Week of Proper 6: Saturday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Tall Wild Grass

Sufficient Grace

JUNE 24, 2017

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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 12:1-10 (An American Translation):

I have to boast.  There is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations given to me by the Lord.  I know of a man fourteen years ago–whether in the body or out of it, I do not know, God knows–being actually caught up into the third heaven.  And I know that this man–I do not know whether it was in the body or out of it, God knows–was caught up into Paradise, and heard things that must not be told, which no human being can repeat.  On this man’s account I am ready to boast, but about myself I will boast only of my weaknesses.  Thought if I do choose to boast, I will not be such a fool, for I will only be telling the truth.  But I will refrain from it, for I do not want anyone to be influenced by the wonderful character of these revelations to think more of me than is justified by my words or conduct.  So to keep me from being too much elated a bitter physical affliction was sent to me, a very messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too much elated.  Three times I have prayed to the Lord about this, begging that it might leave me, and he said to me,

My favor is enough for you, for only where there is weakness is perfect strength developed.

So I am perfectly willing to boast of all my weakness, so that the strength of Christ may shelter me.  That is why I am pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties, when they are endured for Christ’s sake, for it is when I am weak that I am strong.

Psalm 34:7-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 The angel of the LORD encompasses all 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!

9 Fear the LORD, you that are his saints,

for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger,

but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.

11 Come, children, and listen to me;

I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

12 Who among you loves life

and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

13 Keep your tongue from evil-speaking

and your lips from lying words.

14 Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Matthew 6:24-34 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

No slave can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or stand by the one and make light of the other.  You cannot serve God and money.  Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, wondering what you will have to eat or drink, or about your body, wondering what you will have to wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body than clothes.  Look at the wild birds.  They do not sow or reap, or store their food in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more account than they?  But which of you with all his worry can add a single hour to his life?  Why should you worry about clothing?  See how the wild flowers grow.  They do not toil or spin, and yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendor was never dressed like one of them.  But if God so beautifully dresses the wild grass, which is alive today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more surely clothe you, you who have so little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What shall we have to eat?’ or ‘What shall we have to drink?’ or ‘What shall we have to wear?’ For these are all things the heathen are in pursuit of, and your heavenly Father knows well that you need all this.  But you must make his kingdom, and uprightness before him, you greatest care, and you will have all these other things besides.  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own.  Let each be day be content with its own ills.

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Following lectionaries on this devotional blog and its two companion blogs, I notice repetition in certain readings and themes.  The excerpt from Matthew has come up before, and I have addressed it at least once prior to this post.  Some of the content of this post will therefore be repetitive, but so is the Bible.

Edgar J. Goodspeed’s An American Translation (complete in 1939) avoids many of the phrases familiar to those of us reared in the Authorized/King James-Revised Standard-New Revised Standard Version tradition.  So “My grace is sufficient for you” becomes “My favor is enough for you,” and the thorn in Paul’s  side becomes “a bitter physical affliction.”  Not being a traditionalist, much less a knee-jerk one, I welcome a good alternative rendering of familiar phrases, terms, and passages, for familiarity with one translation can obscure its meaning sometimes.  Paul, displaying humility, boasts in his weaknesses and writes of a man he knows.  This man, who was actually Paul, experienced mystical visions fourteen years prior to the writing of the epistle.  (I hope that Paul was acquainted with himself.)  Paul received not just these ecstatic visions, but also an unidentified physical affliction, from God.  No matter how much Paul prayed for the removal of this figurative thorn in his side, God did not answer in the affirmative.  But God did say that grace (that is, unearned favor) is sufficient for Paul.  So Paul understood that he was strong in God when he was weak in himself.

The reading from Matthew follows directly that for the Week of Proper 6:  Friday, Year 1.  (By the way, the best way to read these devotions is in sequence, for reasons such as this one.)  We read in the previous Matthew lection that one’s proper treasure does not consist of earthly wealth.

Continuing, Jesus says that nobody can serve both God and money, that we ought not to worry about basic needs, and that God will make these necessities available to us.  Worrying does lead to finding solutions to problems.  As far as I can tell, it does increase stress and blood pressure, decrease the quality of life, make one very bad company, shorten one’s lifespan, and distract one from finding a solution to a real problem.  So, of course, we should not worry.  Neither should we confuse needs and wants.  I suspect that we need much less than we might suspect.  I write from the United States, the home of progressively larger food portions since the Nixon Administration.  This context frames my understanding of hunger.  But how much do we really need?

And recall Acts 4:32-36.  Christians shared their bounty with each other, so that nobody had too much or too little.  We humans are supposed to help each other; God uses us (that is, when we cooperate with God) to supply necessities to each other.  Furthermore, we need to make good decisions, as well, for sometimes our bad fortunes flow from our bad decision making.  All of these statements are true.

So, will we cherish each other and ourselves enough to cooperate with God?  One truth I know is this one:  The social ethic of the self-made man or woman is a lie.  You see, we are all dependent on God and each other.

I have owned, at different times, two tee-shirts bearing the words “GRACE HAPPENS.”  It does, indeed, and it is much better than the implied alternative.  (For those of you not familiar with certain English-language expressions, we say that manure happens, although we use a four-letter word for manure.  I try to maintain a certain positive tone and linguistic standard on this blog, however, so I will stick with “manure.”)  Grace is everywhere, and it is God’s answer to our manure.  We are adept at messing up the world, each other, and ourselves, but only God, by grace, can clean up our messes and work through them to work deeds of mercy.  May we be instruments of that mercy for each other.  Together, in the midst of the muck, grime, and manure, may we witness God’s goodness and sing, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

KRT

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