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, August 27, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Luke 19:41-47) consists of two events: Christ's lament over Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. In the first, Jesus points out that Jerusalem and its people do not know what leads to true peace. And this is not merely a lack of awareness, it is a willful rejection. In His ministry, He has tried to get through to them but they have stubbornly refused to heed Him.

In the second event, Jesus goes into the Temple, comments on the corruption and temporarily chases out the moneychangers. Of course, this action is very important, but it is mainly a symbolic illustration of the cleansing that is needed. The general stubbornness of the city of Jerusalem is amplified among the elite who profit from the religious establishment. The Temple which was created for lofty purposes has been defiled by the self-centered greed of the leaders.

The writer Luke puts these two events in sequence, and thereby suggests that they also have a thematic connection. Both point to the stubborn blindness of people who think that they have all the answers while they continue in their sinful ways. The people of Jerusalem and the Temple leadership had a false sense of security. They depended upon their religious heritage even though they did not live according to the values of that heritage. They failed to see that the historical process would bring divine judgment upon them if they did not repent. So they rejected Jesus and His spiritual ways. They continued to play power politics with the Romans and with revolutionaries. And within a generation, Jerusalem was destroyed.

This historical reality speaks of dynamics that still apply. All too often Christian people and church leaders have been like the people of Jerusalem and the Temple leaders. In modern America, some people have a false sense of security because we have a great religious and moral heritage. But a great heritage demands an appropriate response. We must truly know the things that make for peace. We must live by the values of our Christian heritage- values that respect God, life and morality-, and if we do not live by these values, then the processes of nature and history bring judgment upon our society.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 15:11-32 is well known. In fact, it might be so well known that we overlook its depth of meaning. This passage has often been called "the parable of the prodigal son," and the wasteful son surely is an important character. He is an example of all of us who abuse our birthright, run away from God, eventually come to our senses and return to our heavenly Father in repentance.
The other son is also an important example. He seems to be mature, dutiful and disciplined, but as some commentators or preachers have rightly pointed out, he is also self-righteous and needs to repent in a different way. No doubt, we can sometimes see ourselves in this example as well. Even the most dutiful of God's children still has reason to repent.

Yet, although both sons are important and although we should examine our lives with reference to their examples, the key character in the parable is the forgiving father. It is the Father who exemplifies the qualities of God the Father. He cares for both sons. He respects their freedom and allows them to develop in their individual ways. He gives them guidance and sustenance, and He is saddened when they misunderstand Him, make mistakes and drift away from Him in their different ways. Nevertheless, His love endures and is ready to express itself when one of His children repents and returns in humility. In His graciousness, He is ready to rejoice and have a feast when the penitent returns. We all have such a loving, gracious and forgiving Father; let us arise and go to Him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Matthew 7:15-21) is from the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Christ warns about a serious danger for the faithful: hypocritical leaders. Of course, any kind of deception can have dangers, but deceptive religious leaders endanger souls in unique and subtle ways. False prophets look good at first glance, but given the opportunity, they can devour the very souls of their followers. Despite initial appearances, these leaders do not bear good fruit. They may profess religion, but they do not do God's will.

There have been many examples of such false prophets throughout history. In Old Testament times, various priests and prophets promoted false religion. Some urged the Israelites to blend with the practices of their pagan neighbors; others promised that all would be well for Israel or Judah no matter what their moral condition. In New Testament, there was also much false religion. The official Judean religious establishment compromised their standards but claimed that all would be well as long as they cooperated with the Roman Empire. At the other extreme, militant prophets and pseudo-messiahs claimed that all would be well as long as people accepted their leadership for rebellion against Rome.

Similar tendencies have continued through the centuries of Christianity. Both establishment and anti-establishment religious leaders have promoted themselves while devouring Christ's flock in various ways. The same continues in our time. For example, there are liberal Christian leaders who can put on impressive displays while they ignore or oppose Biblical standards. There are various conservative leaders who indulge themselves and do not even try to practice what they preach. There are various religious extremists who invent new beliefs to gain followers that they lead into disappointment or even despair.

So the danger of false prophets is still with us. This means that we must beware. We can not expect human leaders to be perfect, but we must look at their fruits. These fruits include spiritual, doctrinal and moral aspects. Religious leaders who truly follow Christ are not necessarily those who have great titles or make loud claims. They are those who bear Christ-like fruits.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity is from St. Mark 8:1-9. This is one of several gospel accounts of feeding the multitudes (there are two similar accounts in St. Mark). Christ notes His compassion toward the physical hunger of crowds (8:2). Later in the same chapter (8:14-21), our Lord also points out that He is also concerned about spiritual hunger.
Furthermore, in the context of St. Mark chapters 7 and 8, this particular feeding seems to be set in the Decapolis, a Gentile area near Galilee. So there is an implication that despite an emphasis on the lost sheep of Israel, Christ's compassion extends even to Israel's traditional enemies.

These facts about the episode of Christ feeding the 4000 include three points that still apply to the mission of the Church. 1) Like our Lord, we should manifest compassion to the physical needs of human beings. 2) This compassion for physical needs also has spiritual dimensions; it applies even more to spiritual needs. 3) The concern for both physical and spiritual needs is universal. That is, compassion extends to all people. Although compassion must naturally be expressed in our ordinary human contacts, it must extend to anyone that we meet who has a physical or spiritual need.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Transfiguration of Christ- 6 August

This day commemorates an important and mysterious event from the Gospels (e.g. , St. Luke 9:28-36). Strangely enough, however, the feast of the Transfiguration has not always received very much emphasis. In the Eastern church, the observance goes back to the fourth century, but it did not spread in the Western church before the ninth century. It did not become a universal feast of the Latin church until 1457. In the English Church, the feast was removed in 1549 and was restored as a "Black Letter Day" in 1561. In the American Book of Common Prayer, the Transfiguration was restored with liturgical propers in 1892.

In the Gospels, our Lord takes Peter, John and James up onto a mountain where He has a shining appearance during prayer. Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus, and a divine voice proclaims, "This is my beloved Son, hear him."

This event says three things about Jesus: 1) the Law and the Prophets witness to Him as He continues their work, 2) His work involves dying at Jerusalem and 3) He is the unique, glorious and beloved Son of the heavenly Father.