Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lectionary Notes: 29 August

Some Notes for Proper 21 in Year C
Sunday, 29 August
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

The Collect
is adapted from the Prayer Book Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, used since the First Prayer Book of 1549 :

LORD of all power and might, Who art the Author and Giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It was in turn translated and adapted from the ancient Latin Collect for the same Sunday. It is interesting to compare the English version of the same Collect in the New St Joseph Sunday Missal:

Almighty God, every good thing comes from you. Fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith, and by your constant care protect the good you have given us. we ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son …

The difference between 'graft in our hearts the love of your Name' in the Anglican and 'fill our hearts with love for you' in the Roman Catholic version seems to arise from the intrepretation of the original, ínsere pectóribus nostris tui nóminis amórem. In Latin there are two almost identical verbs insero, one {insero, inserere. inserevi, inseritum], meaning 'to graft', the other [insero, -ere, -ui, -tum] meaning 'to let in, insert'. The present imperative singular of both is insere. In the first English Prayer Book this was taken as 'graft', which, according to J. H. Blunt (Annotated Book of Common Prayer, new edition,1892), was suggested by the good and evil fruit' contained in the Epistle for Trinity VII, Romans 6.19-23.

The First Reading: JEREMIAH 2:4-13

Long ago, when the Lord made his covenant with Israel, he called heaven and earth to witness that he had given them a choice: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you kife and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live [Deut 30.19] But in generation after generation the people went far from him, and turning to idols that are not only worthless but unreal they became unreal themselves [verse 2]. Therefore through Jeremiah he accuses them, and once more calls on the heavens to witness. This time the heavens wil be astounded at the folly of God’s people [v.12]. Nowhere in the world has it ever been known that a people have changed their gods. even if they were worthless idols.
V. 1, worthless: I’m not sure this word is strong enough. The older translation was ‘vanity’, a word which has lost much of its meaning today except for the sense of ‘self-conceit’. The literal meaning of ‘vanity’ is ‘emptiness, nothingness, nullity, want of reality’. A worthless thing may still be real: the foreign gods to which the house of Jacob is turning are not just worthless; they are nothing, their promises are empty.
v. 10, coasts of Cyprus is literally the ‘isles of Kittim’. According to the NJBC, ‘Kittim’ was the Hebrew name for Cyprus, taken from the name of one of its south-eastern seaports, but Jeremiah probably refers to the islands of the Mediterranean, and means ‘the west’. Kedar was a nomadic tribe of the Transjordan (see Genesis 25.13), and here stands for ‘the east’.
v. 11, But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. This recalls the first apostasy of Israel, while Moses was on the holy mountain: ‘They made a calf in Horeb and worshipped a molten image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Saviour …' [Psalm 106.19-21, see Exodus chapter 32 and compare Romans 1.23]. In the Old Testament, to speak of God’s glory is to speak of God himself (see Numbers 14.21, Isaiah 6.3)
v. 13, the fountain living water. If we believe that our creation, that is our existence is from God, it is the height of madness to think that we can seek what makes for life in any other source. But from ancient times God’s people have been tempted to seek water in the gods of the nations, as in this passage, or in pleasures or powers or anything that is not God.

PSALM 81:1, 10-16
This Psalm was used on one of the feasts commanded in the law, perhaps the autumn harvest festival. Rad in the context of the Readings today it is a perfect commentary and meditation on the reading from Jeremiah Verses 1-5a are a call to worship; Verses 5b-16 are an oracle (which the commentators say was delivered by a priest or temple prophet): God reminds his people if what he has done for them in the past (6-7) and demands their loyalty (8-10); they were disloyal (11-12), and their life depends on their willingness to turn back to him (13-16). Note especially the Lord’s desire to save and nourish his people (10, 14, 16).

The Epistle: HEBREWS 13:1-8, 15-16
The Epistle to the Hebrews ends with a last chapter of apparently disconnected exhortations withn which are some allusions to the main body of the epistle. ‘Some have seen it as a kind of appendix to give the whole treatise something of the flavour of a letter’ [Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews]
13.1-3: Exhortations concerning social life: mutual (literally, brotherly) love; hospitality; visiting prisoners.
13.4-6 Exhortations concerning private life: marriage; avoidance of avarice; trust in God
13.7-9 Exhortations concerning religious life.
The reading breaks off at verse 8, with the great declaration of Jesus Christ, true at all times and forever, an picks up again with a concluding exhortation to a continual offering of the sacrifice which is a good and generous life.

The Holy Gospel: LUKE 14:1, 7-14
The fourteenth chapter of Luke is set at a dinner given by one of the leading Pharisees, on the sabbath day. It is thus linked to the reading last week, with its controversy over sabbath healing. The host and other guests were watching Jesus, presumably to see whether he would break the Sabbath again. Indeed the controversy. Indeed he does; he heals a man suffering from dropsy. This time Jesus asks the lawyers and Pharisees whether it is lawful to heal on the sabbath, and when the remained silent he healed and sent the man away. This is the final sabbath controversy in Luke.
Then follows what in a superficial reading a teaching might appear to be just a lesson in etiquette. Indeed the teaching is found in earlier Wisdom literature (see Prov 25;6-7, Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29). In fact the taching is about the Messiah’s great Banquet of the end-time (eschaton in Greek, hence the word eschatology). The words translated as guest, keklemenos, means ‘the one called’ and is related to our word ‘elect’, In the early part of Chapter 14 there is a play on this word, where it means ‘the apparently elect’, or ‘those who consider themselves elect.’ In the parable of the Great Dinner, which follows in vv. 16-24, Jesus makes clear the contrast between those considered elect and those deemed non-elect.
It is not for us to judge our fitness for the Lord’s banquet, or indeed our relative importance in his kingdom. For all we know the things about ourselves which we value highly are of no great importance to God, who may treasure us for something else entirely. So we ought not to claim positions and places for ourselves, but accept what is given us in this world and the next.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Sunday 15 August 2010

This feast, also known as the Dormition of Mary (that is Falling Asleep, a very old way of speaking about death) in the Eastern Church and the Assumption in the Roman Church, is one of the four great feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the others are the Presentation (2nd February), the Annunciation (25th March) , and the Nativity of Mary (8th September). These festivals originated in the east and were adopted in the Roman Church in the seventh century, although celebrations of our Lady’s death were known in other parts of the west before this. Another feast, that of her Conception (8th December) was not added until 1476. [For further information see:] The association of this feast with our Lady’s dormition is reflected in the BAS Collect without excluding the idea of her assumption, for it says ‘you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary’.

The Sentence for this day is the salutation addressed to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation combined with a foretelling of the miracle of the Incarnation (St Luke 1.28, 35)
Isaiah 7.10-15
This prophecy, the true meaning of which was to be revealed after long ages, was delivered during a great crisis in the southern kingdom of Judah in the days of Ahaz. The reign of Ahaz is narrated in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 22 He was the son of Jotham, king of Judah. He came to the throne at the age of twenty and reigned sixteen years. Different Old Testament chronologies have been worked out by different scholars: it is safe enough to say that Ahaz reigned from about 735 – 715 BC. He did not do right in the eyes of God, but sinned as the kings of Israel had. he even sacrificed his own son to a foreign god, possibly Rimmon (2 Kgs 16.2-4). In Ahaz’ time, the great power of the region was Assyria, to which the smaller kingdoms paid tribute. Syria and Israel decided to break away and form a coalition against Assyria; the southern kingdom of Judah did not join them. In about 735 the kings of Syria and Israel attacked Judah with a view to forcing it into the coalition. Isaiah urged Ahaz to put no trust in Israel and Syria; it was in this context that he uttered the oracle in today’s reading.
Although he has heard the Lord’s promise spoken by Isaiah (7.1-9), Ahaz may still have been undecided, with the prophet urging one course of action, his advisers urging another. This was the occasion for the offer of a sign. Sign translates the Hebrew word ‘ôt, which does not necessarily refer to something miraculous; Ahaz is here told to ask for a confirmation of the prophet’s promise. Sheol was the underground place of the dead; more like the Greek Hades than Hell.
It is possible that Ahaz’ refusal indicates that his mind is closed and that he does not want to be bothered by the man of God. Isaiah seems more than a little annoyed by this refusal, but proceeds to speak.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. According to the NJBC this means ‘the sign to be given is no longer to persuade Ahaz but will, in the future, confirm the truth of what the prophet has spoken’.
The words of verse 14, Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, has been the subject of great debate for many centuries because the Hebrew word almah, is not the technical term for a virgin; that is betula. Almah means ‘young woman’, ‘girl’ or ‘maiden’. In its original setting, this verse is best understood as referring to a wife of Ahaz; the promised child will guarantee the dynasty’s future. [NJBC] In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Scriptures made long before the birth of Christ, it was translated by the word parthenos, which does mean ‘virgin’. It was this version which was used in St Matthew’s Gospel. The space available to us does not permit anything like a proper discussion of the questions involved, especially because it also calls for a discussion of the meaning of prophecy. It is possible to accept that in the initial context the prophecy referred to the king’s wife, in the Gospels and the church’s mind a further fulfillment comes in the Virginal conception of our Lord. A good discussion may be found in R. E Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. . There is also a helpful section in the article on the B.V. M. in the old Catholic Encyclopaedia at:
Psalm 132.6-10, 12-13
Memento, Domine
Psalm 132 is described by the NOAB as a ‘Liturgy commemorating God’s choice of Zion and the Davidic dynasty. The first portion appointed for today, verses 6-10, evidently accompanied a dramatic ceremony which re-enacted the discovery of the ark by David and the procession by which he brought it into the sanctuary (2 Samuel 6.2-15). We may see this in the use of verses 8-10 in the account of the dedication of the temple by Solomon (2 Chronicles 6.41-42). The last two verses repeat the Lord’s promise to David concerning his house, which are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of David.
It should perhaps be noted first of all that in verse 6 the opening words ‘The Ark!” do not appear in the original text: this is a gloss rather than a translation. The mention of ‘the fields of Jearim’ suggests this: The Ark was kept at Kiriath-Jearim (meaning town of the woodlands) from Samuel’s time until David became king in Jerusalem: see 1 Samuel 7:1-2 and 2 Chronicles 1:4.
These verses of Psalm 132 were not chosen for today only because of the Davidic prophecy; for the Ark itself might be very well regarded as a mystical figure of the Blessed Virgin, who bore the Word of God in her womb just as the Ark bore the tablets of the Law. One of the titles given to our Lady in Christian tradition (as in the Litany of Mary) is the "Ark of the Covenant" Here is a discussion of this imagery from an Eastern Orthodox source:

The Epistle: Galatians 4:4-7
This short passage from the Letter to the Galatians is appointed for today because of the reference to Christ’s being ‘born of a woman’ [v.4]; which is a typical Jewish circumlocution for the human person. This reminds us of the most important reason for declaring that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary: it is a declaration of his humanity. Because the one born of a woman is no other Person than God the Word, the Third Ecumenical Council [Council of Ephesus] declared the Blessed Virgin to be Θεοτόκος, 'Bearer of God', a title which is often rendered in English as Mother of God.
If you want further textual notes on this passage you may find them at the RCL Commentary:

Luke 1:46-55
The Gospel is the Song of Mary, known from its opening words in Latin as the Magnificat. Our Lady sang this hymn of praise when after the Annunciation she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judaea (Luke 1.39-56). It is based largely on Hannah's hymn of praise at the borth of Samuel in 1 Sam 2.1-10. Both Elizabeth and Hannah were childless for a long time and dedicated their children to the Lord.
1. Magnifies, literally ‘makes great’, here means, ‘declares the greatness of’.
The prophecy of v. 48, all generations shall call me blessed, has surely been fulfilled. It is a wonder of God’s mighty power that he has so exalted the low estate of his handmaid.
51-53: Scholars differ over how to understand the verbs ‘He has shown strength … has scattered .. has brought down … lifted up … has filled …sent.’ They wonder how God has done all these things in the conception of Jesus. The likeliest explanation is that the verbs describe what God has done in the past and will begin to do finally in Jesus.

Another passages of Scripture which is associated with our Lady is the vision of Revelation 11.19; 12.1-6, 10 I point this out for those who will be at St Columba and All Hallows this Sunday. Take a look at the front of the bulletin.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for Proper 19 in Year C
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

After vacation and moving into a new apartment it is rather nice to be back to the old routine, of which studying the readings for the Sunday eucharist is an important part.
First Reading: Isaiah 1.1, 10-20
Isaiah 1.1-31 forms an introductory collection of oracles from various times in Isaiah’s ministry intended to be sort of prologue to the rest of the book, presenting a summary of its most important teachings. The actual beginning of Isaiah’s ministry comes with his call, at the beginning of Chapter 6
The Inscription (1:1) identifies the prophet whose oracles follow and dates his ministry, from the year of Uzziah’s death (742 BC) to the reign of Hezekiah (715-687 BC). It acts as a title to the book.
In vv 2-9, which are not read, the Lord complains to heaven and earth about Israel, which he descirbes as rebellious and senseless children (2-3: note how v. 3 has influenced the Christmas story). vv.4-9: although the land of Judah has been ravaged by the Assyrians, the people take no heed or warning; though their sins have been comparable to those of the Cities of the Plain (Gen 18.16-19.28), they have received the chastisement of children. As everyone tends to, they imagine they’ve ‘got off”.
A new section (10-17) begins by referring back to Sodom and Gomorrah. Like a teacher of Wisdom, the prophet calls the people to attend to instruction. Note the irony: in the LORD. 9 the people declare that because God has left survivors they are not like Sodom and Gomorrah; now the LORD says, You are Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 10 teaching renders the Hebrew torah. This literally means ‘law’, but here which is to be taken in the wisdom sense of generalized instruction. The LORD declares that he will accept no worship, no sacrifice, no prayer that is offered without justice [15].
After the series commandment to turn to just ways (10-17), the Lord issues an invitation to ‘reason together’ and the alternative of eating good things or of being eaten by the sword (18-20). The result depends on Israel’s choice between the obedience and rebellion.

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
Deus deorum
This is a Liturgy of Divine Judgement. 1-6: God’s coming to judge his people: The Lord calls earth and heaven to bear witness to his complaint against his people, who have not kept his covenant. 8-13: They have brought sacrifices in abundance, but this sacrifice is not enough; obedience to God’s will must accompany it. It seems strange that only the first verse of this section is included in those read today, whereas the whole section would seem to be a suitable reflection on the words of Isaiah. The intention may be to put the statement of the first reading that sacrifices were hateful to the Lord in context; they are demanded in the covenant, and are not hated if they are accompanied by right behaviour. 22-23 is a concluding warning which echoes the choice offered at the end of the reading from Isaiah. Note how v. 23 links the offering of sacrifice with doing right.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
The Letter to the Hebrews is an anonymous work; it and 1 John are the only NT epistles that does not open with a greeting that identifies the writer. Indeed, at the RCL Commentary Mr Haslam notes that ‘Apart from the concluding verses (which may have been added later), this book is a treatise (or sermon) rather than a letter.’ It has been attributed to St Paul since the end of the second century, but the differences in style have been noted as well. Origen thought that the style belonged to one who recalled the Apostle’s teaching, but who that was ‘God knows’. It is also telling that in the other letters Paul carefully stated not only his name but also his authority for writing, and it seems strange that he would have sent a letter without such reference.
provides an introduction to this letter and links to other resources.
Most of Hebrews (1.1-10.39 presents ‘the longest sustained argument of any book in the Bible’, an ‘elaborate proof of the pre-eminence of Christianity over Judaism’ (NOAB). The remaining sections give examples of faith (11.1-40), exhortations and warnings (12.1-29) and concluding admonitions (13.1-end).
In the next few weeks we will read two more passages from this section of Hebrews: 12:18-29 on Pentecost 13 and 13:1-8,15-16 on Pentecost 14
The New Oxford Annotated Bible gives to Hebrews 11.1-40 the title ‘Roll Call of Heroes and heroines of Faith’. It is designed to reinforce the exhortation in 10.35-39. ‘Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised … But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.’ Now he goes on to show just who these people of faith were. A similar list of heroes can be found in Sirach [one of the books of the so-called Apocrypha, also known as Ecclesiasticus] 44.1-50.21.
The author first (11.1-3) states the nature of Faith.
From the list of heroes we read today part of the discussion of Abraham (8-19), which refers to Genesis 12.1-8. Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan is understood to indicate that he knew he had no permanent dwelling on earth but looked to the heavenly city; even more, though in Genesis Abraham described himself as a stranger and sojourner (23.4); in vv. 13-16 the author of Hebrews attributes this sentiment to all the patriarchs. in this they are seen as a foreshadowing of the Christian believer (see 13.14) Oddly enough this important verse is not included in the Sunday readings. So it might do us well to consider what it means to say ‘here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.’ What does this mean to you?
The patriarchs are said to have ‘desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one’ There often seems to be a contrast between Christians who take this to be a call to work for the building of God’s kingdom in the present world, and those who refer only to the hope for heaven. Must we focus on one or the other? Finally we might ask: How does all this relate to the Gospel passage we are to hear this morning?

The Holy Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
After last Sunday’s parable of the Rich Fool (Lk 12.13-21), a section of teaching on anxiousness follows (22-31). Although This section is not read in the Sunday Lectionary, the parallel passage in Matthew (6.25-33) is appointed for Harvest Thanksgiving. This passage must be kept in mind when we read today’s passage which begins with the assurance that it is the Father’s pleasure to give us the kingdom [32], for we have just been told to seek God’s kingdom and then these things, food and drink and all the rest, shall be yours as well [31]. This assurance is immediately followed by the injunction to ‘sell your possessions and give alms’ [33], something that can only be done in complete faith. The coupling of these ideas suggests a point that came up last Sunday, that God’s answer to the inequalities of the world is in fact our sharing with one another. Then we heard St Ambrose’ answer to the Rich Fool who said ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’: ‘Thou hast barns, the bosoms of the needy, the houses of the widows, the mouths of orphans and of infants.’
The reading continues with the beginning of a section on watchfulness [35-40], the first part of a longer . the disciples of Jesus are called to be watchful and ready for his return at a time they do not know. But they are not to sit around watching, staring up into heaven. Rather they are to be at work, like servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast. That they are servants implies that they are preparing so that everything will be ready for him. How are we to prepare for the Lord? With the words about giving alms that came just before, we know that at least part of the service is to care for those in need.
This section contains the wonderful promise that when the master comes and finds his servants ready and waiting, he will have them sit at table and serve them himself [37]. This evokes the image of the Messianic banquet, which was already suggested in v. 36. It also calls to mind George Herbert’s poem Love Bade me Welcome, which is printed below.
In verse 35 our version has ‘Be dressed for action’ which is not a translation but a gloss on the text, ‘Let your loins be girded’.
‘The Son of an is coming at an unexpected hour.’ Does this only refer to the ‘Second Coming’ or could it have other meanings as well? Consider the implications of Matthew 25.31-46.

George Herbert. 1593–1632
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning 5
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.' 10
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?' 15
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

Next Sunday the ordinary cycle of readings is interrupted for the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin.