Week of Proper 5: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above: The Decapitation of St. Paul (1887), by Enrique Simonet

Pay It Forward

JUNE 7, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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2 Corinthians 1:1-7 (An American Translation):

Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, and all God’s people all over Greece; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and give you peace.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, and the God always ready to comfort!  He comforts me in all my trouble, so that I can comfort people who are in any trouble with the comfort with which I myself am comforted by God.  For if I have a liberal share of Christ’s sufferings, through Christ I have a liberal share of comfort too.  If I am in trouble, it is to bring you comfort and salvation, and if I am comforted, it is for the sake of the comfort which you experience when you steadfastly endure such sufferings as I also have to bear.  My hopes for you are unshaken.  For I know that just as surely as you share my sufferings, just so surely you will share my comfort.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.

Matthew 5:1-12 (An American Translation):

When Jesus saw the crowds of people he went up on the mountain.  There he seated himself, and when his disciples had come up to him, he opened his lips to teach them.  And he said,

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them!

Blessed are the mourners, for they will be consoled!

Blessed are the humble-minded, for they will possess the land!

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for uprightness, for they will be satisfied!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God’s sons!

Blessed are those who have endured the persecution for their uprightness, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you, and falsely say everything bad of you, on my account.  Be glad and exult over it, for you will be richly rewarded in heaven, for that is the way they persecuted the prophets who went before you!

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Life contains many persistent questions.  Among them is this one:  Why do good people suffer?  The answer is simple and multifaceted:

  • A certain measure of suffering seems to be part and parcel of living.  Sometimes nobody is to blame.
  • Bad people, who might not know that they are bad, persecute those who are good.
  • Many people decide that inflicting a certain amount of suffering is acceptable, given the alternatives.
  • We humans tend to fear those we do not understand, and to hate and persecute those we fear.
  • We are interconnected, so the actions on one person affect others.  Sometimes innocent parties become caught up in the negative effects of the actions of others.
  • Sometimes we experience the negative consequences of our own actions.

Yet, as Paul, who knew much suffering for his work in the name of God wrote to the Corinthians, adverse circumstances led to him receiving comfort, which he was then able to extend to others, who could comfort others, et cetera.  I know this feeling, for I have suffered, although not for the sake of righteousness.  I was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But I received great comfort, and I feel the obligation to comfort others.  I know that I ought to pay it forward.  Perhaps you, O reader, have the same sense of obligation fueled by gratitude.

And we know, of course, where Paul’s sufferings led him.  The Romans decapitated him.  Until that point, however, the apostle comforted many people.  Fortunately, many of his words survive to this day, and they provide much comfort and inspiration.  His legacy continues via epistles and the fact that I, a Gentile, am a Christian.  His sufferings were not in vain.

On this day the Canadian Anglican lectionary shifts out of Mark and into Matthew, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount.  I chose to change the translation again, as I do periodically, and to switch to the The Complete Bible:  An American Translation (1939), which renders the Beatitudes nicely without clinging to overly traditional language.  Sometimes reading or hearing a passage in familiar language prevents one from really hearing its meanings.  And I hope that you, O reader, read the Beatitudes again and paid close attention to the words, instead of jumping ahead mentally with a “I’ve read this before” mentality.

You might have heard some or all of the following statements, or variations thereof:

  • Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed.
  • Do unto others before they do unto you.
  • Nice guys finish last.

The Beatitudes contradict all of them.  Jesus was no stranger to suffering, of course.  So let nobody accuse him of being naive.  Rather, let us recognize without words and lives his moral genius and insight.  The Matthew version of the Beatitudes contains a vision of the world as it ought to be and of how the divine order works.  History tells me that too often human authority figures have labeled the way things are as the divinely appointed order.  Therefore questioning authority and trying to reform society became a sin, officially.  And, too often, Christian leaders have supported this position.  Consider pre-Enlightenment Europe, for example.  Those Enlightenment philosophers who rejected organized Christianity were not entirely wrong, for they looked around and saw bishops in the pockets of princes, kings, and emperors, and they recognized that such had been the case for a very long time.

But there is a distinction between Jesus and organized Christianity, at least some of the time.  We of the Church have misunderstood Jesus intentionally or accidentally, and that is to our great discredit.  We have misconstrued popularity as something to desire, but what did Jesus say?  We have condoned allegedly holy wars, but what did Jesus say?  We have been arrogant, but what did Jesus say?  Fortunately, not all of us have erred to this extent; we have always had our share of pure souls in our midst.  The likes of St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta have reminded us of where we ought to stand.

We ought to strive for a better world.  We have made this world what it is, so we can leave it better than we found it.  (That is an Enlightenment attitude.)  But only God can make the world what it ought to to be.  (Now I sound like Reinhold Niebuhr.)  And, by grace, we can comfort each other, which is one vocation God gives to us.

And, in Godly community, may we echo the psalm:

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are they who trust in him.

Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/pay-it-forward/

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