Archive for December 2010

Proper 10, Year A   24 comments

Above:  Soil Profile

Image in the Public Domain

A Call for Righteous Deeds

The Sunday Closest to July 13

The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

JULY 12, 2020



Genesis 25:19-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said,

If it is to be this way, why do I live?

So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples born of you shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the elder shall serve the younger.

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob,

Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!

(Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said,

First sell me your birthright.

Esau said,

I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?

Jacob said,

Swear to me first.

So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Psalm 119:105-112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

105 Your word is a lantern to my feet

and a light upon my path.

106 I have sworn and am determined

to keep your righteous judgments.

107 I am deeply troubled;

prserve my life, O LORD, according to your word.

108 Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips,

and teach me your judgments.

109 My life is always in my hand,

yet I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have set a trap for me,

but I have not strayed from your commandments.

111 Your decrees are my inheritance for ever;

truly, they are the joy of my heart.

112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes

for ever and to the end.


Isaiah 55:10-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,

O God of our salvation,

O Hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the seas that are far away.

6 You make fast the mountains by your power;

they are girded about with might.

7 You still the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

and the clamor of the peoples.

8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs;

you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.

9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

10 You prepare the grain,

for so you provide for the earth.

11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

12 You crown the year with your goodness,

and your paths overflow with plenty.

13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,

and the hills be clothed with joy.

14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,

and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;

let them shout for joy and sing.


Romans 8:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  Buf if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your moral bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.


Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying:

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!

Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out….

You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

–Psalm 65:3, 9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer)

This Sunday’s readings, taken together, constitute a call for righteous deeds.

One aspect of a righteous deed is that it lacks resentment.  Esau had every right to be resentful.  His brother, Jacob, forced him to sell his birthright.  Jacob was a schemer, and his plots got him into much needless difficulty over the years.  They did reconcile eventually, but not before much family drama played out.

A righteous deed is a faithful response to God.  God has acted.  And God continues to act.  God shows the initiative in Isaiah 55 and Psalm 65.  And God (specifically Jesus) is the sower in Matthew 13.  This chapter is eschatological.  After the Parable of the Sower we have the tares, which resemble wheat.  God will sort out the difference at the time of the harvest, or the final judgment.

With eschatology in mind, the fates of the seeds take on meanings beyond “What kind of soil am I?” in the context of mere daily life.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew expected Jesus to return very shortly, a fact we must consider.  Another relevant detail is the presence of Roman persecutions of Christianity.  So seeds never sprout, others do for a time but do not survive adversity, and still other seeds take root and yield much.  Christians are supposed to yield much, a harvest possible only in God.

The harvest yields are unrealistic in agricultural terms, thus the parable is not agricultural; it is spiritual.  No farmer could expect such yields in First Century C.E. Judea reasonably.  So the yields must be the work of God, in concert with faithful people.  Stakes do not get much higher than eschatological ones, and, if one thinks the schedule is short, yields need to be greater to make up for the lack of time.

That was in 85-90 C.E.  I write these words on Christmas Day in 2010.  Between the 85 and 2010 many have speculated as to when Jesus might return.  They have all been wrong.  I have a 1979 paperback book explaining why Jesus will return by 1988.  That author was incorrect.  There is another date (May 2011) making the rounds as I write these words.  The fact that I am writing a devotion for July 10, 2011, indicates my opinion of that date.  We ought not obsess over dates, which come and go.  No, our mandate is to be faithful Christians who cooperate with God more often than not.  We cannot cooperate with God all the time, due to sin, but, by grace, we can improve spiritually.  The formula is this:  see and hear, understand, then act accordingly.

As for eschatology, God will handle those details.  The human track record on trying to understand it has not proved promising.  So let us focus on what God calls to do:  bear good fruit.  May we sink our roots into the river of God, which always has plenty of water.



Week of Proper 9: Saturday, Year 1   6 comments

Above: Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Francois Maitre

Image in the Public Domain

Do Not Worry

JULY 13, 2019


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.


Genesis 49:29-33 (An American Translation):

Then he [Jacob/Israel] gave them a charge.

I am about to be gathered to my fathers,

he said to them;

bury me with my fathers in the cave which is the field of Ephron, the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, which faces Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which along with the field Abrahm bought from Ephron, the Hittite, for use as a burial-ground of his own.  It was there that Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; it was there that Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; it was there that I buried Leah–the field with the cave in it having been purchased from the Hittites.

After Jacob had finished giving his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his fathers.

Psalm 105:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of his marvelous works.

3 Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

4 Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

5 Remember the marvels he has done;

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O childrenof Jacob his chosen.

7 He is the LORD our God;

his judgments prevail in all the world.

Matthew 10:24-33 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued instructing his disciples,]

A pupil is not better than his teacher, nor a slave better than his master.  A pupil should be satisfied to come to be like his teacher, or a slave, to come to be like his master.  If men have called the head of the house Beelzebub, how much worse names will they give to the members of his household!  So do not be afraid of them.  For there is nothing covered up that is not going to be uncovered, nor secret that is going to be known.  What I tell you in the dark you must say in the light, and what you hear whispered in your ear, you must proclaim from the housetops.  Have no fear of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.  You had better be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in the pit.  Do not sparrows sell two for a cent?  And yet not one of them can fall to the ground against your Father’s will!  But the very hairs of your heads are all counted.  You must not be afraid; you are worth more than a great many sparrows!  Therefore everyone who will acknowledge me before men I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but anyone who disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Jacob, after a lifetime of strife, much of which he brought on himself by scheming, died in peace, surrounded by family members.  He met a good end, thanks to God.  And the instructions from Jesus, as reported by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, include good news and bad news.  Bad News:  There are very real physical (even lethal) and spiritual threats.  One might even die for one’s faith.  Good News:  Stick close to God, and find a spiritual home in Heaven.  So do not be afraid of the merely physical threats, just the spiritual ones.

I add the following:  Do not worry.  There are legitimate reasons for concern, but concern, channeled properly, has the potential to lead to good solutions.  But what can worry accomplish, other than such negative consequences as ulcers, stress, high blood pressure, shorter lifespan, and a diminished quality of life?  If we are on God’s side, God is for us.  So let us eschew worrying.

This is easier said than done, and I write from experience when typing these words.  But worrying also makes one unpleasant, a fact which affects others negatively.  And who enjoys the company of a negative person?  God is good, as is the created order.  May we focus on the positive habitually, thank God more often than we complain, and lay worrying aside.  Until we can lay worrying aside, may we worry less and less often and be thankful more and more often.  Most importantly, may we trust God, who loves us.


Week of Proper 9: Friday, Year 1   3 comments

Above:  Christ in Majesty, from a Gospel Book, Circa 1220

Image in the Public Domain

God is With the Faithful

JULY 12, 2019


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.


Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30 (An American Translation):

So Israel set out with all that belonged to him.  On reaching Beersheba he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  In a vision by night God spoke to Israel.

Jacob! Jacob!

he said.

Here I am,

he said.

I am El, the God of your father,

he said;

do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for there I will make you a great nation.  I will myself go down to Egypt with you–yes, and I will bring you up again, when Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel conveyed their father Jacob, with their little ones and their wives, in wagons which Pharaoh had sent to convey him.  Taking their live stock and the property which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, Jacob and all his family migrated to Egypt; his sons and his grandsons accompanied him, as well as his grand-daughters; he brought all his family with him into Egpyt.

Israel sent Juday ahead of him to Joseph in Goshen, to appear before him.  On their arrival in the land of Goshen Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot, and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen.  When he presented himself to him, he fell on his neck, weeping again and again on his neck.

Now at last I may die,

Israel said to Joseph,

after having seen from your very self that you are still alive.

Psalm 37:3-4, 19-20, 28-29, 41-42 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

4 Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

19 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly,

and their inheritance shall last for ever.

20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times,

and in days of famine they shall have enough.

28 Turn from evil, and do good,

and dwell in the land for ever.

29 For the LORD loves justice;

he does not forsake his faithful ones.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

Matthew 10:16-23 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued to address his disciples,]

Here I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  So you must be wise as serpents, and guileless like doves.  But be on your guard against men, for they will give you up to their courts, and have you flogged in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings on my account, to bear your testimony before them and the heathen.  But when they give you up, you must have no anxiety about how to speak or what to say, for you will be told at the very moment what you ought to say, for it is not you who will speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father that will speak through you.  One brother will give up another to death, and a father his child, and children will turn against their parents, and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everybody on my account, but the man who holds out to the very end will saved.  But when they persecute you in one town, make your escape to another, for I tell you, you will have not gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man arrives.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


God is with the faithful, a fact that does not mean bad things will not happen to them because of this faithfulness.  So fidelity to God is not the road to Easy Street.  Jesus died as a criminal.  Almost all of his Apostles died painfully, as martyrs.  St. Paul died of decapitation.  St. Stephen died of stoning.  And, throughout the generations since the time of Jesus, countless saints have entered heaven through the gates of martyrdom and persecution.  Those gates remain open today.

The Gospel of Matthew comes from a time and place of religious persecution.  So the words placed in the mouth of Jesus were as contemporary in 85-90 as they were before the crucifixion.  Most of these sayings are straight-forward and easy to understand, but one does require some explanation.  In Matthew 10:23, the author makes Jesus say, “…for I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man arrives.”

Compare this to Matthew 16:28, in which the author makes Jesus say that some standing in his presence will not die before the coming of the Son of Man in his Kingdom.  And consider Mark 9:1, which quotes Jesus as saying that some in his presence will not die before seeing the coming of the Kingdom of God with power.  Luke 9:27 is quite similar to Mark 9:1.  I write these devotions in a series, so I refer now to an entry from a few days ago:  The Gospel of Matthew establishes that the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven predates the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. By the time of the writing of the Gospels the Christian message had begun to take root.  So this was the Kingdom of God coming with power.  It is also true that many Christians of the first generation expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes; even the Apostle Paul did.  So the persecuted Church during the 85-90 timeframe grasped at this hope, and this is the best explanation as to why Matthew (or whoever wrote this gospel) quotes Jesus as he does.

Now, for the Hebrew Scriptures….

Joseph did not get into trouble because of his faithfulness, but the Joseph Epic tells of how God used the evil plans of most of his brothers to help Joseph, those brothers, the people of Egypt, and many people in neighboring lands.  The faithful person on whom I focus now is Jacob/Israel, who suffered for years under the lie that his son Joseph was dead.  So imagine his joy when he learned that Joseph was alive and when he met his long-lost son again.  This is an emotional and beautiful scene.

The Bible’s treatment of Gentiles varies from text to text.  Sometimes they are the undesirable people, and frequently persecutors of the Jews.  But many Gentiles receive favorable treatment in both Testaments.  Consider Cyrus the Great of Persia and Cornelius the Centurion, for example.  And think about the unnamed Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph’s family into Egypt, even sending the ancient equivalents of moving vans.

Sometimes Gentiles are allies of the Hebrews/Jews, and sometimes they are pagans and heathens.  By the way, the English words “pagan” and “heathen” have fascinating etymologies.  “Pagan” comes from the Latin word for villager.  And “heathen” is related to “heath,” or field.  So pagans lived in villages and heathens in the boondocks.  Nascent Christianity spread most rapidly in urban centers, and occupants of rural areas tended to cling to old religous ideas.  (Here ends the word history lesson.)

The ultimate good news to take away from these readings is that, through it all and despite how our ordeals end, God is ever-present.  We cannot escape from the presence of God.  So, are we on God’s side?  If we are, God will be on ours.  We will not suffer alone.

I write this devotion on Christmas Eve 2010, so the Navitity of Our Lord is very much on my mind.  This is a joyous occasion, but one not unmarred by foreshadowing of terrible events.  Christmas leads to Good Friday, which yields to Easter.  God was with Jesus, of course.  The Trinity defies human logic (perhaps one purpose of it), but Jesus was God.  (Just appreciate and enjoy the mystery.)  If fidelity to God were the road to Easy Street, the life of Jesus would have been quite different, not including an execution.  But God was with him, just as God was with Jacob/Israel and Joseph, his son.


Week of Proper 9: Thursday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Gallery of the Apostles, Temmenhausen, Nikolauskirche, Bergische Gladbach, Germany

Image in the Public Domain

Grace:  Pass It On

JULY 11, 2019


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.


Genesis 44:18-45:5 (An American Translation):

Then Judah went back to him [Joseph], and said,

If you please, my lord, let your servant speak a word in the ear of my lord, and  your anger not blaze against your servant; for you are the equal of Pharaoh himself.  My lord asked his servants, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’  And we said to my lord, ‘We have an aged father, and a young brother, the child of his old age; his brother is dead, so that he alone is left of mother’s children, and his father loves him.’  Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may see him.’  But we told my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; his father would die if he were to leave him.’  Whereupon you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you cannot have audience with me again.’

When we went back to your servant, my father, we reported to him the words of my lord.  Then our father said, ‘Go again and buy a little food for us.’  But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother accompanies us, we can go down; for we shall not be allowed to have audience with the man unless our youngest brother is with us.’  Then your servant, my father, said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me only two children; then one of them left me, and I think that he must surely have been torn to pieces; for I have never seen him since.  If then you take this one with me too, and harm befall him, you will bring down my gray hairs to Sheol in trouble.’

And now, when I rejoin your servants, my father, and the boy not with us, his life is so bound up with the boy’s that will die when he sees that there is no boy, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant, our father, to Sheol in sorrow; for your servant went suretly for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, let my father blame me for it all my life.’  Now then, pray let your servant remain in the boy’s place as my lord’s slave, but let the boy go back with his brothers; for how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me, and witness the agony that would come to my father?’

Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, so he cried out,

Have everyone withdraw from me.

So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers; but he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and Pharaoh’s household heard it.  Joseph said to his brothers,

I am Joseph.  Is my father still living?

But his brothers could not answer him, because they were so dismayed at being in his presence.  So Joseph said to his brothers,

Come nearer to me.

When they came nearer, he said,

I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.  Now do not be distressed nor angry with yourselves that you sold me here….

Psalm 105:7-21 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 He is the LORD our God;

his judgments prevail in all the world.

8 He has always been mindful of his covenant,

the promise he made for a thousand generations:

9 The covenant he made with Abraham,

the oath that he swore to Isaac,

10 Which he established as a statute for Jacob,

and everlasting covenant for Israel,

11 Saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan

to be your allotted inheritance.”

12 When they were few in number,

of little account, and sojourners in the land,

13 Wandering from nation to nation

and from one kingdom to another,

14 He let no one oppress them

and rebuked kings for their sake,

15 Saying, “Do not touch my anointed

and do my prophets no harm.”

16 Then he called for a famine in the land

and destroyed the supply of bread.

17 He sent a man before them,

Joseph, who was sold as a slave.

18 They bruised his feet in fetters;

his neck they put in an iron collar.

19 Until his prediction came to pass,

the word of the LORD tested him.

20 The king sent and released him;

the ruler of the peoples set him free.

21 He set him as a master over his household,

as a ruler over all his possessions.

Matthew 10:7-15 (An American Translation):

[Jesus said to his disciples,]

And as you go about, preach and say, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, heal lepers, drive out demons.  Give without payment, just as you received without payment.  Do not take gold or silver or copper money in your purses, and do not take a bag for your journey, nor two shirts, nor shoes, nor a staff, for the workman deserves his food!  Whatever town or village you come to, inquire for some suitable person, and stay with him till you leave the place.  And as you go into his house, wish it well.  If the house deserves it, the peace you wish it will come over it, but if it does not deserve it, let your blessing come back upon yourselves.  And where no one will welcome you, or listen to you, leave that house or town and shake off its very dust from your feet.  I tell you, the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will fare better on the Day of Judgment than that town.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Freely you have received; freely give.

–Matthew 10:8b, Translated by William Barclay

I got slightly ahead of the story from Genesis in the previous day’s devotional post.  That is fine, for, in so doing, I made a pertinent point.  Here, in this post, we have the great reveal:  Joseph tells his brothers who he is then forgives them to their faces.  Joseph had received grace freely; freely he extended it to his brothers.

This is one of the great scenes from the Bible.  Joseph had been through varieties of hell on earth due to the jealousy of brothers.  Yet this evil intent let to Joseph being in place to save Egypt, complete with foreign strangers, and his family members, including said brothers.  It all worked out well in the end.  Holding a grudge against the brothers would have hurt them, but it would have caused greater spiritual injury to Joseph.

Letting go is often hard to do.  Believe me, I know this well.  As I write these words, I feel unpleasant emotions when thinking of the names of certain people.  They did serious harm to me in 2006, putting me through academic hell.  But they are beyond my reach, and their own karma will catch up with them in time unless they change their ways, just as mine will pursue me unless take a route other than anger and fantasies of revenge.  I have decided to have nothing to do with what happens to them, not even to mention their names here.  It is a safe course, and my anger has been fading for years, by grace.    One day I might even find cause to thank them, out of recognition of the fact that what they did put me on the road to something far better than my original destination.

The Twelve Apostles  received grace freely.  So Jesus instructed them to impart it freely.  Is this not how we ought to act toward each other?  Indeed, it is.  This can prove controversial, depending upon the identityof the beneficiary or the recipient.  Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Samaritans were half-breeds and heretics.  Many respectable Jews of Jesus’ time spoke of Samaritans in disparaging terms.  Yet a Samartian was the hero of the story, and the respectable religious figures did nothing to help.  I suppose that, if Jesus were telling that parable today in the North American context, he would speak of the Good Illegal Immigrant.  Would not that scandalize many people?  So did the concept of a Good Samaritan in Jesus’ time.

Grace is scandalous.  It prevents us from getting what we deserve or what others think we deserve.  We, of course, like this when grace spares us.  But we tend to take great offense when it rescues someone we do not like, with whom we disagree strongly, or someone we otherwise consider unworthy.  I guarantee that someone considers me unworthy of grace, and that somebody has the same opinion of you, O reader.  All of us are unworthy, of course, but God extends grace anyway.  Should we not just be grateful for it and look for ways to treat people kindly?


Week of Proper 9: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator, an Icon from the 500s

Image in the Public Domain

The Kingdom of God is At Hand; It Has Been Here for Some Time

JULY 10, 2019


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.


Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7a, 17-24a (An American Translation):

When all the land of Egypt became famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for food; so Pharaoh announced to all Egypt,

Go to Joseph, and do what he tells you.

The famine spread all over the land, so Joseph threw open all that he had locked up, and sold grain to the Egyptians, since the famine was severe in the land of Egypt.  People from all lands came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain; for the famine was severe all over the earth.

Thus the Israelites came with the rest to buy grain; for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was the vizier of the land; it was he who sold the grain to all the people of the land.  So Joseph’s brothers came and prostrated themselves before him, with their faces to the ground.  When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them as if he were a stranger, and spoke harshly to them.

So he bundled them off to prison for three days, but on the third day Joseph said to them,

“Since I am one who fears God, you may save your lives, if you do this:  if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined in your prison and then the rest of you, go and take grain home to your starving households; but you must bring me your youngest brother.  Thus your words shall be verified, and you shall not die.”

They proceeded to do so, saying to one another,

Unfortunately, we were to blame about our brother, upon whose distress, when he pleaded with us for mercy, we gazed unmoved; that is why this disaster has come to us.

Then Reuben spoke up and said to them,

Did I not say to you, ‘Do not sin against the lad’?  But you paid no attention; so now comes a reckoning for his blood!

They did not know that Joseph heard them; for the intermediary was between them.  He turned from them, and wept.

Psalm 33:1-4, 18-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait upon his love,

19 To pluck their lives from death,

and to feed them in time of famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,

for in his holy Name we put our trust.

22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,

as we have put our trust in you.

Matthew 10:1-7 (An American Translation):

Then he [Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him, and gave them power over the foul spirits so that they could drive them out, and so that they could heal any disease or illness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector, James the son of Alpheus and Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot who afterward betrayed him.

James sent these twelve out, after giving them these directions:

Do not go among the heathen, or to any Samaritan town, but proceed instead to the lost sheep of Israel’s house.  As you go about, preach and say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Joseph had been an annoying brat bothering his brothers, most of them his elders, with his favored status and reports of dreams.  So most of his brothers conspired to sell him into slavery into Egypt and to tell Jacob/Israel, their father, that Joseph was dead.  They were really bad brothers.  After years of servitude and imprisonment in Egypt, Joseph rose to power just beneath that of the Pharaoh and put in place policies that paid off nicely a few years later.  Egypt had surplus grain during a severe drought.

Thus Joseph saw most of his brothers again and proceeded to test them.  After the events from this day’s Genesis lection, Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers and reconciled with them, and even reunited with his father.  Most importantly, Joseph forgave his brothers.

Forgiveness is an essential element of the Kingdom of God/Heaven, which Jesus proclaims in the Synoptic Gospels is near, or at hand.  In simpler terms, it is here; it has been here for some time.  Following a set of lectionaries, I cover old terrain from time to time.  So, as I read and typed Matthew 10:1-7, I recalled having covered Jesus announcing the presence of the Kingdom of God in Mark and Luke.  In Mark 1:15, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God “has come near.”  The Greek tense indicates present tense, an action begun previously and continuing in the present.  So the inauguration of the ministry of Jesus postdates the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

What is this Kingdom of God?  It is the reign of God.  It is in the here and now.  The Kingdom of God in inside of us and outside of us.  And it did not go away when Jesus left the Earth, despite any appearances to the contrary.  In fact, according to certain standards, the Kingdom of God was not evident during the earthly lifespan of Jesus.  Yet Jesus says at the beginning of his ministry that the Kingdom of God has come near, is at hand.  This is the same man the Gospel of John (16:33) quotes as saying that he has “conquered the world”–immediately before his arrest, torture, and execution.  Should we not lay outward appearances aside?

The presence of Jesus, God incarnate, was a great sign of extravagant divine forgiveness.  God enabled Joseph, Vizier of Egypt, to forgive his brothers.  Most of us have lesser offenses to forgive, but even those can difficult to release.  I know this very well, so I address myself first when writing of the necessity of forgiveness.  But this is the best way to live–free of resentments and grudges, which hurt the one who carries them.  The Kingdomof God is about the active love of God for the created order, of which people are part.  And we ought to be so busy demonstrating our love and concern for each other that we have no time for resentments, grudges, and petty arguments.  We have a kingdom to build up.  May we get to work.

This kingdom includes Jews and Gentiles, of course, thanks largely to the Apostle Paul.  But consider the context of the reading from Matthew:  The Apostles were beginning their work.  They started by preaching to people like themselves.  One must hone one’s tactics with a smaller, more homogeneous group before preaching to a more larger, more diverse one.  This plan might apply when we begin to do our part to build up the Kingdom.


Week of Proper 9: Tuesday, Year 1   19 comments

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 9, 2019


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.


Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,


Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];


said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.


Week of Proper 9: Monday, Year 1   12 comments

Above: Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake (Circa 1800)

Image in the Public Domain

God = Hope

JULY 8, 2019


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.


Genesis 28:10-22 (An American Translation):

Leaving Beersheba, Jacob set out for Haran.  Reaching a certain sanctuary, he spent the night there.  He took one of the stones of the sanctuary, and using it for a pillow, he lay down in that sanctuary.  He had a dream in which he saw a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching the sky, and angels of God were ascending and descending on it,  Then the LORD stood over him, and said,

I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and of Isaac.  The land on which you are lying, I am going to give to you and your descendants.  Your descendants shall be like the dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south, so that all the races of the earth will invoke blessings on one another through you and your descendants.  I will be with you, and guard you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land; for I will never forsake you, until I have done what I have promised you.

When Jacob woke from his sleep, he said,

The LORD must surely be in this place–and I did not know it!

He was awe-struck, and said,

What an awesome place this is!  This can be nothing other the house of God, and that the gate of the sky.

Accordingly, he called the name of that sanctuary Bethel [house of God] whereas the earlier name of the city had been Luz.

So when Jacob rose in the morning, he took the stone which he had used as a pillow, and setting it up as a sacred pillar, he poured oil on its top.  Jacob then made this vow:

If God go with me, and watch over me on this journey that I am making, and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I come home safely to my father’s house, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone which I have set up as a sacred pillar shall be God’s house, and I will give to thee a portion of everything that thou givest me.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,

abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 He shall say to the LORD,

“You are my refuge and my stronghold,

my God in whom I put my trust.”

3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter,

and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,

and you shall find refuge under his wings.

5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,

nor of the arrow that flies by day;

6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,

nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,

therefore I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;

I am with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16 With long life will I satisfy him,

and show him my salvation.

Matthew 9:18-26 (An American Translation):

Just as he [Jesus] said this to them, an official came up to him and bowing down before him said to him,

My daughter has just died.  But come!  Lay your hand on her and she will come to life!

And Jesus got up and followed him with his disciples.  And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel of his cloak.  For she said to herself,

If I can just touch his cloak, I will get well.

And Jesus turned and saw her, and he said,

Courage, my daughter!  Your faith has cured you!

And from that time the woman was well.

When Jesus reached the official’s house,and saw the flute-players and the disturbance the crowd was making, he said,

Go away, for the girl is not dead; she is asleep.

And they laughed at him.  But when he had driven the people out, he went in and grasped herhand, and the girl got up.  And the news of this spread all over that part of the country.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Jacob was a schemer, far from a pillar of faith and integrity.  He had stolen his brother’s Esau birthright and paternal blessing.  And Jacob enjoyed the company of Hittite women, a fact which disturbed Rebekah, his mother.  So he was off (per orders) to visit the household of his kinsman Laban and meet a suitable wife.

Along his way, Jacob had to sleep on a rocky hilltop.  It was a barren, foreboding place, but it was what was available.  There Jacob had a dream; This was a gateway to heaven itself, and he was indeed the heir to God’s promise to Abraham.

This dream impressed Jacob deeply, for it filled him with reverence for God.

God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.

God came to Jacob, an unexpected person, in an unusual way.  And God, via Jesus, came to desperate people in ways onlookers did not expect.  The woman with a hemorrhage had a severe physical problem that rendered her ritually unclean and that deprived her of a means of supporting herself.  The physical condition was bad, but the stigma compounded her pain.  She approached Jesus, and he restored her to wholeness, health, and ritual cleanliness.

It makes sense that Jesus had compassion on her.  His existence was a scandal, and if anyone knew the sting of stigma, he did.  Some people did not refer to him as “Son of Joseph,” per the norm in his society, but as “Son of Mary,” slurring his mother’s sexual history and his paternity.  The human potential for cruelty toward the vulnerable, despised, and marginalized was old in Jesus’ time, and he refused to participate in that process.

This is another excellent reason for us to refuse, as well.

The Jewish community elder had a dead daughter.  The desperate father asked Jesus to help her, a request which led to the first instance of a raising from the dead in the Gospel of Matthew.  Of course the claim that the girl was not dead, only sleeping, seemed ridiculous.  But what other hope did the father have?

And what hope of becoming anything other than schemer did Jacob have?  How possible did it seem that, after twelve years, the woman could be healed and restored to society?  They all seemed dim, did they not?

But consider what happened, and become filled with awe.  Then respond accordingly.