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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of May 10, 2020

Saturday, May 16, 2020
Matthew 7:13-21

‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

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This, for me, is one of the passages that I struggle to wrap my head around. At the end of the Gospel of St. Luke, one of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus asks Jesus to be welcomed into his kingdom; a sort of deathbed confession, if you will. Jesus has no problem saying “yep.” But then here, early in Matthew’s gospel, we have this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

It seems to me that our faith tradition, at different times, expresses both of these approaches. On one hand there’s the beautiful and reassuring scriptural words we hear in The Book of Common Prayer’s communion service: “Come to me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” On the other hand, we could point to other scripture passages: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Is the Church a hospital for the sick, or a country club for the spotless?

Maybe it’s important that we are simultaneously welcomed and yet held to a high standard? Isn’t that what it’s like to be in covenant with God? As we turn to the Old Testament, we’ll find story after story of God’s high expectations for the Israelite people (because that’s in the best interests of everyone), but also the inevitable failings of humanity, followed by God’s tireless welcoming back of the rebellious child.

Toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy we find covenant language like this: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” The choice is always before us, of taking the easy way of self-interest, or the longer road of pursuing health and peace for all. The narrow gate is a thing, I won’t deny that. But by looking at the wider witness of the scriptural story, it also seems that alongside the narrow gate are the pathways that keep appearing before us, that lead us from the road of destruction back to the gate of life. One narrow gate, one wide road, but something like 539 pathways that connect the two.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Friday, May 15, 2020
2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

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The idea of FOMO fascinates me. Have you heard, or maybe even experienced it? FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” is one of those new concepts (it made it to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013) coined in the modern electronic age to describe the anxious feelings people get when they feel others might be having a good time without them. It helps to explains why some people constantly check their phones, for example. While not the cause, social media platforms surely make FOMO worse because of our incessant need to compare our lives with others. FOMO even leads us to tune out the real world and into the possible “fake” ones created on sites like Facebook.

Might the original recipients of today’s reading be experiencing an ancient version of FOMO? Work with me here. The early Jesus movement had a strong expectation for Christ to return and put the world to rights. Apparently, someone was spreading the rumour that Christ had indeed already come back, plunging the Thessalonians into anxiety (vs. 1-2). If he had returned, they were certainly the last to know. No Facebook notifications, no tweets, no informative emails.

The author of 2 Thessalonians writes to calm their anxiety by setting the record straight. Christ hadn’t yet come back. Instead, the Thessalonians would know of his return when certain key events would happen involving the “lawless one” (vs. 3-12). Although it isn’t clear who this person is, the description here sounds like a recollection of events associated with the traumatic destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.

Regardless of the exact sequence of events, what seems clear is that the Thessalonians were having existential struggles. They believed they were to be “gathered together” with Christ, but if he had returned and they didn’t know about it, were they really on the “inside” included in God’s plan for the world, or had they “missed out”?

Certainly here we can connect with this early community. Don’t we struggle at times with the fear of missing out? Don’t we struggle sometimes to feel the love of God? Don’t we feel excluded occasionally from the communities around us? We want to belong but belonging feels beyond our grasp. We look at our very real and very difficult circumstances (vocational dis-ease or unemployment, financial strains, physical or mental health challenges, loneliness…you fill in the blank) and then we automatically assume we are excluded from the life of God and the love of our neighbour.

What can we learn from the author of 2 Thessalonians during our own periods of spiritual FOMO? Remarkably, what the writer offers here is very similar to what modern counselors recommend for those with extreme (or even not so extreme) forms of the social media-fuelled condition. First, pay attention to what you are paying attention to. For those with modern-day FOMO, focusing on social media actually makes it worse because you may turn away from the real world of relationships, and may slip into fake worlds by comparing yourself with others. Read versus 3-12 again. Do you notice the strong contrast between delusion/deception and truth? The Thessalonians may be tempted to turn away from what is true and towards what is clearly an illusion.

Focusing on truth is made easier by practicing gratitude. What if we spent a generous amount of time praying with vs. 13-16? What if we personalized the message for ourselves and our faith communities? When we dive deep into the spiritual and tangible gifts God has given us, our hearts turn towards abundance, and abundance has a way of spilling over. We want to share. With joy we pass on “every good work and word” to those around us who are struggling with their own periods of FOMO, reminding them that they haven’t missed out after all.

[David Shumaker]

Thursday, May 14, 2020
1 Samuel 1:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one. Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

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I would be willing to wager a small amount on a bet that, if you asked 100 Christian churchgoers to list all of the Old Testament persons whose names they remember, David would be on more than 95 of those lists. I would also wager that if you asked those who knew the name what else they remember about David, the David and Goliath story would be almost universal, somewhat fewer would remember the rather less laudatory David and Bathsheba episode, very few would remember much else about the life of David. But virtually all would recall that in much of the New Testament, among other things, Jesus is called “son of David”. In Christian consciousness, David is mostly remembered as an ancestor of Jesus.

David was the 2nd King of Israel, following King Saul, who had been chosen by the people, and anointed by the prophet Samuel. But while Saul had been successful as a military leader, he on a number of occasions had disobeyed the will of God, as conveyed to him by Samuel, and God is determined that the next King of Israel will be chosen by God, not by the people. And thus, as retold in the above story, God instructs Samuel to secretly choose a new King from among the sons of Jesse, a Bethlehem farmer, and anoint him as a future King to succeed Saul, who incidentally is still very much alive, and in power. Hence the precautions and the pretext of offering a sacrifice for the summoning of Jesse’s sons.

Unlike in the choosing of Saul as King, which was effectively by popular vote, with Samuel as the agent of God merely affirming that choice by anointing Saul, here it is God who is doing the choosing. Samuel is quite prepared to select the oldest son of Jesse, Eliab, based on his seniority and appearance. But God sees beyond the external appearance and rejects the obvious heir to the throne of Israel. And so down the list of Jesse’s sons, each on in turn seen favourably by Samuel, and rejected by God. Finally, after seven sons of Jesse have been found unsuitable by God, Samuel asks (probably in desperation, having been instructed by God to anoint a son of Jesse, and then having God reject, seemingly, every one of them) if there is yet another son that he has not seen. And David, the youngest and least important, so unimportant that Jesse has not even thought to show him to Jesse, is summoned from his task of keeping sheep, and brought to Samuel. He too, like at least his oldest brother, is “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome”, but God sees beyond that, and instructs Samuel that this was the one to be anointed. And anointed he is with a “horn” of oil, plenteous oil, unlike Saul who was anointed with a vial of oil. [1 Samuel 10:1]

In time, David succeeds Saul as King, and by most measures is a successful leader. He completes the work begun by Saul of uniting the tribes of Israel into the united Kingdom of Judah and Israel, and establishes the city of Jerusalem as the political and religious capital. And he does so, mostly, by obeying God’s will, enough so that it is written of him, “… David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite”. [1 Kings 15:5] But of course, that was no small “matter”, David contrived to have Uriah killed, effectively murdered him, because he wanted Uriah’s wife. God’s choice was an imperfect human, and while being successful at almost everything God demanded of him, still failed as a moral person in a particularly awful way!

So, what do I take away from the story of David? On a personal level, as someone arrogant enough to believe that somehow God has decided to use me for God’s work in this world, it is comforting to realize that God does not always choose the obvious! That makes it somewhat more believable that God would think a mid-level engineering academic to be suitable to the office and work of a priest of the Church. But God chooses all of the baptized for God’s work in the world – I am not that special! So it is comforting that living a perfect life, never failing at anything, is not required. If David can be said to “[have done] what was right in the sight of the Lord” despite the “matter of Uriah the Hittite”, my and all our considerably smaller failings might just be forgiven. God uses imperfect human tools to do God’s work!

More cosmically, the imperfect David establishes a lineage that, around 1000 years later, brings forth a “son of David”, again born in Bethlehem, to be in mocking called “King of the Jews”, who is not only the awaited Messiah, but the Redeemer of the entire world. The work of that redemption in the name of Jesus still continues and is not yet finished, another 2000 years on, but it continues. This quotation has been attributed to many people, and probably goes back to at least the 19th century, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But perhaps less elegantly, but more simply, God plays the long game. The world is moved towards perfection, but not along a straight line or a smooth curve. We may not see the long slow arc towards perfection, justice, but God plans it, sees it, and urges the world towards it. And in that, God uses us, all of us, imperfect as we are, and all those others, imperfect as we think them to be.

I’ve used this before, but, if there is an overarching message in Holy Scripture, Old and New Testaments, including the story of David’s anointing, it is that, in the end, God wins!

[Gerry Mueller]

Wednesday, May 13, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Beloved, pray for us.

Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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After reading today’s scripture to my 90-year-old mom, her initial response was “My, that is a tall order.” Before elaborating on why my mother responded in such a manner, let me offer this preface: my mom has been reading scripture for decades; she knows the Word. And while COVID-19’s social restrictions have impacted the frequent exercising of her cognitive abilities, our recent conversation gave us both a new perspective on some old ideas – specifically, the fundamentals of Christian conduct found in I Thess 5:12-29. For easy review, I’ve listed them in point form:

    Respect your leadership
    Leaders who labour among you
    Leaders who have charge over you in the Lord
    Leaders who give you instruction
    Esteem those leaders very highly in love because of their work
    Be at peace with one another
    Admonish the unruly
    Encourage the fainthearted
    Help the weak
    Be patient with everyone
    See that no one repays evil for evil
    Seek after that which is good for one another and all people
    Rejoice always
    Pray without ceasing
    In everything give thanks
    Do not quench the Spirit
    Do not despise the words of the prophet
    Examine everything carefully
    Hold fast to that which is good
    Abstain from every form of evil

Although Paul’s 17 points of conduct may be a challenge for a single person, it is my experience that the collectiveness of St. Andrews’ congregation displays these traits in abundance. This meditation, therefore, is a way to offer gratitude for the people from whom we are separated. The church building may be closed, but our hearts and spirits are open for business.

Thank you to St. Andrews’ leadership for working diligently during COVID-19 restrictions, and thank you for offering a variety of e-options for us to gather as a community. Thank you to the telephone team who make regular wellness calls; Thank you bible study leaders for creating ZOOM meetings in which members can discuss scripture. Thank you social committee for organizing book clubs, movie nights, and community suppers. Thank you, administrators, for frequent Facebook and website postings which include photos, meditations, and messages from the Bishop.

As individuals, we may review Paul’s words and wonder if achieving each and every trait is attainable. Let us be encouraged that when we gather as a Christian community, we support each other and enhance our Christian walk. Paul’s words of encouragement to the church in Thessalonica can work well for us today during a socially restrictive pandemic: rejoice always because the One who calls you is faithful.
As we revisit my octogenarian mother’s remark, “My, that is a tall order,” it may well be so, but with God’s help and community support, we can successfully live a Christian life that is worthy of today’s scripture.

[Katherine MacLean]

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

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My youngest daughter and I share a fondness for science fiction and fantasy stories. And the whole family are fans of TV shows like Game of Thrones. Why mention this? Well, that kind of fiction is full of “signs and portends”. In these stories, some character predicts the End of the World. Someone else has a map or a tattoo revealing the arrival of some great hero or destructive monster. Good guys, bad guys. It’s a basic staple of such stories. And the story always has a satisfying finale.

In the passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul rightly warns against predicting the return of the Lord.
Scholars tell us, and our reading of scripture suggests that the early Christians expected the Lord to come back soon, possibly in their lifetime. Everyone who begins an amazing story and is part of the key events, as the disciples were, expects closure – the satisfying finale! The early Christians assumed they would be part of the big ending. But that was not going to happen.

As I write, false prophets are predicting the end of the world. Some are trying to sell fake medicine. Others are trying to sell fake hope, tied to restarting various economies. The story of Jesus redemption of the world is not and cannot be tied to other individuals. He did this alone.
Nor can the end be tied to any signs and portends some hustling demigogue points out. And the end cannot be predicted or reversed by human endeavour. That’s all fiction.

Paul understood this and wrote to the folks at Thessalonica to focus on being READY. Being ready is so much more realistic than trying to predict an end time. Paul redirects their thinking. He reminds them (and us) that they were not meant to suffer but to be saved. He piles up his imagery. He calls the believers people of the light in contrast to those in darkness. He reminds them the good believers are sober, not prone to wasting the night on drinking. (That line came up a lot when my brothers and I were teenagers at home.)

Paul talks of faith and love as a breastplate and hope of salvation as a helmet. Paul sees the road ahead as a battle for each generation. For the believers, remaining true will be a struggle. But he encourages the Thessalonicans not to be idle while they wait for the Lord, but to be active, building each other up and encouraging each other. Such advice can sustain a church for one year, or several millennia.

As we continue in a lockdown situation, I see Paul’s advice being taken among my own family, friends and especially my church family. People get phone calls. There are numerous Zoom meetings people can join to feel supported. And above all, there is love. The hugging we experience during the Passing of the Peace is gone, but the love has increased. I think that’s what Paul meant for us to do, as we wait for the Lord’s Day.

[Peter Mansell]

Monday, May 11, 2020
Matthew 6:1-6

‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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I’m not sure if it’s a sign of my spiritual health or UNhealth, but this passage brought to mind an episode of Seinfeld. You know the one, where George is tasked with retrieving a lunch calzone for his boss, George Steinbrenner. He’s dutiful about leaving something in the pizza place’s tip jar, but every time he does so, the guy has his back turned to him. So one day, after this happens again, George retrieves his tip from the jar so that he can put it back at a more obvious time, and that’s the precise moment when the restauranteur turns around! All he sees is a customer stealing from his tips, when all George wanted was to improve on his timing… But because of his distorted intentions (recognition from the cook rather than an expression of gratitude for a job well done), George is thrown out of the restaurant, which then leads to complications with the mercurial Steinbrenner. That was his “reward.” (Interestingly, we learned this morning that Jerry Stiller, who played George’s father on the show, died today.)

Today’s reading also comes up as part of the Ash Wednesday readings. Isn’t it odd (and yet so human) that the ashes, the symbol of our mortality and our commitment to a personal observance of Lent, have in recent years become something entirely different: an attempt at evangelism? I’m thinking, especially of ‘Ashes to Go,’ which plays up the public piety and divorces the scripture and liturgy (i.e. the meaning) from the outward sign. The reward of public acknowledgement, and even the well-meaning one of an attention-seeking, outward-reaching church, seem different to me than the traditional Lenten ‘reward’ (goal) of participating in the sufferings and death of Christ, in preparation for rebirth.

The mention of “reward” in the reading, if taken too plainly, can be unsettling. I don’t think it’s talking about magically receiving a Corvette from God for years of spiritual service. This talk of reward, rather, asks us to consider where our intentions are coming from, and where we’re aiming our prayers and piety. If we’re focussed on God, then our intentions and actions will be simple, unassuming, and purified when needed. If, instead, we’re focussed on being recognized by others, we risk getting ourselves caught with our hands in the tip jar, like George.

[Matthew Kieswetter]