That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Philippians (page 1 of 3)

May Be Compared – Sermon for Proper 23A (Pentecost 19), October 15, 2017

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king . . . .”

This is an ugly parable that Matthew reports in today’s gospel. It is similar to a parable that is related in Luke’s gospel, but Matthew adds details that challenge us deeply, even to the core of our faith, to the center of our being as Christians. When Luke tells the story the host inviting his neighbors to dinner is not a king; he’s just “someone.” (Lk 14:15) When Luke’s host sends his servant to tell the intended guests that all is ready, they offer only excuses; no one “makes light” of the occasion and no one seizes, mistreats, or kills the slaves. (Mt 22:5-6) Luke’s host gets angry, but only Matthew’s king sends an army “destroy the murderers and burn their city.” (Mt 22:7) Both hosts send the slaves back out to invite others from the streets and highways; Luke’s dinner host adds an instruction specifically to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” (Lk 14:21) In both stories the banquet hall is filled, but only in Matthew’s story is there the judgment, not mentioned in Luke’s, that the substitute guests include “both good and bad.” (Mt 22:10) And, finally, Matthew’s Jesus adds the detail about the man present without the proper wedding garment who is thrown into the “outer darkness” (Mt 22:13) and that final warning, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14)

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The Ten Suggestions? – Sermon for Proper 22A (Pentecost 18), October 8, 2017

I’m wearing an orange stole today and a couple of you asked me on the way into church, “What season is orange?” Well, it’s not a seasonal stole … although I suppose we could say it commemorates the season of unregulated and out of control gun violence. A few years ago, a young woman named Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago; her friends began wearing orange, like hunters wear for safety, in her honor on her birthday in June. A couple of years ago, Bishops Against Gun Violence, an Episcopal group, became a co-sponsor of Wear Orange Day and some of us clergy here in Ohio decided to make and wear orange stoles on the following Sunday. Our decision got press notice and spread to clergy of several denominations all over the country.

Today, after what happened last Sunday in my hometown, I decided to wear my orange stole as a witness to my belief in the need for sensible, strict, and enforceable regulations on gun manufacture and sale, on gun ownership and use. But I am not going to preach about that; I did so after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, after the Mother Emmanuel church schooting in Charlotte, SC, after the Pulse dance club shooting in Orlando, FL. We talk about it and pray about it and preach about it after each incident and nothing changes and there’s nothing left to say. If we didn’t change things after the murders of children, after the murders of a bible study group, or after murders of people out nightclubbing, we aren’t going to change anything after 58 people get murdered (and one commits suicide) in Las Vegas. We just aren’t, and nothing I might say in a sermon will change that.

So . . .

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Authority: To Bend the Knee – Sermon for Proper 21A (1 October 2017)

Authority. The authority of Jesus Christ is what Paul writes about in the letter to the Philippians, in which he quotes a liturgical hymn sung in the early Christian communities:

At the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil. 2:10-11)

Jesus’ authority is also the subject of today’s Gospel lesson.

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Redemption: Drama in Three Acts (Sermon for Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, with the addition of a reading from the prophet Zechariah: at the Liturgy of the Palms: Zechariah 9:9-12; at the Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, and St. Matthew 21:1-11; following the distribution of Communion, St. Matthew 26:14-27:66. Most of these lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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Redemption is a drama in three acts – three acts and a brief intermission – today the prelude, the overture, an introduction encapsulating the story to be fleshed out as the action proceeds. Jesus and his companions enter the city of Jerusalem from the east while the Roman governor, Pilate, makes his annual procession into the city in pomp and circumstance from the west.

The crowds welcome Jesus, singing “Hosannas” (a Jewish word meaning “Save us, we pray!”). We can perhaps hear a chorus, as in the Greek theater, singing sentiments later put into writing by the English philosopher journalist G.K. Chesterton:

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

Jesus, eschewing pride and showing a different way, enters the city on a donkey.

Later in the week, Act One, Scene One – An upper room somewhere in Jerusalem.

In the first act, Jesus shares a Passover meal with his friends. He knows, although they seem not to, that this will be their last formal meal together. At supper he tries to explain to them what he believes is going to happen and how he hopes they’ll remember him. He uses bread and wine to make his point, but they don’t seem to understand. In fact, as the scene ends, they are arguing about their relative ranks! Who among them will be the greatest? The curtain falls on a frustrated rabbi.

Act One, Scene Two – the same upper room somewhere in Jerusalem.

Dinner is over, so Jesus tries something else. Taking on the role of a servant, he kneels down and washes their feet, but they still don’t get it. Later they would begin to understand; later they would re-enact Jesus’ actions and ponder them again and again, trying to more fully understand him. We, too, are pondering; we, too, grope for understanding.

Act One, Scene Three – a garden outside the city walls at Gethsemane.

Depressed and agonizing, feeling he has failed, knowing his actions of the past three years are leading inexorably to a final “showdown” with the political authorities, Jesus prays to be delivered from the inevitable. He asks his closest friends to stay awake with him, but they cannot. Falling asleep as he prays, they abandon him emotionally just as they will abandon him physically. Soldiers enter the scene led by one of Jesus’ own friends, Judas from the village of Kerioth. After a brief struggle in which a servant is injured, Jesus surrenders. His friends scatter and even deny knowing him. We hear the chorus sing more of Chesterton’s words:

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Act Two – another place outside the city, a hill called “the place of a skull.”

Jesus, struggling under the weight of a cross, staggers up the hill from the city to the summit. Once there, he is nailed to the cross he has dragged along the way. The crowd jeers, the soldiers mock, his friends (so few of them now) weep. Speaking from the cross as he dies, “Forgive them…. It is finished.” His friends take his body and seal it in a borrowed tomb. What more is there to do? It certainly seems to be the end. What more could possibly come after the death of the drama’s protagonist?

Intermission – another garden occupied by a sealed tomb.

The characters have all left. The stage is as bare and as silent as a grave. Is this intermission or has the drama concluded? The principal’s death certainly seems to have ended things! The silence of Holy Saturday is profound; it is palpable; it is pregnant with uncertainty. What does all that has come before mean? How can there possibly be anything more after this?

Act Three – the same garden, the tombstone rolled away.

What seemed to be a tragedy at the end of the second act turns out to be a comedy. The tomb is empty! There are angels where there should be mourners! There are only folded linens where there should be a body! Confusion mixes with relief, disbelief encounters faith, death is overcome by life. The joke is on the powers of evil, but what does it all mean? Many who have missed the first two acts of this drama arrive to see the end of the story, but can one truly appreciate the momentous conclusion without having lived through it all? Can one really get the punchline without hearing the whole story?

As the drama ends, Jesus’ friends and others who now believe are moving into the world, a world they will change, a world to which they will bring a message of love and a vision of peace. The chorus sings the last of Chesterton’s verses, a triumphant supplication to the conqueror of death:

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

The story of our Lord’s Resurrection, the story of redemption is a drama in three acts. Today, only the overture . . . don’t miss the whole story!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Daily Habits: Sermon for Holy Name Day, 1 January 2017

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 1, 2017, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are the second set of readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Holy Name Day in Year A: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Philippians 2:5-11; and St. Luke 2:15-21. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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holy_name_picToday on the secular calendar is New Year’s Day, but that’s not true in the church. We celebrated a new church year several weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent. In the church, January 1, being eight days after the Feast of the Incarnation, is the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ Jewishness. We call it, these days, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus; it was formerly called the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ because that is what Luke’s Gospel tells us was done. It was a very Jewish thing to do.

We sometimes forget (and there are people who would like to completely ignore) that Jesus was a Jew, a very devout and observant Jew. Apparently his parents were, as well. They had him circumcised on his eighth day of life in accordance with Leviticus 12:3. The ceremony is called a “bris milah” (which means “Covenant of Circumcision”):

While the circumcision is performed, the child is held by a person called a sandek. In English, this is often referred to as a godfather. It is an honor to be a sandek for a bris. The sandek is usually a grandparent or the family rabbi. Traditionally, a chair (often an ornate one) is set aside for Elijah, who is said to preside over all circumcisions. Various blessings are recited, including one over wine, and a drop of wine is placed in the child’s mouth. The child is then given a formal Hebrew name.

It is not necessary to have a minyan for a bris, but it is desirable if feasible. (Judaism 101)

It’s kind of disappointing that Luke doesn’t tell us who the sendak was or whether there was a minyan or (if there was) who the ten men were.

Luke does tell us that later, thirty-three days to be exact, Mary and Joseph took the child to the Jerusalem Temple where they made the mandatory sacrifice of two pigeons, since they were too poor to afford a lamb. We celebrate this event on February 2 in a feast called by some churches the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and by others the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. Luke tells us also that every year Mary and Joseph would go to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover; it was on one of these trips when Jesus was 12 years old that he was inadvertently left behind and was later found in learned conversation with the doctors of the Law. Luke tells us all of these things in the second chapter of his gospel.

What Luke, and to a lesser extent the other gospels, demonstrate is that Jesus came from a very devoted and observant Jewish family and that he himself continued that pattern throughout his life. He regularly attended synagogue services on the Sabbath. He prayed frequently. He commended observance of the Law and declared that “not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, [would] pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mt 5:18; cf Lk 16:17) In his devotion to his Jewish faith, what Jesus modeled and taught was the regular practice of religion, the cultivation of a habit of religious observance, a life of spiritual discipline.

But, we might think, Jesus was and is God! One would think that if anyone could take a pass on spiritual discipline, it would be God. However, as Paul writes in our selection from the letter to the Philippians this morning, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself.” (Philip 2:7-8) Part of his human humility was this habit of regular religious and spiritual practice.

Our gradual this morning speaks of human existence in terms that seem somewhat at odds with a sense of human humility:

What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet . . . . (Ps 8:5-7, BCP Version)

Whenever I read this psalm, my mind immediately skips to lines from William Shakespeare, to words spoken by the character Hamlet in Act II, Scene 2, of that play:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

I have always been certain that Shakespeare was glossing on Psalm 8.

The psalm, in our Prayer Book version, speaks of human mastery over creation; the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates this as “dominion.” The Hebrew word is mashal, which is sometimes translated as “authority.”

Presbyterian pastor and theologian Matthew Stith argues that our dominion or authority over the creation should “look like the loving stewardship,” though it seldom has (Stith). Episcopal theologian Elizabeth Webb makes the same point when she writes:

To be human is to be responsible for our fellow creatures, and we must take that responsibility with the utmost seriousness. * * * [A]t the same time that Psalm 8 recognizes our dominion, it also reminds us of our humility. We are each still that awestruck person gazing in wonderment at the stars. We bear the image of God; we are not God. Our finitude and fallibility must be kept in mind as we exercise our responsibility. We are also reminded that we are a part of the creation over which God has granted us dominion. We do not stand apart from our fellow creatures, but we stand with them. (Webb)

Perhaps this is why Shakespeare’s Hamlet does not stop where I ended quoting the character. Instead, he tells Guildenstern and Rosencrantz that “Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither” declaring humankind to be nothing more than the “quintessence of dust.”

And, yet, this is dust which God blesses. God instructed Moses to teach his brother Aaron the priest a particular blessing, one we heard in our reading from the Book of Numbers, one which I’m sure is familiar to all of us:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26)

This blessing is taught as part of the instructions for the Hebrews’ preparations for leaving Mt. Sinai where they have been camped for almost a year. This blessing is designated for their journey from Sinai to the land of promise; it was to be said daily throughout their journey.

Terence E. Fretheim, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, tells us that the climactic word of the benediction, shalom, has wide-ranging connotations. Citing Professor Dennis Olson’s commentary on the Book of Numbers, Fretheim says the richness of the word includes “prosperity (Psalm 37:11; Proverbs 3:2), longevity, happiness in a family (Psalm 128:6), safety, security (Psalm 4:9; 122:6-8), good health (Psalm 38:4), friendship (Jeremiah 38:22), and general well-being.” (Fretheim, quoting Olson, Numbers, [Louisville: John Knox, 1996] 42-43)

That the Aaronic blessing was to be said over the Jewish people daily brings us back to the teaching and model of Jesus put before us by Luke the Evangelist: a devout and observant Jew who cultivated the daily habit of spiritual and religious practice. Today, in this Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, this Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, we celebrate his Jewishness, his daily devotion to his faith. Today, as we celebrate our secular New Year, let us resolve to follow his example and renew in the coming year our own daily devotion to God. As you do so, everyday

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Amen!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Our Immigrant Lord: For the Parish Newsletter, December 2016

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A “Rector’s Reflection” offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston in the December 2016 issue of The Epistle, the newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

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thirstednot-jesusindesert2A few years ago I read an essay about the trials and tribulations of relocation, particularly from region to region within our country. In it the author made the comment that when relocating to the South, there were two invariably asked questions of the newcomer: “Who are your people?” and “Where do you go to church?” These, he said, are quintessentially Southern inquiries which serve to position the interrogated in a place’s social network and milieu. The assumptions, of course, are that no one would relocate to a town where they did not have “people” (i.e., family members) and that everyone goes to church somewhere.

I’m not sure, after making several regional locations myself, that those are only Southern questions. They seem to be universally asked, in one form or another, of newcomers to every American community. In fact, they may be quintessentially human questions asked around the world!

In 2005, when Evelyn and I made our first trip to Ireland, one of my goals was to find distant relatives, members of the Funston clan whose ancestors had stayed there when my great-great-grandfather had come to America. So we visited the places I believed he might have come from, the Funston township lands of Counties Donegal, Tyrone, and Fermanagh. During our stay in the city of Donegal we happened to visit a woolen goods store run by a delightful man named Sean McGinty. We entered the shop just as Sean was closing up for the day and he graciously stayed open so we could peruse his sweaters, tweeds, and other goods. Of course, that meant he was going to be late to dinner . . . and, as a result, his wife Mary came looking for him.

We’d been in conversation with Sean before Mary arrived and told him of my search for Funstons. He said he thought there might be some living in Pettigo, a small village on the border of County Donegal and County Fermanagh. When Mary came into the shop, he drew her into our conversation and asked her, “Mary, you’re from Pettigo. Were there any Funstons living there?” She thought for a moment and then replied, “Aye! But they weren’t our people.” I knew immediately what she meant: they weren’t members of the Catholic Church. And that would have been right! My ancestor was a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland and his descendants are still Anglicans!

So there were those same two concerns: “Who are your people?” and “Where do you go to church?” They are the questions still being asked of newcomers to our communities wherever we may be, whether we are in the South of the United States, in Ohio, or somewhere in Europe. As so many people are on the move because of war, political unrest, and economic necessity, as so many are labeled “immigrant” and “refugee,” they are increasingly divisive and exclusive questions.

“Who are your people?” . . . “Where do you worship?” . . . What is your ethnic background? . . . What is your religion? . . . Instead of being asked to position the newcomer within the social milieu of his or her new home, the questions and their answers too often lead to the erection of social barriers, sometimes even physical walls. Instead of being welcoming questions of inclusion, they are the defensive or belligerent interrogations of exclusion.

Recently in the Christian press, particularly those journals which cater to a more conservative audience, there has been a lot of discussion about the assertion that Jesus was an immigrant and refugee. It is a common enough hermeneutic drawn from the story of the Holy Innocents and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt as related in Matthew’s Gospel: “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matt 23:13 NRSV) It occurred to me that it may be a useful reminder that the Son of God was an immigrant from the very start, that he was not and is not a native resident of our world; he is from elsewhere, from heaven, from the very Throne of God.

As Dr. John Marshall, a Southern Baptist minister in Missouri, recently wrote: “Our Savior was an immigrant. He left His home in Heaven to become a stranger in the very world He created. There was no room for Him in the Bethlehem inn (Lk 2:7). He came to His own people, but they received Him not (Jn 1:11).” (Marshall) As we prepare once again to welcome him in the annual celebration of his Incarnation, we do well to remember that and to remember that he remained an immigrant and a refugee throughout his life.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, a land dominated by the Roman empire through a client ruler named Herod the Great. Apparently Mary, Joseph, and Jesus remained there for a couple of years before fleeing to Egypt where they lived until Herod died about four to six years after that. When they left Egypt, they returned not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth in Galilee, which was under the rule of Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee. Jesus grew up, then, as a resident of Galilee; when he undertook his ministry to Jerusalem (which is in Judea), although he was returning to the country of his birth, he was an immigrant into Judea.

Judea, by the way, during Jesus’ life and ministry was ruled not by a local king but directly by the Romans. Herod the Great was succeeded by his son Archelaus, who had the title of “Ethnarch of Judea.” Archelaus died less than ten years after succeeding his father. After his death, a series of Roman governors or “Prefects” ruled, the last of whom during Jesus’ life was Pontius Pilate.

In truth, Jesus spent most of his time on the move. Both Matthew and Luke report him saying to a potential follower, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt 8:20; Lk 9:58) Jesus was not a settled person and, interestingly enough, neither are his followers (us) supposed to be. This goes back to the Jewish roots of our faith, a reminder of which is found in the Torah’s instructions for eating the Passover feast: “You shall eat it [with] your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” (Ex 12:11) We are always to be ready to be on the move.

Our parish patron, St. Paul, takes up this theme in his letters. He reminded the Philippians that we are not to set our mind on earthly things because “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philip 3:19-20) And he promised the Ephesians that we are “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Eph 2:19) Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon expanded on this notion in their book Resident Aliens (Abingdon, 1989), arguing that today the church is not “a service club within a generally Christian culture,” but rather “a colony within an alien society.” (pg. 115)

How might this inform and shape our Advent preparations and our Christmas celebrations? What if we understood that we are not getting ready to welcome Jesus into our settled existence, our cozy homes and our warm hearths, our abundant feasts and our lovely dining rooms? Rather, we should be preparing for our immigrant Lord Jesus to invite us to join him on the road, to eat with him hastily consumed meals wearing our sandals and holding our walking sticks, to sleep with him in places where we have no place to put our heads. What might we do differently to get ready for the anniversary of his Incarnation and for his promised return? What might we do differently for all who, like him, are refugees and immigrants?

Who are our people? The people of God whoever they are and wherever they may be, temporarily settled in “a colony within an alien society” or on the road. Where do we worship? Wherever we find our Lord, in church, in a refugee camp, in places we cannot even imagine. Every year Advent and Christmas challenge us with what Hauerwas and Willimon call “the greatest challenge facing the church in any age” which is to be “a living, breathing, witnessing colony of truth.”

May that challenge be our blessing in 2016! May each of us, and all of us together, be living, breathing witnesses to the Truth!

(Note: The image is a digital painting by an internet blogger calling himself Horseman. I could find no further information about it or him.)
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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

What is Jesus up to? – Sermon for Palm Sunday (Yr C) – 20 March 2016

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A sermon offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are as follows:
At the Blessing and Distribution of the Palms: Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 118:1-2,19-29
At the Eucharist: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Psalm 31:9-16; and St. Luke 19:28-40
At the Reading of the Passion Narrative following Communion: St. Luke 22:14-23:56
Most of these lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Jesus Triumphal EntryWhat is Jesus up to? Why is he doing this?

Many of us are old enough to remember when the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar made their first appearances. I wasn’t that big a fan of Godspell, but I really liked Superstar … and one of my favorite songs from it is Hosanna sung as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the scene which today specifically commemorates.

In Superstar, as in the Bible, as Jesus makes his way into the city, the crowds sing “Hosanna”. Unlike the biblical text, the hosannas sung in Superstar are a refrain for a duet, a musical conversation between Caiaphas, the high priest, and Jesus. In each iteration of the refrain, one line is changed. The first time, the crowd sings “Hey, JC, JC, won’t you smile at me.” The second time, “Hey JC, JC you’re alright by me.” The third, “Hey JC, JC won’t you fight for me?” And finally, “Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?” These one-line changes in the hosanna refrain foreshadow the progress of Holy Week and the events leading to Good Friday and the cross. There’s a sermon in that, but not the one I want to offer you today.

Today, I want to focus not on what the crowd is singing but on what Jesus is saying by what he does and what he says. Listen to the words Caiaphas says to Jesus in the Superstar song:

Tell the rabble to be quiet,
we anticipate a riot.
This common crowd,
is much too loud.
Tell the mob who sing your song
that they are fools and they are wrong.
They are a curse.
They should disperse.

Tim Rice, the lyricist of Superstar, is elaborating here on the Lukan text: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.'” (Luke does not identify the speaker as the high priest Caiaphas; that is artistic license on the playwrights’ part.) Jesus’ reply, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out,” is rendered by lyricist Rice in this way:

Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue were stilled
The noise would still continue.
The rocks and stone themselves would start to sing.

This conversation gives us a clue as to Jesus’ intent, his motive for doing what he did on that day riding into Jerusalem.

Way back in Jewish history, Joshua the son of Nun, the successor of Moses, when he led the people of Israel into the promised land swore them to their covenant with God and he had his men set up a stone monument as a testimony to the covenant. He said to the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” (Josh. 24:27) Later, the prophet Habakkuk condemned the ruling classes, the conquerors of nations who, in his colorful and disturbing words, “build towns by bloodshed.” (Hab 2:12) In his prophecy, Habakkuk proclaimed: “The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” (Hab 2:13)

Jesus was recalling these ancient words, the covenant promise of Joshua and the justice prophecy of Habakkuk, when he said to the complaining Pharisees, “The stones would shout out.” They claimed to be the guardians of the covenant and they were the ruling class of their day, trained in the Law of Moses and the history of their people, and they knew what Jesus was saying.

They knew, too, what Jesus had done riding into the city on a donkey’s colt. He was acting out the prophecy of Zechariah: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was making a bold statement of his identity, a claim that could not be ignored. He was staking his claim on the kingship of Israel, on the role of the one who sits in judgment of the injustice against which the stones cry out and the plaster on the walls responds. He was telling them in no uncertain terms that they, the ruling class of his day, had built their empire by bloodshed.

That is what Jesus was up to then . . . and it is what Jesus is up to now! When the church re-enacts this drama each year, when we read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when we wave our palms and sing our hosannas, we who “are the body of Christ and individually members of it” are making the same prophetic claim. We are saying to the ruling elites of our day that the rules by which they profit and benefit are unjust, that the society over which they preside is an empire built by bloodshed, that the stones are crying out from the wall, and the plaster is responding from the woodwork, that God’s creation is bearing witness against them.

And in one of those twists of meaning that God frequently pulls on us, we recognize that even as we “are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” even as we are both Jesus riding into Jerusalem and the crowds, the stones, crying out for justice . . . we are also the ruling elites against whom we cry. It is our own unjust acts, our own oppression of others, our own sinful exploitations that we are prophetically protesting.

If we do not understand that, if we do not appreciate that that is what we are saying and doing, then our Palm Sunday liturgy is hollow and meaningless. If what we are doing is not a reiteration of Jesus’ message, not a repetition of the prophecy he enacted and proclaimed, then what we are doing is a mockery of his life, his ministry, and his self-sacrifice. If in our waving of palms and singing of hosannas we are not proclaiming his gospel, if we are not announcing “good news to the poor . . . release to the captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind [and freedom to] the oppressed” (Lk 4:18), then all that we do today and during this Holy Week is nothing more than a burlesque, a charade, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)

But . . . but . . . I do not believe that it is. I believe that what we do bears witness to the truth of the gospel story, that what we do makes a difference in the world in which we live. I believe that what we do proclaims to the powers of this world the almighty power of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that when we wave our palms and sing our hosannas we are, like the prophet Isaiah, standing up and saying, “Who will contend with [us]? Let us stand up together. Who are [our] adversaries? Let them confront [us]. It is the Lord God who helps [us]; who will declare [us] guilty?” (Is 50:9)

We are proclaiming to the powers of this world, even (or even especially) those that reside within us, that they are defeated, that “in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are saying, “Our God reigns!” and that “in Christ God [has] reconcile[ed] the world to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:18)

That’s what Jesus is up to! That’s what we are up to!

At the end of the Hosanna! song in Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus sings to the crowd:

Sing me your songs,
But not for me alone.
Sing out for yourselves,
For you are bless-ed.
There is not one of you
Who cannot win the kingdom.
The slow, the suffering,
The quick, the dead.

So wave your palms! Sing your hosannas! Be the stones who cry out judgment against the ruling elites! Be the plaster that answers from the woodwork! Be ambassadors for Christ! Be the voices of God’s ministry of reconciliation! Be the righteousness of God! (2 Cor 5) For there is not one of you who cannot win the kingdom! Amen!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Forgive Us Our Sins: Third of a Series – Sermon for Advent 3 (13 December 2015)

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A sermon offered on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9 [Isaiah 12:2-6]; Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:7-18. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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derrystatueJohn the Baptizer came, Luke tells us, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Lk. 3:3) In today’s Gospel lesson, John tells the crowds who came to him, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (v. 8) Our catechism teaches us that repentance is required of us to receive the Sacraments. With regard to baptism, the catechetical requirement is that we “renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior;” with regard to the Holy Eucharist, that we “examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.” (BCP 858, 860) But John’s admonition and the Catechism’s requirements leave us wondering, “What exactly is ‘repentance’?”

It is something more than mere acknowledgment of transgression or wrong-doing, more than saying I’m sorry. The biblical and theological word for repentance is metanoia, which means a “turning around” or a changing of direction. We get a hint of this meaning in the invitation to confession used in earlier Anglican prayer books and still found in Rite One in our current Book of Common Prayer:

Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith . . . . (BCP 330)

To repent is to turn from our path onto God’s “holy ways” and “lead a new life.”

John’s audience clearly knew that some amendment of life was part of what he was calling them to, for “the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?'” (Lk 3:10) His answers probably seem to us pretty common-sensical: share what you have, don’t take more than you deserve, don’t extort money, don’t make false accusations, be satisfied with your wages. That’s pretty much what the old prayer book invitation to confession said, too: follow the commandments, follow God’s ways, be on good terms with your neighbors. It’s common sense; it’s hard to do!

That’s why Jesus taught us to seek forgiveness, to repent every time we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Which brings us to this, the next petition in our consideration of the Lord’s Prayer.

Now the truth is that hundreds if not thousands of books of several hundred pages each have been written about the Lord’s Prayer, and hundreds of those books are specifically about this petition, and only this petition. Perhaps that is because sin, the subject of this part of the prayer, is so fascinating. Perhaps it is because of the difference in terminology used by Luke and Matthew; Luke uses the Greek word hamartia, usually translated as “sin” although it actually means something else, while Matthew uses opheilemata, usually translated as “debt” which is pretty accurate, and neither uses the word which means “trespass,” which is paraptoma, a word found in Matthew’s follow-up commentary on the prayer, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Mt. 6:14) “Trespass” made its way into the older liturgical version of the prayer because of the early English translation work of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale in the 15th Century.

So what do these two words tell us about sin? By the way, the English word “sin” comes from an old Germanic word meaning a failure to obey a rule and carries an inference of moral guilt; neither of the Greek words derives from anything like that. Hamartia comes from the sport of archery and means “to miss the mark”; opheilemata comes from business accounting and means a monetary debt. (The word meaning “forgive,” aphes, also comes from accounting and means cancelation of a debt.)

Bible commentator William Barclay, in his book The Lord’s Prayer (Westminster John Knox, Louisville:1998) explains hamartia this way:

Harmartia was not originally an ethical word; originally it meant quite simply a missing of the mark, as when a javelin, or an arrow, or a blow misses its mark. In this sense, sin is a failure to hit the mark, a failure to realize the true aim of life, a failure to be and to do that which we ought to have done, and which we could have been and could have done. (p. 86)

And of opheilemata he writes that Matthew was directly translating an accounting metaphor used by Aramaic speaking rabbis of Jesus’ time, probably the very word that Jesus used in his original teaching:

Now in the time of Jesus in Palestine the rabbis thought of sin almost exclusively as a failure in obedience to God. To them goodness was obedience, sin was disobedience. This is to say that man’s first obligation is to give God obedience; not to give obedience to God is to be in debt to God; and therefore their commonest word for sins was choba’, which in fact means debt. (p. 86)

Neither of the Greek terms necessarily carries a connotation of moral culpability. Certainly there are times when a person commits an intentional act which misses the mark of moral or ethical behavior, but there are many more times when we miss the mark because, like a trained archer, we aim carefully to do the right thing and then miss. Certainly there are times when a person intentionally fails to pay a debt, an unethical and perhaps even criminal thing to do, but there are many more times when we incur indebtedness because we have blundered or slipped through inadvertence.

These Greek words remind us that sinfulness is not about breaking rules; sinfulness is about harming relationships. This is why the great existentialist theologian Paul Tillich insisted that “sin does not mean an immoral act;” he suggested “that ‘sin’ should never be used in the plural, and that not our sins, but rather our sin is the great, all-pervading problem of our life.” (Quoted in Killen, R. Allan, The Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich, J. H. Kok, Kampen:1956, p. 185) That problem, he said, is separation: “To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation.” (Tillich, Systematic Theology, 2:46)

Thus the state of our whole life is estrangement from others and ourselves, because we are estranged from the Ground of our being, because we are estranged from the origin and aim of our life. And we do not know where we have come from, or where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth; but our ears are closed. We feel that something radical, total, and unconditioned is demanded of us; but we rebel against it, try to escape its urgency, and will not accept its promise. (Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, Chapter 19: You Are Accepted.)

In trying to make that urgent escape, we stumble. We say the wrong thing, or perhaps the right thing in a wrong way, or we hear what another says differently than that other intended, and we both incur the debt of explanation. We do something we shouldn’t do or fail to do something we should; we miss the mark. We blunder off the path, transgress a boundary, and put things out of balance. We may not break any rule, but we hurt feelings and damage relationships. We exacerbate the sin of separation and increase our estrangement from ourselves, from others, and from God. Sin is not about breaking rules; sin is about harming relationships. Sin is separation.

God’s forgiveness, aphes, the cancellation of any debt, balances the books, moves the arrow from wherever it went astray and counts it a bull’s-eye. This is the promise of God set out by Zephaniah in today’s Old Testament lesson: “I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. . . . . I will change [your] shame into praise . . . .” (Zeph. 3:18-19) God’s forgiveness sets the pattern for our own; we are able to forgive others because we know that we are forgiven. So Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” in our liturgical version. “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Lk 11:4) is how Luke renders it; “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt 6:12) is Matthew’s version.

Mark, of course, does not tell us about Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer, but he does tell us that on the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he instructed his disciples about the power of prayer and in that teaching said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mk 11:25) In March of 2014, Pope Francis preached a homily on the feeding of the 5,000 in which he said this: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” It’s an insight that applies to this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, as well: “You pray for forgiveness. Then you forgive. That’s how prayer works.”

Last week, on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Facebook page, he posted a picture of a statue erected in Derry, Northern Ireland, of two men reaching across a wide gap and reaching for each other’s hand. The Archbishop’s caption for the photograph said,

Reconciliation is about our relationship with God and with each other. It’s people, communities and nations learning to live together with deeply-held differences in a spirit of love and respect. It’s working for justice and seeking truth in the light of God’s mercy and peace. It’s the very heart of the gospel.

Forgiveness is the first step of reconciliation; together, forgiveness and reconciliation are chief among the fruits of repentance John the Baptizer admonished his hearers, and us, to bear.

There is so much more that could be said about this petition! Hundreds of books of hundreds of pages have been written about it. Please forgive me for only scratching the surface.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread: Second of a Series – Sermon for Advent 2 (6 December 2015)

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A sermon offered on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16 [Luke 1: 68-79]; Philippians 1:3-11; and Luke 3:1-6. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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bread_1863824cIt’s the Second Sunday of Advent so according to our lectionary tradition, we hear the words of John the Baptizer, the voice of one crying in the desert, calling us to clean up the roadways and build a straight path for God’s coming. We are all familiar with the Baptizer. He’s some sort of cousin of Jesus. He’s a bit of a wild man; he lives in the wilderness wearing rough clothing and eating only what foods he can pick from desert plants and animals, “locusts and wild honey” is the way the evangelists put it. This year we hear Luke’s version of John’s story.

Later in his gospel story, Luke relates a tale of Jesus angrily denouncing the leadership in the towns of Galilee who refused to listen either to the Baptizer or to Jesus. Jesus says to them: “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard….’” (Lk 7:33-34) John refused to eat bread, but for Jesus bread is an important element of his ministry; he even taught us to pray for it. So, today, we continue our examination of the Lord’s Prayer with the next petition: “Give us today our daily bread.”

Why do you suppose John refused to eat this staple food that Jesus found so important? There are two related reasons. The first is that bread and wine are processed foods associated with settled communities; for John, as for many prophets, the settled communities were places of corruption. John would have nothing to do with corrupt society and bread, for him, was a symbol of that society.

Luke tells us very clearly in political terms when John appeared on the scene. He situates the advent of the Baptizer and his revelation in the temporal context of the native ruler Herod, the local but foreign governor Pilate, and the final authority who sits above all, Tiberius. Our translation says it was during the “reign” of Tiberius, the “governorship” of Pilate, and the “rule” of Herod. However, the word Luke uses for Herod’s dominion is “tetrarchy” and for both Pilate’s and Tiberius’s governance, his word is “hegemony” (hegemoneuo and hegemonia, respectively). “Tetrarchy” refers to the fact that imperial Rome had divided Palestine into four arbitrarily defined regions and imposed on them the rule of puppet kings. “Hegemony” denotes a kind of imperial governance in which political domination is maintained by military force. In other words, Luke describes the very sort of corrupt and unjust political society that John eschewed and symbolically rejected by his refusal to eat bread.

John’s prophetic message is a call to build a straight, level, and smooth road for God, but as the scribe Baruch points out that road will be a two-way street. As Baruch puts it, “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” On that road, says Baruch, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” In other words, the justice which John found lacking in settled communities and in the hegemonic domination of imperial Rome will be found on the road prepared in the desert.

The second, related reason that John will not eat bread has to do with ritual impurity. The Jewish Virtual Library’s commentary on the Baptizer tells us, “The reference to John not eating bread or wine probably indicates that John preferred to eat foods that had not been processed by human hands and would not therefore be susceptible to impurity. For this same reason John was said to have eaten locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4), both of which were regarded by his fellow Jews as pure items of food.”

In many ways, John and Jesus were polar opposites. They seem to have had the same goal, the restoration of justice and righteousness in Israel, but their approaches were very different. If John was overly fastidious about ritual purity, Jesus doesn’t seem to have given a hoot about it! He regularly dined with tax collectors and outcasts, allowed prostitutes to touch him, touched dead bodies, conversed with gentile women, and allowed his disciples to eat without washing their hands (and presumably did the same himself). He just doesn’t seem to have cared much about the purity laws.

But Jesus did care about justice and for Jesus that is precisely what bread represents. If bread was John’s symbol for corrupt and unjust hegemony, for Jesus bread is the sign and symbol of divine righteousness and justice. He would even say of himself that he is “the bread of God . . . which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world;” “I am the bread of life.” (Jn 6:33,48)

I believe that a poem by the anti-Nazi poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht would have resonated for Jesus; it is entitled The Bread of the People:

Justice is the bread of the people
Sometimes is plentiful, sometimes it is scarce
Sometimes it tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad.
When the bread is scarce, there is hunger.
When the bread is bad, there is discontent.

Throw away the bad justice
Baked without love, kneaded without knowledge!
Justice without flavour, with a grey crust
The stale justice which comes too late!

If the bread is good and plentiful
The rest of the meal can be excused.
One cannot have plenty of everything all at once.
Nourished by the bread of justice
The work can be achieved
From which plenty comes.

As daily bread is necessary
So is daily justice.
It is even necessary several times a day.

From morning till night, at work, enjoying oneself.
At work which is an enjoyment.
In hard times and in happy times
The people requires the plentiful, wholesome
Daily bread of justice.

Since the bread of justice, then, is so important
Who, friends, shall bake it?

Who bakes the other bread?

Like the other bread
The bread of justice must be baked
By the people.

Plentiful, wholesome, daily.

“The bread of justice must be baked by the people” just as the road in the desert, the straight, level, smooth road of justice and righteousness must be cleared and built by God’s people.

Jesus taught us to pray for this bread, the bread of justice, daily in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” This is a petition for more than food, for more than nourishment.

There is, hidden in this petition, one of the strangest words in the New Testament. It is the word which our English bibles translate as “daily” although it doesn’t actually mean that. It is translated that way because, in all honesty, no one is exactly sure what it means. The word, in Greek, is epiousion; it is a compound word made up of a root meaning “substance” or “being” (ousion) and a prefix meaning “over” or “above” (epi). It is what linguistics scholars call a hapax legomenon, “something said only once.” The word epiousion appears only in the New Testament Gospels, and only in this line of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded by both Luke and Matthew.

What is it meant to convey? No one knows. The Gospel writers were reporting in Greek something Jesus said probably in Aramaic, but no scholar has ever been able to suggest an Aramaic original. Translating the Greek backwards into Aramaic yields no intelligible clue. When the first translators of the Scriptures from Greek into Latin undertook their task, being ignorant of the word’s actual meaning (whatever it may be), they took a hint from the words just before it in the text – “this day” in Matthew, “each day” in Luke – and rendered it as quotidian, which means “daily”. And thus it entered the liturgical rendition of the prayer known to us.

St. Jerome, however, when he undertook his new translation into Latin, refused to guess. He simply rendered the Greek into equivalent Latin, creating the term supersubstantialem, “supersubstantial”. “Give us today our supersubstantial bread.” Whatever do you suppose that might be?

Even though he refused to translate it, St. Jerome had two suggestions for how to understand it. First he suggested “that it means ‘for tomorrow’ so that the meaning here is ‘give us this day our bread for tomorrow’ that is, for the future.” (Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11) In this sense, this petition could be understood as a prayer for God’s abundance. Jerome’s second suggestion is that it means that “bread which is above all substances and surpasses all creatures.” (Ibid.) He seems particularly to have had in mind the Holy Eucharist.

Now I would make no claim to greater scholarship than St. Jerome, but I do want to suggest another connection that may have been there for Jesus, and that is the bread of the Passover feast, the Seder. Among some Jews today, during the ritual of the unleavened bread or matzah, each person is invited to hold a piece of matzah. The leader of the ritual says: “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” Then in silence all break their matzot in half and they listen to the sound of the bread of affliction cracking open. All then say together:

May our eyes be open to each other’s pain.
May our ears be open to each other’s cries.
May we live with greater awareness.
May we practice greater forgiveness.
And may we go forward as free people
able to respond to ourselves and to each other
with compassion, wonderment, appreciation, and love.

All of the broken matzah are put together on a single plate and the prayer continues:

Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in need join us in this Festival of Liberation.
May each of us, may all of us, find our homes.
May each of us, may all of us, be free.

In this ritual of the Seder, the matzah is understood to be changed. It ceases to be the bread of affliction and is transformed into the bread of hope, courage, faith, and possibility. The bread of affliction becomes something greater than it was, something above its original being, something more than its original substance; it becomes the bread of justice.

This, I suggest, is what Jesus taught us to pray for on a daily basis, the bread of affliction transformed into more than its original substance, something greater than its original being, the supersubstantial bread of justice.

Just as the road in the desert, the straight, level, smooth road of justice and righteousness called for by the Baptizer must be cleared and built by God’s people, so “the bread of justice must be baked by the people.” That for which Jesus teaches us to pray each day, we must do the hard work of creating: hope and courage, faith and possibility, righteousness and justice.

Give us today our daily bread. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Your Own – From the Daily Office Lectionary

Your own.

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 18, Year 1 (Pentecost 15, 2015)

Philippians 2:12-13 ~ 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; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” I often forget that Paul wrote those words. Many people forget that Paul wrote those words. They need to be better known and better remembered, with special emphasis on the third and fourth words – your own!

Too many people who call themselves Christians are much too concerned with working out other people’s salvation, too busy judging the way others live their lives and doing too little to amend their own. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I suppose focusing on someone else’s peccadilloes is a way to avoid the fear and trembling we would experience were we to face our own gross iniquities. As I prepared my sermon for last Sunday, I was reminded of Jesus’ admonition: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Mt 7:5) “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Your own.

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