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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of June 28, 2020

Closing out this wonderful project…

There have been tragedies and challenges, but also some graces during this pandemic. One of those graces is that our congregational community has availed itself of various ways of connecting up, and growing in faith during these difficult months.

One of those new projects and means of communication and discipleship has been the daily scripture reading and meditation, posted on Facebook and our website. For several people it has been a meaningful way to navigate each new day.

Thank you to our awesome team of writers that joined me in the production of well over 100 heartfelt reflections: Craig, David, Gerry, John, Jack, Katherine, and Peter, as well as guests: Justin and Mark. The final reflections, for the last week of June/first week of July, are found below.

I hope that this exercise has shown that the writings of our faith tradition are interesting, powerful, engaging, sometimes difficult, but always with the capacity to promote growth and meditation. Indeed, they are part of the life of grace in which we meet Jesus and are shaped, day by day, by the Holy Spirit.

Blessed summer to all,

Matt+

Friday, July 3, 2020 (St. Thomas)
Isaiah 43:8-13

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
 who are deaf, yet have ears!
 Let all the nations gather together,
 and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
 and foretold to us the former things?
 Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
 and let them hear and say, “It is true.”
 You are my witnesses, says the Lord,
 and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
 and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
 nor shall there be any after me.
 I, I am the Lord,
 and besides me there is no savior.
 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
 when there was no strange god among you;
 and you are my witnesses, says the Lord.
13 I am God, and also henceforth I am He;
    there is no one who can deliver from my hand;
 I work and who can hinder it?

+ + +

Today’s scripture may offer an object lesson to all Christians that if you are not grounded in the Word of God, you face the real dangers associated with idol worship.

And I’m not talking about that Aztec sun disc you have in your garden – no, I mean the worship that we often give to sports figures, musicians, actors, newscasters, and all manner of celebrity. Like the spun sugar that makes up that colourful and sumptuous stick of candy floss, pop culture is nutritiously deficient when it comes feeding your soul.

In Isaiah, God is giving us all a spiritual health check. He is comparing the evidence of what idols have done for us and what He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives if we adhere to his teachings and guidelines. That is so comforting in a time of uncertainty and pandemic.

While I always knew this scripture passage to be reassuring, recent events in our household have delivered the reality of such teachings. This past week we had to journey to our veterinarian to release our collie, Calum, from insurmountable pain. Short of saying goodbye to a beloved human, the loss of a pet can be devastating. Grief has not just visited our house, it has taken up temporary residence. And yet, in the midst of loss, I needed to complete this scripture meditation. The Word of God solidifies retreat, and reminds us that He is firm in delivering solace. Conflicting messages may surround us in our lives today, but no matter what COVID idol rears its head, the God of our ancestors will never be hindered.

[Jack Nahrgang]

Thursday, July 2, 2020
Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

+++++

Although Romans is the first of the Epistles in Bibles, it is not the first chronologically; the Epistles are printed in order of length, longest to shortest, not by date of being written (which in any case can not be accurately determined for many). Of the Epistles that are undoubtedly from Paul, Romans is, if not the last written, at least written very near the end of Paul’s life. It thus is the most carefully worked out statement of Paul’s understanding of the Christian faith. Unlike most of the remainder of Paul’s Letters, it appears not to have been written to correct errors, or to adjudicate conflict in a church; it is much more a theological treatise. One might call it Paul’s theological testament.

In the 7th chapter, preceding this excerpt, Paul reflects on the past; what life under the Law of Moses looks like from a Christian perspective. The 8th chapter is Paul’s reflection on his present, what life under Christ and freed from the Law is like. In the 11 verses above he teaches that a life restored through the gracious lordship of God through Christ is a life wherein the enmity between God and human beings is at an end.

Paul’s argument is at once complex, and yet simple. The complexity comes from the details of the argument; it is vital for Paul that he make very clear what he is writing about, and thus he uses complex sentences, and what feels like repetitious arguments. It is easy to get an assessment of just how profound Paul’s reasoning is; in any commentary on the Letter to the Romans these 11 verses take up much more space on the page than the verses themselves. Thus iIt is easy to get lost in the complexity; as the old saying goes, it is easy to miss the forest if one concentrates too much on the individual trees. But essentially, Paul simply compares two ways of living, life in the flesh, and life in the Spirit.

Life in the flesh is life by one’s own efforts. The Law of Moses, and the ever more complex regulations derived from it, were a human effort to avoid offending God, avoid sinning. But human nature is such that this is simply not possible, no matter how detailed the regulations and how zealously they are followed. It can’t be done, to even try sets us up for failure, to put one’s hope in frail flesh trying to live according to the Law is … hopeless.

But life in the Spirit is living in the hope that God in Jesus Christ, who took on our flesh, accomplished what we cannot do, and fulfilled the Law for us. To be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection initiates us into the life in the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit of God lives within the baptized person, and gives that person life even thought they still have a mortal body.

And fortunately for us, to be Christian does not make it necessary for us to understand the why or the how of God doing this for us, by becoming human in Jesus Christ, and thereby taking away the sin of the entire world. Our task as Christians is one of gratitude, of giving thanks for this gift of life in the Spirit, a life that is eternal life. Thanks be to God!

[Gerry Mueller]

Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Matthew 21:33-46

‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

+ + +

“Have you never read in the scriptures?” Jesus asks his doubting questioners before quoting a verse from Psalm 117. The point of this quotation—and in the reading as a whole—is that these people should know better. These are the religious authorities of Jerusalem, all of them very well read in the Scriptures—yet (as Matthew tells us in verse 26) all of them are equally unable to recognize John, who announces the coming of the Christ, and so of course they are unable to recognize Christ in the flesh. That is the bitter irony at the heart of our Lord’s parable: it is precisely the people who should be prepared to recognize the Son (of God) who fail to do so.

Until quite recently in Church history, it was assumed that Jesus’ parable is a statement against the Jews—as if Israel had been disinherited through an addendum to the covenant between Abraham and God. Some churches still hold to this view strongly, but I am happy it does not reflect the Anglican position as evidenced, for instance, in the Synod-given support for replacing the prayer “On the Conversion of the Jews” with “On Reconciliation with the Jewish People” (support given as well by the Canadian Prayer Book Society). If you have ever thought unkindly about Israel—a Jewish person or the Jewish people—or if you simply wish to recognize the people of Israel, honouring our brothers and sisters through adoption, I encourage you to include it in your cycle of prayers:

O GOD, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face. Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fullness of redemption which thou hast promised; to the honour and glory of thy most holy Name.

Many of us seem to have 20/20 vision for all that’s wrong with the world, and/or with ourselves. But as much as Jesus extends John’s calling to a radical change of life, it took the person of Christ for the good news to take a human form, the concrete image of God with us. Christ alone shows us how to be with God in his creation, which inevitably means being set apart from what is merely physical, no longer drowning in money and other material goods. But as much as repentance is the logical first step towards God’s kingdom, we only truly step into God’s kingdom when we accept his forgiveness, and place our trust in him. To enter the kingdom, we must see God in Christ’s lowliness, the way he served us selflessly, and suffered at hands like ours, stained by comfort and pride. Christ cleansed our hands, washing away what stained them, and saving us for the new life now and in the age to come.

“Have you never read in the scriptures?” So much is written in the Bible, it is easy to sink into a sea of details sometimes. But while it is easy for us to sink, it is in no way inevitable. It only takes remembering the one who saved us, the one who saves us, to know what God wants to say to us. This is true each time we open his holy book. The goal is not to interpret black (or red) letters printed on a page, but to listen for the voice of God. Surely his Word provokes some feeling or thought or memory in us, every time we read it. Do we really doubt that God is there with us, in our very hearts and heads? From the beginning, God ever told the same story, the story of Jesus Christ—a person not a proposition, particular in every detail, and perfect in every way: God made flesh. We will never get our heads around that good and wonderful reality, but the more we read, mark, and inwardly digest God’s Word, the more prepared we will be to see not only how the world is broken, but how the Lord is continually acting to restore and improve it—and how he is calling us to take our part in the greatest-of-all-stories, full of depth and truth. It is the story of God reaching out to a world in desperate need of healing. Our God is not just just: he is merciful and loving, and constantly offering us the gift of new life in his only naturally born son, Jesus. Whether we are sons of Abraham by nature or by adoption, we can praise God that his promise to Abraham—that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 22:18)—has been fulfilled in Jesus’ earthly ministry, established roughly 2020 years ago, and still going strong in his Spirit and in his Church. I pray that each of us feels continuously called into Christ’s ministry, now and always, and that the Church is ever quick to see our Lord with us, and set our faith in him.

[Craig Love]

Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Matthew 21:23-32

When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

+ + +

I begin with two stories I heard on the radio years ago.

Derek Black is the son of a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and was being groomed to take leadership in the white nationalist movement. He started KidsStormfront, a companion to the influential neo-Nazi website Stormfront that his father had started.

It was only when he went away to university and became friends with people who had radically different views that he began to turn a critical eye on the beliefs he held since childhood. In particular, some friends from the campus Jewish group invited him for Shabbat dinner week after week. Through relationships with these friends and others, Black eventually renounced white nationalism.

Darryl Davis is a black R&B and blues musician who played backup for Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. He set out to interview members of the KKK because he wanted to know why they hated him so much even though they knew nothing about him. Through that courageous move, Davis has built a legacy of friendships and transformed lives. He claims that through his efforts (direct and indirect), over 200 KKK members have left the group.

Both of these stories are dramatic examples of change. And these changes were affected by encounters with someone who is different, someone whose very way of being in the world, challenged the comfort and security of inherited beliefs.

This dynamic of encounter and transformation is central to today’s Gospel. John the Baptizer “came in the way of righteousness,” and initiated a renewal movement in 1st century Judaism. The tax collectors and prostitutes encountered him and were transformed. They changed their minds, according to Jesus, just like the first son in the parable he had just told.

By contrast, “the chief priest and elders” had encounters with both John and Jesus, and yet they remained unchanged, set in the old habits of their minds and hearts.

I think about what it takes to change one’s mind, and what I keep coming back to is a simple, but profound attitude: “I could be wrong.” That gentle posture of humility is what separates Derek Black from his white nationalist father, former Klan members from current ones, and reformed tax collectors and prostitutes from Jesus’ interlocutors. That attitude is a necessary but not sufficient condition for real change. What is central to all these stories of change is relationship. Derek Black kept going to Shabbat dinner, and his friends kept inviting him. Darryl Davis shared countless meals and conversations with KKK members, and they kept coming back for more. How many times in the Gospels do we see Jesus having meals with all those considered religious outsiders?

Saying that we could be wrong doesn’t mean that we actually are, but entertaining that very notions opens us up to the Other in a way not possible when we are closed in our dogmatism.

Where are we today? Where are we closed to encounters with Christ that call us to deep transformation?

[David Shumaker]

Monday, June 29, 2020 (St. Peter & St. Paul)
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.’

+ + +

Today the Church observes the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. While they share martyrdom in Rome, our faith’s stories point to some big differences between them. Peter was a rough-and-tumble fisherman, known for being an eager follower of Jesus… until it counted most. Paul, on the other hand was well-educated, and, based on his letters, a gifted rhetorician who never wavered from an intense faith in Christ. Peter had known and followed Jesus in his earthly life, while Paul had not, and actually persecuted the early Christian movement. (He does count himself among those who had seen Jesus, though in his case this was a vision.) I imagine that if we went back in a time machine to the early years of the Church, we would find a lot of people being wary of Paul, this zealous latecomer that hadn’t been a part of the group that, for instance, drank the new wine at Cana, ate the miraculously-multiplied bread, or was breathed on by the risen Christ in the locked room following the first Easter.

We sometimes generalize Peter’s mission as aimed at the Jewish community, while Paul was sent to the Gentiles. However Acts describes Peter as receiving a life-changing vision that led to openness to the Gentiles, which led him to meet the Gentile Cornelius, and the witnessing of the Holy Spirit’s impact in the lives of people that came from beyond Judaism. Both Peter and Paul took part in the Council of Jerusalem where the early Church officially agreed that their community was open to Jew and Gentile alike, with Gentiles not needing to observe Jewish customs, save for a handful or basic rules. However, Galatians relates an incident where Peter backslid into the avoidance of Gentiles, with which Paul took exception. (“[F]or until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.”)

Living in community and working with others can be tough, wouldn’t you say? Sometimes our convictions and our actions don’t always line up. Sometimes ingrained habits are hard to shake. Imagine how difficult this would have been for the early Church, a largely Jewish movement that sometimes struggled to wrap its head around the idea of following God without circumcision and dietary restrictions. Today we remember Peter and Paul, two important leaders that came to faith in Jesus in different ways, experienced tension in their relationship with one another, and were both imperfect and sometimes tempestuous. In spite of their rough edges, they made critical contributions to the fledgeling Christian movement, especially with regard to diversity within the Church. Studying their stories certainly has something to tell us about living in the world today. The stories of Peter and Paul show us how people can make positive differences happen. These same stories also show us how God’s Holy Spirit can move in the world, even when human flaws get in the way.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, June 28, 2020
Acts 17:22-34

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

+ + +

I truly love this passage from Acts because it shows Paul’s technique as a great teacher. He starts from the familiar and moves quickly to the unfamiliar. He points the people of Athens to an altar and an inscription with which they are very familiar. Athens is the intellectual centre of the Greek world, so it makes sense for them to hedge their bets with an altar To An Unknown God.
Paul promises to reveal or as he says “proclaim” the identity of this god.

Immediately, he establishes this god as a spirit who does not live in temples and does not need
anything. He underscores the idea that a spirit is always close by. He implies that temples, served by humans are an exercise in ignorance. He flips the idea, telling his listeners that this god gives all humans life and breath and everything else. Again, with local reference, he quotes Athenian poets, who talk about this god and Paul begins to talk of God as “he.” He tracks the story from Adam through the rise of nations in history in a few short lines.

By the time he gets to verse 27, he has shifted from “he” to naming this deity as “God.” Again, he implies that there is only one god. Paul states the purpose of all this creation – so that humans would seek out and find God. And he underscores the idea that images of gold, silver and stone are a diversion from seeking out the true God.

Paul is bold. He states that God wants the world to repent these diversions. He refers to Jesus as the man appointed to judge the world. And Paul names the proof. God returned this man Jesus from the dead. It is at this point, when Paul is standing in the middle of the intellectuals of Athens that his support splits into two groups. No surprise. This point is the watershed for many.

Some would not accept that a man could rise from the dead. Just like today, these folks cling to the laws of Science and logic and will not allow any god to break these laws, even to save the world. Others were either polite or more open-minded and said they would like to hear Paul speak again. Regardless, the disruption of that one idea meant it was time for Paul to end his speech.

As he should. A good teacher knows when it’s time to let the lesson do its work in the minds of the learners. Too many bad teachers repeat and repeat until the students go numb or turn off or both. Paul says his key points and walks away. Paul relies on the Holy Spirit to do the work in the hearts and minds of the Athenians. It would be a mistake for him to stay. The text tells us the names of two key Athenians who were converted and mentions several others who joined Paul as well.

Through all the voyages of Paul, I expect that he used this teaching method many times. Arrive in a place, find out what the local customs, rituals and habits are. Find out what they worship and venerate. Then, start there, respecting what he found and moving from there to a revelation of God and Jesus. Teach them, baptize those willing to make a commitment. And move on.

When I survey the racism that is being exposed all over the world these days, I am mindful of
conversations I had at our Anglican 53rd Weekend with native elders. The so-called conversions to Christianity that happened in some of their lives sounded like one-sided conversations. Actually closer to coercion. Paul’s model of listening and respecting what he found was not considered.

The old plan is still good for teachers and good for the church: lead with listening and lead with lots of love and understanding.

[Peter Mansell]