Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Matthew 5:20-26 may be viewed as an explanation of an earlier verse. In St. Matthew 5:17, Jesus says: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. These words of our Lord proclaim the enduring value of the old covenant. Christ does not destroy the Old Testament; He fulfills it. He fulfills it by obeying it perfectly and by applying it in a deeper way. Our passage for this Sunday indicates how this is true with the command not to murder. The command still stands, but people need to be aware that more than physical murder is implied. Deliberate humiliation of another or anything that destroys the value of another human life is also contrary to the commandment.

Unfortunately, from New Testament times onward, some professed Christians have not respected the true value of the Hebrew covenant. That was true at the time of the Reformation, and thus, Anglican Article of Religion VII was put forth to defend the value of the Old Testament.

VII. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

In the way that they have been deepened by Christ, the spiritual and moral implications of the Hebrew covenant are still a guide for Christians. We live in an age of relativism, antinomianism and revisionism. Some so-called Christians deliberately reject eternal moral principles, and even some sincere believers fail to appreciate the value of the Old Testament. Today's Gospel is a reminder that Christ does not destroy the Law and the Prophets. Christians are not bound by the minute details of Hebrew jurisprudence and ceremonial, but the spiritual and moral principles revealed by God in the Old Testament apply throughout human history. They apply in our lives.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

St. James the Apostle- 25 July

James the Apostle was the elder brother of the Apostle John and is sometimes called James the Greater. James is a British form of the common biblical name Jacob or "Iakobos." This James was among the first followers of Jesus (St. Matthew 4:21); he was also part of the inner group of disciples present at the Transfiguration (St. Matthew 17:1) and near Christ in Gethsemene (St. Matthew 26:37). He was among the Eleven Apostles who encountered the risen Christ, and he is mentioned in the list of those present after the Ascension (Acts 1:13). Although at one point James had hoped for earthly honors (St. Matthew 20:20-23), he was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Gospel (Acts 12:2).

The Collect:
Grant, O merciful God, that, as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient unto the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him; so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 5:1-11 elaborates on Christ's call of the Galilean fishermen, Simon Peter in particular. After teaching the crowds from Simon's ship, Jesus tells the reluctant Simon where to find fish. Simon is then so amazed by the miraculous "draught of fishes" that he becomes fearful. He realizes that Jesus embodies a powerful holy presence, and this causes Simon to recognize his own human sinfulness. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (St. Luke 5:8). Our Lord is not put off by such professions of unworthiness. He tells Simon that he will become a new kind of fisherman; he will catch men (5:10). Whereupon Simon and his companions James and John leave their ships to follow Jesus (5:11).

Of course, this Gospel tells of a unique historical event. It tells us about Peter, along with James and John, recognizing the divine power at work in Jesus. These fishermen have a deep awareness of their own unworthiness, but they also hear and accept Christ's call to follow Him in His mission and ministry.

Although we are in much different historical and personal situations, the same dynamic can be applied to our encounters with Jesus Christ. First, we must recognize the holy power that has worked and is working through Christ. As we do so, we become more aware of our human sinfulness and unworthiness. It is appropriate for human beings to be somewhat fearful before God as we recognize our failings. Yet such reverence does not mean that we are to retreat or do nothing. So secondly, even as we become more aware of our own unworthiness, we hear Christ calling us to service. In whatever way He chooses to use us, we are asked to help bring other people to Him. Thirdly, as we hear His call, we must respond. Whenever we encounter Him and hear Him, we can not ignore Him. Sometimes we might remain in the same external surroundings, and sometimes we may have to move on to another place. In either case, in our hearts, minds and souls, we must make a break. We must forsake some aspects of our previous life in order to follow and assist in His work in this world.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St. Mary Magdalene- 22 July

St. Mary Magdalene is a biblical saint who has sometimes been neglected while at other times she has been the subject of extravagant and even heretical legends and literature. The New Testament evidence that is clearly about her is simple but important. She was one of several women named Mary (Maria, Maryam or Miriam). Christ healed her from demonic afflictions (St. Luke 8:2), she became a loyal supporter (St. Luke 8:3), was present at the Crucifixion (St. Mark 15:40), was one of the first witnesses at the empty tomb (St. Mark 16:1; St. Matthew 28:1; St. John 20:1-2) and was the first witness who encountered the risen Lord (St. John 20:11-18).

Anything else about her is legendary or speculative. Second or third century Gnostic accounts and early medieval French legends are very unlikely, unbelievable and based on various ulterior motives. The Eastern Orthodox tradition that Mary Magdalene eventually accompanied the Apostle John and the Virgin Mary to Ephesus is plausible but lacks early written documentation.

Although not in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer or the 1928 American version, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer includes this feast, as does the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637. The 1962 Canadian Book includes an excellent collect and gospel that refer to her importance in the Scriptures.


O Almighty God, whose blessed Son did sanctify Mary Magdalene, and call her to be a witness to his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by thy grace we may be healed of all our infirmities, and always serve thee in the power of his endless life; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

THE GOSPEL: St John 20. 11.

Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday is from St. Luke 6:36-42. These verses are from a section of the Gospel that is sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain, St. Luke's parallel to the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, our Lord speaks about being merciful, about not being judgmental toward other people and about forgiving others. Such virtues are central elements of living a Christ-like life, yet they do not come easily to most of us most of the time. They must be deliberately pursued, cultivated and empowered by the grace of God. And even when people pursue these virtues, we do not always pursue them wisely. Especially in our day and age, human beings spout a lot of nonsense about not judging. Some people seem to think that Christians can not even rebuke sin since diagnosing sin is a kind of practical judgment.

In reality, human life is impossible without certain kinds of practical judgments. Each day, we must make some judgments about people and about moral behavior. Survival would be impossible if we did not make certain judgments. Trusting the wrong people in the wrong circumstances can be dangerous and even fatal. Trusting the right people in the right circumstances is not only useful but is also part of loving family and friends. And sometimes, warning others to avoid sin or repent of their sins is actually an expression of mercy. In the Gospels, Christ encourages us to be wise and to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing. He also calls upon His followers to rebuke sin and preach repentance.

So Christ's warning about not judging others must be interpreted in a reasonable manner. What does our Lord mean by "judge not"? In this sense, not judging means that we recognize the limits of our human competence. Some judgments concerning other people are often necessary, but they are always tentative and partial; they are never infallible. Even when we try to be perceptive, we can only look at externals. We do not ultimately judge souls; we make decisions about behavior. And even in such decisions, we must always humbly recognize our tendencies to be hypocritical. That is, as fallen human beings, we are likely to condemn others for faults that we also have- maybe we even have some faults in greater proportions than our brothers and sisters.

In conclusion, being merciful, not being judgmental and forgiving others are central virtues in a Christian life. Applying these virtues does not mean moral indifference or having low standards. On the contrary, living by these virtues means embodying high standards and having high expectations for ourselves and others. At the same time that we promote high standards, however, we humbly acknowledge our human weakness and the need that we and others have for divine mercy and grace.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Third Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 15:1- 10 illustrates the importance of grace and repentance by two brief parables: the lost sheep and the lost coin. Human beings are generally concerned about what they lose. Thus, a shepherd who loses one sheep out of a hundred and a housewife who loses one coin out of ten look hard in order to recover whatever has been lost. And when they do recover the lost item, they rejoice greatly. The parables present the divine attitude toward sinners as being similar. Our heavenly Lord is concerned over the loss of any soul, no matter how insignificant that person might seem to the world. He keeps searching for the lost, and He rejoices over every soul recovered.

These parables apply to us in two ways. First, we all belong to God, and we have been, may still be or may be at some future point among the lost that God seeks to recover. Each of us has great value to God, and He seeks us out. If we are among the faithful, then we have benefitted from God's amazing grace, and we should remain grateful that we "once were lost but now are found." If not yet among the faithful, we should be aware of and appreciate God's desire to recover us. Secondly, the parables apply to us as Christians in our mission to be instruments of God's work in the world. We should share a desire to recover all the lost and return them to God, their rightful owner. Joining in God's search for the lost is one of the great privileges and duties of the Christian life.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Second Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from the St. Luke 14:16-24 is one of several parables about the Messianic feast or banquet. The host invited many people and prepared a great meal, but when it was time for the party, the invitees started coming up with excuses. Their excuses were not implausible; they reflected important things that can come up in life. However, central points are that those first invited did not appreciate what they were offered and that they did not respect their host. The parable warns that people with such priorities will be excluded and that the host will have his servants go out into the streets to invite all sorts of people to the feast.

Of course, we can look at this parable in terms of the New Testament period where we see two distinct applications. 1) The first invitees can be seen as the observant Jews of various perspectives who did not accept Jesus while many less reputable Jews responded to His ministry. 2) The first invitees can be seen as the majority of the Jewish people who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah while many Gentiles accepted Him and His Gospel and streamed into the Church.

A similar dynamic can be seen throughout church history. There is a tendency for many people with good religious backgrounds to fail to appreciate what God offers in Christ and to make excuses while many people of less desirable backgrounds are moved to come into the Church and enjoy the spiritual feast. In our time more than ever, some people from respectable Christian backgrounds do not appreciate what they are offered while some people who have pagan or secular backgrounds respond to the Gospel with an active faith and commitment.

Regardless of our personal backgrounds, we all need to consider God's invitation. Our Lord offers us the great feast of living in His presence forever. We must not take His offer for granted; we must not allow other things in life- no matter how legitimate those things may be in themselves- to distract us from what God offers. As in our parable, work and family can be laudable pursuits, but they are not more important than God's invitation to come to Him and enjoy His spiritual fellowship. Among all the things that are part of life, there are many that are good, but God's call must always be our first priority.