Daily Lectionary Reflections, July 9

Isaiah 48:1-5

In reading this passage, two important phrases stand out, “…but not in truth or right” and “…so that you would not say, ‘My idol did them…'” The underlying theme, like so much of the prophets, is fidelity. God desires truthful worship, and compassionate living.

The first phrase concerns appearance. The condemnation falls upon a people who have used the Faith as a way to get what they want. They said the right things but in truth do not mean it. Hollow words of worship so as to attain selfish ambitions. So the question rises, why do you worship God? Is it to get what you want from God? Do you go to church, so that God will give you a pass on immoral decisions? Do you go to church, so that God will answer your prayers? God cannot be cajoled. Worship God, because as God’s creation, you can do no other thing but worship. Worship rightly done places the worshiper in a place of total dependence. Truthful worship results in thanksgiving for all the Lord has done and will do, regardless if it aligns with our desires. For God is God, and we are not.

The second concerns misattribution. The Lord directs attention to what has been declared in the past by the Lord. The message is simple, do not give credit to some created thing when the credit belongs to God. Do not say, “oh, what luck!” or “What are the chances of that?” when clearly God was at work. Giving credit to the god of luck, misattributes what God has clearly done. Consider evolution and all processes that have taken place, is this due to the god of random happenstance, or to the God who created heaven and earth?

The heart of the matter for Isaiah is truth. Do you truly worship God? With robust words of worship, directed at the on worthy of worship, come to the Lord with thanksgiving and praise!

Romans 2:12-16

The passage provokes more questions, than answers. For instance, what part of the law is Paul thinking of? Simply thinking of the ten commandments will not do. The Ten Commandments are built upon a particular belief in God, not some abtract moral code apart from God. What is readily apparent is that both Jews, who have the law, and all Gentiles, who do not have the law, will come under the search eye of God’s judgment. Sin has warped all of God’s good creation.

Acknowledging that sin has had such an effect upon the world is important for our Faith. We can set aside naive assumptions about the world, and know that sin lurks in the corner. Every saint we know, has sin in their past. Every movement towards justice, apart from the Spirit, will have the tinge of injustice. There is no sin free vantage point to retell history. We want new history books telling again history in light of what has been left out before. But even as that is a project worth doing, the story will continue to lack every moment of injustice. Christians may not be able to tell all the truth of history, but the Spirit helps us to see the sin of it all, especially our own. Perhaps that’s the most truthful thing we can do, confess our sins. Frightening as that sounds, the Spirit empowers us to confess our sin, and God is faithful and just to forgive us. So even as God knows the secrets of our hearts, we know that we have forgiveness in Christ. Thanks be to God!

Daily Lectionary Reflection, July 8

Jeremiah 13:1–11

Not having bought a loin cloth myself, the power of the metaphor seems to diminish, but let us walk through the metaphor to see what it might mean. The loin cloth was meant to be part of God’s array. It was meant to be near to the most vulnerable part of the body. Nearness expresses a sense of vulnerability and affection. The loins in scripture resemble the heart and the way in which people talk about their hearts. Such as when John Wesley declared his heart was strangely warmed. So a covering of the loins would be a pride of place for this article of clothing. Instead of serving as it should, the loin cloth has been balled up like a useless rag and hidden in a cleft of a rock. So Israel, rather than cling to God, has sought solace in a foreign place, and having done so, they have lost their usefulness to God. For Israel, their purpose in the world relies upon it’s fidelity to God. Lose that, and lose direction and meaning.

Pride motives Israel. Love motivates God. So Israel must again face humiliation at the hands of a super power, another Egypt. History repeats itself for those unwilling to listen to the wisdom of the past. Where Israel sees this exile as the end, God sees this as the way forward to humility, a way back to fidelity, a way back to love.

John 13:1–17

In Jeremiah, we see a people to stubborn to serve God. In John, we see a God/Man so humble he is willing to wash feet. Many scholars now argue that the gospels picture Jesus as Israel. Jesus does what Israel could not do. Paul shows in Romans that no one else could have done it either – see Romans 1:18-25. Jesus loves without regard to social roles, taking the lowest job imaginable, feet washer. Horrified, the disciples refuse. The lessons of pride and humility from their past have yet to be understood. So either be washed or have no part of what Jesus is about. Jesus extends that warning to include the roll of servant. Serve as Jesus did or have no part of Jesus. Strong a statement as that is, consider the humility it requires to acknowledge that you serve God and not yourself. To do more than lip service to this notion, Jesus asks us to serve our neighbor as a way to show that we indeed love God.

BUT what remains a mystery is that the writer tells us that Jesus loved his own, and loved them to the end. The next line tells us that Judas has gone to betray Jesus. Jesus’ love for Judas has not changed, though Judas has changed. Jesus sees the writing on the wall and knows what is in Judas’ heart, but Jesus still loves him. No matter how stubborn, how prideful, how greedy, one might become, Jesus will still wash one’s feet. Jesus will still clean, restore, and make new. How mysterious and marvelous!

Daily Lectionary Reflection – Tuesday, July 7th

Jeremiah 28:10–17

Here we have a prophetic gorilla theater on full display. Jeremiah wears a yoke in the public space at God’s request. The message is clear, Judah and the nations will come under foot of Babylon. Enter Hananiah. Hananiah is one whom we have been warned about by the Lord. He is a false prophet calling Jeremiah’s message fake news. He counters Jeremiah’s narrative by symbolic action breaking the yoke. His messages proclaims a mild view of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. Having supposedly won the day, he settles into his routine as the people’s prophet.

Hananiah’s wrongful message has dire consequences. Countering the softened message of a short lived defeat, Jeremiah tells the truth, hard as it might be, that judgement comes by way of Babylon. In addition, Hananiah will not survive the year. Hananiah’s bad theology kills. How foreign to our contemporary ears! Too often preachers and self ordained prophets alike proclaim a Gospel that mimics the promises of God, without thought to what it might do to their people or to themselves. God’s provision for life, manipulates into God’s desire for you to be wealthy. God’s willingness to hear and answer your prayers, manipulates into empty prayers for empty things like parking spaces and discounts on cheap goods. Or worse, God will protect the faithful that gather to worship, so do not worry about wearing a mask.

Wrong thinking contributes to wrong behavior, just as wrong behavior contributes to wrong thinking. Jeremiah warns us weigh the words we use. Those in leadership have been trusted with the message of life, use it for such, and live.

Romans 3:1–8

Our sin and immoral choices does not make God look good. That’s Paul’s point. The counter point goes something like this…look at how sinful I was and continue to be so, but look how good God is for loving me and forgiving me. I sin, God forgives. The subtle message is, “I make God look good.”

Paul will take us to the limits of grace in the rest of Romans, but makes clear in this passage that our salvation from sin and death does not free us to continue in sin. Rather, we are to come out of the realm of sin and death, and into the realm of life and peace in Christ. As you now live for Christ, do so not at church only but in your work, in your home, and in your leisure. Using God’s grace as an excuse to not feel guilty about actively planning to swindle your partners OR to have an affair OR vote for an immoral candidate, doesn’t work for Paul or for God. Strive for the life that is at peace with God, one another, and self.

Daily Lectionary – Monday, July 6

Jeremiah 27:1–11, 16–22

Following God is not easy. This episode in the life of Jeremiah and Israel shows just that. Counterintuitively, the Lord tells Israel, by way of Jeremiah, to serve Babylon. When you read the word Babylon, think Egypt, think conquering super power, think pending doom and gloom. The Lord doesn’t say the expected, stand and fight or I will deliver you as I did when Egypt chased after you. No. The Lord says fold the hand you’re playing. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in serving? Arrogance has brought Israel to the point of disaster. Pride goes before the fall, so fall they must and learn to walk again in humility before God.

To complicate matters, the priests and prophets, those charged with communicating to God’s people God’s message, are telling a different message. They speak the message, perhaps the hoped for message, of God’s deliverance. That they should fight, resist, and not serve Babylon. Who to listen to? The established priests and trusted prophets? OR the rogue prophet Jeremiah? When voices of influence conflict in matters of faith, the faithful are in trouble. Discerning God’s voice is not a matter of simply trusting your pastor or favorite Christian author, but of prayer, meditation upon God’s Word, hearing from a broad spectrum of voices e.g. the tradition of Christianity, and asking if it is wise e.g. does it make sense according to what is known about God. In short, discerning God’s voice requires scripture, experience, reason, and tradition. A church that blindly follows the established leaders, will willingly go against God.

Romans 1:18–25

This selection from Romans asks us two questions that matter for our daily life with God. One, how am I actively suppressing the truth? Two, in what ways am I using stuff to replace the worship of God? Those two questions are premised upon the indictments made by Paul against the Greeks. They knew the truth and suppressed it for wicked purposes. In their deception, they deceived themselves into worshiping something other than the God they knew to be true. In short Paul says, where you find a lie, you will find an idol.

In our fragility and in our sinfulness, we are easily deceived and self-deceived. Rather than face the God of truth, we create gods to sponsor our programs for happiness, security, and acceptance. Doing so, we create a world of comfortable and comforting lies. Paul will push the reader of Romans to see that true happiness, security, and acceptance is placed in the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ. Such trust opens up a world where the Spirit of God leads the faithful through a transformative journey. God’s beloved are no longer slaves to sin, but set free by love to love.

July 4th

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Today, in America, much is made of the weighted word “freedom.” Paul, that great apostle, makes much of freedom in Galatians. Freedom, however, understood by Paul and by Americans in general differs substantially. The hyper individualized form of freedom Americans fight for, stands apart from what Paul understands as freedom. For Paul, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection defeated the oppression of sin and death. Jesus freed humanity to love God and one another. The heavy chains of hate, jealousy, envy, deception, and on, no longer hold us back from loving one another. The free and freeing love of God sets us loose to seek the welfare of the community. This is freedom. So celebrate everyday your freedom in Christ and love one another, as Christ has so loved you.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Friday, July 3

Zechariah 2:6-13

The rambunctious bunch of prophets, eccentric and seemingly erratic, preach a message of repentance. Repent and return to the Lord. They preach the traditionalist party line, return to the ancient wisdom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Return to the Mount with Moses and follow the law of God. But the message is not an Israel first message. It is not a nationalist message to make Israel great again. Rather, as Zechariah, and others such as Isaiah, preach, the return to God expands the boundaries of national identity. “Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord…,” so the people of Israel will find themselves in the company of the many nations they have been embroiled with over the years. Again, this message is nothing but a conservative agenda to return to the roots of faith, to discover again the blessing that shall come through Abraham to all the nations, as promised by God in Genesis.

Zechariah came long before Jesus ever walked the earth. Abraham came long, long time before Zechariah. Yet, the promise of God, though delayed, came to fruition in Jesus. Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee so long ago but the promise of God fulfilled in him remains as fresh as the summer breeze. The theological word for this is hope. We have have hope because God has fulfilled promises in the past. We have hope because we have been promised heaven. The land of Canaan rests upon the horizons of our faith, the land we journey to everyday. It is the place where tears are wiped away, sickness is banished, and war is no more. The Spirit leads us, as through a wilderness, to the promised land. May we faithfully follow the Spirit’s leading.

Romans 7:7-20

The Daily Lectionary continues our reading of Paul’s discussion of both law and the Spirit. Notice that Sin is treated as a thing that influences us and coops things meant for good for evil purposes, in this case the law. Notice too that Paul treats the law as something that is not universally known. Many of a kind of Christianity would have it believed that the law, specifically the Big 10 commandments, are universally known, a kind of innate knowledge available to all people, in all places, at all times. Paul, however, says that we do not know covetousness until we know the law. We have to be taught what constitutes sinful action. We don’t know that lying is wrong until we read it as such. The law stands as God’s revelation to Israel. So it is revealed to those of faith what God desires and what constitutes as sin.

Many a tree has been cut down to produce literature that tells people how they are sinners, that they know they are sinners, because they have a shared moral basis upon a universally known moral law. These tracts litter hotel rooms, restaurant tables, and the sidewalk. This sort of evangelism is foreign to Paul and to the Gospel. God, by the Spirit, reveals to us that Jesus is God’s Son. In following Jesus, God reveals to us in Word and Table what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The moral life follows conversion, it does not precede it. Since conversion relies upon God’s revealed truth, evangelism depends upon testimony and giving witness to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.

Daily Lectionary Reflections Thursday, July 2

Zechariah 1:1-6 Return to Me

Zechariah the prophet has a message to Israel, return to me. Not a novel message, the prophet, a traditionalist, speaks to Israel again the Word. Repent! Return to your roots. How often the prophets are written off as liberal yahoos determined to get justice for the poor and marginalized, with little care for financial gain. Not a fan of unbridled capitalism or corrupt political figures, the prophets declare a word of judgment again and again. Yet, what does Jeremiah tell us? Return to the Lord, a message given to and followed by their ancestors. Such a conservatism seeks to renew God’s people through the simple message of return to God, worshipping God alone, and care for the poor.

What sort of church would we have today if such simple instructions were followed? Worship God alone, not capitalism. Worship God alone, not nationalism. Worship God alone, not cultural relevancy. What would the church look like if such a simple practice was followed?

What would our communities look like, if the church prioritized the needs of the marginalized over the needs of the wealthy? What would the church look like if the church prioritized the spiritual needs of the unbelieving world? Would the programming change? Would the membership grow? We know not because we have not…yet.

Romans 7:1-6

Until death do us part. Those words have been uttered by countless couples in their wedding vows. The vow says that it stands until one of them dies. Once dead, the vow no longer binds the two together. So too, when we are baptized, we die to the law and its requirements. Having been put to death, we are raised in Christ to new life. This new life places one in the hands of the Spirit of God. Paul tells us, in Romans, that the Spirit opens up for us communion with God, the constant presence of Christ, and unity with one another. Wedded to the law and find yourself separated from one another and from God.

Excursus: What is the law? For the early followers of Christ, the law was the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some zealous Jewish Christians insisted that to be a faithful Christian disciple, one must indeed follow Christ by following the Law. Or in other words, all non-jewish followers of Jesus must become Jews and observe all of the Law, while still worship Jesus as Lord. Paul argues extensively here in Romans and in Galatians that the Law, though good, was a limited good. Meant more as an interim caretaker for God’s people, as a way to prepare for the coming of God’s son. The Law, like any other system, can be coopted by sin and used for deathly purposes.

Following Jeremiah, who admonishes Israel to return to God, Paul asks the question about what have we added to the simple worship of God alone? Must one dress a proper way to properly God? Not use certain four letter words to rightly worship God? Must one be a Republican or Democrat to worship God? Simply worshiping God alone rewrites what we understand as essential for faithful worship and faithful. What has been added to the simple worship of God alone develops into the kind of idolatry that lead Israel away from God. So repent, and return to God.

Patron Saint – Saint André Bessette

Saint André Bessette
(Patron of the sick, the afflicted, the poor of all kinds, those who are handicapped, and those who are wounded by life.)
Feast Day – January 6
Alfred Bessette (1845 – 1937) was born near Montreal, Canada. Although illiterate, he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870 and was given the name Brother André. His first assignment, which was to last him 40 years, was as the doorman (porter) of the community’s Notre Dame College in Montreal. Brother André developed a deep devotion to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the patron saint of the Brothers of Holy Cross.

As people came to the school, burdened by their own struggles and suffering, Brother André directed them to pray to St. Joseph. When an epidemic broke out at a nearby college, André volunteered to nurse. Not one person died. The trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. “I do not cure,” he said again and again. “St. Joseph cures.” In the end he needed four secretaries to handle the 80,000 letters he received each year.  Through Brother André’s healing touch, thousands of people were cured and he became known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal.” One of his greatest material contributions during his lifetime was the building of St. Joseph’s Oratory.

Brother André Bessette’s hope for a substantial shrine to Saint Joseph, located on Mount Royal above the city of Montreal, stimulated large and small donations from many of the people whose lives had been touched by the holy man.

The Congregation of Holy Cross already owned the very property that would be suitable. Construction began in 1914. A crypt church seating 1,000 was completed in 1917. By 1931 there were gleaming walls, but money ran out. “Put a statue of St. Joseph in the middle. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll get it.”   The magnificent Oratory on Mount Royal took 50 years to build, and Brother André died in 1937 without seeing that completion.

Brother André Bessette, C.S.C. was entombed at the Oratory, and, with his body lying in state, more than a million people climbed the slope of Mount Royal to honor him. Today, the Oratory is a world-famous pilgrimage destination, attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. Those visitors have included Pope John Paul II. It is the world’s largest shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Saint Bessette’s incorrupt body is still at the Oratory of St. Joseph.  Recognizing the saintly life of this humble man, Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1982.  He was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, on October 17, 2010.

Quotes of Saint Andre: “It is St. Joseph who cures. I am only his little dog.”
“God chose the most ignorant one. If there was anyone more ignorant than I am, God would have chosen him instead of me.”

“It is surprising that I am frequently asked for cures, but rarely for humility and the spirit of faith. Yet, they are so important….”
“If the soul is sick, one must begin by treating the soul. Do you have faith?
Do you believe that God can do something for you?
Go confess yourself to the priest…then go to communion…”
“God is love and he loves us; that is the heart of the Christian faith.”
“Practice charity with your neighbor—and this doesn’t mean only to give money to the poor. There are many ways to practice charity. We could, for example, keep ourselves from examining our neighbor’s conscience.”

Thanks to the Congregation of Holy Cross for the basis of this narrative.

Celebrating the birth of Jesus: the God who became disabled in man.

It is hard for me to conceive of the god of the philosophers.  You know this god – omniscience, omnipresent, omnipotent and all other “omni” type monikers.  Weakness, contingency, and other creaturely traits don’t fit within the vocabulary, which speaks of this god.  The unmoved mover was Aristotle’s chosen name for this deity, last Thomas Aquinas would Christianize that name and use it as proof for the existence of God.   But the unmoved mover is just that – unmoved, the cause of all causes.  It doesn’t even watch the world as it goes spinning into chaos.  Plato, in his Timeous, went to great lengths to construct a world where this god wasn’t touched by this world, a world of decay and imperfection.   Moral and spiritual darkness, a world in decay without hope or joy shouldn’t impinge upon or concern the god who is.  If, and that is a big and unbelievable if, this god should become, heaven forbid, god incarnate he or she would take on the form of superman, perhaps resembling Nietzsche’s uberman, if not certainly Aristotle’s Magnanimous Man.  He or she would be without defect, without blemish, the sum of physical greatness and mental perfection.

Yet, this is not the God we celebrate on Christmas.  We celebrate the God/man who took on the flesh of a baby born in scandal to poor Jewish parents.  In the broadest of terms, he was born into a socially disabled family.  Disabled by income and by the premarital pregnancy, Joseph and Mary had found themselves at the margins of religious and political life.  Born into the world, the baby Jesus was at the mercy of a teenage parents and even the vary empire who had forced his parents to travel so far for a census.  No one can look at a newly born baby and say this is the sum strength, power, and magnificence for even babies born to be king shit their diapers and suffer colds.  But to celebrate Jesus’ birth isn’t merely the celebration of the birth of some king, it’s the celebration of God coming to earth.

God!  The God who is the ground of all being.  The God who encompasses all of space and time with room to spare, the God who created existence with a word, that God took on this flesh.  Our creeds tell us this was an equal parts event both fully God and Man.  How to explain that event escapes the capacity of language.

For that God to take on this flesh meant that self-imposed limitations must have taken place – limitations not from necessity but out of love for the creature.  How else could we explain it?  Limited God, dare I say it (?), became disabled for our-sakes.  Isn’t that what Paul is getting at in Phi. 2:6-8?  It says,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Jesus gave up the privileges of being God by taking on flesh.  True, unlike those who have disabilities, God chose to enter our world in this way.  For all “able bodied” are disabled spiritually and are unable to see the Light.  God brought the Light to us, as close to us as possible.  Jesus came to us, a tactile God, so that we might feel, touch, hear, and be given ears and eyes once again to see and hear the good news that God has come into the world.

If all of this is true, then any pretense of coming to the level of those with disabilities is demolished not reinforced.  It is demolished in that our disabilities prevent us from seeing correctly. Only in Christ’s divinity, is he both able to meet us as we are and yet see us as we truly are.  That is to say, he meets us in the flesh, in our weakness and contingency.  He smiles, cries, becomes angry, and lives the life of a human being.  But unlike us, he sees us.  He sees us for who we truly are.  We cannot see each other for we cover ourselves up with lies and deception.  The clothes we wear are more than the ones we put on everyday.  Our vision of one another and God is at best only partial.  We need one another so as to share with one another the partial, fragmented vision of God we each hold. The vision God has given us is a mosaic and we each, no matter what physical or mental capacity one might have, hold a fragment of the mosaic.  We cannot know what the full picture might be until we are all tied to one another, bound in the bonds of friendship.  Friendship, that’s what Christ gave to us.  The god of agnostics or the god of philosophers or the god of deists remain foreign to us as strangers but the God who became incarnate 2000 years ago came to be our friend.  So let us this Christmas not give in to the demands of consumerism but free ourselves by entering into friendship not merely with God but with Jesus who became disabled for our sakes.  Perhaps if we can accept friendship with God, we can accept friendship from those with disabilities.

Resources for Theology and Disabilities

Brock, Brian; John Swinton (2012-09-06). Disability in the Christian Tradition. Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Hauerwas, Stanley; Jean Vanier. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness ofWeakness (Resources for Reconciliation) (Kindle Locations 45-47). Kindle Edition.

Hans S. Reinders. Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics (Kindle Locations 610-611). Kindle Edition

Heuertz, Christopher L.; Pohl, Christine D. (2010-02-25). Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Resources for Reconciliation). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Adam; God’s Beloved. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, 1997

Reynolds, Thomas E. (2008-04-01). Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. Paulist Press. Mahwah, 1992.

Theology and Down Syndrome:  Reimagining Disabilities in Late Modernity by Amos Young

The Bible, Disability, and the Church:  A New Vision of the People of God by Amos Young

The Disabled God:  Toward a Liberation Theology of Disability by Nancy Eiesland

Resurrecting the Person:  Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems by John Swinton

No Easy Choice by Ellen Painter Dollar

The Disability Studies Reader by Lennard J. Davis

Disability. By Thomas Reynolds. Found in the Christian Reflection series published by Baylor.