May 13, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week after Rogation Sunday

Monday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 104, Dt. 8:1-11, 17-20, Mt. 6:5-17
Evening - Ps. 34, Dt. 28:1-14, Jas. 1:1-17

Commentary, Deuteronomy 8:1-11

The days between now and Ascensiontide are called Rogation days because they are set aside as days of prayer. Rogation comes from a Latin word meaning to ask or pray, and we certainly have much to pray about at this time. As those in the Northern Hemisphere move toward summer, farmers are busy planting the crops and raising the animals that will feed us in the coming winter. Here, in Virginia, the spring hay crop has already been harvested, corn is nearly a foot tall, and the wheat is turning a golden brown. Vegetable gardens are thriving, promising good things to those who care for them. Naturally, agriculturally oriented societies spend much of their Rogation prayers asking God to bless their herds and crops so they will have the food they need. In more industrial societies people ask God to bless them with "honourable industry." Surely, as the Prayer Book reminds us, all can pray for sound learning, pure manners and to be saved from violence, discord, confusion, pride, arrogancy, and every evil way. Of course, it is important for those in industrial societies to remember that they, too, depend on the fruit of the earth for their sustenance. Therefore let them pray earnestly for good weather and a bountiful harvest. Floods and drought have already affected much of the world's food supply this year. Let us beseech God to deliver us from them, lest there be shortage and need.

Our reading in Deuteronomy 8 reminds us that our prosperity comes from God. Not only does He send the sunshine and the rain, He also "giveth thee power to get wealth" (Dt. 8:18). The land and soil are His creation. Our faculties of mind and thought are, also. It is He that enables us to harness the elements of nature and turn them to the benefit of humanity. The point of this passage is simple; "remember the Lord thy God" (8:18). The fruits of the earth and the inventions of industry are His gifts. Let us always value the Giver of all good things, more than we value His gifts.

"Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth; We beseech thee to pour forth thy blessing upon this land, and give us a fruitful season; that we, constantly receiving thy bounty, may give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

~Collect for The Rogation Days

Tuesday after Rogation Sunday
Lectionary

Morning - Ps/ 80, Dt. 11:10-17, Mt. 6:24
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, 1 Kings 8:22-30, Jas. 4:8

Commentary, Deuteronomy 11:10-17

Egypt was dependent upon the Nile for water. Having very little rainfall, the land was watered by an annual flood. Attempts were made to create reservoirs and canals to catch and direct the water after the flood receded, but this required much physical labour. The method used required people to stand knee-deep in irrigation ditches for hours, directing the water by building mud dams with their feet. Obviously this was difficult and unsanitary work.

By contrast the Promised Land was watered by rains. There were a few natural lakes, such as Galilee, but the rains came with fairly dependable regularity, saving the residents the unhealthy work of building canals and ditches. This is the point made in our reading for this morning. Canaan "drinketh water of the rain of heaven (Dt. 11:10). It is a land cared for (watered) by God. Therefore the Hebrews entering Canaan are not to think they made the land fruitful by their own labours, or that the idols of the Canaanite tribes send the rains and give the increase.

It doesn't take much thought to see the application of this to our prayers for a fruitful season. We are recognising that it is not we who created the soil or cause the rain, and we are beseeching Him to mercifully send the sunshine and the rain so the earth may yield her fruit and we may live in plenty. But there is a warning in this passage, too. There is to be no turning aside (11:16) meaning to leave the ways of God and take up the ways of ungodliness. Nor are they to worship the gods of the Gentiles (11:16). If they do, the Lord's wrath will be kindled against them like a wildfire, and the rains will cease and the people will perish (11:17).

Applied to the Church today, the passage shows that turning away from God brings judgment upon us. The Spirit of God withholds His blessing, and spiritual drought becomes a nightmarish reality.

Wednesday after Rogation Sunday

Ps. 144, Jer. 14:1-9, 1 Jn. 5:5-15
Ps. 93, 99, Hosea 9:1-7, Lk. 24:44

Commentary, Jeremiah 14:1-9

Yesterday's reading in Deuteronomy was a call for obedience and a promise of blessings. Today's reading in Jeremiah is a prayer for deliverance from the wages of sin. In Jeremiah, Israel has entirely deserted the Covenant of God. Every kind of evil flourished in Israel as the people turned from God and embraced the self-indulgent paganism around them. Everything God warned them to reject, they embraced. Everything God told them to embrace, they rejected. But most of all, they rejected God. Many still went through the motions of serving God. They kept the services and ceremonies of the Covenant, but they would not keep God in their hearts.

So, all the blessings of the Covenant were taken from them. Instead of the rains, God gave them drought. Instead of plenty, God gave them scarcity. Instead of spiritual fulness, God gave them spiritual emptiness and drought. Clearly God is willing to punish us for our sins. This is true of individuals and churches. But it is also true that God hears the prayers of those who repent. May God "leave us not."

Thursday after Rogation Sunday, Ascension Day

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 96, Dan. 7:9-14, Eph. 4:1-6
Evening - Ps. 24, 47, Is. 33:5-6, 17, 20-22, Heb. 4:14-5:10

Commentary, Daniel 7:9-14

Daniel 7 records a vision of Daniel, which parallels a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. In this chapter, the Jews have been conquered by the Babylonians and are living in captivity in Babylon. Daniel's vision foresees four world empires, followed by the advent of the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. The empires are represented by beasts, and they rise from the sea, which represents the Gentile nations. Each empire gains control over the Middle East, but each is in turn dominated or conquered by the following empire as they rise to power, fall into decay, and are overcome by a new power. Babylon, Mede, Persia, Greece, and Rome are the empires represented. Babylon is represented by the lion, Media by the bear, Persia by the leopard, and the Greco-Roman Empire by the fourth beast. We will meet the fourth beast again in Revelation 13-18, where it still represents the Greco-Roman Empire and culture.

The important point in Daniel 7, and Revelation 13-18, is the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. Seemingly small and weak compared to empires with symbols like bears and leopards, His Kingdom remains as the others rise and fall. It will conquer the fourth beast. Its citizens will come from all over the world. His Kingdom will never end.

Friday after Rogation Sunday
Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 15, 108:1-5, Rom. 8:31
Evening - Ps. 20, 29, Is. 12, Acts 1:12

Commentary, Acts 1:12

The book of Acts rarely receives the attention it deserves, and what attention it does receive is often limited to passages referring to speaking in tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is unfortunate because the book of Acts is really about what happens after the promised Redeemer accomplishes the salvation so long awaited by a dark and broken world. It is about the advent of the era of fulfillment, when the promises of a new world and a new community and new people will dwell in a new Covenant relationship with God. In Acts we see the new order inaugurated on the earth. We see the era foretold by Micah begin to take visible form upon the earth (Micah 4:1-7). We see the Kingdom of God reach into the world, bringing people into it and into God.

The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the founders of the Church were the Apostles. It was they who walked with Christ during the days of His flesh. They were taught by Him, and from Him they received the doctrines and practices of the Church. Christ taught the Christian faith to them, they, in turn, taught it to the Church and recorded it in the Scriptures under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we see in tonight's reading the calling of the twelfth Apostle. Judas, having betrayed our Lord and fallen away from Him, was never an Apostle. That calling, by Divine appointment, went to Matthias (1:26).

Now the stage is set. The Messiah has accomplished His redeeming work; the Apostles are restored to the intended number, and the people are waiting in one accord and in prayer (1:14). Everything is ready for the revelation of the new era, the Kingdom of God on earth.

Having noted the Apostles as the founders of the Church, let us remember that this in only true of them from the perspective of human agency. They were the human agents used by God to found His Church. In reality, of course, they were simply agents. "Instruments" or "tools" might be better words to describe their position, for the real founder of the New Israel is God, and the book of Acts is not really about the Acts of the Apostles; it is about the continuation of what Christ began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). What Jesus began in His earthly ministry is now continued by the Holy Spirit through the Church. The book of Acts records His continuing work.

Saturday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.45, Gen. 49:1-2, 8-10, 2 Thes. 2:13
Evening - Ps. 8, 98, Jer. 23:5-8, Acts 2:1-21

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21

The second chapter of Acts records an event of monumental importance, which most people miss when reading it. They miss it because they focus on the signs instead of the event. They become bogged down in questions of whether the tongues were known languages or ecstatic tongues of angels. They become concerned about whether they should speak in tongues or not. We should know, for our own peace of mind, that the tongues were the languages of the people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and that tongues have ceased and been superseded by the New Testament. Too many people today are trying to recreate the experiences of the people on the day of Pentecost, and too few are trying to see and understand the event signified by them.

The event is so momentous it is difficult to put into words. Let us begin by saying it is the event toward which the entire Old Testament looked. It is the event for which the Old Testament people waited and prayed. It is the event for which Christ came to earth and died on the cross. It is the event toward which all of Scripture points. That event is the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ's blood. It is the beginning of the New Age of the Messiah's Kingdom. It is the dawning of the day of the reign of Heaven on Earth. It is nothing less than the beginning of the Kingdom of Christ. In this New Age, God is bringing all things together to ultimately place them under the rule of Christ. You remember from Ephesians that this is God's goal and purpose for this universe. It was created, as we were created, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). This has been God's purpose from the beginning of our universe. It will one day be fully accomplished. On that Day His enemies will be cast out, and His Church will be gathered home to Him forever. The future element of this reality does not reduce its presence in the here and now. For even now that Day is breaking into the darkness and sorrows of our sin sick world. Even now God is gathering things together under Christ.

So, it is not tongues, but the advent of the Kingdom of the Messiah that we are to see in tonight's reading. The passage from Joel is quoted by Peter for one purpose. That purpose is not to say that visions and prophetic dreams are now the norm. That purpose is to say that the thing signified by those signs is now here among us in its wonderful and dreadful reality. The visions and dreams and tongues were but signs that the Day of the Lord is dawning. Therefore, our goal is not to have visions or speak in tongues, it is to enter and dwell in the reality of the presence of God.