Showing items filed under “September 2016”

Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. Paul Wheatley

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face. --C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

“Courage, dear heart,” the voice of Azlan speaks to Lucy. Courage. Our readings for Proper 22 call us to courage, faith, and humility in response to the powerful grace of God.

In the Old Testament readings for both Track 1 and Track 2, we have prophetic responses to the violence of the Babylonians. Our Track 1 readings from Lamentations (and the alternate Psalm 137 with its violent imagery, longing for vengeance) respond to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians after its occurrence. “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!” [Lamentations 1:1]. The Track 2 readings from Habbakuk and Psalm 37 address prayers to God in the midst of the violence against Jerusalem: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” [Habbakuk 1:2].

Yet in all of these readings there remains unfailing hope, however distant its fulfillment may be, in the sovereign deliverance of the Lord. “But this I call to mind, and therefor I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” [Lamentations 3:21–23]. “Be still before the LORD * and wait patiently for him… Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; * do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil. For evildoers shall be cut off, * but those who wait upon the LORD shall possess the land” [Psalm 37:7, 9–10]. Even within the disturbing imagery of Psalm 137 lies hope that the LORD, not the Psalmist, will be the source of vindication: “Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD, against the people of Edom” [v. 7]. 

Hope like this takes courage, for it forsakes the opportunity to exact vengeance for one’s self. This is a suffering willfully chosen in the face of unwanted suffering all around: “[J]oin with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace” [2 Tim. 1:8–9]. To choose suffering is not to invite it, but rather to be undeterred in the face of evil, relying on the power of God. As Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it, “In that fight, to appear to be defeated with the Lamb is already a form of victory.”[1] Furthermore, to endure in this way does not result in pride of accomplishment, but, rather, recognition of God’s grace, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace

This is the opposite of cowardice, the opposite of passivity. It is instead the faithful working of Christian hope, rooted in faith in a resurrected Messiah, given by the Holy Spirit: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” [2 Tim. 1:7]. It is for this reason that our Gospel reading speaks both to the need for us disciples to seek greater faith from the Giver of our faith: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” [Luke 17:5], and to the inappropriateness of pride in response to one’s own faithful service: “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” [Luke 17:10].

Our Gospel reading is preceded immediately by Jesus’ words about temptations, restoring fallen disciples, and above all our need to forgive in the face of repeated offense: “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” [Luke 17:4]. When we are rightfully able to exact vengeance, and yet choose instead to forgive, we need faith, hope, love, and the power of the Holy Spirit more than ever!

In a day filled with protests against racial injustice, war in Syria and beyond, an increasingly politicized refugee crisis, economic instability, and the bitter rhetoric of presidential campaigns, we have many reasons why we may feel threatened and tempted to lose hope. Courage, dear heart! We do not hold the keys to the end of the story, but we can place our faith in the one who does. The Lord will come to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. Until then, we wait in faith and hope, waging works of God’s love with God’s power, in a spirit of self-discipline made possible by God’s work within us [2 Tim 1:7].

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the Word: Brief Reflections on the Sunday Readings, (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1984), 352–353.

The Rev Paul D. Wheatley is the Vicar of St. Augustine’s, Oak Cliff

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Getting Ready for Sunday: The Rev. Will Brown

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Many pertinent lessons have been extracted from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). It has been read as a primer on the afterlife, a peek into the world beyond the grave, and about how things stand with the dead. In my own reading of this parable, and in my understanding of it, I have tended to emphasize its essential christocentricity – its pointing to Jesus – which comes out clearly in the last verse, where Abraham says of the five brothers of the rich man, still living in luxury and self-indulgence: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead,” (Luke 16.31). This is not really about ghosts; its about Jesus and the incredulity of many even in the face of his resurrection. 

But the parable is also, clearly, about poverty and our attitude to it. This lesson is especially pertinent for 21st century Christians. Father Richard Finn, a Dominican friar at Blackfriars, Oxford, sees in this parable a critical commentary on what Charles Dickens called “telescopic philanthropy,” speaking of the character of Mrs. Jellaby from “Bleak House” – “a burning, all-consuming, passion to do good at great distance.” 

This passion flourishes in our time, its flame fanned by the potential, literally at our fingertips, of social media. We do well to recall the raging indignation, and its real-world repercussions in the lives of individuals, attending the death of Cecil the Lion or Harambe the Gorilla. What would have been, twenty years ago, a minor headline in a single newspaper is picked up by virtual winds, and suddenly mob frenzy has gone viral, and everyone is an expert on wildlife conservation or Islam or gender theory or whatever cause du jour. It is now not even “philanthropy” as such that is “telescopic,” but the vagaries of benevolence and self-promotion.

But in the parable from Luke 16, Jesus says that Lazarus, full of sores, lay at the gate of the rich man. He is right there, a tangible, incarnate presence to be stepped around. Here is an implicit but sharp indictment of the ways we have structured our society, removing what is noxious to the margins, isolating and abstracting social problems such that our benevolence or outrage can be undertaken at a comfortable distance from the unpleasantnesses that might, after all, be communicable.

The upshot – the spiritual danger that this dynamic poses to us, who claim to be disciples of Jesus – is that we become ossified and self-confirmed. Commenting on the parable, St. Gregory the Great made much of the rich man’s purple robes and his feasting. He thus draws our attention to the fact that the root problem is not so much that Lazarus and others like him are ignored. That is a symptom of the real problems, the real sins, which are the rich man’s gluttony and pride, the taproot of spiritual disease. And his sins follow him to hell. Notice that in hell he won’t even address Lazarus, but speaks ABOUT him to Abraham, and seems still to regard Lazarus as a lackey: “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue…!” (v. 24). 

It would seem that hardness of heart has eternal consequences, that pride has a propensity to fossilize us forever. Thus our social propensity to abstract and marginalize our problems, to remove them to a distance at which they can be comfortably, unsacrificially engaged, poses enormous spiritual risk. It confirms us in our pride, and creates the illusion that our gluttony is, at worst, a victimless crime. When the sick and the poor are right in front of you, the task you face isn’t so much how outraged you will allow yourself to feel, but whether you will allow your heart to be broken and made new.



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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.