The Universal Covenant of Christ   1 comment

Above:  Coral Reef Biodiversity

Image Source = Richard Ling

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 8:6-13 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

But, as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.  For it that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second.

For he finds no fault with them when he says:

The days will come, says the Lord,

when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah;

not like the covenant that I made with their fathers

on the day when I took them by the hand

to lead them out of the land of Egypt;

for they did not continue in my covenant,

and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord.

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel

after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws into their minds,

and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach every one of his fellow

or every one of his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

and all shall know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,

and I will remember their sins no more.

In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete.  And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Psalm 85:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Show us your mercy, O LORD,

and grant us  your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together,

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Mark 3:13-19 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons:  Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes of a new covenant, one which God has instigated for people without regard for human distinctions.  We mere mortals are skilled at labeling ourselves and each other and transforming these into the basis for conflict:  clean vs. unclean, Jew vs. Gentile, White vs. Black, native-born vs. foreign-born, liberal vs. conservative, heterosexual vs. homosexual, male vs. female, Protestant vs. Roman Catholic, et cetera.  We are a tribal bunch, are we not?  Yet our notions of what is proper or clean do not bind God.

This theme runs through the canonical Gospels.  Jesus was on the outs with the religious establishment of his own religion, and he found faith among prostitutes, Roman collaborators, tax collectors (working for Rome), Gentiles attracted to Judaism (yet kept marginal by the orthodox), and notorious sinners.  Shame and honor are social constructs; one has or lacks them according to consensus.  By this standard, Jesus died shamefully.  Yet the instrument of his execution has become a symbol of triumph and a popular symbol for jewelry.

Let us consider the motley crew we call the Twelve Apostles.

  • Simon Peter was impetuous. He went on to deny Jesus three times before finding his sea legs and becoming the leader of the group.
  • Thomas was a healthy skeptic, and thus a good foil to Simon Peter’s tendency to blurt out unfortunate yet well-meant statements.
  • James and John, sons of Zebedee, were cousins of Jesus.  The standard translation of boanerges is “sons of thunder,” but I recall a now-deceased seminary professor saying that “hellraiser” is a better rendering of the word.
  • Matthew had been a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  The tax farming system was set up such that he and other tax collectors gathered more funds than the Empire required.  They passed along the Empire’s taxes and kept the rest for themselves.  They were literal tax thieves, not to mention collaborators.
  • Simon the Cananaean had been a violent revolutionary trying to expel the occupying Romans.
  • Judas Iscariot became disappointed in Jesus, whom he betrayed.
  • Unfortunately, we know little about some of the Apostles.  This is one area in which I would have asked the authors of the canonical Gospels for more information.
  • Ten of the Twelve Apostles died as martyrs.

The canonical Gospels (especially Mark) are clear that the Apostles misunderstood Jesus for years.  Others knew who and what Jesus was and what that meant (at least partially).  Yet the Apostles stand out in the Gospels as not being the brightest crayons in the box.

There is hope in this for you and me.  Jesus did not call he qualified; he qualified the called.  Our Lord and Savior recognized the potential in these men.  And it worked out well in 11 of 12 cases.  It did not work out well immediately, but I have my faith today in large part because of the Apostles and their actions.

The universal covenant of Christ defies human labels.  Jesus had both a former Roman tax collector and a former insurrectionist against Roman imperial rule within his inner circle.  Both Matthew and Simon found their unity in Jesus.

The universal covenant of Christ is written on human hearts and minds.  It is internalized, based on love of God.  This is a healthy spiritual relationship built on terror, but on trust, awe, and respect.  In this context social constructs, such as shame and honor, mean nothing.  Most of the Apostles died shamefully, according to human standards.  Yet their martyrdoms were not shameful, for these men died for the love of God and their fellow human beings.

In the early 1950s, during the McCarthy Era witchhunts, Doris Plenn wrote the following words:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,

And hear their death-knell ringing,

When friends rejoice both far and near,

How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile,

Our thoughts to them go winging;

When friends by shame are undefiled,

How can I keep from singing?

I suspect that we humans like labels, such as “clean” and “unclean” because they help us order our world in ways convenient for us.  We tell ourselves that are “clean,” of course, and those different people are “unclean.”  We heap shame upon the heads of others when they have done nothing wrong and we excuse ourselves when we sin.  But God does not see as we do; God looks on the heart.  And, as Jesus said, certain prostitutes will enter Heaven before some of us, who think ourselves respectable, will.  So, what is certain?  The judgment, mercy, and wisdom of God, which exceed human understanding, are constant.  And, if that makes you uncomfortable, that might be a healthy spiritual sign, depending on what you do with that discomfort.  Will you examine yourself spiritually and be open to God, or will you resist?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WENCESLAUS I, DUKE OF BOHEMIA

THE FEAST OF JOHN PAUL I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT LORENZO RUIZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, WALTER HILTON, AND MARGERY KEMPE, ENGLISH MYSTICS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/week-of-2-epiphany-friday-week-1/

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Posted January 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Hebrews, Mark 3, Psalm 85

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One response to “The Universal Covenant of Christ

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  1. Pingback: Week of 2 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1 « ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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