Great Blessings Come With Great Obligations   1 comment

Above: The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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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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Joshua 3:7-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The LORD said to Joshua,

This day, for the first time, I will exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they shall know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.  For your part, command the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant as follows:  When you reach the edge of the waters of the Jordan, make a halt in the Jordan.

And Joshua said to the Israelites,

Come closer and listen to the words of the LORD your God.  By this,

Joshua continued,

you shall know that a living God is among you, and that He will dispossess for you the Canannites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites:  the Ark of the Covenant of the Sovereign of all the earth is advancing before you into the Jordan.  Now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from each tribe.  When the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the LORD, the Sovereign of all the earth, come to rest in the waters of the Jordan–the water coming from upstream–will be cut off and will stand in a single heap.

When the people set out from their encampment to cross the Jordan, the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant were at the head of the people.  Now the Jordan keeps flowing over its entire bed throughout the harvest season.   But as soon as the bearers of the Ark reached the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the Ark dipped into the water at its edge, the waters coming down from upstream piled up in a single head a great way off, at Adam, the town next to Zarethan; and those flowing away downstream to the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) ran out completely.  The priests who bore the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant stood on dry land exactly in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel crossed over on dry land, until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

Psalm 114 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

When Israel came out of Egypt,

the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,

2 Judah became God’s sanctuary

and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea beheld it and fled;

Jordan turned and went back.

The mountains skipped like rams,

and the little hills like young sheep.

What ailed you, O sea, that you fled?

O Jordan, that you turned back?

You mountains, that you skipped like rams?

you little hills like young sheep?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,

at the presence of the God of Jacob,

8 Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water

and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Matthew 18:21-19:1 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Peter approached him [Jesus] with the question,

Master, if my brother goes on wronging me how often should I forgive him?  Would seven times be enough?

Jesus replied,

No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!  For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants.  When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him millions of pounds.  As he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over.  At this the servant fell on his knees before his master.  ’Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’  Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt.

But when this same servant had left his master’s presence, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a few shillings.  He grabbed him and seized him by the throat, crying, ‘Pay up what you owe me!’  At this his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and implored him, ‘Oh, be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’  But he refused and went out and had him put in prison until he should repay the debt.

When the other fellow-servants saw what had happened, they were horrified and went and told their master the whole incident.  This his master called him in.

‘You wicked servant!’ he said.  ’Didn’t I cancel all that debt when you begged me to do so?  Oughtn’t you to have taken pity on your fellow-servant as I, your master, took pity on you?’  And his master in anger handed him over to the jailers till he should repay the whole debt.  This is how my Heavenly Father will treat you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

When Jesus had finished talking on these matters, he left Galilee and went on to the district of Judea on the far side of the Jordan.

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The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.

Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.  Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.  In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism.  In it we are buried with Christ in his death.  By it we share in his resurrection.  Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

At the following words, the Celebrant touches the water.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), pages 306-307

There is symmetry in the story of the Israelites.  They leave Egypt (and slavery) through parted waters and enter the promised land in the same way.  Each time God goes in front of them.  In the case of the reading from Joshua, the Ark of Covenant, an object of great mystical power, went before them.

At this moment I cannot help but recall a classic line from the Spider-Man background story.  His wise Uncle Ben said that with great power comes great responsibility.  Likewise there is a Biblical principle that with great blessing comes the responsibility to be a light to the nations, to serve God and to bring others to God.  Being chosen should never become an occasion of hubris.

And so, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets excoriate society for neglecting the poor, usually widows and orphans.  The proper sacrifice to God, they say, is not superficial fasting and other meaningless shows of insincere religion, but caring for each other in practical ways.  (See Isaiah 58:1-12, for example.)

This principle resides at the heart of the reading from Matthew.  As I wrote in yesterday’s devotion, Matthew 18 speaks of the coexistence of mercy and judgment with God.  And the parable in 18:23-35 is consistent with this, from the Sermon on the Mount:

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get….

–Matthew 7:1-2 (Revised Standard Version)

These can be difficult passages to digest.  At least they are for me.  I want God to forgive, not judge.  But God does both.  I choose to engage the Scriptures and to digest them, including the principle that I must forgive (something I can do only by grace) if I am to receive forgiveness.  This particular parable comes to my mind frequently, pushing me to extend graciousness to many people.

The first servant has somehow accumulated a debt he has no chance of paying back.  Yet this master takes pity on him and forgives the entire debt.  Nevertheless, this servant has a man who owes him a far smaller debt thrown into debtor’s prison.  (Aside:  I have never grasped the principle of debtor’s prison.  If someone cannot pay when a free man or woman, how can he or she pay when in prison?)  The master then treats the first servant the same way he (the servant) acted toward his (the servant’s) debtor.  This is poetic justice.

If we cannot forgive just yet, we can confess this sin to God and seek grace to reach that point.  This is a beginning, at least.  And I believe that God responds favorably to such requests.  We are weak, but God is strong.  At any given moment, especially when we die, may we be in the good graces of God, obeying divine guidance.  We will never achieve entire sanctification in this lifetime, but we can make progress, by grace.  But we must cooperate with God.

The waters of baptism mark outwardly new life in God and in the community of the Church.  Among the baptismal questions in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is this:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

The answer is,

I will, with God’s help.  (page 305)

We are all weak; may we be gracious toward one another, with God’s help.  This is our common vocation:  to foster goodwill, to love each other as ourselves, and to seek the best for each other.  Society will improve when more of us live this way.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 7, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES, APOSTLE TO THE SARACENS

THE FEAST OF SAINT APOLLONIA, MARTYR AT ALEXANDRIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLAISE OF SEBASTE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP’

THE FEAST OF GREGORIO ALLEGRI, COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/week-of-proper-14-thursday-year-1/

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One response to “Great Blessings Come With Great Obligations

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 14: Thursday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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