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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of May 3, 2020

Saturday, May 9, 2020
Exodus 40:18-38

Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy-seat above the ark; and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the curtain for screening, and screened the ark of the covenant; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the curtain, and set the bread in order on it before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, and set up the lamps before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the curtain, and offered fragrant incense on it; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He also put in place the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle. He set the altar of burnt-offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt-offering and the grain-offering as the Lord had commanded Moses. He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.

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When Moses set up the Tabernacle, according to scripture, he followed the Lord’s instructions. As each section of the holy place was constructed, from the tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant to tables to the lampstand, the Lord gave specific instructions to Moses what should happen and how it should be done. At first I found it unusual that the Lord of the Universe would be concerned about the style of worship of one particular group of humans.

But this group was not just any group. These were the Chosen People. God chose to work with this group to nurture them until they finally became less and less war-like and selfish and more loving and caring, like Him. God’s plan is a wonderful experiment in transformation of one particular species of creatures on the planet into the eyes and hands and feet of God. And now, anyone who claims to be a Child of God can participate in this experiment, led by our loving Lorda and leader, Jesus.

More and more of us are taking time to go for walks, during the pandemic lockdown. The beauties of nature which have always been there, are appearing to more and more people. It is obvious that the birds and squirrels, the flowers and trees all seem to be happily in line with God’s plan, and have been all along. We as humans are the odd ones out. We are the ones who need to be pulled back in line.

Moses hid the stones of the Ten Commandments inside an Ark, to protect people from their legendary power. He masked that Ark behind a veil. He consecrated the family of Aaron as priests to care for this inner sanctuary. He created rituals involving incense and blood sacrifice on an altar to remind the people how serious their devotion to the Lord must be. The result of Moses’ work created a mystery and an awe surrounding God’s rules for living.

We do not know how long this current plague will be upon us, but out of it, I pray and I expect that the Lord will draw more people to his loving care, using the tools of today, as Moses used the tools of his culture, under the Lord’s instruction, to bring God’s children home.

[Peter Mansell]

Friday, May 8, 2020
Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

+ + +

Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

The solemnity of today’s scripture reading is quite thought-provoking. King David’s prayer reveals that, as he looks deeply into his soul, he faces sin that is bone-crushing in its acknowledgement. David calls upon God’s mercy to “wash me thoroughly,” “cleanse me,” and “purge me.” King David’s intentional use of three descriptors shows the depth of accepting his wrongdoing:
Transgressions has the idea of crossing a boundary.
Iniquity has the idea of twistedness or perversion.
Sin has the idea of falling short or missing the mark.

David’s deeply personal pray results in a clean heart, a new and right spirit, and restoration of joy (vv 10 – 12).

When one reads Psalm 51 (keeping in mind David’s desire to admit the darkest corners of his heart), one may ask what transgression have I not acknowledged? What iniquity is preventing me from being cleansed? What sin interferes with my joy? This, my friends, is where I gravitate to the five-stage Examen Prayer process: gratitude, petition, review, forgiveness, and renewal.

During the petition stage, we ask for Holy Spirit awareness, strength, and wisdom. Only through a personal connection with the Holy Spirit do we possess the ability to see ourselves as God sees us. With Holy Spirit guidance, we review our day, acknowledging the stirrings in our hearts and our responses to those stirrings. Did we react with love or did we respond out of sin (falling short)? In our review we accept our failings, not as a way for personal punishment but as a path to walk closely with God. When we identify and accept our actions, we turn to God for forgiveness. It is through His forgiveness that we, like David, receive a clean heart, a new and right spirit, and the restoration of joy.

May your joy be restored today and every day.

[Katherine MacLean]

Thursday, May 7, 2020
Matthew 5:21-26

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

I’ve occasionally suggested that there is a sermon series with the title “Things I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said,” that I’d like to, but probably never will, preach. This passage contains at least a few of those things.

All of us would agree that murder is wrong, and if committed, needs to be punished, even if we might disagree on the nature and severity of the punishment. But to be punished for anger, anger that does not lead to even the slightest action to hurt another person, seems extreme to most. And which of us has not insulted someone else, and called them fools and worse in the privacy of our own thoughts, or even said so out loud? Hell fire seems a little over-reacting as a consequence for that. And look at who is to do what in situations of conflict. Here I am, on my way to worship and make an offering to God, but if I know someone has a grudge against me, I am supposed to go to them and make up. And if someone accuses me of something, and even if I am innocent, I am supposed to approach them and come to terms with them. Shouldn’t those be the other way around?

Much has been written in commentaries about this passage, which is a part of the Sermon on the Mount, and is often given a title like “Concerning Anger.” It is preceded by a passage in which Jesus announces that he is not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it, and followed by passages that deal with adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love of enemies. In all of these Jesus takes existing Jewish Law, and, it seems, takes it to extremes. What he is doing is a rabbinical practice known as “fencing the Law” and extending it not just to physical actions, but to states of mind.

Modern non-Jews often look at orthodox Jewish practice and see it as “picky”. We might agree that it is a “good thing” to set aside one day a week on which we don’t work, keeping the sabbath holy, but think it extreme to forbid such innocent actions as turning on a stove to cook, or even flicking a light switch or turning a door knob. But for Jews, it is so important to keep the Sabbath holy, that even accidentally failing to do so is a grave offence. And thus rabbinical laws and regulations are meant to build a “fence,” far out and away from actual work, that no observant Jew can accidentally break the Sabbath Law.
Jesus takes that further, and as he says, fulfills the Law by telling his followers it is not just physical actions that matter, but the states of mind that lead to those actions are also important. If you avoid anger, you cannot be brought to harming its object physically. If you never think of someone as a fool, or call them worse names in your mind, if you never think of someone else as somehow inferior to yourself, you cannot do harm to them in more obvious ways. And if you are in some conflict or disagreement with someone, it doesn’t matter who, in you mind, is at fault; it is more important to seek reconciliation as that way no evil actions on the part of either party can occur.

Of course, given human nature, Jesus, in this passage and those surrounding it, is setting an impossible standard. But, when did that stop Jesus? Let’s think of this passage as Jesus setting us aspirational goals. It has been said that the perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning if we insist that our actions lead to perfection or else we won’t even try, we guarantee that nothing will be made better. (Just as one, non-pandemic example of this kind of thing in the current news; the government announced a ban on one particular species of guns, and immediately voices are raised to argue that this will not eliminate all gun crime, that criminals will find guns no matter what, that other kinds of guns are not banned, etc. In effect, if you can’t reach perfection in gun control, don’t do anything.)

Yes, Jesus is setting impossible standards, for humans, No matter how hard we work at it, there will still be people and actions that will make us angry, and sometimes some of us will act out that anger. No matter how much we try to control our thoughts, we will still think of some others in derogatory terms, and some will treat others in ways that are wrong. And no matter how reconciliatory everyone tries to be, there will still be human conflicts and disagreements that will remain and hurt. But, there will be less of all of that, if enough of us try. Think of it as “herd immunity” to evil!

And yes, we will fail at times, and others will fail at times. People will still act wrongly against other people. But Jesus didn’t just announce these impossible for us to reach standards. Jesus also announced that when (not if) we fail to reach his standards of holiness, he can reach them for us, and that, in him, there is grace and forgiveness without limits to be found.
[Gerry Mueller]

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 (St. John, Apostle/Evangelist)
1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

+ + +

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I’m jumping ahead to Sunday’s epistle, from the First Letter of Peter, but isn’t that beautiful? Not only that, doesn’t it encapsulate one of the primary messages of our faith, which is also part of today’s Bible reading: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”

Abraham and Sarah were elderly, and assuming that their family line would go extinct after their deaths. But God chose them as the father and mother of the Hebrew people. Moses was part of an enslaved population, and far from a charismatic speaker. But God chose him — surrounded by siblings Aaron and Miriam — to lead the people into freedom. Mary was a young girl in an occupied land, but God chose her to bear the divine Messiah. The apostles were ordinary people, but Jesus chose them to accompany and work alongside him. One of the most important themes in scripture is this movement from being a nobody to being a somebody. As St. Paul described it, metaphorically, in being joined to Jesus through our baptism, we’ve joined God’s household as children; we’ve become inheritors. And as part of the family, God’s commandments aren’t burdensome (“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.”), but are instead more along the lines of being fully involved and invested in God’s grand project.

The Johannine tradition is particularly effective in conveying this: there is an intimate bond between the Father and the Son, and there’s an intimate bond between Jesus and believers. We get caught up in the internal relationship of the Godhead by the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son are distinct, yet one, and we’ve been brought into that relationship through our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’ve become a part of God’s project in the world. The writings attributed to St. John so clearly remind us that, even though we might sometimes think that we’re nobodies, we are, in fact, a people touched by the Incarnation, and a people loved enough that God came to dwell among us.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Acts 11:19-26

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.

+ + +

Here we have an interesting moment in Church history: the increasing transition of the Christian movement from a Jewish sect to a more universal body, and the community that was first called “Christians,” meaning something like “Christ people,” “Little Christs,” or something along those lines.

What happens here, too, is that we witness a lived-out connection between this new community up north in Antioch and the established community down in Jerusalem. Barnabas is given a role of oversight for the new church plant, which we would see as equivalent to a bishop’s responsibility. And there’s a push-pull dynamic here, of the Jerusalem church wanting to provide some guidance to the new church with their experience of ministry among the gentiles, while the growing Antioch church — and this happens just a few verses after today’s portion — ends up collecting some funds for their Jerusalem brethren that will soon be experiencing a famine. (This becomes a recurring theme in Paul’s letters; it comes up several times, but sort of flies under the radar for us.)

The reading today reveals a Church that is connected in spite of a long distance, and is mutually responsible for one another. Many scholars think that Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem Church was not just an act of charity, but also a way of getting into the good graces of the Apostles and the longer-established church. He’s proving the new churches’ usefulness and legitimacy.

In our Anglican understanding of the Church, bishops are actual physical symbols of the Church’s unity. That’s why we pray for a diocese’s bishops in our prayer cycles; not because they’re the boss, or more important than anyone else, but because our connection to a different diocese is embodied in the bishops; not just written out in some constitution. Even our sacrament of Holy Communion is a reflection of this connection, specifically the connection between our parish and our diocese. Priests are basically deputies of their bishop; the presbyterial (“elder”) ministry is an extension of the bishop’s ministry. So when a presbyter presides at the altar, that is an expression of our table’s connection with the diocese of which we are a part. We aren’t lone rangers, but parts of a bigger whole. The Eucharist — while it’s important for us as a spiritual practice — is not just about personal piety, but also about embodying our connection as a congregation, and as a diocese.

Like the Jerusalem and Antioch communities, there is some tension between many of our southern dioceses and, for instance, the Diocese of the Arctic. From time to time the tension flares up with outbursts — and some figures are more prone to this than others. Maybe if we took note of the tensions and conflicts in the earliest Church, we’d realize that we aren’t the first to encounter difficulties in our ecclesial relationships, and would find a way to remain in productive and mutually-appreciative communion with one another.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Monday, May 4, 2020
Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

+ + +

Abraham was greeted by the king and priest Melchizedek — a gentile. The most famous parable holds up a Samaritan as an exemplar of righteousness. Jesus met a Canaanite woman (the evangelist Matthew goes out of the way to change the way she’s described so that it brings up associations with the rivals of the Hebrews that were driven out of the promised land), and heals her daughter. Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, who, because of his “emasculation by cutting” (to use Deuteronomy’s language), would have been excluded from worship in the Temple.

So much of the Christian story is about the realization that God’s love and mercy extends beyond the limits that we, at first, had thought were in place. When this sort of non-judgement and inclusivity can raise questions for us, however. Some fear that it means that all rules get thrown out the window. When the early Church was wrestling with the inclusion of Gentiles into their community they held a meeting of elders to discuss the issue, and came up with a compromise that worked for them. This provides us with a model for how we might respectfully dialogue in such situations.

Sometimes, though the experience of exclusion doesn’t come from the Church, but is an internal voice that prevents someone from reaching out. I’ve heard it several times from random people I’ve met:
“I don’t have nice enough clothes.”
“My kids would be too loud.”
“I don’t know enough.”
“It’s been a long time since I set foot in a church.”
“I’m not a good enough person.”

This experience we’re living through of separation and a realization of our mortality might bring more people through our doors, or at least the yearning for connection with a faith community. All of us can model hospitality in these situations. Our smiles and non-judgement mean more than we realize, I think.

And, please, please, please: if a newcomer is sitting in ‘your’ pew, please take the seat next to them, and give them a big smile instead of telling them to move. You’ve got similar taste.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, May 3, 2020
1 John 2:18-29

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.

I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

+ + +

We are into apocalyptic territory here. Thanks to Hollywood (or evangelical versions of Hollywood) we have some familiarity with the Antichrist mentioned here. It might be surprising, though, if we pull back the layers, and realize that he/they (it’s sometimes plural and sometimes singular) is mentioned only in First and Second John, though a similarly malevolent figure is described in 2 Thessalonians. Yes, the writer perceives of their present moment as a decisive one, but it seems to be less about wars and signs in the heavens, and more related to schism within the church community. The antichrists seem to be denying the lordship and humanity of Jesus. This issue of division, to them, is big enough to warrant speaking in terms of “end times.”

The heresy referenced here is thought by most scholars to have been a form of Docetism, which was a conception of Jesus as merely ‘appearing’ to have been human. This went against what Johannine texts claim about the Word truly “dwelling” among us in the flesh. First John, and today’s passage, have echoes of the Gospel of John, such as the call to “abide in Jesus,” and the emphasis on connection between the Father and the Son (“Anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father”). But there is also a contrast: John’s Gospel expresses a “realized eschatology” that says that salvation has come, for instance, in peoples’ acceptance of Jesus and his message. The other three gospels tap into the apocalyptic genre, with their references to birth pangs, destruction, and the majestic coming of the Son of Man, with the clouds. Today’s passage combines aspects of both of these traditions.

What are we to make of the claim that this (i.e. the late first or early second century) was “the last hour?” If taken literally, then it’s been a really long hour, which I guess is not literal at all. (Perhaps a “last era” is intended; such as in one of our eucharistic prayers: “In these last days you sent your Son…”) Or maybe the reading simply reflects the viewpoint of the author? Or, instead, should we interpret apocalyptic scripture in a way that respects it as a unique genre, where the foreboding language and imagery reflects the struggles of oppressed or anxious communities, and their firm convictions that the living out of their inherited faith was, essentially, a matter of life and death?

Here in 1 John the thing at stake appears to be a belief in the Incarnation. It is hard to wrap our rational minds around a saviour who is fully divine while also being fully human. But this is what mainstream Christianity has asserted from earliest days: a Jesus whose Godhood can save us, and whose humanity embraces us, and encourages us in our daily struggles.

[Matthew Kieswetter]