Art that was favored by the upper social class of Europe in the early nineteenth century had roots in classicism and romanticism. Paintings did not depict the life of farmers who were hunched over day after day working in the fields or the coal miners who lived and worked in hopeless conditions in Belgium. A few artists, known as “Realists” painted the lives of the poor but today, despite an awareness of poverty and homelessness throughout the world, the subject is seldom seen in the visual arts. The displaced victims of war are mentioned in the media occasionally but in wealthy nations the homeless are likely to be discussed as a “problem.” When people see them they tend to avoid eye contact and walk around them at a distance. It is easier to say the homeless are to blame for their own misfortune when no contact is made and their circumstances are not known.
One of the roles of sculpture throughout history has been to create an image that will represent the interests and values of a society. Sculpture often is intended to elicit such things as patriotism, nationalism, and religious fervor. It may be commissioned by governments to celebrate war heroes, leaders, events, or it may be simply enrichment to surroundings. The poor and homeless are not likely to be seen in sculpture intended to represent a group’s self image.
Sculpting monuments and memorials has been part of Timothy Schmalz’ life’s work and he has filled many commissions for churches. In general, his sculpture does not stir controversy. An exception is, “Jesus the Homeless” (shown above). This piece was the result of a direct personal experience and it differs in style and content from his usual work. On a winter’s day while in the City of Toronto, Canada, he saw a homeless man wrapped in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk while crowds passed by. It was the Christmas season and passersby were focused on their immediate priorities; the man on the sidewalk was ignored. When Schmalz saw the homeless man, Jesus’ words written in Matthew came to mind: “…I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” “…as you did not to one of the least of these, you did not to me.” (Mathew 25:31-46). Schmalz developed this scene into a provocative image of a homeless Jesus. Instead of being in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, the man was placed under a blanket on a bench. At first glance, the sculpture does not seem to represent any specific person but then, as we see the uncovered feet, we notice the wounds from a nail that pierced them during crucifixion.
Readings and supplemental resources for All Saints’ Day Year A in the RCL
November 1, 2020 | All Saints’ Day
Collect for All Saints’ Day
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. ~BCP 245
Revelation 7:9-17 NRSV
This lesson presents a vision of those who have survived great tribulation and now worship before the throne of God and the Lamb.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
1 John 3:1-3 NRSV
In this lesson we learn that through God’s love, disciples are now children of God; their destiny is to be like Christ.
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when heis revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV
The gospel is the opening sayings of the Sermon on the Mount, words of both comfort and challenge.
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Psalm 34:1-10, 22 BCP 627
Our Psalm response is a hymn of blessing and praise to the Lord for deliverance.
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; * his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2 I will glory in the Lord; * let the humble hear and rejoice.
3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; * let us exalt his Name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me * and delivered me out of all my terror.
5 Look upon him and be radiant, * and let not your faces be ashamed.
6 I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me * and saved me from all my troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, * and he will deliver them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; * happy are they who trust in him!
9 Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, * for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, * but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, * and none will be punished who trust in him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
1 John 3:2 NRSV
1 John 3:1-3 A Pastoral Perspective
By William N. Jackson, Honorably Retired Minister, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.
John makes it very clear in this passage that it is by the lavish, generous love of God that we can rightly be called children of God. The apostle Paul is even more specific. He tells us that it is by the work of God’s Spirit that we are “adopted” as God’s children. In Romans 8:16–17a he writes of God’s Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We therefore have a spiritual inheritance that entitles us to all the blessings and benefits, privileges and powers, that relationship implies. Along with being nurtured and motivated in our spiritual growth, we also have the privilege of knowing God’s promises and presence in times of difficult struggle and need. Along with John’s concern for theological truth, he has some practical and pastoral things to say about the strength of the family of faith in times of adversity, sorrow, or loss. No New Testament writer expresses more consistently or more strenuously the necessity of Christian fellowship to provide “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
All Saints’ Day is a time when as the family of faith, children of God and joint heirs with Christ, we not only bear each other’s burdens but also claim for those who have died the hope and confidence we have together in the risen Christ. Through the credibility of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we claim our legacy, which is grounded in the victory of Christ over sin and the grave. Edward Young once wrote, “Because of the love of Christ, nothing is dead but that which wished to die; nothing is dead but wretchedness and pain. What remains for us is a legacy of loyalty, of love, and of life.”
How blessed we are by the loyal witnesses who have been our teachers, our mentors, our critics, and our encouragers in enabling us to grow and mature in our faith. Our legacy includes a countless number of faithful witnesses who have taught us to know and believe the good news of the Word of God. We soon learn that in times of hard trials and difficult decisions the witness of faith shared with us by our mentors continues to provide incredible strength, not only for our own benefit, but also for our witness to others. In Hebrews 11:4 the writer tells us that “Abel has died, but through his faith he is still speaking” (my trans.). Our legacy as children of God is to remember that, even though our loved ones have died, through their love and compassion, their instruction and correction, their laughter and tears, their honesty and humility, their sacrifice and dedication, and, most of all, their faith, they are still speaking. What a great legacy to claim for ourselves and to share with the world!
There is also the legacy of the unparalleled blessing of God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ. That legacy is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, in the familiar words, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way it; is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” There is not a clearer definition of unconditional love in Christ. There is also a promise. The next paragraph begins, “Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8). Our legacy in that love is personal and contemporary and also eternal.
William Penn wrote at the death of a beloved member of his family, “Those who love beyond this world are never separated.” Then he added, “Death cannot kill what never dies.”2 Our legacy is the gift of God’s love, present in this life and present victoriously in the life to come.
There is also the legacy of life. From the beginning, the legacy of life has been a primary message for John. We find evidence for that in the first paragraph of the Gospel of John: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4). The opening paragraph of John’s first letter reiterates the same claim. Life is a primary gift, a privilege from God. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In today’s passage John reminds us that the life we now know is only the beginning; there will be an even more glorious future when Christ appears. Then we shall see Christ and be found in the very likeness, the very image of God. Of course, John is thinking about the second coming. We may or may not think in those literal terms; nevertheless, there will come a time for every one of us when God will purify our hearts, when we shall see Christ and behold Christ’s glory. When God thus purifies our hearts, we will see the glorious, victorious resurrection life in Christ.
John also suggests that when the glorious gift of life in Christ is seen in us, the world may come to know who Christ is and come to receive the “light of life,” which is given for all humanity. Then that life can become the means by which we will all be bound together in a common legacy.
A man was visiting in Egypt. As he sat on a public bench privately reading Scripture, an older Egyptian man came and sat beside him. When the Egyptian noticed that the man was reading his Bible, he extended his hand in introduction and said, “I have life!” Fellow believers are held together by a legacy of life, found in their common relationship through the risen Christ. “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12).
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory [the legacy] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?
We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.
What is the communion of saints?
The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.
From An Outline of the Faith, BCP 862
November 1 All Saints
It is believed by many scholars that the commemoration of all the saints on November 1st originated in Ireland, spread from there to England, and then to the European continent. […]
November 2 All Souls or Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed
In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.
Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day on which the church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.
Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 24A in the RCL
October 25, 2020 | Pentecost +20
Collect for Proper 25
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~BCP 235
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 NRSV
In this lesson the people of Israel are called to lives of justice and love—to be holy because the Lord their God is holy.
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slandereramong your people, and you shall not profit by the bloodof your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 NRSV
In this reading Paul recalls his first visit to the Thessalonians, the troubles he endured, and the straightforward and gentle way in which he presented the gospel.
1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters,that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentleamong you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Matthew 22:34-46 NRSV
In the gospel Jesus presents the double commandment of love for God and neighbor, and then asks a question concerning whose son the Christ is.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Psalm 1 BCP 585
The Lord makes fruitful those who choose the way of righteousness.
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, * nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, * and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; * everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; * they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, * nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, * but the way of the wicked is doomed.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Matthew 22:36 NRSV
A Homily on Matthew 22:34-46
Laurel Mathewson, Living by the Word in The Christian Century –http://bit.ly/1tlARPW
When I was fresh out of college and chock-full of vocational angst, I was lucky enough to be invited into a book club composed primarily of working and retired pastors, therapists, and professors. One evening over tea and cookies, as this multigenerational group of women delved (somewhat) into the book and (more fully) into the issues of our lives, my angst spilled over into earnest whining: But what are we to do? How are we to live? It’s so complicated!
The response that followed has lingered in my memory. A Catholic theologian in her sixties with short, curly hair looked at me. “Oh, but we have been given a simple code,” she said. “Love God, love your neighbor. When things get overwhelming for me, I repeat again and again: Love God, love your neighbor. ”
A few days later, I was taking a winter walk on the beach and came across the unlikely gift of a big and beautiful labyrinth a stranger had left in the sand. Still feeling pretty confused and tormented, I began to walk the labyrinth, repeating those words like a mantra: Love God, love your neighbor. Tellingly, I don’t remember exactly what “next step” emerged for me, but I do remember that as I prayed and walked, those simple words seemed to unlock a door. I left the beach with clarity and relief, the simplicity of the commandment releasing the weighty pressures of countless social codes and expectations.
This teaching of the two greatest commandments is Jesus’ gentle yoke. In Jesus’ time, a rabbi’s “yoke” was a set of teachings—that which was required of you under the law according to a particular teacher. The “easy and gentle” yoke of our Lord—who can often be read as quite demanding—makes most sense to me in light of this historical factoid and this week’s lesson: we yearn for clarity about what is essential, and we long to be guided toward the things that really matter.
It is an aspect of the gospel so basic that it is easily overlooked by preachers. In my early-twenties vocational crisis, I was already a confirmed and hopeless church nerd. I’d heard lots of sermons, been to lots of Bible studies. Yet the liberating force of this basic discipleship teaching hit me like a fresh gust of wind on stagnant sails. Similar memories are scattered throughout my life: I realize that I have been surprised by the grace of this greatest-commandments gospel again and again. It is not the foundational gospel of resurrection and shouldn’t replace it. But for all who are trying their darnedest in a world full of dubious codes for righteous living, this teaching remains good news.
Glennon Doyle Melton—author of Carry On, Warrior and the popular Momastery blog—wrote a post in August called “Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt.” After receiving unsolicited advice that she should update her kitchen, Melton aims to cultivate gratitude for the bounty of her North American life with new “perspectacles.” Talking about her microwave, she says, “This is the magical box in which I put uncooked stuff, push some buttons, and then a minute later—pull out cooked stuff. It is like the JETSONS up in here.”
Melton experiences gratitude as liberty from desire: “I will not be a slave to the Tyranny of Trend any longer. I am almost 40 years old and no catalog is the Boss of Me anymore.” The gospel offers all sorts of liberation to all sorts of people, and many seem weightier than middle-class psychological unburdening. But don’t dismiss the liberation of those ensnared by consumerism. I’ve been there many times; if you haven’t, count that a special grace from God. The powers of marketing are real. We need the Spirit’s help and a good word to walk through a store with such a freedom intact. Melton offers a testimony many hunger for.
But what is the difference between this liberty born of gratitude and the liberty offered by the greatest commandments? They function similarly, yet ultimately a liberating code that includes the prayerful love of God and neighbor will be richer and more robust than thanksgiving alone—and more complicated. Simple does not mean easy, and simple commandments have complicated implications. Judging from the holiness code of Leviticus 19, this paradox has always been the case. What does it look like in 2014, in this place, to love your neighbor? To love God above all else? Whenever I think that these are tired old questions, I know I am not really paying attention.
How did I love my poor neighbor today? Did I even think about my poor neighbor? In what ways do I continue to defer to the ways and the will of the “successful” class? Paul knows that even proclaiming the gospel to new faces can be an occasion for greed and false flattery. Living by a different holiness code than the ones on offer from contemporary culture takes discernment. It also takes courage. We are freed from expectations we find onerous. But we also may be required to give up praise and positions that gladden our egos.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 24A in the RCL
October 18, 2020 | Pentecost +20
Collect for Proper 24
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~BCP 235
Isaiah 45:1-7 NRSV
In this Hebrew Bible reading the Lord anoints Cyrus, King of Persia, to be God’s agent in freeing the chosen people from exile.
1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 NRSV
In company with Silvanus and Timothy, Paul greets the new Christians of Thessalonica, giving thanks for their faith and their conversion from idols to the worship of the true and living God.
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV
In our gospel lesson Jesus answers a question about taxation by teaching that people should pay what belongs to the emperor to the emperor and the things of God to God.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Psalm 96:1-9 BCP 612
Our Psalm response is a hymn of trust in the Lord. God will guard and deliver the one who loves and seeks refuge with God.
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; * sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; * proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations * and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; * he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; * but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! * Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; * ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; * bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth tremble before him.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NRSV
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. A Pastoral Perspective
By Jill Y. Crainshaw, Associate Professor and Academic Dean, Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina689
Susan simultaneously pastored seven small congregations in the mountains of Virginia. Most of her colleagues never understood how she managed what, from their perspectives, had to be a chaotic and complex task. Preaching responsibilities alone seemed to them enough to tax Susan’s mind, soul, and body. Several lay ministers assisted Susan, but in the minds and hearts of most congregants in those small rural churches, she was the beloved pastor.
Susan was a contemporary version of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century traveling clergy, or circuit preachers. Circuit preachers, popularly called “circuit riders” or “saddleback riders,” were common sights, particularly in American Methodism during the Second and Third Great Awakenings. Due to a clergy shortage, some pastors were assigned multiple congregations. Riding on horseback from one “charge” to another, these pastors traveled light, reportedly carrying only what could fit into saddlebags.
Susan traveled from church to church in an old Honda Civic rather than on horseback, but like early circuit riders, she provided a pastoral presence to communities unable to afford full-time ministers. As for Susan’s churches, they learned to share with one another their pastor, their weekly “collections,” and their ministries. Susan spoke often about how she “stayed in touch” with congregations between her monthly preaching visits to each. Few congregants in those years (1982–88) had access to e-mail. Hand-scripted letters became Susan’s primary way to encourage and advise communities during her absences from them.
“I learned over time,” Susan recalled. “Letters sometimes say more, sometimes less, than you intend. When letters are the primary way we communicate with one another, we have to exercise particular care about what we say. We also have to let the ink flow from a well of gratitude. Writing and then sending letters when angry or frustrated can lead to unhappy results. Also, we have to keep in mind the lives and stories of the people who will read the letters. Most of all, we have to be prepared to be misunderstood on occasion and to stay in conversation about what we really meant by what we wrote.”
Paul is a kindred spirit to Susan and other circuit-riding preachers throughout history. Paul, like Susan, corresponded by letter with his multiple congregations. We can learn a great deal about pastoral leadership and communicating the gospel from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church.
Paul is a complex biblical character. Some interpreters extol Paul’s theological views. Others know firsthand the painful power of Paul’s voice when interpreters turn that voice against them. Still others wrestle with Paul’s sometimes strident representation of himself as authoritative leader. Each of these perspectives points to challenges of understanding Paul’s first-century message.
Often overlooked is the relational texture of Paul’s writings. Paul wrote letters, distinct forms of communication intended to encourage, teach, and sometimes reprimand particular congregations where he was deemed pastoral leader. Paul did not imagine a twenty-first-century readership. First Thessalonians was crafted for people with whom Paul had a personal bond.
When contemporary readers delve into the letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, they struggle to hear in Paul’s ancient words a gospel word for today. Thus they sometimes miss the vibrancy of Paul’s letter-writing style. A skilled correspondent, Paul inventively wove together words, images, and ideas common to his context. Paul’s letters illuminate the world of his day, even as they reveal theological values and ideas. Paul’s letters, particularly the letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, also reveal the concern with which he communicated with each of his churches.
Paul cared deeply for the Christians at Thessalonica. The opening words of 1 Thessalonians reflect this. The first verse sets the tone: “Grace to you and peace” (1:1c). As the first chapter unfolds, Paul’s gratitude for the work he and the Thessalonian community do together to carry gospel wisdom into places like Macedonia and Achaia (vv. 7–8) is evident.
This is the first letter Paul scripted as a “circuit-riding” preacher. In it, he affirms and encourages Thessalonian gospel collaborators. He has great affection for these believers, who have kept on ministering in spite of persecution (v. 6). Paul enjoys, and perhaps personally needs, the friendship of this community of coministers.
Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica invites the attention of contemporary believers. Certainly, it is not without interpretive challenges, often posed by Paul’s epistles. However, the letter overall depicts a pastoral leader intent on mentoring a community of believers. Paul characterizes his vocational identity in verse 2 with words that texturize the remainder of the letter: “We always give thanks to God for all of you.” Paul’s relationship with the church at Thessalonica is a relationship enriched and emboldened by thankfulness.
Circuit-riding preachers of the nineteenth-century variety are a thing of the past. A number of pastoral leaders today travel between two, or perhaps three, congregations. This is no doubt a challenging vocational responsibility; but “saddlebag riders” are no more. Also, technological innovations—text messages, cell phones, Skype, Internet—have bathed correspondence in the speed of light. Words now travel faster, farther, and with greater ease than physical bodies.
Paul’s handwritten and snail-mailed words of greeting to the church at Thessalonica continue to offer wisdom for today’s faith communities and their leaders. Congregations are to be bonded to one another in Christ by a spirit of thanksgiving for one another. What are the gifts of such a spirit? A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us as believers to be more intentional and thoughtful in all of the ways we communicate with one another. A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us toward greater communal intimacy. A spirit of thanksgiving can motivate us to forgive and seek forgiveness, especially as each of us works to be understood and to understand. Finally, a spirit of thanksgiving can and should motivate us toward collaborative ministries that spin out threads of relational authenticity and depth.
There is little doubt that 1 Thessalonians, the 13th book in the NT canon, is an authentic letter written by the apostle Paul to the Christian community at Thessalonica in Macedonia. It is the oldest document contained in the NT.
David Noel Freedman, ed., “Thessalonians, First and Second Epistles to The,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 515.
Paul, St (d. prob. AD 62–5), the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’. Born during the first years of the Christian era, the future St Paul, originally ‘Saul’, was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a native of *Tarsus in Cilicia, said by Acts to possess Roman citizenship. He was brought up a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5, Acts 26:5) and perhaps had some of his education at Jerusalem under *Gamaliel (so Acts 22:3). This life in Judaism (Gal. 1:14) gave him his trust in God, experience of the Law, and a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, as well as his methods of arguing from Scripture. As a Jew of the Diaspora he spoke and wrote Greek and shows some knowledge of rhetoric. Within a short time of the Crucifixion, he came in contact with the new ‘Way’ of the followers of Jesus, apparently in Palestine, and persecuted the Church (1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13). Acts 7:58 represents him as present at the martyrdom of St Stephen, and 9:1–2 as authorized by the High Priest to arrest converts in Damascus. As he drew near he was himself converted.
… The sketch in the Acts of St Paul of a ‘man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked …’ is probably imaginative, though Paul admits to his weak bodily presence (2 Cor. 10:10) and a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor. 12:7).
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1243.
A book and sword are the common attributes of Saint Paul
The book carried by Saint Paul represents his epistles in the New Testament of the Bible.
The sword is a reminder of the means of his martyrdom – he was beheaded in Rome in 67 AD.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 23A in the RCL
October 11, 2020 | Pentecost +19
Collect for Proper 23
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. ~BCP 234
Isaiah 25:1-9 NRSV
In our Old Testament lesson the prophet praises the Lord for destroying the cities of the ruthless and for providing a refuge for the poor. Now comes the banquet of the Lord’s salvation.
1 O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. 6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Philippians 4:1-9 NRSV
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul invites the new disciples to exult in joy in the Lord who is near at hand, and he thanks them for their most recent gift.
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion,help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoicein the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved,whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think aboutthese things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Matthew 22:1-14 NRSV
Our gospel reading presents a parable about those who declined invitations to a marriage feast and others who were then invited, followed by the story of a guest who came without wedding clothes.
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Psalm 23 BCP 612
The Psalm expresses our trust that the Lord is shepherd and guide. God is present in time of danger and spreads a table for the one who needs comfort.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; * I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures * and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul * and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; * for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, * and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV
Philippians 4:1-9. A Theological Perspective
By David B. Burrell, Professor of Ethics and Development Studies, Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi, Uganda
Paul’s radical revision of the terms of observance of the covenant was bound to elicit some hard questions. Just what is required of followers of Jesus? One hears a similar complaint from some observant Jews today: this “love-stuff” is all well and good, but what difference does becoming a follower of Jesus make to one’s daily life?
A follower familiar with the Gospels would, of course, readily cite Matthew 25, the charter of the Christian life, yet Paul is even more specific: “help these women, [Euodia and Syntyche], for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life” (v. 3). So followers of Jesus are enjoined to assist one another “in the gospel,” that is, to encourage each other to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as outlined in Matthew 25.
As with the original covenant, a distinct path is indeed offered, though it is not prescribed. It will unfold before those who take the initial steps indicated to help others negotiate the travails of ordinary life. Beginning with knowing one another by name, each calls the other forth to a shared life in Jesus, where attempting to live “in Jesus” evokes an immense gratitude for the community that results in rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let all know your forbearance” (vv. 4–5 RSV, NRSV “gentleness”).
Benedict, whose Rule spelled out some implications of “living in Jesus” in greater detail, speaks often of forbearance, as would spouses who have been together for decades. “Living in Jesus” means living together with others, and persons living together can easily grate on each other.
Peter counsels those engaged in the communal task of following Jesus: “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). So the ongoing task of building this community of followers of Jesus takes on the proportions of building the temple itself, comparing the stone edifice with a human construction in which “living stones” grate on one another as stones would were they brought together to make a single building. People engaged in a common pursuit will inevitably jostle one another, often employing their sharp edges to find space for themselves. Like Peter, Paul suggests that this very jostling can lead us toward shared prayer in “the Lord [who] is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (vv. 5–6).
Such a spirit of cooperation will emerge only as we develop that crucial “forbearance” toward one another. Surely this is more than “love-stuff.” In fact, it describes the daily grind of living together, which Peter elevates to the constructive communal task of rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem, always considered by the people of the covenant to be the “dwelling place of God with us.”
Although that edifice had recently been destroyed by Rome, the occupying power, this community, now incorporated into the original covenant, will be called to offer a counterwitness to the destructive powers that surround it (the very powers that put Jesus to death) by living out “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (v. 7). The key to attaining that peace will again be mutual forbearance, the exercise of which will perforce “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). Paul culminates his exhortation, implicitly contrasting the separations he associated with the original covenant with the fruits of forbearance: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (v. 8). Nothing short of forbearance will succeed in eliciting so constructive an ethos from us, as our natural propensity is rather to render harsh judgment on one another, as the least demanding way to exalt ourselves! In a kind of solipsistic jujitsu, denigrating others can lift us above them without our having to undertake anything ourselves.
Continuing his teaching, Paul calls those who follow Jesus’ example to follow his as well: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). “The God of peace” is, of course, shorthand for the presence of Jesus among us, partaking in those very travails that demand we be forbearing toward one another. So we are carried from Peter’s exalted image of the temple to a humble one of family, recalling how the Jesus we follow was born into and emerged from a family, to offer a humble yet unerring path to the entire human family.
As Jesus’ mother Mary and his foster father Joseph assisted one another in the commonest of human tasks, so Paul engaged in a panoply of tasks to help forge a family of followers of Jesus. So it has ever been: beyond the ever-present forbearance toward one another, what followers of Jesus consistently enjoy is the gift of following one another along the path offered. That has of course been the witness of holy women and men throughout the history of this community, as those who are forbearing toward one another also call each other forth to live faithfully to the call of the “God of peace,” who is ever living in their midst, recognizable in their fellow travelers.
So we can respond to the challenge of our observant Jewish brothers and sisters by reminding them and ourselves that the work of followers of Jesus is ever present and “never done” (as is sometimes said of women’s work). It is that of building a community of people who can sustain one another in the journey of faith, reminding each other of its goal, but even more of the joys attending the journey itself, no matter how arduous.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 22A in the RCL
October 4, 2020 | Pentecost +18
Collect for Proper 22
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 234
Isaiah 5:1-7 NRSV
In our opening lesson the prophet sings a sad parable about God’s vineyard, Israel, and the destruction that must now come upon it.
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Philippians 3:4b-14 NRSV
Paul reminds the new Christians at Philippi that if any have reason to brag because of heritage, lineage, or zeal, it is he. Yet all human achievements are to be counted as rubbish next to the joy and privilege of knowing God in Christ
4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 21:33-46 NRSV
Our gospel is the story of the wicked and disloyal tenants who are cast out of the vineyard.
33 [Jesus said], “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Psalm 80:7-14 BCP 614
Our Psalm Response is a lament and a plea to the Lord, the shepherd of Israel, that the Lord will restore God’s ravaged vineyard.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; * show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt; * you cast out the nations and planted it.
9 You prepared the ground for it; * it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered by its shadow * and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.
11 You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea * and its branches to the River.
12 Why have you broken down its wall, * so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?
13 The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, * and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.
14 Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; * preserve what your right hand has planted.
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Philippians 3:8 NRSV
Love of Christ: A Prayer
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8
1 Frank Colquhoun, Prayers for today, The Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge (January 1, 1989)
Philippians 3:4b-14. A Pastoral Perspective
By Jill Y. Crainshaw, Associate Professor and Academic Dean, Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Nearly two thousand years and incalculable kilobytes of technological innovation stand between Paul’s first-century writings and contemporary readers. People in the United States today are more likely to communicate with friends, relatives, and coworkers, even with people across the globe, by way of blogs, e-mails, or text messages than through hand-scripted, envelope-sealed letters delivered by couriers. Despite differences in communication techniques, however, contemporary believers share with Paul a common goal. We, like Paul, want others to be persuaded when we express the beliefs and values most important to us.
Paul uses a first-century rhetorical form to communicate with Christians in the diverse and busy town of Philippi. Rhetoric is an ancient Greco-Roman art of argumentation and discourse. Paul was a rhetorical artist, crafting letters imprinted with his unique language and distinctive theological ideas. Philippians 3:4b–14 exemplifies Paul’s artistry.
According to biblical scholar Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, the epistle, read as a unified whole, imitates a four-part style common to Greco-Roman letter writing. The exordium (1:1–26) opens the correspondence, introducing the letter’s main themes. Paul expresses gratitude for the community (1:3–5) and speaks poignantly about his current imprisonment and suffering (1:12–14). He also encourages believers at Philippi to continue their gospel work (1:27–28). The narratio (1:27–30) summarizes historical events that prompted Paul to write the letter. The probatio (2:1–3:21), including 3:4b–14, gives examples to support Paul’s call to action. The final part of the letter, the peroratio (4:1–23), recaps the main points and passionately invites readers to say yes to Paul’s challenge.1
In the initial verses of the probatio (2:1–3:4a), Paul features Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Jesus as examples of how to live a gospel-worthy life. Then, in 3:4b–14, Paul uses himself as an example. Following an ancient rhetorical principle, he gives a personal testimony.
Contemporary ears sometimes hear Paul’s autobiographical speech making as arrogance. However, autobiographical arguments were common to the rhetoric of Paul’s time. A speaker’s personal character was considered a valid, even powerful, tool of persuasion. Paul wants readers to know that he has experienced firsthand God’s love in Christ. Paul also wants readers to know that he himself strives to live out the message he preaches. In the minds of first-century readers, Paul’s personal story authenticated his message and gave his voice authority.
Preachers today are sometimes reluctant to follow Paul’s autobiographical example. Perhaps too many know firsthand the pitfalls of being too personally vulnerable in the pulpit. Also, today’s rhetorical milieu differs greatly from that of first-century Philippi. Philippians 3:4b–14 nevertheless stands as a reminder. The proclaimer’s authenticity enlivens and gives credibility to the proclamation. Biblical scholar James W. Thompson puts it this way: “In an era when preaching cannot compete in the communications revolution, the essential quality that is unique to preaching is the authenticity of the preacher.”2
Paul uses personal testimony and other examples to authenticate and energize his call to action. What is that call? Paul encourages the believers at Philippi to hold on to and live out core Christian values. The primary goal of faith, in Paul’s view, is to know or experience Christ. Communal life is to be centered on attaining this ultimate prize. None of the identity markers that say we are people of faith is more important than a community’s heart-centered desire to know and to be like Christ.
Paul skillfully capitalizes on the rhetorical style of his day to communicate gospel values. This is not a new practice. Preachers and faith communities since antiquity have innovatively employed popular communication techniques to proclaim the gospel.
The same is true today. A June 1, 2009 issue of Time magazine tantalized readers with this article headline: “Twittering in Church. Why Some Pastors Are Turning to Microblogging to Bring Congregants Closer to God and One Another.” After appearing on the technological scene in 2006 as a computer designer’s side project, Twitter has transformed the landscape of Internet communication. What makes Twitter unique is that chatters, or “tweeters,” are allowed only 140 characters to speak their minds, share a joke, comment on the news, or report their morning breakfast choices (all of which happen simultaneously on Twitter). People who “tweet” have to make every word count.
A Charlotte, North Carolina, pastor, Todd Hahn, was interviewed for the Time magazine article. Hahn encouraged churchgoers to “tweet” during his Easter Sunday sermon. He wanted worshipers to tell others—coworshipers in the sanctuary and others tweeting across town or in another state—about their experiences with God. He wanted them to tweet their personal testimonies, using 140 characters or less, of course. “It’s a huge responsibility of a church,” Hahn says, “to leverage whatever’s going on in the broader culture to connect people to God and to each other.”
Versions of Hahn’s words can be heard in myriad contemporary discussions about worship practices, preaching techniques, and pastoral leadership styles. What communication practices are most effective for sharing the gospel? Which are most appropriate? How do we decide? Though ancient, Paul’s style and message in Philippians 3:4b–14 may contribute wisdom to these discussions.
Paul makes use of communication techniques familiar to his audience. His letter-writing style both mirrors and expands upon the Greco-Roman forms of his day. Paul’s rhetorical choices, however, take a backseat to what he considers the heart of his message. The primary aim of the life of faith, Paul insists in this letter, is to know Christ. Believers are called first and foremost to pursue and share that “prize” with personal and communal authenticity.
As to whether or not Twitter belongs in worship—about that, we can blog.
1 Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Community and Authority: The Rhetoric of Obedience in the Pauline Tradition (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press Int., 1998), 65–66.
2 James W. Thompson, Preaching Like Paul: Homiletical Wisdom for Today (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 146.
Source: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 21A in the RCL
September 27, 2020 | Pentecost ++17
Collect for Proper 21
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 234
Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32 NRSV
In the Hebrew scripture lesson the Lord insists that individuals are responsible for their own sins and that the people must now repent, no longer blaming their troubles on the sins of their parents
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 3 As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
Philippians 2:1-13 NRSV
Paul bids the new disciples to be of one mind in love, knowing how Christ Jesus accepted the condition of a servant and was obedient to the point of death. We now confess him as Lord and are called to an obedient working out of our faith.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
6 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
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Matthew 21:23-32 NRSV
In a response to a question about authority, Jesus tells a parable of two sons who obeyed their father differently, and he indicates that it is the same with those who are apparently obedient and disobedient in this age.
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
Psalm 25:1-8BCP 614
Our Psalm Response is a prayer for forgiveness and guidance and an expression of trust in the Lord.
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; * let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; * let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, * and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, * for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, * for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; * remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; * therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right * and teaches his way to the lowly.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:6 NRSV
Two Prayer Responses to the text of Philippians
Eternal God, the light of the minds that know thee, the joy of the hearts that love thee, the strength of the wills that serve thee; grant us, so to know thee that we may truly love thee, so to love thee that we may freely serve thee, whose service is perfect freedom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Gelasian Sacramentary (7th century)
O gracious and holy Father, give us wisdom to perceive thee, intelligence to understand thee, diligence to seek thee, patience to wait for thee, eyes to behold thee, a heart to meditate upon thee and a life to proclaim thee: through the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Attributed to St Benedict (480–543)
Commentary on Philippians2:1-13. A Pastoral Perspective.
By Gilberto Collazo, Vice President for Missional Development and Operations, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, Indiana
The celebrated pacifist Mohandas Gandhi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He made this observation in the midst of his struggle for justice for a people in the face of the occupation of his native India.
We are called to be imitators of Christ, to live in a way that allows other people to see Christ in us. What is an imitator? There is a great difference between an impersonator and an imitator. Impersonators take great pains to make people believe they are who they are not. On the other hand, imitators are clearly aware that they strive to live up to the challenge of being a reflection of the person they look up to. It is so hard to walk in the footsteps of others. Many younger siblings for years wither in the shadow of an overachieving older sibling, who sets the standard so high that it is a constant frustration to try to be like him or her. We look up to those people in church whom we consider spiritual giants and wonder if we will ever be as spiritual as they appear. At work there is always that coworker who is the top salesperson, who makes us wonder if we really have what it takes to live up to those high standards, no matter how hard we try.
Deep down inside, many of us have the clear understanding that we will fall short of a perfect imitation. That is all right. Ultimately Paul’s admonition is not about impersonating Christ, but about adopting Christlike attitudes in all aspects of our life. When we try to live up to God’s standards on our own, we become impersonators. That is a tall order and an unrealistic expectation on our part, and it is not what God expects of us.
So then, what does it mean to be called a reflection of Christ? This is not a call to perfection but, rather, an invitation to be honest with ourselves and to understand that God is doing something unique and special in each and every one of us. This is God’s challenge for us to live in a manner that is counter-cultural. For example, when we face a national crisis such as a severe economic downturn, do we run around like Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling,” or do we reflect Christ by remaining calm and believing God’s promises of provision for our lives? When bad news reaches our ears, do we respond like those who live without faith, or do we reflect Christ by our reactions to the bad news?
For years as a pastor I accompanied many people through their death processes and then helped their families deal with grief and loss. Then it was my turn. I had just turned forty when I suffered my first significant loss. My father had terminal cancer and less than two months to live. The time for my test had come. Would I be a reflection of Christ and face this crisis with faith and peace, or would I give into the ranting, raving accusations against God that I had seen in so many of the individuals that I had accompanied through the loss process?
I did rant and rave. It is one thing to be on the outside looking in, and a completely different experience to find yourself directly impacted by the situation. In the midst of it all, I was able to recognize that God understood that I was human and was losing a father. Through the two final months of my father’s life, God worked in my life, as I allowed the divine presence to do so.
People saw my struggle. Even the members of my church understood I was working through something that was new and painful for me. I could have put on a happy face and hidden my sorrow, but that would have made me an impersonator of Christ. Rather, I admitted that I needed God’s presence in my life in a way I had not known before. I sought God’s presence in ways I had never done before. Some days, like Job, I sparred with God. Other days, I held a negotiation session. There were days when I had nothing to say, because I was so angry at a God who was taking my father, when there were so many others who really should have been called from this world. In the end, I was able to give my father over to God’s presence with tears in my eyes, but with peace in my heart. People would later comment on how I had been a source of comfort to them as they came to support my family and me.
Christian living is a process. God’s timeline for each one of us is unique, and only God knows what the final product is going to look like. We do not expect an instantaneous transformation of our life’s attitudes and actions, but rather an ongoing process of change that results from the ever-growing awareness of our need to be at a different place if we are to be true Christ followers. The process begins with our conscious decision to become reflections of Christ in our actions and reactions to life.
Can the world see Christ in us? Our imitation of him is not about being complacent and well behaved. As the United States deals with immigration issues, many churches have once again declared themselves to be sanctuaries for all who need a safe place. I see Christ in the actions of these faith communities. Allowing the world to see Christ in us means that we are willing to step up to our prophetic role in the world. Can people see Christ in you?
When times get difficult, when injustices are prevalent among the people, when a word of hope is needed, let us pray that all can see Christ in us—for that is our calling: to be imitators, and not impersonators, of Christ.
Source: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
Imitators, not Impersonators
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)
From our Outline of the Faith
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
Prayer for Vocation in Daily Work
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~BCP 261
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 20A in the RCL
September 20, 2020 | Pentecost +16
Collect for Proper 20
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 234
Jonah 3:10–4:11 NRSV
The Lord teaches Jonah a lesson when the prophet is angry because God is merciful to the repentant pagan city that Jonah has gone to great trouble to denounce.
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush,and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Philippians 1:21-30 NRSV
In this reading Paul tells the Philippians that he would prefer to be with Christ beyond death, but he recognizes that he still has good work to do in his earthly life.
21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Matthew 20:1-16 NRSV
Our gospel is the story of the laborers in the vineyard, who are all paid the same wage despite their different hours of work.
[Jesus said to his disciples],1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Psalm 145:1-8 BCP 801
Our Psalm Response is a hymn of praise to the Lord, who is mighty in deeds yet tender and compassionate.
1 I will exalt you, O God my King, * and bless your Name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless you * and praise your Name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; * there is no end to his greatness.
4 One generation shall praise your works to another * and shall declare your power.
5 I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty * and all your marvelous works.
6 They shall speak of the might of your wondrous acts, * and I will tell of your greatness.
7 They shall publish the remembrance of your great goodness; * they shall sing of your righteous deeds.
8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, * slow to anger and of great kindness.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Commentary on Matthew 20:1-16. A theological perspective.
By Kathryn D. Blanchard, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Alma College, Alma, Michigan
Ancient theologians have read this passage allegorically, viewing those hired at different times of the day as representative of different generations of Israel, such as Adam, Moses, Abraham, and in the last hour, Gentiles. Others have interpreted the early workers as Christ’s original disciples (“Look, we have left everything and followed you,” Matt. 19:27) and the late comers as recent converts to Matthew’s congregation.1 In either case, what is primarily at issue is whether God behaves justly, particularly toward Israel and the (Gentile) church. Another theological question has to do with human potential to earn merit, typically addressed in terms of faith and works.
Matthew writes for a mixed congregation that includes both longtime Jewish Christians (who may have known Jesus personally) and others who have joined only recently, many of whom are Gentile converts. Regardless of the particularities of Matthew’s own congregation, he speaks to the abiding question of God’s relationship to Israel, as well as the perennial struggle between religious people who see themselves as doing the lion’s share of God’s work and those who do not seem to carry their weight. (The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11–32 expresses a similar conflict.) Hard-working, “good” people have always asked: what kind of God would offer the same reward to those have earned it and those who have not?
The tradition has consistently answered: a just God. For this to be true, however, the workers must recognize the opportunity to work in the vineyard (whether it represents Israel, individual virtue, the church, or the cause of justice in the world) as a gift in itself. There is no room for human pride, since one’s only choice is either to answer the call to work in God’s kingdom, or to stand idle and waste one’s life altogether. God does not will that anyone’s life should be wasted, so God extends the invitation indiscriminately and repeatedly, in order to gather as many as possible into the vineyard. God shows no partiality among persons (Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34); all are equally deserving—or undeserving—of the opportunity to work, so the reward for all workers is equal as well.
Despite earthly appearances of inequality with regard to who has “earned” a greater or lesser reward (Jews/Gentiles, longtime workers/latecomers), this parable makes clear that there is radical equality before God. Reward comes not from each worker’s individual merit, not from the quantity or even quality of their labor, but rather from the gracious covenant offered by the one doing the hiring. God promises and delivers but one reward for all—represented by a single denarius (basically enough for one’s “daily bread,” Matt. 6:11).
The upshot is that God’s people are (ideally) those who work in God’s vineyard simply because it is the good thing to do, rather than because they hope to earn merit. The other lectionary texts designated for this week reveal that grumbling against God has been the pastime of God’s people from the beginning (Exod., Jonah), but the Scriptures have consistently called God’s people to readjust their lenses and view God’s mercy as a gift (Pss.) of which they should strive to be worthy (Phil.).
Calvin’s discussion of the second part of Christian freedom can shed some light here. Those who serve God only because they wish to avoid punishment or obtain payment do so in the manner of a servant; whereas those who see working in God’s vineyard as a gift labor without coercion, in the manner of offspring who love and wish to please the parent, and are dedicated to the parent’s work.2 Those workers who feel they deserve better must be reminded of the master’s generosity in letting them work at all.
The conclusion to this parable, that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (v. 16), echoes other parables (e.g., Luke 18:9–14) and foreshadows Jesus’ upcoming rant against holier-than-thou religious leaders in Matthew 23. The call here is to humility; it is an attempt to remind “those who now know the Gospel … who imagine they can teach and govern the whole world, and therefore imagine they are the nearest to God and have devoured the Holy Spirit, bones and feathers,” that their greatness is relative.3 Those who are first in the world’s eyes are not first in the eyes of God. Those who see themselves as the lowliest of all are the ones God will exalt on the last day (Matt. 23:12). Moreover, it is a reminder that all good things come from God, regardless of humans’ ability to earn them (God “sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” Matt. 5:45).
God’s people—both Israel and the new Israel—are those who work in the vineyards of justice from the moment they are called until the time for reward arrives. Some are specially blessed to hear the call early on; but if they experience this labor as a burden, the gift is lost on them. Others are blessed to hear the call just before it is too late; for them, the burden seems light and the reward comes before they grow weary. God’s standards of justice and value are consistently presented in both the OT and NT as alien to human standards, but God’s people are expected to behave according to these alien standards, neither demanding their rights nor begrudging others’ good fortunes. There is of course potential for abuse of such teachings, perhaps to uphold an unjust status quo in which oppressed persons are admonished to wait patiently for their reward, while those in power maintain their “first” status. It is clear that a responsible theological reading of this parable tends toward radical equality in the church, in which all are equally near to receiving God’s gracious reward.
SOURCE: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 92–96.
1 Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14–28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 1b (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 106–12.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 837 (3.19.5).
3 Martin Luther, “Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday,” in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1.1–2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 111.
How easily we can relate to the grumbling of the laborers who assumed that because they went into the vineyard early in the day, they would be paid more. Such dangerous assumptions can be in our closest relationships, within our work settings, within our congregations, within our national thinking. There is a saying, “Assumptions are planned resentments.” Whenever we assume anything, we set ourselves up for possible disappointment or even worse, as we set the other person, place, or thing up as the object of our disappointment, anger, or resentment. …It would be wonderful if these were the only assumptions we made:
—God loves me and all of creation deeply and profoundly.
—I and all others are made in the image of God.
—God’s generosity is beyond our wildest imagination.
—There is nothing I can do to earn or deserve God’s generosity.
How different our lives would be if we lived from those assumptions.
SOURCE: Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn, (Retired Executive Director, The Centers for Christian Studies, Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville, North Carolina) in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 94
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 19A in the RCL
September 13, 2020 | Pentecost +15
Collect for Proper 19
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.~BCP 233
Genesis 50:15-21 NRSV
In our Hebrew scripture lesson Joseph’s brothers fear his wrath upon learning of the death of their father Jacob.
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
Romans 14:1-12 NRSV
In this reading Paul calls upon the Roman disciples to live with tolerance for one another’s scruples, recognizing that everything can be done to honor the Lord with whom each Christian has a relationship.
1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Matthew 18:21-35 NRSV
In the gospel lesson Jesus bids his disciples to offer a forgiveness which is, for all practical purposes, unlimited, and he tells a parable about a man who, although forgiven much, still himself had no mercy.
Note on Matthew 18:24 The servant owes roughly 150,000 years’ worth of wages—an absurdly insurmountable debt intended to shock Jesus’ listeners and pale in comparison to the much smaller amount demanded by the servant in v. 28. The Greek text’s reference to 10,000 talents represents the largest number used in ancient calculations and the highest monetary unit at that time (one talent was equivalent to 15 years’ worth of wages).
Source: John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 18:24.
Talent: a unit of silver equal to 6,000 Greek drachmae or Roman denarii. One talent was roughly equal to what a typical worker could make over a sixteen-year period. … In [Matthew 18:23–35], Jesus uses creative exaggeration to stress the incalculable difference between divine and human mercy. A servant owes his king (God) 10,000 talents (millions of dollars), a debt that is forgiven; but then the first servant does not forgive a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii.
Denarius: a silver Roman coin that would have been the usual day’s wage for a typical laborer (plural, denarii). This is the most mentioned unit of currency in the NT. Jesus used a denarius as an object lesson for his teaching that one should give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor (Matt. 22:19); his disciples complained that 200 denarii would not buy enough bread for a hungry multitude (Mark 6:37).
Source: John W. Betlyon and Mark Allan Powell, “Money,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 651.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Psalm 103:8-13 BCP 733
The Psalm Response is a hymn of blessing in thanksgiving for healing forgiveness and for all the Lord’s acts of compassion and justice.
8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, * slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, * nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, * nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, * so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, * so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, * so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
“Forgive our sins as we forgive” Hymn 674 in Hymnal 1982
On Sunday, September 13th we’ll use the hymn “Forgive our sins as we forgive” after we’ve heard the reading from Romans and before we hear the Gospel passage. What follows is an essay by C. Michael Hawn, distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church is a dependable online resource for study. I recommend the site. ~Fr. Dan
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Accepting and giving forgiveness may be one of the most important aspects of living. I believe that the Assurance of Pardon is one of the most significant parts of Christian worship: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” These words may offer healing and hope for many in worship, even beyond anything else said or sung. Forgiveness is not only a personal way of living, but also an attribute of societies. How many times do we observe centuries of hate and hurt that, because of the inability to forgive, continue to fester and cause suffering, death, and destruction?
Portions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) have been cited in many hymns. For example, the militant missionary hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations” (United Methodist Hymnal, 569) echoes “Thy kingdom come on earth” in the refrain: “And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth.” Presbyterian hymnologist Louis Benson concludes his Communion hymn “For the Bread which You Have Broken” (United Methodist Hymnal, 614, 615) with the first petition, “let your kingdom come, O Lord.” Forgiveness has received less attention, however.
With “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” by Rosamond Herklots (1905-1987), we receive a full treatment of Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (KJV) Luke 11:4 states: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” “Trespasses” first appeared in William Tyndale’s translation in 1526 and was retained for use in the first Book of Common Prayer in English in 1549. The English Language Liturgical Consultation (1988), a group of ecumenical liturgists in the English-speaking world, proposed “and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” A companion Scripture is Colossians 3:13, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (ESV).
The Companion to Hymns and Psalms (1988), the companion to the 1983 Methodist hymnal used in England, provides the origins of this hymn:
This hymn was written in June 1966 and printed soon afterward in the parish magazine of St. Mary’s Church, Bromley, Kent. The idea of the hymn had occurred to Miss Herklots when she was digging out weeds in her nephew’s garden; she reasoned that their deep roots, obstructing the growth of the flowers near them, resembled the bitterness and resentment that can become entrenched and hinder the Christian’s growth in grace.
Herklots’ language is potent in describing the blessings we miss when our “heart . . . broods on wrongs and will not let old bitterness depart” (stanza two) In stanza three, she contrasts the “trivial debts [that] are owed to us” with “our great debt to [Christ]!”
The final stanza is a prayer of petition “cleanse . . . our souls” and “bid resentment cease.” Forgiveness leads to establishing “bonds of love” so that “our lives will spread [Christ’s] peace.”
Rosamund Eleanor Herklots was born in Masuri, India, in 1905 to missionary parents. She was educated at Leeds Girls’ High School and the University of Leeds in England. Working as a teacher and secretary, she began writing hymns in the early 1940s. She submitted hymns for the “Hymns for Britain” competition, two of which were selected to be sung on television. Her total corpus of hymns numbered more than seventy. Herklots died in Greenwich, London, in 1987.
British hymnologist J. R. Watson noted changes in the original text: “At some point after 1978, when an unauthorized inclusive language version was published in the USA, the author modified the third and fourth verses: ‘How small the debts men owe to us’ became ‘What trivial debts are owed to us,’ while ‘Then, reconciled to God and man’ was altered to ‘Then, bound to all in bonds of love.’” This is the version that appears in The United Methodist Hymnal.
I was in South Africa in 1998 during the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu presented President Mandela with the bound volumes containing the results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was sitting among a group of black and white Methodist ministers watching this historic occasion on television as Tutu referenced one of the many important revelations that took place during the process that the Commission hoped would lead to healing and hope for South Africa. At one point, Tutu recalled a black woman who asked him, “Who murdered my husband?” Tutu responded, “We do not know.” She was insistent, however, and continued, “I must know who killed my husband.” Again, the patient Tutu responded, “I’m sorry, but we may never know who killed your husband.” Still her question persisted. Finally, Tutu asked, “My dear lady, why must you know who killed your husband?” She responded simply and quietly, “So I can forgive him.”
There are many variations of this hymn on YouTube here are two:
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 18A in the RCL
September 6, 2020 | Pentecost +14
Collect for Proper 18
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.~BCP 233
Ezekiel 33:7-11 NRSV
In our first lesson the prophet Ezekiel is like a watchman: it is his responsibility to warn the wicked, but it is the individual’s responsibility to stop sinning.
7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Romans 13:8-14 NRSV
In this reading Paul summarizes the heart of the law and urges a way of life in full awareness of the nearness of salvation
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Matthew 18:15-20 NRSV
Our gospel presents teaching about how to deal with sin and grievances within the Christian community.
15 Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Psalm 119:33-40 BCP 616
Our Psalm Response asks for the Lord’s guidance and promises to keep God’s commandments always.
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, * and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; * I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, * for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees * and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; * give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, * which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, * because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; * in your righteousness preserve my life.
Commentary on Romans 13:8-14. A homiletical perspective.
By David Bartlett, Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia
There is a great half truth that drives much of our theology and much of our preaching. The semi-truth is that gospel is one thing and law is something else entirely. Sometimes that is fair enough. Sometimes law drives us, harasses us, punishes us, and terrifies us. Grace accepts us, blesses us, redeems us, and encourages us. However, sometimes a more nuanced reading of Scripture suggests that law itself can be gospel, good news. Sometimes the biblical writer who affirms that most clearly is, of all people, the apostle Paul.
Here are three ways in which the law provides good news in this passage from Romans 13. First, these verses, like all the material in Romans 12–14, spell out the significance of the good news that Paul declares in Romans 1–11. The good news is that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory but that all are justified by grace (Rom. 3). The good news is that our faith will be reckoned to us as righteousness, just as Abraham’s was (Rom. 4). The good news is that in Christ humankind takes on a new identity and a new hope; Adam’s story is reversed, to the glory of God (Rom. 5). The good news is that, rightly understood, the law can be an invitation to daily faithfulness. Because of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Jesus Christ, we live with the possibility of genuine transformation.
There is a great line in Jean Anouilh’s play Becket where Henry II, entirely befuddled by Thomas à Becket’s new faith and by his new vocabulary, says to his friend: “Absurdly. That word isn’t like you!” Becket replies, “Perhaps; I am no longer like myself.”1
Romans 13:8–14 assures us that we no longer need be entirely like ourselves. It shows us a picture of the new persons we have become: loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. (A quick aside: a lot of contemporary therapeutic theory suggests that we need to love ourselves more, and no doubt there is something to that. Paul, being Paul, did not have much trouble with self-esteem; for him, the transformation was to be enabled to be as caring, enthusiastic, and proactive for other people as he quite easily was for himself.)
Second, in ways that we might not have imagined, Romans 13:8–14 shifts the burden of the law into a yoke that, if not exactly easy, is at least imaginable—almost within range. One reason law could be a burden in the first century, as in the twenty-first, is that law can multiply into laws—almost endlessly. On the days when we are even slightly scrupulous we can spend all day counting the ways our behavior might go wrong. In secular law something as relatively short as the U.S. Constitution gets interpreted and reinterpreted with reams of laws and reams of decisions on the meanings of the law.
Paul reverses the process: the multiplicity is transformed to unity. The law is condensed from its extended permutations to something quite solid, palpable, and near. See that neighbor? Love that person as you love yourself. Act out to the other the best intentions you would wish for yourself.
For further exploration
1 Corinthians 12:31–13:8
12:31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends
From our Baptismal Covenant (BCP 305): Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? We will, with God’s help.
From our confession of sin (BCP 360) Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
This is one of the few places where Paul seems to echo the tradition that comes from Jesus himself, when Jesus gives the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31).
For further exploration
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. Mark 12:28-34 NRSV
Remember that the Great Commandment is a twofold commandment—not really one, but not really two separable commandments either. One could suggest that Romans 1–11 spells out the first part of the commandment: “How do we love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength?” Clue: have faith in Jesus. Romans 12–14 shows the various ways in which we live out the second part: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
The summary is itself good news.
Finally, note how thoroughly the admonition to follow the law is shaped by Paul’s hope about what God is doing in history, about the last days. We live faithfully and lovingly in the present because God has promised faithfulness and love to us—beginning now, but consummated in the age to come.
This is hard stuff to preach because for most of us—whatever our other theological convictions—the hardships and blessings of the day seem sufficient to themselves. Yet Paul sounds again a great theme of the Christian tradition: the day of Christ has begun; the light is dawning. The law we now obey is the law that is appropriate to the new day in which we are about to live, to the new land we are about to inhabit.
When you preach these last verses, notice how the metaphors pile up: light/dark; day/night; drunkenness/sobriety. This would be a good Sunday to let metaphor carry some of the sermon. This text is not proposition but poetry—one picture of redemption after another, a collage foreshadowing the salvation that is to come, that impinges upon us even now.
“Dress appropriately,” says Paul, “for the great day coming”. “Put on the armor of God,” or in different words, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Quite likely the Roman Christians remember their baptisms, coming up from the baptismal waters wrapped in a white robe as a sign of their membership in a new commonwealth, a new family. Jesus Christ, in this passage, becomes God’s armor: his obedience enables our obedience. His mercy not only forgives our trespasses; it fortifies us against temptation.
Paul ends the passage a bit anticlimactically. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,” he writes (v. 14). By “flesh” you will remember he does not simply mean the usual suspects: gluttony, drunkenness, and selfish sexuality. “Flesh” for Paul represents all the devices and desires by which we try to fortify ourselves—not with Jesus, but against Jesus and against our neighbor. “Make no provision for the flesh” means “By God’s grace turn from your self-absorption.” It paraphrases and sums up the whole law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 39-43.
1 Jean Anouilh, Becket, trans. Lucienne Hill (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 102.
Source:Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Proper 17A. Find this resource On Amazon.