What does love smell like? What does hope smell like? What does resurrection smell like? On this fifth Sunday of Lent, as we draw closer to Jesus’s final week, and prepare to contemplate his suffering, we’re invited into a story of the senses. A story of love enacted in fragrance.
All four Gospels tell it — the story of a woman who kneels at Jesus’s feet, breaks an alabaster jar filled with priceless perfume, and dares to love Jesus in the flesh.
Consider Debie’s reflection on the embodiment of love provided by Mary of Bethany to you and me all these centuries later:
What happens between Jesus and Mary in this narrative happens skin to skin. Mary doesn’t need to use words; her yearning, her worship, her gratitude, and her love are enacted wholly through her body. Just as Jesus later breaks bread with his disciples, Mary breaks open the jar in her hands, allowing its contents to pour freely over Jesus’s feet. Just as Jesus later washes his disciples’ feet to demonstrate what radical love looks like, Mary expresses her love with her hands and her hair. Just as Jesus later offers up his broken body for the healing of all, Mary offers up a costly breaking in order to demonstrate her love for her Lord.
If forgiveness isn’t denial or a detour, if forgiveness isn’t quick — then what is it? What is Jesus asking of us when he invites us to love, bless, pray, give, lend, do good, withhold judgment, extend mercy, and turn the other cheek?
A timely meditation by Debie Thomas, one of my favorite teachers, on a favorite website, Journey with Jesus. Here, Debie examines Jesus’ teaching we will hear on Sunday, February 20, 2022, from Luke 6:27-38.
She pays particular attention to “the rising tide of rage and meanness in our Covid-weary culture” and confesses that the readings appointed for Sunday cause her some discomfort. Why? She answers: “Because the readings are about forgiveness. They are about the work of forgiveness, and the challenges they pose to our ‘shove or be shoved’ culture are daunting.”
I encourage you to read her essay. I encourage you to take to heart her exploration of Jesus’ teaching and, as you follow Jesus, please engage in the work of forgiveness.
This is the online/on-demand service for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (August 16, 2020)
Please join us on the Way (any time and anywhere via the internet) as we hear what the Spirit is saying in the appointed scripture readings, offer prayers for others and for ourselves, and join in singing (at home) for spiritual nurture and for God’s glory.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 15A in the RCL
August 16, 2020 | Pentecost +11
Collect for Proper 15
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. ~BCP 232
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 NRSV
In our opening lesson the Lord exhorts the people to do what is just because the time of righteous salvation is close at hand. The temple will be a house of prayer for all nations. This vision of hope emphasizes the outgoing aspects of Israel’s faith. Historically it deals with the fact that after the exile certain non-Israelites had come to live in Jerusalem and serve in the temple. The passage sets the conditions for their participation, but also looks beyond to a day when many peoples will worship the God of Israel.
91 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 NRSV
In this reading Paul sets forth his belief that God plans to bring Jews as well as Gentiles to salvation. This apostle to the Gentiles continues to wrestle with a difficult question: why is it that so many of Jesus’ own people have not accepted him as the Christ? God has not rejected the Jewish people who were foreknown, yet now Jews and Gentiles are equal in that all have been disobedient to God. In the next step the Jewish people will see the mercy shown to the Gentiles and want themselves to share in it in their own way.
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Matthew 15:[10-20], 21-28 NRSV
In our gospel Jesus teaches that the thoughts and intentions of the human heart are paramount. Jesus warns against such blind guides preoccupied with externals. He then travels beyond the boundaries of Israel to the territory of Tyre and Sidon and encounters a Canaanite woman who beseeches him to heal her daughter. The first Christians were unsure whether they were to offer the faith to non-Jews, and the give-and-take in this story may reflect that uncertainty. Jesus sees his own mission as confined to Israel, but the woman’s faith causes him to give her the bread she asks for. Symbolically it is the saving food of the gospel which heals her daughter.
[10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed instantly.
Psalm 67 BCP 675
A prayer for God’s graciousness and saving power, and a bidding of praise by all people for God’s justice and bounty.
1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, * show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, * your saving health among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, * for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has brought forth her increase; * may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7 May God give us his blessing, * and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
Music unquestionably heightens emotional experiences. Can one imagine watching an epic film without its sound-track? Spiritual experiences are similar: the music enhances the liturgical drama of a particular moment in the service or season. The worshipper is moved by what he or she hears, and—consequently—feels.
Matthew Hoch in Welcome to Church Music & The Hymnal 1982
When we can again worship in person we may not (for health and safety reasons) be able to sing together. In the quiet of the coronavirus, let us pay attention to the hymns we used to and one day will sing together. I invite you to sing at home. Sing when at work. Sing when at play (or even at rest). In our Service of Readings and Prayer this Sunday we’ll use 2 hymns celebrating and giving thanks for God’s inclusive grace and love—what we hear in our readings. Feel the words of scripture. ~Fr. Dan
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
One of the clear teachings of the Bible is that the gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any race or culture. In the past, missionary endeavor has too frequently imposed “our” culture on others while spreading the gospel, often putting native believers in bondage to another culture rather than to Christ and the Scriptures alone.
Written in 1908 by the noted English writer, John Oxenham, this missionary hymn text was part of a script for a pageant at a giant missionary event sponsored by the London Missionary Society’s exhibition, The Orient in London. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people viewed this presentation. It was continued from 1908–1914 both in England and in the United States.
An interesting account of the impact of this hymn relates an incident during the closing days of World War II when two ships were anchored together, one containing Japanese aliens, and the other American soldiers, all waiting to be repatriated. For an entire day they lined the rails, glaring at one another. Suddenly someone began to sing “In Christ There Is No East Or West.” Then another on the opposite ship joined in. Soon there was an extraordinary chorus of former enemies unitedly praising God with these words:
In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love thru out the whole wide earth.
In Him shall true hearts ev’rywhere their high communion find; His service is the golden cord close-binding all mankind.
Join hands then, brothers of the faith, whate’er your race may be; who serves my Father as a son is surely kin to me.
In Christ now meet both East and West, in Him meet South and North; all Christly souls are one in Him throughout the whole wide earth.
But Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. (Psalm 86:15 KJV)
A wealth of truth about the depth of God’s love and mercy is expressed simply but eloquently in this choice two-line hymn text written by Frederick William Faber in the middle of the 19th century. In addition to being known as a man with unusual personal charm, persuasive preaching ability, and excellent writing skills, Faber made his most lasting contribution with the 150 hymn texts he composed during his brief life of 49 years.
Frederick Faber had an unusual spiritual journey. Raised as a strict Calvinist, he strongly opposed the Roman Catholic Church. After education at Oxford, he became an ordained Anglican minister. Gradually, however, he was influenced by the Oxford Movement, which stressed that Anglican churches had become too evangelical—with too little emphasis on formal and liturgical worship. Eventually Faber renounced the Anglican State Church, became a Catholic priest, and spent his remaining years as Superior of the Catholic Brompton Oratory in London.
Faber had always realized the great influence that hymn singing had in Protestant evangelical churches. Determined to provide material for Catholics to use in the same way, he worked tirelessly in writing hymns and publishing numerous collections of them. In 1854 the Pope honored Frederick Faber with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition of his many accomplishments. Today we are still grateful for this memorable declaration of the boundless love and mercy of our God to all mankind:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for Proper 11, Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 231
This is a short meditation on the Collect for Proper 11 (July 19, 2020). It is my invitation to you to take the names and descriptions of God as your own prayer-starter or meditation. Listen also to our requests of God: “… have compassion on our weakness … mercifully give us (good, useful, helpful, wise gifts) those things which for our unworthiness (what does that admission do to you?) we dare not ask, and for our blindness (what are you not seeing?) cannot ask.”
… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.… Matthew 25:35-36
A Caravaggio masterpiece on mercy calls to Pope Francis across the centuries
(RNS) If Pope Francis wanted a single image to illustrate the special Year of Mercy that is the current focus of his ministry and, indeed, the theme at the heart of his pontificate, he could do no better than choosing an underappreciated masterpiece by the thrilling Italian artist known as Caravaggio.
In fact, the 400-year-old canvas, an altarpiece in a Naples church titled “The Seven Acts of Mercy,” may represent the perfect combination of the man — or, rather, two men — and the moment: a brilliant painter with a scurrilous reputation who was striving for redemption, and a popular pontiff struggling to make the church more welcoming to outcasts.
Why does this painting call across the centuries?
I invite you to read the entire essay posted by Religion News Service on March 30, 2016 and learn more about Caravaggio, this remarkable painting, the theme of mercy, and how this painting (and Caravaggio himself) calls us to act with mercy and live with hope. ~Fr. Dan
Pope Francis launched the jubilee of mercy on Tuesday (Dec. 8) with the opening of the Vatican’s holy door, joined by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by heavy security.
“This extraordinary year is itself a gift of grace,” Francis told the faithful gathered at the Vatican. “To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
Once again we encourage you to read the text of Pope Francis’ declaration—Misericordiae Vultus—that sets out the purpose of the Jubilee of Mercy and invites all Christ-followers to encounter and share God’s mercy and love.
Image: Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters via RNS
Listen. Do you hear it? Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. That’s what it sounds like as the wind blows through the chimes today. What do you hear?
Can you hear God’s tender mercy?
Your words of mercy echo in my spirit:
“I forgive you for what you have done.”
“You can start over. Begin again.”
“I’ll be there as you recover.”
“Trust that there’s a better way.”
“Try your best to not do that again.”
“I know you can change your ways.”
May I also speak your words of mercy
In my response to those who stray,
Fail and fall, and attempt to start over.
Bernadette farrell in Joyce Rupp. Fragments of Your Ancient Name: 365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation. Kindle Edition.