Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Sunday called Septuagesima, or the third Sunday before Lent

The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and, reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Conversion of Saint Paul.

The Collect.

O GOD, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, haying his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Epistle. Acts 9:1-22 (ESV)

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 19:27-30 (ESV)

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Romans 12:16-21 (ESV)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Gospel. St. John 2:1-11 (ESV)

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV)

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The Gospel. St. Mark 1:1-11 (ESV)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

What a Difference a (D) Makes!

By now the news that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) positively evaluated then-Senator Barack Obama's Presidential chances due to the fact that he is "light skinned" with "no Negro dialect, unless he wants to have one" is old news. That the Majority Leader has a Bidenesque talent for the unfortunate comment is hardly news -- just last December he called the American people who visit the Capitol building "smelly" despite the fact that, ostensibly he works for and serves them -- so this latest gaffe could be dismissed as merely the latest in a long line of misspeaks. He is currently trailing in the polls and it looks like he'll likely be returning to Nevada for good this time next year. The news, instead, is the twin-pronged reaction to those comments, first from the ear-witnesses to them and then from most of his fellow Democrats and much of the mainstream media once they came to light.

Journalists Mark Halperin (of Time) and John Heilemann knew of the remarks for nearly two years but chose to sit on them until the publication of their book on the 2008 presidential election, Game Change: Obama and Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (released today) -- a decision that will increase interest in and sales of their book and, in so doing, drive up their profits. This is journalistic malpractice. If his comments were newsworthy -- and the extent to which they have dominated the news since the story broke indicates that they are indeed -- then they should have been reported when they occurred (on the other hand, if the remarks -- which occurred in a private conversation -- weren't newsworthy then Halperin and Heilemann should've kept them in confidence).

Once news of them broke, Senator Reid was quick to issue his mea culpas and President Obama and almost all of his fellow Democrats were quick to announce that all was forgiven. The vast majority of the media were also willing to let it go away. This stood in stark contrast to the treatment given former Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) some seven years ago. At the 5 December 2002 100th Birthday Party for Senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina), Lott referenced Thurmond's 1948 Presidential run on the States' Rights ticket and said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for President we [Mississippi] voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over the years, either."

It is true that when Strom Thurmond ran for President integration was a prominent part of his campaign and that the rhetoric was fiery. That was not the only issue, however, and concerns regarding an increasingly centralized Federal government determined to run roughshod over the Constitutional limits imposed upon it were timely then and timely now. It's also worth considering that Thurmond's run occurred when he was 45 years old -- while he was mature at the time and responsible for his positions, he also went on to serve another 65 years in public life and modified many of those positions. He was the first Southern Senator to appoint a black aide and supported extending the Voting Rights Act and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday; as Governor of South Carolina he had opposed lynching (something that is a no-brainer today but was a controversial stance at the time). He was also a veteran, having served in combat in World War II and been both decorated for valor and wounded, and having retired from the Army Reserve as a Major General. Despite all of that, Lott's brief remarks at a centenarian's birthday party generated hot controversy and cost him his job as Majority Leader.

Senator Reid's comments have been largely ignored or, when acknowledged, forgiven except by a few Republicans and conservative talk show hosts. The defense that Senator Reid's comments were different than Senator Lott's falls flat: Lott's comments were made in passing to honor a colleague on his birthday and contained no racial observations whatsoever while Senator Reid's comments were expressly racial and were serious. It is doubtful that he will face any ramifications and that fact alone speaks volumes as to the bias of the media and the double standard to which conservatives are held

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The First Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Romans 12:1-5 (ESV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

The Gospel. St. Luke 2:41-52 (ESV)

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Propers for The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

The Collect.

O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect to be said daily throughout the Octave.

The Epistle. Ephesians 3:1-12 (ESV)

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 2:1-13 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Epistle. Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

The Epistle. St. Matthew 2:19-23 (ESV)

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Mosque on Main Street

Moncks Corner, South Carolina (population according to the 2000 census: 5,952) , the county seat of Berkeley County, is a fairly typical small Southern town, with a county courthouse, various governmental offices, shops and restaurants; its proximity to Lake Moultrie offers fishing, boating and similar recreation and it's only about 40 minutes from downtown Charleston and all that it offers. There is a nearby Trappist monastery (which wasn't established until 1949 and played no role in the naming of the town), various historical sites, and -- this being the South -- a variety of churches of various types (mostly Protestant, but there is an active Roman Catholic parish as well). There is also a Mosque on Main Street.

Although the South is frequently portrayed as monochromatically Protestant, that has never been completely the case. Large pockets of Roman Catholicism have existed and Roman Catholics have played significant roles in the history of Charleston and other areas; the Roman Catholic Church has experienced tremendous growth throughout the state recently. The American branch of Reform Judaism was founded in Charleston in 1824 and a significant community of Jews, with a large cemetery, existed in Williamsburg County, which borders Berkeley County. Religious diversity is nothing new on the landscape, but Moncks Corner is far less cosmopolitan that Charleston and the establishment of a Mosque on Main Street there is an interesting commentary on the changing religious scene.

Islam has arrived in the West -- a friend of mine visited England a couple of years ago and noted the striking absence of native English children and the seeming ubiquitousness of burka-clad women being trailed by strings of children -- and shows little signs of abatement. The Church ignores this at its own peril and, sadly much of the Church does just that, either through ignorance, political correctness, or fuzzy theology. The Church needs to be missional in its approach not only to Islam, but toward other religions and a culture that is increasingly secularized.

How can we do this? Several ideas:

Catechesis: Christians must be taught the basics of the faith and be able to articulate what they believe and why they believe it. This instruction needs to be intentional and systematic and also needs to be a lifelong process. Christians who are well instructed in the faith will not be easily swayed by other faiths and will be able to articulate their faith in the context of a culture that is increasingly hostile or at least indifferent to the Christian faith.

Evangelism: The Church needs to be bold and innovative in its outreach to those outside her walls and proclaim the Good News of Christ. We need to take seriously the Great Commission not only in far-off lands but also right down the street. The influx of non-Christian immigrants from around the world presents both challenges but also great opportunity as one can now do world missions without ever leaving home! An excellent example of this is the work of Urban Nations, a ministry of Messiah's Covenant Community Church in Brooklyn, New York; it was founded some years ago in response to the tremendous variety of nations located within the area. Through a variety of ministries including English as a Second Language classes (something in high demand among those wishing to acclimate themselves into American society) using the Bible as a text, they have been able to reach more than 60 nations with the Gospel without ever leaving Kings County!

Works of Mercy: This could easily be a subset of evangelism as it is a means of reaching out to those outside the Church; one must be careful, though, to avoid the frequent error of theological liberals in being so focused upon works of mercy that the Gospel is never preached. When those of other faiths are cared for by the Church, they will be more open to hearing what the Church proclaims.

Worldview Education: This is really a subset of Catechesis. When Christians are discipled in the faith then the ramifications of that faith need to be fleshed out in every facet of life. Christians need to be taught how the claims of Christ effect business, economics, ethics, politics, the arts, and every other area of life. As the late Rev'd Dr. Cornelius Van Til aptly observed:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instructions of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

Christians who know why they believe what they believe, are active in outreach to those outside their walls, and who are actively applying their faith to all of life will be well equipped to meet the challenges of Islam, secularism, and whatever else may come in the future. Hopefully the Church will actively seek to meet these challenges for God's glory!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Circumcision of Christ.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through time same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Philippians 2:9-13 (ESV)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Gospel. St. Luke 2:15-21 (ESV)

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.