May 5, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Rogation Sunday


Monday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 104, Dt. 8:1-20, 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. 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 God to 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 we to worship the gods of the Gentiles (11:16). Such things kindle the Lord's wrath like a wildfire, and cause the rains to cease and the people to 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

Lectionary

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 flourishes as the people turn from God and embrac the self-indulgent paganism around them. Everything God warned them to reject, they embrace. Everything God told them to embrace, they reject. But most of all, they reject God. Many still go through the motions of serving God. They keep the services and ceremonies of the Covenant, but they do not keep God in their hearts.

So, all the blessings of the Covenant are taken from them. Instead of the rains, God gives drought. Instead of plenty, God gives scarcity. Instead of spiritual fulness, God give 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. 33:5-22, 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 a new people, who will dwell in a new Covenant relationship with God, begin to become reality on earth. In Acts we see the new order inaugurated on the earth. We see the era foretold by Micah begin to take visible form (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. 49:1-10, 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.

Rogation Sunday Sermon


A Surprise Ending
Psalm 65, Ezekiel 34:25, Luke 11:1-13
Rogation Sunday
May 5, 2013

Most books and movies are fairly predictable.  We know how they end before they even begin, but, once in a while we find one that has a surprise ending.  This morning's reading from Luke 11 has a surprise ending.

It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray.  At first this is appears to be an odd request.  These men prayed with Christ daily. He led them in the daily liturgical prayers said by all faithful Jews.  They worshiped with Him in the synagogues where He prayed the Sabbath liturgy.  And they heard Him pray daily in His own, private prayers.  So they knew how to pray, because they learned from His example and leadership. Still, it was common for people to ask their rabbi to write a prayer they could memorise and make part of their own daily prayers.  John had done this for his followers, and the disciples wanted Jesus to do the same for them.  Beyond that, they must have realised their own prayers lacked something when they heard Jesus pray. They were human, and were sometimes slothful about prayer, sometimes their minds wandered during prayer.  But Jesus delighted in prayer.  The liturgy was a joy to Him.  Seeking fellowship with the Father was natural to Him.  The disciples wanted to learn to pray like that.  But there is still more to their request.  They realised their prayers were prayers of anticipation of the coming Messiah. But here is the Messiah standing before them.  How should they pray now that the Messiah has come?

It is interesting to note that our Lord went to the Jewish Prayer Book, called the Siddur, and took its words to form what we now call, "The Lord's Prayer."  It is interesting because there has been much talk about whether this prayer is a model prayer or a liturgical prayer.  In other words, did Jesus give it to be a pattern for our prayers, so that we might know what to pray for and how to avoid over emphasising our whims and temporal desires, and under emphasising our more important spiritual needs and the glory of God?  Or, did Jesus give this prayer to be memorised by the disciples and passed down to the Church to be said liturgically throughout the generations as we prayed it earlier this morning?  And the answer is, "yes."  It is both.  It is a pattern for our private prayers, and it is a liturgical prayer to be prayed in private and public worship.

As a model it encompasses all our needs.  Everything we could ever pray for is in it.  We can expand on it but never improve on it.  When we pray, for example, "lead us not into temptation," we may expand on it by asking the Lord to keep us from the temptation of those sins to which we are personally most susceptible.  So we might say something like, "'lead us not into temptation,' and especially protect me from the temptation to have a judgmental and unforgiving attitude."

I have noticed most people's prayers tend to concentrate on temporal needs, especially money and health.  We do need to pray about these things, but the Lord's Prayer also teaches us to pray  that God would be honoured by people, and that His will be done by people on earth as it is by saints and angels in Heaven.  It especially teaches us to pray that we, I, will honour Him, and that I may do His will as it is done by those in Heaven.

As a liturgical prayer it used the words of the Jewish liturgy and applied them to the Church.  In other words, it moved from the liturgy of anticipating the Messiah, and began a liturgy for use after the advent of the Messiah.  It is the kind of liturgical prayer rabbis commonly wrote for their congregations to memorise and say daily and in the synagogue, and the disciples were asking Jesus, The Rabbi, to do the same for them. So Jesus gave this one to them and to the Church through them.

In verses 5-13 our Lord moves from giving the prayer to teaching about prayer, especially the relationship between faith and prayer.  His point is to inspire us to trust God when we pray.  Christ is not saying God is going to give us every trinket we ask for, just so we can indulge our whims and desires; and all you have to do is learn to ask for it in "faith," which they define as believing God will give it to you.  That is not faith, and that is not what Jesus is teaching here, or anywhere else in the Bible.  Jesus is teaching us to trust God to take care of us, and to make our prayers more about expressing our trust in Him than about asking Him for things.  I notice the Lord's Prayer emphasises this.  Rather than long pleadings for toys and salary raises, or even the basics of food and shelter, the Lord's prayer simply says, "give us this day our daily bread."  There is great faith in this.  It is a statement of faith.  It is like saying, "Lord, I trust You with all my needs, and I trust You to supply them according to Your wisdom "as may be most expedient" for me."

In verses 5-8 Christ uses the example of a man who gives bread to a friend.  The point being made is not that the friend does not want to get out of bed and give the bread, but will do it if you keep pounding on his door until he gives it just to get rid of you.  Jesus is saying that is not what a friend does, and that is not what God does.  A friend gives because he is a friend, and God gives because He is God. A friend gives because you have a need, and God gives because you have a need. He knows how to give good things, He knows how to give what we need, and He is willing to give it because He is the best real friend you have. Therefore, pray (knock) with this kind of faith.

So far everything has gone as we expected.  The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and  He gave them a prayer and taught them about prayer.  Now comes the surprise ending.  Jesus says God the Father knows how to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.  When did we start talking about the Holy Spirit?  We started praying about the Holy Spirit from the moment we started praying.  This is so because the Holy Spirit is the earnest of all God plans to give to us.  He is the down payment of the inheritance God has purchased for you through Christ.  It is also true because everything the Christian believer does is accomplished in and by the Spirit.  It is by the Spirit that we came to know and believe in Christ.  It is in the Spirit that we live the Christian life.  It is in the Spirit that we have fellowship with God, and understand the Scriptures, and receive the good of the means of grace.  Primarily, what Christ began to do and teach in His earthy ministry, is continued now by the Holy Spirit.  So to pray for the Holy Spirit is to ask to be a part of the work of Christ.  It is to ask for all of the blessings of Christ, and to be made a part of His new people in the new era of the reign of Christ.  May God grant us His Holy Spirit. Amen.