Monday, February 27, 2006

March 1: Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. If you need help in determining what you can do to give shape to your Lenten discipline this year, visit Connecting Worship and Daily Living in Lent or Spirit Home, where you can find more suggestions.

New WNL Class: This Holy Mystery

Great news! Mary Lou Stephens will be leading a new eight-week Wednesday Night Live class on This Holy Mystery. The class begins on March 22. Earlier this year I read the text of This Holy Mystery and found it to be well written, Biblically-informed, theologically sound, historically informative, and long overdue as an ecouragement for solid sacramental practice in any congregation. I want to thank Mary Lou for taking the initiative in providing leadership in FUMC's sacramental renewal, and I urge anyone in the parish reading this notice to come, support Mary Lou as a teacher, and let the Holy Spirit bless you with a renewed and enlarged appreciation and desire for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Our parish will also provide you with a beautiful paperback copy of This Holy Mystery when you come to Mary Lou's class.

February 27: Give thanks to God for George Herbert

Today the Church thanks God for the life and witness of George Herbert, one of my favorite seventeenth-century poets. When in England years ago I spent the best part of a day visiting his little parish church near the Salisbury Cathederal. If you've got a good traditional hymnal, you'll find that some of the lyrics of your favorite songs were written by him. Take a look, for example, at The United Methodist Hymnal's "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (No. 93) and "Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life" (No. 164). Aren't those wonderful words! As a university English professor, I've had the privilege of reading and writing about Herbert's poetry for many years. And this morning, I'll say this prayer slowly--and with a grateful heart--during Morning Prayer:

Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Come additional comments on Exodus 4:24 ff.


Our Bible class this morning (Feb. 26) continued discussion of the difficult passage in Exodus 4:24. We didn't get too far, but our teacher, Patrick, took us in the general direction suggested by the post by Andy on Feb. 20 (see below).

An interesting question was raised, however, by one of our members, Harry S. Harry was listening to the on-going discussion of the passage about circumcision and who the pronoun "him" referred to in the original Hebrew. We had several translations in class, each of which took a different view of this pronoun's antecedent. Harry said, "Well, that's all well and good, but what I want to know is: what did Zipporah mean when she said to Moses, 'Surely you are a bridegreeom of blood to me'? Look at these translations, 'bloody husband,' and so on. What does that phrase mean?"

We were running out of time at that point, and Patrick had to stop the class because the choir members were getting up in order to be robed-n-ready for the 10:45 a.m. service.

I think Harry has raised an interesting point. What did Zipporah have in mind there--if anything other than the accusation mentioned in Andy's post. I suspect Harry is thinking that there's something more going on than the British "bloody hell" kind of curse. The NIV translation (quoted above) suggests to me a ritual-driven accusation, such as, "You are my true husband, who drew blood on our wedding night. Now it's time again to be a man . . . . " Perhaps this has already been suggested by Andy's post.

Gene K. raised another intesting point, in reference to the euphemistic use of "foot" in the OT. Gene mentioned the story of Ruth and Boaz, specifically the part of the story when Ruth goes to Boaz when he's sleeping and was told by Naomi to lay down at his "feet." I'll never read that story again in the same way.

Anyway, our Bible class will return to Exodus 4 again next week, and the week after, and the week after that, and--. If any of you have any thoughts, please let me know. (Do it quickly; I'm afraid I'll die of old age before the class gets to it!)

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, February 25, 2006

February 26: The Transfiguration of Our Lord

A few Sundays ago June and I worshipped at the Sunday evening contemplative Eucharist at Faith Lutheran Church in Lexington, Kentucky. After the final benediction, June asked Diana, one of the parishioners, why there were candles lit in many places in and around the altar. Diana answered, “Because it the season of Epiphany, the brightest season of the church’s year, and we want to remind ourselves that Jesus is the Great Light, the Light of the world, and he, in turn, is giving us light.”

Today, many churches—Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, among others—celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, the last Sunday of Epiphany; in their worshipping communities these Christians will hear the story of the Brightly-Shining Jesus, whom of his disciples saw in all his radiant glory. After hearing the story in the Gospel of Mark, their pastors will help them understand the meaning of Jesus' transfiguration and once again, our Lord will be worshipped and given glory.

As the Epiphany seasons comes to an end today, such churches may put away the candles because the church will soon emphasize the dark suffering and death of our Lord, the awful prelude to Easter. It’s for this reason that something else happens in many churches. As Ash Wednesday on March 1 begins the forty days of Lent, today Christians also sing their last Alleluia until Easter Eve. In this way, the church year moves us through the life of Jesus--today with much light and a great Alleluia; on Wednesday more somberly, in the shadows of things, so speak--without candles, without alleluias. If you are leaving the Season of Epiphany and entering Lent, you may wish to read Lutheran Pastor Lyle E. McKee's sermon, "The Tunnel at the End of the Light."

February 25: Elizabeth Fedde, Deaconness

When Jesus took the towel and basin and stooped to wash the disciples' feet, he provided a most vivid picture of servanthood and a model for deaconess ministry. "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." John 13:14.

In New Testament times deaconesses and deacons were set apart to assist and lead the church in caring for the poor, marginalized, powerless people whom it would have been so easy to forget. Throughout the ages the diaconate has shaped itself in various ways, but the central heartbeat has always been the same -- to reach out in Christian love to those in need.

Today, the Lutheran Church especially remembers one such person, Deaconess Elizabeth Fedde. Here s one of the prayers you might you might hear in this communities of the holy, catholic, apostolic church today:

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servants Elizabeth Fedde and her companions, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

February 24: St. Mathias, Apostle, Martyr

On Friday, February 24, many Christians all over the world remember St. Matthias (sometimes spelled Mathias). Luke tells us nearly all we know about him in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, 1:15-26:

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Here is a homily by Dr. Audrey West of the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, Illinois, that you may find thoughtful and Good News for you on this feast day:

Ordinary People, Ordinary Calls

Did you notice? Mathias, Apostle Number Twelve, just got entranced, endorsed, approved, and called, all in one meeting. With a fast-track candidacy process like that one, you'd think his name would appear on a list of "famous call stories of the Bible." But I'll bet that his is not the first name that comes to mind when somebody asks you to choose a biblical character whose call story most inspires you.

And what about the runner-up, Joseph called Barsabbas with the surname Justus? Three names, just to be sure we know who was the guy who DIDN'T get chosen, but even with three names, he's like a stranger to us, a nobody. Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas appear nowhere else in Luke-Acts or even in the rest of the New Testament, and their brief call story is hardly the stuff to write home about.

Nothing like the drama of Moses and a burning bush. Or Samuel and a voice in the night. Or Mary and a visit from an angel. Or Paul and a blinding light. Now those are call stories. Supernatural, I-Max images flash, vivid in our mind's eye as we read those narratives: sight and sound and darkness and light. Call stories, super-sized.

Those are the sort of call-stories most people name and remember; those are the call stories many of us would like to have for ourselves. You know, something really definitive, the stuff of movies, rather than the one-foot-in-front-of-another call that more typically characterizes our experience. We love to have a "call" with a capital C. Some of us figure, if we're not gonna hear an audible God-voice, we might at least get a roadside billboard. Have you seen them? They say things like, "God is calling: pick up the phone." or "Follow me today. Love Jesus." I have driven past dozens of these signs – placed roadside by the United Methodist Church, I believe – and I still haven't seen the name "Audrey" on a single one of them. And I've looked!

Who knows: perhaps Matthias would've liked one of those billboards for himself. Perhaps Joseph-called-Barsabbas would've liked to hear a thundering voice out of a burning bush, or at least to have a little conversation with a messenger from God, particularly since it turned out that becoming Apostle Number Twelve was not to be his call. But billboards and burning bushes are not what Matthias and Joseph got. God didn't call them in cataclysmic drama, not with flashing lights and angel visits, not even with a voice from heaven.

Instead, God called them through the ordinary workings of a bunch of humans, gathered together in order to fill an empty position. It's the sort of process familiar to many of our seniors, who must deal with call committees and the workings of the institutional church: a bunch of humans, gathered together, in order to fill an empty position. No pyrotechnic dramatics; just a crowd of earth-bound people. Doing the work of heaven.

It is perhaps surprising that the important task of filling out the Twelve – of making complete the fullness of God's plan – involves such an ordinary process. A process so ordinary that it is completed by the casting of lots – not unlike the flip of a coin, or the rolling of dice. A process so ordinary that even the qualifications are, well, ordinary. Or perhaps we should say, "the qualification," for there's really only one of them.

Peter says that the person who will be chosen is one who accompanied the disciples during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them. That is, the single, most important qualification for this call, is TIME. Time that knows beginning and end, time that spans an earthly, muddy-water baptism, and a heavenly, cloudy-sky ascension, and everything in between. Time for knowing the whole story.

Not just a few high points of an exorcism here and a miraculous healing there. Not just the way that Jesus captured people's attention with brilliant parables and lessons about lilies. The one who is called is one who has taken time to learn the whole picture: the plan of God, foretold in the Scripture, played out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The one who is called knows time that spans heaven and earth. Chairos by way of Chronos. God's time through the ordinary.

So the call process for Matthias is an ordinary one, carried out by ordinary humans and requiring ordinary preparation. What kind of a call story is this? If the drama is not to be found in the process of call, or in preparation for the call, then surely there will be a little drama in the call itself, in what the call is TO. Surely Matthias will bring about great things for the sake of the people of God. Something along the lines of guiding people out of bondage, or leading a mission to the Gentiles. Wouldn't ya think?

But no; once again ordinary is the operative principle. As I mentioned earlier, the book of Acts tells nothing more about Matthias, nothing about incredible deeds as Apostle Number Twelve. Matthias is called for nothing more dramatic than this: to give testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. Unlike those other great calls of the Bible, this call doesn't beckon ahead to the great things that somebody will do, but rather it looks back to the great things God has already done: from the baptism of John until the ascension into heaven. An ordinary call, bearing witness to an extraordinary God.

The call of Matthias reminds me of a story told by Fred Craddock about his own ministry and sense of call. Craddock says that he always imagined that someday he'd do something really great, he'd be a martyr for Jesus. There'd be a monument built for him to recognize his deed and people would come by and read "Here's where Fred gave it all for Jesus."

He always thought his call would play out as a spectacular $100 bill kind of experience. But then he came to realize that his ministry was actually about giving lectures, reading books, grading papers, going to meetings. He knew he'd finally accepted that call when he took the $100 bill to the bank and said, "give it to me in quarters." Now, Craddock says, he lives out his call one ordinary quarter at a time.

So, here we are, ordinary people, heading into graduation, into summer, into new ministries in new settings or into the same ministries in the same settings. As we put one-foot-in-front-of-the-other let us be grasped NOT by visions of the spectacular, but by visions of the ordinary. Not thinking that "real" ministry happens only in the big time, but knowing that real ministry happens in God's time. It happens in the normal stuff of life; in the small, in the simple, in the living out of the life to which we have been called – even as ordinary as that life might be.
And when we think of the great call stories of the Bible, may we remember that this story – Matthias' story, Joseph-called-Barsabbas' story, OUR story – this ordinary story is a great call story, too. AMEN

Here is the Church's prayer for this day:

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Monday, February 20, 2006

Exodus 4: 24-26 What do these verses say and mean?

Exodus 4.24-26: A Biblical Conundrum

In our Sunday Bible Class, we’re studying the book of Exodus under the direction of Dr. Patrick Nnoromele. Yesterday Brother Patrick asked us to look ahead at three verses that have not easily been understood: Exodus 4.24-26. Inasmuch as June and I will be out-of-town next Sunday, I thought it might be helpful if we take a look at these verses to prepare ourselves for the upcoming discussion. Here are the “tough to understand” verses as presented in several translations:


24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched {Moses'} feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.)

24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
New Life Version

24 The Lord met Moses at a resting place on the way and would have put him to death. 25 But Zipporah took a knife and cut off her son's piece of skin and threw it at Moses' feet. And she said, "For sure you are a husband of blood to me." 26 Then the Lord let him alone. Zipporah said, "You are a husband of blood," because of the religious act of becoming a Jew.

There are at least six questions we may ask about these verses:

1. Why is God so suddenly angry?
2. With whom is God so suddenly angry?
3. Why does Zipporah take a flint knife and circumcise her son?
4. What does it mean when the narrator says she “cast [the newly amputated foreskin] at Moses’ “feet”? Why does she throw the foreskin at Moses’ feet?
5. Why does Ziporrah call Moses (depending on the translation) “a bridegroom of blood” (NIV), “a bloody husband” (KJB), or “a husband of blood” (New Life Version).
6. Why is this little story in the Bible? What application may we Christians make of it?

What follows are my reflections as I look at the verses in my Jerusalem Bible:

1. The context

It’s important to see the context of verses 24-26. Earlier, claiming he’s not eloquent enough, Moses has been trying to excuse himself from being God’s messenger to Pharaoh. Genuinely peeved and quite “angry” at Moses in verse 4.14, God responds by introducing Aaron as Moses’ mouthpiece; that is, Aaron, soon to arrive upon the scene, will “speak to the people in [Moses’] place (17). Apparently this arrangement proves satisfactory to Moses. Going back to his father-in-law, Moses asks Jethro for his permission to return to Egypt and obtains a yes-you-can-return blessing from his wife’s father (18). The LORD then urges Moses to get going, assuring him that everyone “who wanted to kill you” is now dead. Immediately Moses takes off with his wife and son, that is, with Zipporah and Gershom (see 2.22); he also takes the “staff of God” God gave him at the beginning of Chapter 4. God then reminds Moses that he is to “think of the wonders I have given you power to person” (21), and he tells Moses what to expect from Pharaoh after he hears Moses’ message; ultimately, God says, Pharaoh will experience the death of his “first-born son” because he will refuse to let Israel, God’s “first-born son” leave Egypt.

2 The problem with the antecedents of the two pronouns: “him” and “his”

Now we come to the “tough” verses. On his way to Egypt, Moses stops off at inn and discovers that God is trying to kill “him!” Who is the him? Moses? Before you say, “Yes, it’s Moses whom God is trying to kill!” note the next verse, 25: “Then Zipporah, taking up a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin and with it touched his [whose? Moses?] feet . . . .” Some readers suggest Zipporah’s quick action indicates that the baby’s life is in danger! Thus at this point we have two possibilities:

1. God is trying to kill Moses.
2. God is trying to kill Moses’ son, Gershom.

The text can be read both ways. Here’s why:

1. God is trying to kill Moses because he—in his great haste to get to Egypt has completely forgotten to circumcise his very own “first-born son” Gershom into the Great Covenant! How in the world can he preach to Pharaoh about the importance of respecting Israel, God’s “first-born son” (23) when Moses himself has failed to realize the importance of taking care of his own flesh-and-blood, little Gershom, who travels along outside the covenant with God! Moses thus deserves to die because he’s proved himself completely insensitive to the will of God which has been made absolutely clear to the Patriarch Abraham: the covenant relationship must always be sealed by circumcision (Genesis 17)! No wonder God is angry at Moses!

2. God is angry at Moses’ uncircumcised son, Gershom. Just as God will put to death the “first-born” of Pharaoh because of his father’s refusal to obey God, so here God will put to death the “first-born” of Moses for the same reason: Moses has not obeyed God by not fulfilling the covenant requirement that all Israelite males are to be circumcised. It seems to me that the first reading is preferable: God is trying to kill Moses because in his haste to get going to Egypt he has completely forgotten how the Abrahamic covenant is to be ratified: Moses has forgotten to get the knife and cut off the foreskin of his own son! Moreover, it should not surprise us that God is angry with Moses again; after all, he was angry with him in verse 14.

3. Zipporah’s quick saving action

At this point we should make special note that it’s Zipporah who “saves the day”! It’s a quick-witted woman who knows exactly what to do. When her pre-occupied, negligent husband (no doubt busy taking care of the donkey, making motel reservations, and looking at road maps) forgets his number-one responsibility (circumcize the boy!) and thereby prompts God to anger, Zipporah reaches into her handbag, gets out the penis-knife and goes to work. Snip! Snip! Snip! Good for her! Her hands all bloody, she makes it possible for Gershom to be in the covenant and thus stave off God’s anger at the irresponsible parent—Moses.

Notice what else she does. She takes the bloody little foreskin and throws it at Moses’ “feet.” Well, that’s what the Bible says, but you should know that in the Bible the word feet often means a man’s genitals, his penis and testicles. As The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains,

"Foot" or "feet" is sometimes used euphemistically for the genitals (Deuteronomy 28:57; Ezekiel 16:25). "To cover the feet" (1 Samuel 24:3) is synonymous with obeying a call of Nature. Even today "to speak with the feet" is expressive of the eloquence of abusive and obscene gesticulation among oriental people, where hands, eyes and feet are able to express much without the use of words (Proverbs 6:13).

Zipporah’s throwing--you see the rather violent action?--Gershom’s foreskin on Moses’ private parts is reinforces the dramatic quality of her foreskin-cutting activity. Notice what she says when she make the throw, “Bloody husband”! Her scorn, given voice by this invective, is full of irony; she’s calling her husband exactly what he isn’t. After all, he’s not bloody; she is! And she’s a good bit put out that she has had to do the cutting, the snipping, the circumcising! Can you image the looks she must have given Moses!

4. How to apply the story of our lives

Well, that’s how I read the story. Now I ask: why is this episode in the Bible? I think the narrator/editor made sure it’s there for three reasons:

First, to make sure we know that God takes covenant business seriously. Second, to show us again that Moses is full of faults even though he is to be the leader of God’s chosen people. Third, to remind us that often it’s women who act decisively on God’s behalf. And four, to remind us that all of us take our own covenant with God seriously. In other words, get your kids into God’s covenant and take your parental responsibilities seriously. Some would argue that these verses, read by New Testament Christians, encourage us to take the baptizing of our children seriously.

I wish I could be with everyone in this Sunday's Bible class, but--alas!--I have to be in Louisville. Let me know how you all make sense of these verses!

The Wesley Blog

This morning while trying to locate some information about John and Charles Wesley, I came across The Wesley Blog, a wonderfully informative, robust, and well-organized, link-full, "poly-logue-ful" place of conversation, good humor, and talk about renewal in the United Methodist Church. I urge you to take a look! I'm sure that the more I become acquainted with The Wesley Blog, I'll be in conversation with all these Christian friends. By the way, don't be upset with its logo; it's there to get your attention.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Getting Ready for Lent: A Reading Suggestion

Realizing that Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent is only ten days away, I've decided to go ahead and order Stanley Hauerwas's, Cross-Shattered Christ; Meditations on the Seven Last Words from Recommended as excellent Lenten reading by Dan Clendenin at Journey with Jesus, one reviewer, Halden Doerge, at submitted this brief review:

This little book by Stanley Hauerwas is a wonderful gem of meditative theological reflection on the last seven words of Christ. Hauerwas powerfully reflects on each of these phrases and looks at how, through them we get glimpses of God and his wonderous interpretation and restoration of the world. All throughout, Hauerwas passionately explores the realities of Christ's cross and how its unfathomable 'victory-in-defeat' is the ground and center of Christian faith and life. This book will be a wonderful devotional tool for Lent and Eastertide. It's clear writting and powerful message make this an ideal book for all Christians. Highly recommended.

Well, inasmuch as I almost always find Hauerwas an especially perceptive (and often upsetting) Christian voice, Doerge's recommendation is good enough for me. I'm placing an order today. The book is only $10.49, and that looks like a real buy. If I read two or maybe three pages slowly as my lectio divina during Lent, I should be able to finish it by Easter Eve. Perhaps you'd like to read it with me.

If you've decided to read something or someone else during, tell us about your choice!

February 18: Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor

On this day many Christians are remembering and celebrating the witness of Martin Luther who died on February 18, 1546. In a time of great need, God raised Luther up to reform the Church. God used him to recenter the Church upon the Gospel—upon God’s pure gift of grace. Nearly five hundred years later, Luther still invites us to stake our lives on Jesus Christ alone.

As you might expect, Lutheran churches make special efforts to recall and celebrate the teaching and prophetic ministry of Martin Luther. So do our Episcopalian brothers and sisters. Here, for example, is what Father Timothy Graham, the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Covington, Georgia, has written about Blessed Martin in his parish's February newsletter:

Martin Luther was born November 19, 1483. His intellelectual abilities were evident early, and his father planned a career for him in law. Luther's real interest lay elsewhere, however, and in 1505 he entered the local Augustinian monastery. He was ordained a priest April 3, 1507. In October 1512 Luther received his doctorate in theology, and shortly afterward he was installed as a professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His lectures on the Bible were popular, and within a few years he made the univesity a center for biblical humanism. As a result of his theological and biblical studies he called into question the practice of selling indulgences. On the eve of All Saints' Day, October 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg the notice of an academic debate on indulgences, listing 95 theses for discussion. As the effects of theses became evident, the Pope called upon the Augustinian order to discipline their member. After a series of meetings, political maneuvers, and attempts at
reconciliation, Luther, at a meeting with papal legate in 1518, refused to recant. Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. The Emporer Charles V summoned him to the meeting of the Imperial Diet at Worms. There Luther resisted all efforts to make him recant, insisting that he had to be proved in error on the basis of Scripture. The Diet passed an edict calling for the arrest of Luther. Luther's own prince, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, however, had him spirited away and placed for safekeeping in his castle, the Wartburg. Here Luther translated the New Testament into German and began the translation of the Old Testament. He then turned his attention to the organization of worship and education. He introduced congregational singing of hymns, composing many himself, and issued model order of service. He published his large and small catechisms for instruction in the faith. During the years from 1522 to his death, Luther wrote a prodigious quantity of books, letters, sermons and tracts. Luther died on February 18, 1546.

I want to thank Father Tim for including such a remembrance of Luther in his parish newsletter.

Here is one of the church's prayers for this day:

Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life; we especially praise you this day for your servant Martin Luther. Raise up in our day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

If you wish to know more about Luther, Roland H. Bainton's Here I Stand : A Life of Martin Luther is a great place to start.

A Letter from Richard J. Foster of Renovare

This morning I wish to share this February letter from Richard J. Foster of Renovare. Here it is:


A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this article on suffering. (Not funny in the sense of humorous; more in the sense of a comedy of errors.) It began with surgery on my foot to correct some old injuries (fully intended and planned for) . . . which led to an infection in the foot (not intended at all) . . . which led to taking antibiotics to fight the infection (not intended but a good thing) . . . which led to a serious allergic reaction to the antibiotics (most definitely not intended) . . . which led to an overnight stay in the Intensive Care Unit at a nearby hospital (certainly not intended but most instructive).

While much of what happened these past days was not intended by me, it afforded an excellent opportunity to deepen in the knowledge that "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). I also expanded my understanding of the insight of James into the ways trials produce in us a patient endurance (Jam. 1:2-4).

Suffering Avoidance

In the future we are going to look back on 2005 as "The Year of Suffering." The most identifying features of that year were the Asian tsunami, the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, and the earthquake in Pakistan. These natural disasters brought death to multiplied tens-of-thousands and have displaced many more.

These terrible natural disasters remind us that suffering is painfully real. Now, this knowledge is important to us today for we live in a culture of "suffering avoidance." To be hit in the gut by suffering on a massive scale shocks us back into reality, and that reality is that suffering is a fact of human existence as we know it. We had better get used to it. We live in a good world gone bad. Even the creation which is so beautiful in so many ways has been affected by the Fall and that is how we experience it.

These all but overwhelming natural disasters are comprised of multiplied millions of stories of individual suffering. And it is the individual human suffering that we must see and understand and refuse to run from.

We speak in Christian theology of the vicarious suffering of Christ. By this we mean more than Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, though we do mean to include this pivotal event. On the cross Jesus, the Christ, took into himself all the sins and sorrows of the past, present, and future, and through his blood redeemed it all. Jesus experienced, however, not only a cross-death but also a cross-life. As the Son of God walked among us in the flesh he constantly and consistently identified with those who suffer; the bruised and the broken, the poor and the weak, the hopeless and helpless.

Standing With . . . Aching With . . . Weeping With . . .

This is where you and I come in. We are never more the Church than in our identification with those who suffer. This is one vital way we participate in the vicarious suffering of Christ (Phil. 3:10). This is why mission hospitals have always been such an important element in mission penetration throughout history. Learning to stand with, ache with, weep with those who suffer may not be everything, but it certainly stands close to the center of our apprenticeship to Jesus. And it is right here that the watching world will be able to see our love. It is love in action, love with skin on it. Here we need to be sharply counter-cultural. Rather than avoid suffering at all costs we intentionally embrace suffering to the glory of God and the good of all people.

I urge you: don't run from suffering. It is here. It is real. If you have not experienced it personally as yet, believe me, you will. And, frankly, it is all around you—at home, at work, among neighbors and friends.

Two Challenges for Avoiding Suffering Avoidance

So now, here is the first challenge I would like to place before us: find someone who is suffering within your circle of nearness. Our spiritual formation is first always local and specific. So, find a suffering human being. This will come to you as a result of prayerful watchfulness to those in your world. Neighbors. Friends. Even strangers. Then simply be with this person and allow what happens to happen. You will be led I am sure.

This is where we begin, but it is not where we end. Our circle of nearness needs to be expanded. So here is my second challenge: intentionally step outside of your circle of nearness. Experience a short term mission trip. Visit Auschwitz. Read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Take a plunge experience into the urban life in one of our large cities.

Undertaking this second challenge will expand your circle of nearness and will guide you to the next step. I cannot describe that next step for you because it will be individual and specific to your own experience and gift set. You will be led I am sure. Then, mind the Light.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster


A note from Andy: You may wish to explore what Renovare offers to us as Christians.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New Prayer Book Arrives !

O happy day! Now that I've retired my nearly fifty-year-old Benedictine prayer book (see the previous post), I'm so happy that yesterday the mail-lady handed me The Daily Prayer of the Church, just off the Lutheran University Press. It's wonderful! Complete with all the psalms (marked for singing), daily Bible readings that help me read nearly all of Scriptures over a two-year period, hymns for Evening and Morning Prayer, and lots more, I'm now settling in to learn how best to use it. For many years now I been almost daily going with the ancient prayer rhythm of the Church, established long ago in her history. If you'd like to know more about this very old and substantial way of praying, here are some places to visit:
  • Learning the Ancient Rhythms of Prayer where a Mennonite Christian finds about the Daily Office
  • The Daily Office where the Mission of St. Clare in Cupertino, California, maintains an online site for reading or downloading
  • The Order of Saint Luke which publishes a series of volumes to aid individuals and/or communities to order their prayer through the traditional canonical "hours" of the day
  • More comments from folks in different Christian traditions who use (and don't use) the Daily Office to enter the ancient rhythms of the church's prayer life, part of that "old-time religion"! Here, for example, is what one Methodist pastor says:

I am a United Methodist pastor and small-church consultant who's always found the daily office to be a central resource for prayer and scriptural meditation. No other resource that I know of so naturally and easily combines prayer (both personal and communal) with Scripture.

Good news for oldest Megiddo Christian church

Yesterday I received my 21 February 2006 copy of The Christian Century which published this good news:

Israel may relocate a jail in the Galilee on the recommendation of archaeologists who have discovered on its grounds the remnants of what is said to be the oldest church ever found in the Holy Land. The third-century prayer chapel laden with inscriptions and mosaics was found last year on Megiddo prison land, west of Afula in northern Israel. It was uncovered by prisoners helping archaeologists excavate the site prior to construction of a new prison wing. In light of the discovery, the prison will no longer be expanded, and a committee of leading archaeologists from the governmental Antiquities Authority has advised that it be relocated so that find can be preserved and further archaeological excavations can take place. Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, who toured the area, said he support moving the prison because of the site's historical importance to Christianity. Katsav said Pope Benedict XVI had, at a meeting in Rome last year, expressed interest in visiting the excavation on any future trips to the Holy Land.

For more information, see our previous posts in mid-January.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lewis and Bonhoeffer on Intercessory Prayer

Recently I've been reading Lyle W. Dorsett's Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis; it's a marvelous book. Concerning Lewis's prayer life, Dorsett says:

This busy writer, lecturer, and tutor gradually extended his prayer times to early in the morning and late at night, but his best time for intercessory praeyr was early morning. He sometimes prayed, weather permitting, during late afternoon strolls through the Magdalen College grounds. Lewis's private taxi driver, Clifford Morris, a devout evangelical Christian, told me that his frequent employer (Lewis never owned a car) was one of the most prayerful men he had ever known. He found Mr. Lewis to be warm and congenial, always treating him as an equal despite the wide disparity between their social classes and educational levels. This treatment surprised and blessed Morris, because other men--including Christians--were never so generous. Occasionally, Professor Lewis would get into the car and on the way to Cambridge say, "Morris, I'm sorry I can't talk for a quarter of an hour. I need to do my prayers."

Dorsett continues:

During busy times Lewis must have felt the prayers he promised to offer up for people were hardly a joy, but rather a burdensome duty. Nevertheless, as he told one of his correspondents, doing oone's prayers albeit "grudgingly," "tho' a nuisance need not depress us too much. It is an act of will (perhaps strongest where there is some disinclination to contend against) that God values, rather than the state of our emotions--the act what we give Him, the emotions what He gives us . . . ."

Dorsett's commentary on Lewis's prayer life reminds me of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, something to which Lewis would certainly agree:

The Christian needs to be alone during a definite period of each day for meditation on scripture...and for prayer...even during times of spiritual dryness and apathy. It matters little what form of prayer we adopt...or how many words we use. What matters is the faith which lays hold on God, knowing that He knows our needs before we even ask Him. That is what gives Christian prayer its boundless confidence and its joyous certainty. We simply make petitions and requests to One who has the heart of a Father. Of course, God's will must be the primary object of our prayers... and we must recognize prayer as an instrument of God's will. Therefore, we pray that God's will may be done throughout the world...and in intercessory prayer we bring people... from around the world...into the presence of God. Every intercession potentially draws the one for whom it is intended into a life-changing relationship with Christ. And in intercession I move into the other man's place. I enter his life...his guilt and distress. I am afflicted by his sins and his infirmity. we pray...we recognize our own responsibility for the world's guilt and our own guilt in the death of Christ...then we can act upon and affect the lives of men and women throughout the world.

All of which is to ask that you remember June, me, and our family in your intercessions. If you wish us to pray for you, please let us know.


Column by Ben Witherington III on "The Beloved Disciple"

The new issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April) arrived this week with a columy by Asbury faculty member Ben Witherington III. The column looks at the mystery of who was "the disciple whom Jesus loved," that is to say, who was the author of the Gospel of John. Candidates for this honor have ranged from John the son of Zebedee to Mary Magdalene. Dr. Withrington does an interesting bit of detective work and suggests that the mystery author was Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha. After all, who better to beome a true believer than a man who has been rescued from the grave by Jesus?
The argument is too complex to repeat here, but it's well done (and well written, as always).
I found Dr. Witherington's work a refreshing change from some of the speculative archaeological books I've been looking at over the past few weeks--wannabe Indiana Jones characters who claim to have found Noah's Ark, or the shipwreck of St. Paul on Malta, or the exact location of the Ark of the Covenant. How much better (and more compelling) is an argument from the texts of scripture, and one that suggests a relationship we never noticed before?
By the way, the Biblical Archaeology Review has been redesigned for a much more modern look and expanded coverage.
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, February 13, 2006

New Daily Prayer Book

Now that June and I are back from Hawaii, our lives are once again beginning to settle into familiar patterns. We're both detertimed to return to walking, more regular "main" prayers (as C. S. Lewis calls them), simpler habits of life. One of my more or less regularities over the last five decades has been the use the Daily Office (from the Latin officium, "work") or Daily Prayer of the Church. Since the 60's I've used a now-out-of-print Book of Hours, edited by the the Benedictine Monks of Encalcat Abbey, 1956. As a prayer book, containing all the psalms, canticles, collects, and traditional services for daily prayer, it's been good to me, a real blessing. But, bless it, the old book is getting old, worn out, and ready for the shelf for Retired Biblia. In its place I'm awaiting the arrival of The Daily Prayer of the Church (DPC), newly published by the Lutheran University Press. Here's what I expect to find in the DPC:

A treasury of prayer in the centuries old Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic tradition of the offices. The material is arranged to facilitate use by clergy and laity; to be a prayer book for all the people of God. It is intended for the faithful of many denominations--to be used whole or in part, in private, in families, or small groups in churches. This is complete prayer book “in the ancient way of offices” including text and music: Evening Prayer for each season of the Church year (Advent, Christmas-Epiphany, General Time, Lent, Holy Week, Easter); Morning Prayer for each season of the Church year; Compline; Forms for Prayer during the Day (mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon); Proper antiphons with each Psalm and with the Gospel Canticles; Psalm prayers and prayers appropriate for each Old Testament and New Testament canticle; Hymns ancient and modern with music; Two-year BCP-LBW daily lectionary; Proper Responsories in Morning Prayer; An ecumenical course of collects, ancient and modern, for every Sunday of the year and for every day of Christmas, Lent, and Easter; An enriched calendar of festivals and commemorations; Prayers, intercessions, devotional prayers.
It should arrive today, perhaps tomorrow, surely by Wednesday. Rejoice with me when it comes!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

February 2: The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple

On this day many Christians are remembering an important event in the life of Our Lord Jesus, his presentation and the purification of his mother Mary, as prescribed by the Torah, in the temple. You can read the story in Luke 2:22-40. My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible provides this commentary:

In modern society the elderly are rarely held in high esteem. They are shunted off to senior citizens' homes where they are cared for by professional staff rather than their own families. We seem to be saying their usefulness is past, and the increasing tolerance of euthanasia underscores that belief. This is not God's attitude. Simeon and Anna are the senior citizens of Luke's version of Jesus' birth, and they know and understand
more than anyone else. Of all the people that Jerusalem's streets were teeming with the day that Jesus was named--the rich, the powerful, the young, the holy--only Simeon and Anna are given insight into who is being carried into the Temple courts in his parents' arms. In fact, they know more than Mary or Joseph, who are astonished at what Simeon says about Jesus. It is clear that God has placed great value on Anna and Simeon and that he does not think he is wasting the Holy Spirit on two seniors who have passed the prime of their

The story of the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary is full of good news, so good in fact that many Christians, using the church's "Night Prayer" or "Compline," sing or say the Song of Simeon (often referred to as the Nunc Dimittus, its Latin name) each evening before they go to bed.

If you wish to celebrate this day with other Christiains, visit the following:

Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord
Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The Presentation of Our Lord: Candlemas
The Presentation (Meeting) of Our Lord in the Temple

After reading the Gospel story in Luke, perhaps you'd like to share your thoughts. Please do so.

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