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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of June 21, 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020
Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

+ + +

In his spiritual commentary on this passage, theologian John Shea notices that this story is a great example of what he calls “divine plan” theology. The early followers of Jesus made sense of his betrayal, torture and brutal execution by labeling it as God’s mandate for him. Jesus was not a helpless victim of a police state; on the contrary, God orchestrated every move and Jesus accepted every step of the mission.

You see this theology, for example, in the way Matthew sees Jesus’ actions as fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. According to Matthew, Jesus road the donkey into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah 9 and Isaiah 62. The acclamation of the crowd fulfills Psalm 118. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and eventual death were part of the script all along. This view of God’s plan surely gave comfort to early Christians who were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the injustice they witnessed on Good Friday.

The trouble with divine plan theology is that it’s hardly transferable to those who are suffering, according to Shea. Today, we consider it pastorally insensitive to try and console someone in their grief by saying the tragedy they experience is part of God’s exacting plan for their lives.

Despite the vehicle of divine plan theology, we can still be swept up by the divine love revealed in this passage. Jesus refused the popular vision of a king who was a violent military hero. Instead, he enters Jerusalem on a donkey, a clear sign of humility. As Amy-Jill Levine points out, when Matthew draws on Zechariah 9 and Isaiah 62, the Gospel writer is painting a picture of a “king who does not lord it over others, but who suffers with his people….. This image is of a king who is strong in faith, and not armed to the teeth.”

When later in the Passion narratives, Jesus is met with the human refusal to his way of love, he does not lash out in counter-violence. On the contrary, Jesus shows that God walks the way of redemptive suffering and not the way of redemptive violence.

How do we live out Jesus’ way of love in our own day? How do we confront the violence that is stitched not only into the very fabric of our societies, but also in the depths of our own hearts?

[David Shumaker]

Friday, June 26, 2020
Romans 5:12-21

Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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In these verses, from his letter to the Christian community in Rome, the apostle Paul is definitely on a roll. Prior to this passage, Paul had just made the claim that followers of the new faith could “boast in God” that their saviour, Jesus Christ, had made not only them but all humanity “right” (“reconciled” or “justified” are Paul’s words) with God. That’s a big claim and now, in today’s passage, Paul charges ahead in a typically passionate presentation, explaining exactly why and how God did this, through Jesus, that God might change everything for everyone.

Now, clearly, if it’s true that God’s purpose is to change everybody, then Paul will have to show why everybody needed changing in the first place. What was wrong with humanity that the situation required God to send his Son? Paul’s answer is that, since (and most especially because of) the very first human on the earth, Adam, all humanity has gone off the rails. Adam, our common ancestor, disobeyed God, and was ejected from the idyllic Garden of Eden. Adam, says Paul, thereby brought not only sin into the world but also death, both physical and spiritual.

How exactly the sin and death that Adam personally incurred then got transmitted to virtually all his descendants around the world does not get explained, at least not by Paul. (Centuries later, theologians like St. Augustine would focus on human sexual relations as the means whereby this “original sin” of Adam gets transmitted from one generation to the next, an idea with unhappy consequences for Christian attitudes toward sex and the body – but that’s another story.)

Paul, however, is not so much concerned with explanations or theories as he is with archetypes and symbols. For him, Adam, as the first human, represents all humans in his well-known disobedience and turning away from God. Adam is the archetype of our natural selves, our ego state, where life is pretty obviously all about me and what I want. This is the outlook that has bred the countless millennia of injustice, violence and sorrow, down to Paul’s day, with no notion of any way out.

Of course, Paul, as a Jew, has to acknowledge that God actually had already provided a way out, in the form of the law and the covenant, presented to Moses on Mt. Sinai. God’s law was a way for his people to live good lives together, as God wanted. But for Paul, the law was at best only a sort of stopgap, not God’s real or ultimate solution to sin and death. The law, he said, with its lists of transgressions and associated penalties, really served only to establish and to normalize sinning as part of human life. Paul was someone who had been transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord and this was what he felt God wanted for everyone.

In other words, for Paul, God’s plan is for nothing less than a transformation of humanity, a veritable new creation. Yes, we would look the same but, inside, our nature would become one in which our ego was no longer at the centre running, and ruining, our lives. Instead, at the heart of us all would be a great love, a selflessness that would rejoice in serving and caring for others, as they would for us. To that end, and in stark contrast to the first human, Adam, God has now revealed this second, new human in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus is but the first of the many who would follow after him, a new humanity to fill the earth.

And what then? Well, such a new humanity would make life to be “on earth as it is in heaven” (as we pray every Sunday) – no more fear, violence or injustice, everyone loving God in one another and in all creation. We will live in harmony and be at peace.

This is the beautiful vision which animates Paul and which he offers to us. In a world of pandemic and climate change and every kind of sorrow and pain, it can seem like wishful thinking at best, that human beings can really change so radically and in turn change the world. Well of course we by ourselves cannot – but his point is that God in Jesus can, and it’s happening right now. What are we to do? Simple answer: say yes! Accept the invitation to become a new creation, to walk in the way of love, dying to the “old Adam” to arise in the spirit of Christ, becoming all we’re meant to be. Are you ready to say yes?

[John Maine]

Thursday, June 25, 2020
Numbers 17:1-11

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you. Moses spoke to the Israelites; and all their leaders gave him staffs, one for each leader, according to their ancestral houses, twelve staffs; and the staff of Aaron was among theirs. So Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant.

When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.’ Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

+ + +

In the chapter preceding this one, a few people have questioned the authority of Moses. This leads to God’s anger (against more than just the rebels), and while the general population is spared, two of the three rebels, and their families are swallowed by the earth, and two hundred and fifty others are killed by ‘divine fire.’ (Strangely, one of the three would-be usurpers goes unmentioned at the end of the episode.)

As we come to chapter seventeen, the story is still focussed on the topic of leadership. Who has it, how is it theirs, and how will we know that we can trust the process and conclusion? That’s basically what is happening here. And while in our own day we have more mundane traditions and protocols than the staffs miraculously budding, as in today’s story, certainly many of the themes that are touched upon will resonate for us. I recall one conversation where it was jokingly mentioned how the apostles cast lots to figure out who would replace Judas; this seems much different from the way we choose bishops today! However, someone challenged, when you think of it, even with interviews, videos, and essays, ultimately, so much of the process goes to our guts, our prayers, our intuitions. It might not be as different from casting lots as we first thought.

Leadership, to me, has a lot to do with discerning a vision, keeping sight of that vision during life’s ups and downs (and boring patches), and cultivating an environment of respect and care while we navigate the day-to-day. Administrative skills and good resumes can be important and helpful, but ultimately in the Church context, we want leaders who point us toward Jesus; who don’t let themselves get caught up in the distractions of this world; and who lead with a resolve that keeps us all moving in the right direction, but does so with gentleness and grace.

Today we might think back to our own lives, and reflect on the topic of leadership. Think about leaders (whether in churchland, business, school, etc.) that you appreciated: what was it that brought about your respect? What leaders weren’t given a fair chance? What leaders were you skeptical about at first? Perhaps a better question: what issues or anxieties were in place that led communities to revolt against leadership? Were there pathways to peace that could have been explored?

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, June 24, 2020
John 3:22-30

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’

+ + +

John is baptizing across the Jordan from the place where Jesus is baptizing. The two cousins have ministries happening at the same time. The forerunner of the Messiah, and the Messiah himself each are drawing crowds of followers. So far, there is no problem. John has not called out Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. And Herodias has not arranged (using her daughter Salome – she of the dance of the seven veils) to set John up for his final arrest and execution.

What triggers this particular story is an argument between John’s disciples and a man named in the text as “a certain Jew.” The issue is ceremonial washing. This certain Jew sounds very much like one of the many Pharisees who questioned our Lord. These lawyers were well versed in the six hundred plus laws that the Bureaucratic Jews who run the Temple always watch to make sure the People of Israel do not break them.

No doubt, John, by baptizing the way he does, might well be breaking one of these laws. Someone he touches or baptizes may be technically ceremonially unclean and before submitting to the baptism of John, he/she must first offer up some form of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem (controlled by the Pharisees and the Money Changers) before they can become clean again and rejoin society. And before they can be absolved by John.

By baptizing directly, John is undercutting the Temple’s control over who gets blessed and who does not (and who pays to be absolved). And that warrants some criticism. Hence the argument with John’s disciples. Church authorities do not like upstarts who freelance like John did. Or like Jesus did. It is only a matter of time before John will be arrested. He has already been calling out Herod for his sins. Now the critics are nipping at his heels and John’s disciples are edgy about it.

What fascinates me here, is that John’s disciples imply a rivalry with Jesus. They call him “that man… from the other side of the Jordan.” They complain to John that he’s drawing larger crowds. His disciples think John is the main event. But John is clear in his ministry. He points out to them that he has only what gifts God gave. I wish I knew if they understood John’s answer. Do they get it?

John reminds them that he said he was not the Messiah. In this passage, his wedding imagery is
absolutely appropriate. The attendant to the Groom has great joy in his role. He does not expect to be the main event. He never did, not from the beginning of his ministry to the end. John is happy to fade out of the picture as Jesus is on the rise.

Not to be too critical, but I have been in churches in several countries, and listened to many sermons preached by clergy who talked mostly about themselves. Told stories about themselves and their families, and only vaguely mentioned the text for the day. I had to wait, sometimes for a long time, to hear the speaker even say the name of Jesus, if then. I have been in other places where its ALL about Jesus. – the songs, the prayers, everything. Praise the Lord! Can I get an Amen?

In my view, Jesus is the main event. I’d like to develop more and more the habit of being the happy attendant who stands to one side and points to Jesus. Those of us who taught school in the Public Board learned how to talk about Jesus’ ideas all the time, without ever once using churchy language. It became a skill we all learned over time. And it’s a habit now. Plain talk. Street English. No pontifications, such as come out of some bishops… But that’s another discussion.

Let me say this: the path of John is the path of those who leave our own ego at the door, step back and point to the Lord. May we all live in his footsteps.

[Peter Mansell]

Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Sirach 48:1-11

Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,
and his word burned like a torch.
He brought a famine upon them,
and by his zeal he made them few in number.
By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
and also three times brought down fire.
How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You raised a corpse from death
and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
You sent kings down to destruction,
and famous men, from their sickbeds.
You heard rebuke at Sinai
and judgments of vengeance at Horeb.
You anointed kings to inflict retribution,
and prophets to succeed you.
You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with horses of fire.
At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
Happy are those who saw you
and were adorned with your love!
For we also shall surely live.

+ + + + +

I’ve never asked my colleagues in the preaching trade if they also suffer from a slight neurotic fear that sometimes keeps me awake at night; I worry that somehow my sermons, almost all of them (I keep them in digital form, and over the years they have been backed up to many different media) survive for a 1000 years or more, and then are found and become a major source of study for what Anglicans (or maybe Christians) believed in the later 20th and early 21st century. Unlikely, but hey, it’s my neurosis, and I’m entitled to it.

Elijah the Prophet lived in the first half of the 9th century BCE. He left no personal record that we are aware of, and we only know of his significance in the history of Israel because some time between 200 and 300 years after he lived the author of the two Books of Kings included four tales of his deeds, probably drawing on stories about Elijah that were still being told. Then, in about 180 BCE, Jeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira, writing in Hebrew (which another 50 years later is translated into Greek by his grandson) summarizes the accomplishments of Elijah in the book we call Sirach, or in some traditions Ecclesiasticus, in the 11 verses above.

If Jeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira (Jesus son of Eleazar who was the son of Sira) were alive today his title would be something like “Professor of Public Administration” and his book would be the course notes for a training program for scribes within the religious administration of 2nd Temple Judaism. It is a collection of instructions, proverbs, duties of professions, duties within families, and a description of the cosmic order. The last 6 chapters are examples; this section has been called “Praise of the Fathers” or “Hymn in Praise of Israel’s Heroes”. Those studying for work within the scribal system are encouraged to emulate these eminent persons.

I wonder if Elijah ever thought, as he went about his prophetic vocation in ancient Israel, ever thought that stories of his life would be written down several hundred years later, or that about 800 years later he would be held up as a good example for bureaucrats-in-training. Or that he suspected even for one moment that his life would become a part of the scriptures of three world religions. (The 3rd is Islam, which honours Elijah as a prophet.) I rather doubt it; Elijah, like all the other “people in the Bible”, didn’t know he was going to be in the Bible.

Maybe I’m not so neurotic after all, although worrying about my sermons being found after a 1000 years is probably over the top. But being aware that what I preach, both by words from a pulpit, words in casual conversation, and by how I live can affect others, and how they in turn affect others, is healthy. Much of working life has been as an educator, both in engineering and religious studies. It goes without saying that most of the content of courses I taught came from others, so did some of how I taught, and the values I brought to teaching and to my profession. I am also aware that some of my students became educators, some now retired, and they in turn had students who followed them into the professoriate. On the religious studies side I have had students who became priests. From some of them I have heard that something or other from my time with them stuck with them and was incorporated into their practice, and maybe even passed on to their successors. And I still keep hearing from former students and parishioners, telling me that something I did, or said, or even formally taught, has informed them or affected them over the subsequent years.

“Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary”, has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Apparently, what he actually said was something like, “… let all the brothers preach by their works”. That goes for all of us, who profess to follow Jesus Christ! Whatever we do, and say, can have effects well beyond our understanding, on the people with us at the time, and others who we may not even know, through those who know us. As Christians, all we say, all we do, communicates – preaches – our understanding of the Gospel and of Christ. This makes nonsense of the distinction that some people like to draw, between life in the Church, and life in the world.

Preach the Gospel at all times; that goes for church, in the world, and on Zoom and streaming media! And who knows, maybe someday someone will say of us, like Jeshua did of Elijah, “Happy are those who saw you and were adorned with your love! For we also shall surely live.” Or maybe just something like, “they showed me how to be a better person”.

[Gerry Mueller]

Monday, June 22, 2020:
Romans 3:21-31

But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

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You may recall theological discussions or seminars that focussed on the similarities and difference in religious doctrine. Many religions share similar practices in that they worship God, espouse benevolent behaviour, and seek social justice. Today’s scripture reading represents one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith: Paul assures the Church in Rome that all sin is forgiven for all who believe in Christ.

Until Christ’s sacrifice, Jews followed the Law of Moses to atone for personal, past sins. Imagine trying to free yourself of guilt and shame by learning (or having a priest interpret) the rules expounded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and then reiterated and added to in Deuteronomy! Then add to this contemplation the realization that, as a Gentile, you would be excluded from this opportunity.
Through the death of Christ (the unblemished sacrifice) the Law of Moses is fulfilled, and atonement for sin secured because God sent His only son to be a sacrifice for all sin (John 3:16). Believers no longer need to offer grain, bulls, goats, or doves/pigeons. Paul tells the Romans that redemption is given to all (Jews and Gentiles) who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul further explains that it is faith not works that offers justification. Although we perform charitable acts (works), we do so because faith fills our hearts with a love that we want to share; works do not offer justification. At this point in the meditation, reviewing the meaning of justification may offer further insight: justification is God’s righteous act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while, at the same time, declaring the ungodly to be righteous, through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The following diagram adds to the definition:

I am humbled when I think that every malicious act and every unkind word sits on the shoulders of Jesus; He is indeed the Saviour for those who believe. It is this passage that defines Christianity: we can ask for forgiveness, receive freedom from guilt, and we are justified by our faith.

[Katherine MacLean]

Sunday, June 21, 2020 (National Indigenous Day of Prayer)
Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said: ’I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

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An excerpt from our conversation with The Rev’d Mark Loyal, priest and pastor to the Anglican and United Church communities of Walpole Island.

“Covenant for me, on National Indigenous Day of Prayer, covenant is at the centre of it. Because when we talk about National Aboriginal Day of Prayer, it’s not just praying with, praying for the Natives, but it’s praying with one another, and doing things like this [interview]… and so in a way, we’re entering into a covenant. We’re learning about each other, and getting to know each other. And what I think about that is that’s what’s going to bring healing and reconciliation. So that’s what’s central on this day, is covenant. That we are to be really committed…

You know, the past is the past, the future is the future, all we have is the present time to be committed to getting to know each other, getting along with each other, commit to walking with each other in covenant. Just like we choose each day to be in relationship with our significant other, our spouse, our parents, our children; all those relationships are covenant. And of course our covenant relationship with God, it’s a covenant relationship.

Watch the whole interview here: and read Canon Wendy’s newsletter column here: