Archive for the ‘Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2’ Tag

Week of Proper 28: Tuesday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  Fire

Tested in the Fire

NOVEMBER 17, 2020

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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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Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22 (Revised English Bible):

To the angel of the church at Sardis write:

These are the words of the One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:  I know what you are doing; people say you are alive, but in fact you are dead.  Wake up, and put some strength into what you still have, because otherwise it must die!  For I have not found any work of yours brought to completion in the sight of my God.  Remember therefore the teaching you received; observe it, and repent.  If you do not wake up, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know the moment of my coming.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not polluted their clothing, and they will walk with me in white, for so they deserve.  Anyone who is victorious will be robed in white like them, and I shall never strike his name off the roll of the living; in the presence of my Father and his angels I shall acknowledge him as mine.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

To the angel of the church at Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful of God’s creation:  I know what you are doing; you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either cold or hot!  Because you are neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.  You say, “How rich I am!  What a fortune I have made!  I have everything I want.”  In fact, though you do not realize it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to put on to hide the shame of your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so that you may see.  All whom I love I reprove and discipline.  Be wholehearted therefore in your repentance.  Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and he and I will eat together.  To anyone who is victorious I will grant a place beside me on my throne, as I myself was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Entering Jericho Jesus made his way through the city.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich.  He was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being  a little man, he could not see him for the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said,

Zacchaeus, be quick to come down, for I must stay at your house today.

He climbed down as quickly as he could and welcomed him gladly.  At this time there was a general murmur of disapproval.

He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner,

they said.  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,

Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity; and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four times over.

Jesus said to him,

Today  salvation has come to this house–for this man too is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 28:  Tuesday, Year 1 (More About Zacchaeus):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

Lord, Help Us Walk Your Servant Way:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/lord-help-us-walk-your-servant-way/

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My Son, if you aspire to be a servant of the LORD,

prepare yourself for testing….

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

–Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:1, 4-5, Revised English Bible

The church at Laodicea  was lukewarm and overconfident in its wealth.  It was really nothing but a chapel of complacency.  But the church is not supposed to function as a chapel for the complacent.  At least the church at Sardis tried to so something.  Unfortunately, it did not finish anything.  Zacchaeus, in contrast, committed to a course of action, one which exceeded the minimum qualifications under the Law of Moses.

There is frequently a cross-fertilization between religion and culture.  Sometimes culture dilutes excellent religious principles.  Consider racism, for example.  One of the classics is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But…, a book about racism in Southern U.S. religion.  That title summarizes the hypocrisy of racism in religion, does it not?  And Philip Yancey, in Soul Survivor:  How My Faith Survived the Church (2001), beginning on page, 11, writes about recovering from the racism he learned in church and culture in the Deep South of the 1950s and 1960s.  He writes:

As a child I did not question the system we lived under because no one around me questioned it.  (page 13)

Bigotry of any form has no legitimate place in Christianity.  It might be acceptable within one’s culture or subculture, but ought never find approval within the church.  When religion soaks up the worst of culture, religion has ceased to be salt in the world.

So, embracing love for our fellow human beings and devotion to Jesus, may we follow him.  We will stick out when we do this, and may we do so positively.  And may we complete what we have begun, regardless of the humiliation and other hardship we may face because of our actions for God.  Then we will be true to the crucified one.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/tested-in-the-fire/

Week of Proper 2: Tuesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Orthodox Icon of Jesus at Golgotha, by Theophanes the Cretan (1500s)

Righteousness and Suffering

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 2:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

My son, if you aspire to be a servant of the Lord,

prepare yourself for testing.

Set a straight course and keep to it,

and do not be dismayed in the face of adversity.

Hold fast to him and never let go,

if you would end your days in prosperity.

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust him and he will help you;

steer a straight course and fix your hope on him.

You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;

do not stray, for fear you will fall.

You that fear the Lord, trust in him,

and you will not be baulked of your reward.

You that fear the Lord, hope for prosperity

and lasting joy and favour.

Consider the past generations and see:

was anyone who trusted the Lord ever disappointed?

Was anyone who stood firm in the fear of him ever abandoned?

Did he ever ignore anyone who called to him?

For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;

he forgives sin and saves in time of trouble.

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

Mark 9:30-37 (Revised English Bible):

They left that district and made their way through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know, because he was teaching his disciples, and telling them,

The Son of Man is now to be handed over into the power of men, and they will kill him; and three days after being killed he will rise again.

But they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.

So they came to Capernaum; and when he had gone indoors, he asked them,

What were you arguing about on the way?

They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing which one of them was the greatest.  So he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself the last of all and servant of all.

Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm round him.

Whoever receives a child like this in my name,

he said,

receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Consider the Lukan version of the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who are in need;

the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who now go hungry;

you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now;

you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But alas for you who are rich;

you have had your time of happiness.

Alas for you who are well fed now;

you will go hungry.

Alas for you who laugh now;

you will mourn and weep.

Alas for you when all speak well of you;

that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

–Jesus in Luke 6:20-26 (Revised English Bible)

Then reread Sirach 2:1-11 and Psalm 112.  They are quite different, are they not?

Prosperity Theology is a heresy.  Love God and get rich and be healthy, is says.  This a simplified version of that line of thought, but Prosperity Theology is an oversimplification itself.  Part of good Biblical interpretation is balance.  For example, we are sinful (That is in the Bible.), but we also bear the image of God (That, too, is in the Bible.).  So it is heretical to state we are either equivalent to pond scum (to the exclusion of the image of God) or that we are “a little lower than the angels” (to the exclusion of our sinfulness).  One needs to weigh Biblical subtleties intelligently.

As a student of history, I know of the Northern Renaissance, an offshoot of the Italian Renaissance.  I consider myself a partial product of the Northern Renaissance, which favored following the example of Jesus more than ecclesiastical doctrines and dogmas.  So, with that mind, let us consider the example of Jesus in today’s reading from Mark.  He foretells his arrest, torture, execution and resurrection.  He uses plain language to do this.  The Apostles do not understand, but they are afraid to ask for an explanation. They have, however, been debating among themselves which is the greatest.  The greatest, Jesus says, is the lowliest in society–the servant and the child, in particular.

Which examples might Jesus use if he were giving this teaching today?  I suspect he would speak of immigrants, foster children, minimum-wage employees, and other vulnerable, powerless people.  This is my list, for I am North American.  If Jesus were delivering this teaching in India, he might say that anyone who welcomes a Dalit receives God.

It is vital to inject the reading from Mark with contemporary analogies.  Otherwise, we might not face the raw power of the teaching of Jesus, surely the most righteous man who ever lived.  And what happened to him?  We know the answer to that question, do we not?  If Jesus had lived in more modern times, we might not have crosses in churches; we might have replicas of an electric chair, a gas chamber, or a noose in churches.  Clarence Jordan translated the story of Jesus into the Southern U.S. idiom in his Cotton Patch versions of the Gospels.  Jordan’s Jesus died during a lynching.

Yet it is also true that, as Ben Sira tells us, gold is tested in the fire, and the righteous ones of God in the furnace of humiliation.  I am fortunate that I live in a nation and a society in which I can worship freely.  My society is not perfect, as outbreaks of blind, irrational, and hateful Islamophobia, especially in Republican Party politics demonstrate.  (I write on the eve of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections.)  But we, as a society, are more tolerant than are many others.  If I were Christian in southern Sudan or anywhere in Iran, for example, I would certainly be at great risk of religious persecution.  For such Christians the reading I quoted from Luke is a potent reality.  Yet discipleship, even for a persecution-free Christian such as myself, must entail sacrifice.  And I must not mistake popularity with divine approval.

These are difficult readings from the Gospels.  Jesus challenges us to follow his example, wherever that takes us and regardless of the cost to ourselves.  But this is the path to holiness.  I have noticed many Lutheran churches named “Cross and Crown” or “Cross of Life.”  Such labels are spiritually correct.  I invite you, O reader, to ponder them and what you might have to sacrifice for the sake of righteousness.

And may the love of God flow through you and to all your fellow human beings, for everyone is a child of God.  Some are more rebellious than others, to be sure, but all stand in the need of grace and bear the image of God.  May love, not intolerance, characterize those of us who claim the label “Christian.”  The way of cross is not the path of hatred and other forms of intolerance.

KRT

Published originally as Week of 7 Epiphany:  Tuesday, Year 1, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on November 1, 2010