I have never found it easy to move from scripture to theological concepts like virtue when I am teaching. A gap seems to grow up within the flow of my thinking. Kenneth Kirk, a former Anglican bishop of Oxford, noted in a work on the Christian moral life that “from the Bible alone we can choose any one of innumerable different passages or pictures as a groundwork…” He names parts of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the “hymn of love” (1 Cor. 13) as good choices. “Yet it is to be noticed… that Western theology, at all events… has on the whole chosen to base its picture of the Christian ideal not on any one of these scriptural foundations, but upon a pagan classification of virtue.” I find solace in Bishop Kirk’s ability to move beyond this paradox to discuss the cardinal virtues. He does so, however, emphasizing that, though they remain recognizable as the pagan virtues, they also undergo a transformation in Christian usage. Read more
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Not acceptable to me,
not acceptable to us,
not acceptable to others.
Acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
Because the words may very well, if faithful, make us weep in remembrance of who we have been and who we really are. Because they may at first be sweet as honey, but later bitter to the point of making us want to try to pitch Christ off the nearest cliff.
We have such rich texts to host this week in anticipation of Sunday’s liturgy. In the middle of Nehemiah, which can sometimes read like a campaign for re-election, sits this gem, chapter 8. There has been a great build up, literally, to this point. Nehemiah, made governor of Judah by King Artaxerxes of Persia, has heard of the vulnerability and trouble of those Israelites left behind when the elite and learned of Judah were all carted off to Babylon. Nehemiah’s heart is powerfully moved. He roots out corruption and unites the people in the rebuilding of the wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The culmination of this comes when all the people gather together into the square before the Water Gate. They tell Ezra, priest and scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Now, anticipation builds. The book sits above the people, when it is opened the people stand, the LORD is blessed and worshipped. The book is read from for the entire morning. The words read in Hebrew and interpreted into Aramaic, so the people might understand – something not done in Jerusalem since the exile to Babylon. The people weep. Bittersweet tears? For what they have endured; for the reminder of who they are: Read more
Norman Wirzba, in his book Living the Sabbath, follows the medieval rabbi Rashi in saying that the divine work was not completed in six days, but in seven, and that what remained to be created on the seventh day was menuha: “the rest, tranquility, serenity, and peace of God.” Wirzba writes that God’s rest “when understood within a menuha context, is not simply a cessation from activity but rather the lifting up and celebration of everything. Here we see God…like a parent frolicking with a child and in his joy and play demonstrating and abiding commitment to protect, sustain, encourage, and love into health and maturity the potential latent within the child.” It is this sort of menuha delight and care that is proclaimed in the lectionary this week.
First we have Isaiah, announcing that “The nations shall see your vindication”; “you shall be called a new name”; “you shall be a crown in the hand of your God”; “You shall no more be termed Forsaken”; “but you shall be shall be called My Delight Is in Her.” There is no “we hope” or “we pray” here—the promise is firm “you shall.” Read more
To many the baptism of the Lord has always seemed like something of an oddity. And if it mysterious to us why Jesus underwent baptism at the beginning of his ministry, we should remember that it was no less mysterious to John the Baptizer. What we do know about the Lord’s baptism, though, is that it occasions an extremely radical divine event: the Father himself speaks and the Holy Spirit is seen in physical form. This is nothing to be trifled with. Here the whole Trinity is seen, speaks, and is spoken to in the presence of a great many flabbergasted individuals.
Our Lord’s baptism is seen, in Luke’s Gospel, as the first proclamation of God about the identity of Jesus. The verdict that will be affirmed and vindicated in the resurrection is proclaimed for the first time here, by God’s own voice. This is the Son. This is the one who speak for God, who does God’s will, who brings about God’s work. This is the one that all of you have been expecting (cf. 3:15). All human eyes are on Jesus. All divine speech points to Jesus. This is the one and no other. Read more
It’s still Christmas. It’s hard to tell that from the culture around us, and maybe even a little hard to tell from this Sunday’s appointed lessons. For a few days we were immersed in the earthiness of the Nativity (barn animals, labor and delivery, a feeding trough for a bed). But this week’s readings have phrases like “before the foundation of the world,” “the mystery of his will,” and “in the beginning was the Word.”
It’s tempting, perhaps, to see a sharp division here. To imagine that the Christmas lections are about the simple, familiar, child-friendly stuff—cradles and crèches and shepherds and angels—and that the “After-Christmas” readings have gone all grown-up and academic on us. Logos? John wants to talk Greek while we’re still singing Away in a Manger? Read more