Can we by searching find out God or formulate his ways?

Paul exclaimed, “I want to know Christ…” (Philippians 3:10). On Sunday 10/2/2011 we explored this statement in our Sunday Morning Forum. “How do YOU know Christ? Where have YOU encountered Christ?” were among the questions we asked, sharing our answers around the table.

Once again, music was mentioned, specifically hymns used in worship, as a place of encounter and inspiration and knowledge. Bill shared one of his favorites, which happens to follow our readings from Philippians pretty closely: “Can we by searching find out God or formulate his ways?” which Hymn 476 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal.

Here are the lyrics

Can we by searching find out God
or formulate his ways?
Can numbers measure what he is
or words contain his praise?

Although his being is too bright
for human eyes to scan,
his meaning lights our shadowed world
through Christ, the Son of Man.

Our boastfulness is turned to shame,
our profit counts as loss,
when earthly values stand beside
the manger and the cross.

There God breaks in upon our search,
makes birth and death his own;
he speaks to us in human terms
to make his glory known. [1]

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying. Share your favorite hymn of encounter, inspiration, encouragement, or knowledge by leaving a reply and continuing the Sunday conversation here.

[1] Words: Elizabeth Cosnett (b. 1936), alt.
Music: Epworth, melody att. Charles Wesley (1757–1834), alt.; harm. Martin Fallas Shaw (1875–1958), alt.

What would Jerome think? St. Jerome, that is.

Today (9/30) the church remembers Jerome, “Priest, and Monk of Jerusalem,” who died in 420 CE. Among his many accomplishments was the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the common (vulgar) language of Latin. The Vulgate version of the Bible remains a standard text in the Roman Catholic Church and has a respected place among contemporary biblical scholars and church historians. Thus, the question, “What would Jerome think?”

Yesterday (9/29) the Episcopal News Service posted an article about a new English translation of the Bible (from Hebrew and Greek). This newest Bible is the Common English Bible (CEB). What Jerome did in his study in the early 5th century was today accomplished by “120 scholars drawn from 24 denominations” at the cost of $3.5 million over the course of 4 years. In addition, “More than 500 readers in 77 groups later field-tested their work” according to the article. Read the entire post here: New Common English Bible translation draws on expertise of 17 Anglican, Episcopal scholars.

So what would Jerome think about the choices made? What do you think? How did some of your favorite verses fare in the new translation?

Probably most of us “know” that Genesis 1:1 begins like this “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth …” (KJV) The Common English translation? “When God began to create the heavens and the earth—”

One more example, a favorite of many, Psalm 23. The final verse, which is the most powerful to me when this Psalm is used in a Memorial Service (Ps 23:6): “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (KJV) and “Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD’s house as long as I live. ” (CEB) You can read the entire Psalm here: King James Version and Common English Bible

Thank you for being part of the Sunday Morning Forum (in real time or online). Like Jerome, we take seriously our study of the Word of God. Whether you like or appreciate the newest translation of the Bible, I do hope you appreciate how the Live Word of the Living God continues to demand our study and our best efforts to know and apply its God inspired wisdom. Leave a comment or two (below) to continue this conversation. What do you think about all this?

For further reflection and study

  • Common English Bible — official website of the Common English Bible. You will find many options to fully explore this new bible and to learn more about how it was produced.
  • Bible Gateway — a site with many different translations of the Bible including the Common English Bible; you can compare translations pretty easily.
  • Bible Study Tools — another site with an assembly of different versions of the Bible including the version we use in worship: the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

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Tell your family, tell your friends, tell the people who sit in the pew with you on Sunday. Starting today (9/21/11) you will find a small “Follow” button in the lower right side of the blog window. By clicking this button once you will be asked to give your email address and when you click the “Sign me up!” button you will be placed on the mailing list for our blog. What could be simpler?

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On behalf of all our authors I look forward to keeping the Sunday conversation going well into the week. I look forward to growing up with you in Christ. ~dan

The Will of God: A reflection from a bombed out city

On Sunday David introduced the Forum to Leslie Weatherhead and his reflection on the will of God. The reflection was given at the London City Temple during the bombing of London (1940-41). Here is the extended quote from which David spoke:

We therefore divided our subject into three as follows:

  1. The intentional will of God – God’s ideal plan for man.
  2. The circumstantial will of God – God’s plan within certain circumstances
  3. The ultimate will of God – God’s final realization of his purposes.

Once again, even at the risk of being tiresome, let us look at the supreme illustration of the Cross.

  1. It was not the intentional will of God, surely, that Jesus should be crucified, but that he should be followed.  If the nation had understood and received his message, repented of its sins, and realized his kingdom, the history of the world would have been very different.  Those who say that the Crucifixion was the will of God should remember that it was the will of evil men.
  2. But when Jesus was faced with circumstances brought about by evil and was thrust into the dilemma of running away or of being crucified, then in those circumstances the Cross was his Father’s will.  It was in this sense that Jesus said, “Not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
  3. The ultimate will of God means, in the case of the Cross, that the high goal of man’s redemption, or to use simpler English, man’s recovery to a unity with God – a goal which would have been reached by God’s intentional plan had it not been frustrated – will still be reached through his circumstantial will.  In a sentence, no evil is finally able to defeat God or to cause any “value” to be lost.

Leslie Weatherhead, The Will of God (from a series of addresses given at the London City Temple at the time of the German bombing raids)

The Forum then spoke to these questions:

  1. Have you ever said “it is the will of God” (or had that said to you) in a way that was offensive? How do you picture the will of God?
  2. How do you discern the will of God for yourself? Where is there an authoritative source for you?
  3. Ten years later, do you think the “attack on America” was God’s will? If so, how so? How about America’s attack on al-Qaida?

You may join this conversation (ongoing) by leaving a comment. Thank you for being part of the Sunday Morning Forum.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace

The Prayers of the People within the worship at St. Margaret’s in Palm Desert, CA this past Sunday began with the words of a prayer attributed to St. Francis: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace.” The prayers were part of the Service of Remembrance, Reconciliation, and Hope.

View or download the Prayers of the People used on September 11, 2011 at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, CA.

Ever heard someone talk about “lectio”? Want to know more?

Lectio Divina is Latin for spiritual or sacred reading. It is a simple method of praying the scripture that has deep roots in the Benedictine tradition. —Monasteries of the Heart

If you have ever heard someone say they were doing, practicing, or simply “in” lectio it was their way of saying they were reading sacred texts in a prayerful way. I have also heard it used (and use “lectio” myself) to mean prayerful reading of non-biblical texts meant to excite, enlarge, expand, or even quiet, the spirit.

Today, in the time I set aside for lectio I found this post. Like the author, Lowell Graham, I have found the practice of lectio has opened “a rich, luminous connection with the sacred text” and, I would add, even texts like his.

Whenever I read the story of Bartimaeus, something settles deep inside of me. This was the story that I first used when I was taught how to pray the scriptures using the ancient Benedictine method of Lectio Divina. The story has never been the same. From that brief time of prayer has come a rich, luminous connection with the sacred text.

He goes on to share the method of Lectio Divina that he—and so many others—use. I encourage you to read his short post: Lectio with Bartimaeus. Please note his counsel:

[The method I describe] is not intended as a four-step linear process, but rather as a movement between states of consciousness. Let your practice move naturally back and forth through these moments.

I also encourage you to investigate Monasteries of the Heart and their introduction and invitation to Lectio Divina.

Finally, I encourage you to try to make lectio part of your daily routine. Share your questions or comments here. Start a conversation about lectio, find encouragement for making this part of your daily routine, or find affirmation for something you have been doing for a long time without knowing it had a name and a rich history.

The Yaakov Cycle

I quite like scholar’s section introductions. Unlike issues, arguments and conclusions which I may or may not welcome, follow or share, good introductions are forward looking – full of hope. The writer seems freer, almost stating the obvious while pulling us onward.

I find Everett Fox’s following introduction to the Yaakov  Cycle most helpful as our lectionary reads highlights of  the Jacob Cycle through these last and coming few weeks. It is taken from his  excellent English translation and commentary “The Five Books Of Moses”

I especially like his last paragraph reminder of “the two levels of biblical reality.”

Last week our discussion ranged from “reads like a novel” to “dysfunctional family” to other literature e.g. “The Red Tent” and I would hope these and Fox’s thoughts below would lead us to read beyond our lectionary samplings and encounter the whole story.

YAAKOV (Jacob)


BEFORE  COMMENTING ON THE YAAKOV CYCLE, IT IS APPROPRIATE TO CONSIDER WHY HIS father  Yitzhak (Isaac), the second of the Patriarchs, receives no true separate group  of stories on his own.

Yitzhak functions in Genesis as a classic  second generation-that is, as a transmitter and stabilizing force, rather than  as an active participant in the process of building the people. There hardly  exists a story about him in which he is anything but a son and heir, a husband,  or a father. His main task in life seems to be to take roots in the land of  Canaan, an admittedly important task in the larger context of God’s promises in  Genesis. What this means, unfortunately, is that he has almost no personality  of his own. By Chapter 27, a scant two chapters after his father dies, he  appears as (prematurely?) old, blind in both a literal and figurative sense, and as we will see, he fades out of the text entirely, only to die several
chapters, and many years, later.

The true dynamic figure of the second  generation here is Rivka (Rebeccah). It is she to whom God reveals his plan,  and she who puts into motion the mechanism for seeeing that it is properly  carried out. She is ultimately the one responsible for bridging the gap between the dream, as typified by Avraham (Abraham), and the hard-won reality, as  realized by Yaakov.

Avraham is a towering figure, almost  unapproachable as a model in his intiimacy with God and his ability to hurdle nearly every obstacle. Adding to this the fact that Yitzhak is practically a noncharacter, and that Yosef (Joseph), once his rise begins, also lacks dimension as a personality, it becomes increasingly clear that it is Yaakov who emerges as the most dynamic and most human personality in the book. The stories about him cover fully half of Genesis, and reveal a man who is both troubled and triumphant. Most interestingly, he, and not Avraham, gives his name to the people of Israel.

Distinctive themes of the cycle include physical struggle, deception, and confrontation. These are expressed through the key words of Yaakov’s name (“HeellHolder” and “Heel-Sneak,” then Yisrael (Israel), “God-Fighter”), “deceive” and similar words, and “face.” Also recurring are the terms “love,” ‘bless,” “firstborn-right,” and “wages/hire” (one word in Hebrew). The cycle is structured partly around etiologies (folk explanations of place-names and personal names) and also around Yaakov’s use of stones in several of the stories.

Continuing from the Avraham cycle are such earlier themes as wandering, sibbling rivalry, the barren wife, wives in conflict, the renaming of the protagonist, God perceived in dreams and visions; and particular geographical locations such as Bet-EI, Shekhem, and the Negev (Cassuto 1974).

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Yaakov stories are notable in the manner in which they portray the two levels of biblical reality: divine and human. Throughout the stories human beings act according to normal (though often strong) emotions, which God then uses to carry out his master plan. In this cycle one comes to feel the interpretive force of the biblical mind at work, understanding human events in the context of what God wills. It is a fascinating play between the ideas of fate and free will, destiny and choice – a paradox which nevertheless lies at the heart of the biblical conception of God and humankind.

Everett Fox,
The Five Books of Moses: A New English Translation with Commentary and Notes
(New York: Schocken Books, 1995).