheists, believing in a world-state in which all men were citizens. They emphasized living with nature and depending upon their own intellect. Their founder Cypriote Zeno lived from 340-265 B.C. Two English poets sum up their philosophies quite well in the following examples: first the Epicureans and then the Stoics. All of the above follows F. F. Bruce [549:349 ff.].

The Garden of Proserpine
A. C. Swinburne

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to the sea.

W. E. Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Map Quest: Acts 15:36-16:40 with poem by Emily Dickinson, On Paul and Silas it is Said

Daily Readings
Psalm 20, Genesis 18, Isaiah 18, Acts 15:36-16:40

Daily Text: Acts 15:36-16:40

Paul and Barnabas Separate

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

The Conversion of Lydia

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and Silas in Prison

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.’ But Paul replied, ‘They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.’ The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Map Quest
Without his sponsor, Barnabas, Paul now begins his ministry in earnest. Acts 16 documents his journeys back into Syria and Cilicia, picking up converts and a new companion, Timothy. But the highlight of his journey is its supernatural direction by the Holy Spirit, a sort of internal map quest. Don’t preach in Asia, don’t go into Bithynia, but do go to Macedonia—there are those waiting there for what you have to proclaim. Immediately, without hesitation, Paul goes to Troas and embarks on a ship across the Aegean to the Macedonian port of Samothrace. Philippi is evidently a Gentile city, that is, there are not ten male Jews to form a minyan. No synagogue, but Paul hears of a prayer place outside the city on the bank of the river Gangites. There he meets Lydia, a Gentile and a God-fearer, whose trade brings her to Philippi. Her conversion, the first in Macedonia gives him a home within which to meet his converts. These house churches are the common meeting place for the Christians. Presumably, the Jews have dedicated synagogue meeting places in most towns, but the not the Christians. The synagogues serve until its members become unhappy with the Christians. The jailer presumably provides another place for meeting and so the infant church grows. A third convert may well have been the young slave girl whose demon is cast out by Paul. In the name of Jesus her attractiveness to her owners as a source of income from telling fortunes disappears. If Jesus was followed because he was able to say the word and the miraculous took place, it has become apparent that his followers can do the same by invoking his name.

Jesus! the name high over all,
In hell, or earth, or sky:
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

One key to the difficulties that these early Christians faced was the public nature of their ministries. They did what did in the open, and the results upset anyone whose ox happened to be gored. So often today we succeed somehow in keeping our ministry more private. We take few risks, observing the cultural boundaries familiar to us all. No one is offended, no one is upset and no persecution ensues. The privacy of it may have something to do with its vacuousness.

On Paul and Silas It Is Said

Emily Dickinson

Of Paul and Silas it is said
They were in Prison laid
But when they went to take them out
They were not there instead.

Security the same insures
To our assaulted Minds—
The staple must be optional
That an Immortal binds.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Jerusalem Council: Acts 15:1-35 with poem by Henry B. Robins, Of One Blood Hath God Created

Daily Readings
Psalm 17, Genesis 16, Isaiah 17, Acts 15:1-35

Daily Text: Acts 15:1-35

The Jerusalem Council
This most important council, addressed in Acts 15, was initiated because some free-lance theologians from Jerusalem made their way to Antioch where they found that the church was growing by leaps and bounds with Gentiles. Now Gentiles had been accepted previously, in Caesarea and other places, but it now becomes apparent that they will soon outnumber the Jewish believers. What to do? Include them, but treat the Gentiles as a sect of Judaism so that the mother religion will not be lost. To include them requires circumcision and observance of the Torah, and these matters these free-lancers insisted upon. Even Peter and Barnabas began to bow to their insistence (cf. Galatians 2:1-10). But the church was increasingly a Gentile church and these Christians understood that there had to be a better answer, and that answer needed to come from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were sent there to clarify the issue and the Jerusalem Council issued from that visit.

Debate ensues and after hearing all parties Peter stands and speaks for the Gentiles. Though in Antioch Peter was called on Paul’s carpet for bowing down to those who insisted on the letter of the law, he evidently held no hard feelings. He recognized that what God had shown him in the vision at Joppa and in the coming of the Holy Spirit in Caesarea, must become the rule of the young church. There must be no unnecessary barriers placed before Gentile converts to the new faith. Grace, not works, is the word of the day, the theological watchword. James, after also hearing Paul and Barnabas, concludes similarly. With a courtesy resolution that the Jews not be offended by food choices and pagan sexual practice, he sides with Simon Peter. He will write a letter and send it by a couple of trusted lieutenants who will accompany Barnabas and Saul back to Antioch. He will not risk putting the missionaries into the bind of speaking for the Council, but will support them by sending his own emissaries. This was an important early decision, and upon it rested the whole future of the Christian movement. Out of human debate has come an act of God.

Of One Blood Hath God Created
Henry B. Robins, 1874

Of one blood hath God created
Every kindred, tribe and tongue;
His is every fane and altar,
Though man’s empire be far-flung;
Even though some flout the others,
Underneath are they blood-brothers;
And shall learn, some crucial day,
How to walk a common way.

God of all the warring peoples,
Still art Thou the God of Peace;
Love art Thou, but Love in Sorrow,
Wounded until wars shall cease;
Until Right shall win, our burden
Thou, too, bearest; ‘tis the guerdon
Of that dauntless Saviour-hood
Which shall rear the common good.

Keep before us, clear, the vision
Of Thy Holy common-wealth;
Guide us, Thou, in each decision;
Save us from the subtle stealth
Which would fill our souls this hour
With race-hatred, lust of power,
Alienate our life from Thee
And Thy Kingdom, yet to be.

May we, with the Man of Sorrows,
Tread the dangerous path of duty;
Seeking not our own, but serving,
May we grasp, O Lord, the beauty
Of Thy Holiness, wherever
Flames a Love that faileth never,
Burning out the waste and dross,
Saving men from shame and loss.

Grant to us a sense of presence:
Make us all aware of Thee;
May Thy Holy Love unite us
In the bond that sets men free—
Free to understand each other,
Free to claim each as his brother,
Free to build in unity,
Free, O God, yet bound to Thee.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Persecution: Acts 14 with poem by W. M. Praed, Intolerance

Daily Readings
Psalm 14, Genesis 15, Isaiah 16, Acts 14

Daily Text: Acts 14

Wherever they went in Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the word, won converts were persecuted, and fled. But their fleeing was misleading for having gone to the far border of the province, they returned by the same route they had originally come, went back into the same cities where they had suffered opposition, harassment, threat, and stoning. There they encouraged their converts, organized the church by appointing leaders, and went on to the next city where they had been unwanted. This continued until they arrived back in the original Antioch of their commissioning.

Paul must have made an indelible impression, especially in Iconium for in the second century Acts of Paul, there is our best description of what he looked like and historians believe it to be fairly well founded on local tradition. “One Onesiphorus, a resident in Iconium, sets out to meet Paul, who is on his way to the city. ‘And he saw Paul approaching, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, bald-headed, bow-legged, strongly built, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man, and at times he had the face of an angel’” [549:288].

There is much demeaning of the value of persecution in literature. For example, Sir Thomas Browne,1605-1682 wrote: “Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant religion” [413:86:15]. Baron Macaulay , 1800-1859 in his History of England sarcastically noted that “Persecution produced its natural effect on them. It found them a sect; it made them a faction” [413:325:35]. On the other hand, Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, in his discussion of state religion in his Thoughts on Religion, wrote, “I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular but some degree of persecution” [413:520:37].

In Acts, however, persecution seems to have provided a continual impetus for further mission work and the effective spread of the young church. Kenneth Scott Latourette,1953, wrote: “So radical are the claims of the Gospel, so sweeping are its demands on the faithful, so uncompromising does it render those who yield themselves fully to it, that opposition and even persecution are to be expected” [40:81]. And again, “Crude and misinformed though many of the criticisms of Christianity were, here was an awareness that a force was entering the world which if given free scope would overturn the existing culture. Dimly, to be sure, and imperfectly, but with an appreciation of the actualities, non-Christians sensed that because of its revolutionary nature, its uncompromising character, and its claim on the allegiance of all man kind, Christianity was more to be feared by the established order than any of its many competitors….”[40:82].

W.M. Praed, 1802-1839

And when religious sects ran mad,
He held, in spite of all his learning,
That if a man’s belief is bad,
It will not be improved by burning.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Change in Leadership: Acts 13 with an anonymous poem, More Grace

Daily Readings
Psalm 13, Genesis 14, Isaiah 15, Acts 13

Daily Text: Acts 13

Change in Leadership
Acts 13 is a continuation of the recital left off in Acts 11. There is a solid group of teachers in Antioch, enough so that Barnabas and Saul can be spared for mission work, and they were ordained to go. When they left Antioch, Barnabas led the mission that he and Saul were sent upon. By the time they left Paphos, Paul was the leader. Presumably, Barnabas was very happy with this change in leadership. He had early spotted Paul’s potential and supported him in the new ministry. God-fearers, and Hellenists seemed to be the ones who responded most readily as they traveled, though there must have been many Jews who took up faith with this newly proclaimed Messiah, as well. But in Perga the leading Jews were quite threatened by the enthusiastic hearing that Paul and Barnabas were receiving and they drove them from the region. Not to be daunted the new disciples, the ones who continued in Perga, were filled with great joy as Paul, Barnabas and company departed.

More Grace

It takes more grace than I can tell
To play the second fiddle well.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Hand of God: Acts 12 with poem by Madame Jeanne Marie Guyon, A Prisoner's Song

Daily Readings
Psalm 12, Genesis 13, Isaiah 14, Acts 12

Daily Text: Acts 12

The Hand of God
Herod is pictured here, in Acts 12,in his true colors—repressive, destroying the good, imprisoning the faithful, reveling in divine accolades. He receives what he deserves, death in a moment, death, as Luke and his source believed, at the hand of God. He represents some of the worst of humankind. Josephus has a record of his death and its circumstances.
“At Caesarea, Agrippa exhibited shows in honour of Caesar, inaugurating this as a festival for the emperor’s welfare. And there came together to it a large number of the provincial officials and others of distinguished position. On the second day of the shows Agrippa put on a robe made of silver throughout, of altogether wonderful weaving, and entered the theatre at break of day. Then the silver shone and glittered wonderfully as the sun’s first rays fell on it, and its resplendence inspired a sort of fear and trembling in those who gazed on it. Immediately his flatterers called out from various directions, using language which boded him no good, for they addressed him as a god, and invoked him with the cry, ‘Be gracious unto us! Hitherto we have reverenced thee as a man, but henceforth we acknowledge thee to be of more than mortal nature.’ He did not rebuke them, nor did he repudiate their impious flattery. But soon afterwards he looked up and saw an owl sitting on a rope above his head, and immediately recognized it as a messenger of evil as it had on a former occasion been a messenger of good; and a pang of grief pierced his heart. at the same time he was seized by a severe pain in his belly, which began with a most violent attack. He was carried quickly into the palace…and when he had suffered continuously for five days from the pain in his belly, he died, in the fifty-fourth year of his age and the seventh of his reign” (Antiquities xix.8.2 from 549:254).

Peter’s imprisonment and his release is remarkable. The hand of God is surely seen in it, though why he was released and James was killed is one of those human imponderables. But the miracle of it all is repeated earlier when John and Peter were imprisoned by the High Priest. The humor of the serving girl’s thoughtless excitement must have convulsed friends of the man for years after. It reminds us that we too seldom see the power of God in such a practical fashion.

A Prisoner’s Song
Madame Jeanne Marie Guyon, 1648-1717

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him Who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.

Naught have I else to do:
I sing the whole day long;
And He Whom I most love to please
Doth listen to my song:
He caught and bound my wandering wing;
But still He bends to hear me sing.

Thou hast an ear to hear,
A heart to love and bless;
And though my notes were e’er so rude,
Thou wouldst not hear the less;
Because Thou knowest as they fall,
That love, sweet love, inspires them all.

My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty;
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.

Oh, it is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him Whose purpose I adore,
Whose providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.