If we were reading the Old Testament on Sundays, our reading this Sunday would be from Deuteronomy. The book, the fifth in the Jewish Torah, sets forth the history of Israel, and prescribes codes of conducts for its people.
Most scholars divide the book by speeches of Moses. The first section is Chapters 1 to 30. It includes the Law of Moses, the need and ways to follow Yahweh and the redemptive quality of repentance. Chapters 12 to 26 contain the Deuteronomic Code, the law by which Israel should be governed. Laws of religious observance, appointment of judges and civil and criminal law are within the Code, including the Ten Commandments (twice, after Moses smashed the first version). The final four chapters are the Song of Moses, the Blessing of Moses, the change in leadership from Moses to Joshua and the death of Moses.
Deuteronomy also contains the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4): Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. This established a monotheistic standard for the Jewish people, and is still the definitive statement of Israel’s identity.
Our reading for Sunday is Deuteronomy 34: 1-12. Verses 11 and 12 say, “He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of Israel.”
It is a legacy that we can ponder.
Known by some as the “Saint of Nebraska and Colorado,” Hiram Hisanori Kano was born into a Japanese noble family in 1889. As a young man, he received a vision of God while undergoing surgery. He surrendered himself, and subsequently became convinced that in this vision he had encountered the risen Christ. He was baptized in 1910.
Educated in agriculture, he felt called by God to assist Japanese settlers in the American Midwest and so emigrated to Nebraska. In the early 1920’s, Bishop George Beecher discerned in Kano the evangelist he was seeking to work among Nebraska’s Japanese. Already a farmer and educator, Kano set to work as a lay missioner, then a deacon, then a priest. By the spring of 1934, 250 people had been baptized through his ministry.
On the morning of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, Kano was arrested. He spent the next two years in internment camps in four states, working to help other internees and imprisoned AWOL soldiers. In addition to preaching, he served as dean of a school for internees and taught courses.
Upon release, Fr. Kano went to study at Nashotah House, the Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin where he earned a master’s degree and also planted 200 trees. He returned to his ministry in Nebraska in 1946. When the United States government finally offered reparations for the internments, Fr. Kano told his bishop, “I don’t want the money. God just used that as another opportunity for me to preach the gospel.”
Fr. Kano retired in 1957 and moved with his wife to a small farm in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was almost 100 when he died in 1988.
This year’s Kalendar transfers the Feast of St. Luke from yesterday, Sunday, to today, Monday. Luke appears to have been a physician, possibly a member of the early Church in Antioch. He accompanied St. Paul on missionary journeys through what is now Turkey and Greece. He then accompanied Paul from Jerusalem to his house arrest in Rome, where according to tradition Paul was then martyred and Luke somehow escaped that fate. Luke later compiled two accounts of the origins of Christianity--the Gospel attributed to him and the Book of Acts. Both books are addressed to a Greek-named auditor called Theophilus—“God-Lover”--who likely personifies a Gentile convert. The book of Acts follows directly upon the Gospel book. Thus the two books stitch together stories of the birth of the Church in its apostolic age with stories of the life of Jesus from the time immediately before that.
Luke’s overall narrative takes us from Nazareth and Bethlehem all the way to Rome. It emphasizes the concern of Jesus and His apostles for those who were especially vulnerable and undervalued: the poor, the sick, women, and outsiders to Judaism. This is encapsulated in Luke’s account of the festival of Pentecost, found in the second chapter of the book of Acts. Inspired by the Holy Spirit the apostles are able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in a way that reaches out to the whole of humanity, crossing boundaries that can often separate people--geography, language and culture, ethnicity and race, and what we would now call social class.
Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts present together an amazingly connected account of a crucial turning point in the history of salvation. To get a sense of this breadth of view, spend a whole morning or afternoon in reading the two entire books in succession, from start to finish. When you come to the end of the Gospel According to Luke, walk around a little and breathe. Maybe have a snack and a glass of something. Then start The Acts of the Apostles and continue on to its end.
Try this. It’s a wonderful trip.
Today some parts of the Anglican communion commemorate the Oxford Martyrs, the day on which two bishops, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were killed at the hands of Catholic monarch Mary I, infamously known as Bloody Mary, in 1555. One more, Thomas Cranmer, is commemorated too today, though his official death is March 21, 1556.
This period of the English Reformation was marred by violent acts on each side. Foxe's Book of Martyrs lays out the some of the histories and lists of the Protestant martyrs throughout this period. Though, the Protestant hierarchy also participated in the burning and killing of Catholic laity and clergy. This time makes us reflect on the harsh reality of Christian history: that while we can recall easily Christianity's persecution (let's say under Roman emperors) or Christian prosecution against "heathens" or "pagans", such the regrettable Inquisition, it is the fighting and violence within the Christian family that can make one huff at our shared history and even question our faith.
I am not deterred though, nor should we be. We must remember one thing; human nature is a fickle friend. I would say Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer are not the best role models but are, however, a prime example of the complexity human nature and the need for grace in our own lives. After October 16 and before March 21, Cranmer would "un-recant" and ultimately, at his last sermon, recant all Roman Catholic belief and doctrine. All three unfortunately were at the very least complicit in the prosecution of English Roman Catholics. If anything, their commemoration serves as a reminder that ecumenical work has come a long way and that ecumenism (and interfaith work, for that matter), should be done out of peace, understanding, and love for our neighbors. Our work is not to be done in hostility but entrenched in the love and hope that we all have as Christians.
Unfortunately, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, as well as Mary I were tied to the geopolitical mess of 16th century Europe. We can forgive them, and we must moved to do our work in a right spirit. Moreover, it is very much in our nature to doubt, be wish-washy, and feel the need to lash out when things may not be going our way (to God not excluded). In Christ however, we are to find all that which gives us hope. In him, we can doubt and feel loved, be uncertain yet find solace, and sit and think and pray, dwelling in our emotions, and find peace and calm which upends and converts our hearts to love.
Today we remember St. Teresa of Avila, Spain. Born on March 28, 1515, she lived until October 4 or 15, 1582 (depending on whether the Julian or Gregorian calendar was in effect.)
She is noted as a mystic, reformer of the Carmelite order of nuns, author and theologian of the contemplative life. She left behind a number of books, including perhaps her most famous, The Devotions. In it, she posited four stages of the evolution of prayer. First is mental prayer and contemplation. Second, human will surrenders to God’s will. Third is absorption in God. Fourth, consciousness of being in the body disappears.
Her reforms resulted in 17 new convents and monasteries of the Discalced (shoeless) Order of Carmelites. She was aided in this work by St. John of the Cross, who joined her in pressing reforms.
St. Therese of Lisieux became a follower of hers. And she served as a role model for Descartes, and for Thomas Hardy in his novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
After her death, parts of her body were dispersed to Rome, Lisbon, Ronda (Spain), and two museums in Spain (Alba de Tormes and Sanlucer de Barramuda). These relics were thought to aid the faithful in their prayers to her.
Her writings are still read by many of the faithful today. They have been characterized as work of sublime beauty bearing the ineffable hallmark of genius.
Let us give thanks for the life and works of St. Teresa of Avila.
Today the Episcopal Church commemorates Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906). Born in Lithuania of Jewish parents, he intended to become a rabbi. While a student in Germany, he was converted to Christianity through the influence of missionaries and his own study of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament. He traveled to the United States where he considered the Presbyterian ministry, but ended up an Episcopalian.
Schereschewsky answered an appeal for missionaries to serve in China. A gifted linguist, he studied Chinese on his voyage and upon arrival, started to translate the Bible and Book of Common Prayer. Despite his objections, he became the Bishop of Shanghai in 1877. He soon established the school that became St. John’s University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
After six years as bishop, a stroke forced him to resign. Almost completely paralyzed, he spent the rest of his life translating the Bible into two versions of Chinese, literary and spoken. He did this even though he could use only one finger to press typewriter keys. Shortly before his death he remarked to a visitor, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I was best fitted.”
This is a season of turmoil and uncertainty that strains to the limits our capacities for patience, trust, and hope. Although these virtues may seem beyond our grasp, in fact they are not. Rather, as the gifts of God’s grace, they support us in persistence—even in growth--in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Here is advice from Teilhard de Chardin, the 20th Century French Jesuit, a theologian and anthropologist who studied human evolution . He takes a long view on individual and collective formation in the Christian life:
"Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. . . . Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
De Chardin’s contemporary, Reinhold Niehbur, the American Protestant theologian and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, counsels us along similar lines:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.”
Today, on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate another disciple of Christ, Robert Grosseteste (an interesting name, by the way, from the French Grosse Tête, which translates either “Big Head” or “Fat Head”!). He was born around 1175 into a peasant family from Suffolk. He distinguished himself at Oxford University in law, medicine, languages, natural sciences, and theology and became what is now called Chancellor of Oxford University.
In 1235, he was elected Bishop of Lincoln, geographically, the largest diocese in England. After his installation, he promptly visited all the churches in his diocese and quickly removed many of the prominent clergy because they were neglecting their pastoral duties. He insisted that his priests spend their time in prayer, study and in the service of their people. He spoke against unlawful usurpations of power by the monarchy, and was present at the signing of the Magna Carta.
His scholarly writings embraced many fields of learning. He translated into Latin the Ethics of Aristotle and the theological works of John of Damascus and of the fifth-century writer known as Dionysius the Areopagite. He was also skilled in writing poetry, composing music, architectural design, mathematics, astronomy, optics, and physics (one of his pupils was Roger Bacon). His writings on the first chapter of Genesis include an interesting anticipation of modern cosmological ideas. (He read that the first thing created was light, and said that the universe began with pure energy exploding from a point source.) Proficient in both Hebrew and Greek, his commentaries are a notable contribution to Biblical scholarship.
The dedicatory plaque on his tomb in his memorial chapel within Lincoln Cathedral reads,
He was a man of learning and an inspiration to scholars, a wise administrator while a true shepherd of his flock, ever concerned to lead them to Christ in whose service he strove to temper justice with mercy, hating the sin while loving the sinner, not sparing the rod though cherishing the weak.
Let us give thanks for his example and for accompanying us on this faith journey.
If we were reading the appointed Old Testament lesson on Sunday, this week's reading would be Exodus 2:1-14. It’s the story of the golden calf. The Israelites, tired, dispirited, discontented with their lot and tired of waiting for Moses to come down off that mountain, prevailed upon Aaron, the high priest to make gods to go before them. “As for that Moses, the man who brought us up out of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him,” they say.
They prevail on Aaron to make them a new god. He melts down their golden jewelry, and forms a calf. They worship, and feast.
The Lord knows, of course. And he is very angry with them. He threatens that his wrath will consume them. Moses pleads with him, and God ultimately relents.
By that time, the Israelites had been journeying for months. They’d endured thirst and hunger. The Lord provided for them. But the foods were unfamiliar. And they were strangers in a strange land. No wonder they were tired, dispirited and discontented.
And perhaps it is no wonder that they strayed from the God who had led them out of enslavement. In time of trial, it is all too easy for us humans to be discontented – to turn to other paths. But those other paths don’t work in the long run. In the long run, there is only the one true God, and his son Jesus Christ.
Tired and dispirited as we may be by the world around us now, let us remember that God is always with us. We always have Jesus’ love.
Thanks be to God.
Should we pray for those who do evil in the world? Should they be prayed for in ways that acknowledge their undeniable wrongdoing? Miles Lowell Yates addresses these questions in the following edited prayer entitled “For all who do evil in the world.” Ordained an Episcopal priest in 1914, Yates served as a rector and a religion professor before he became Chaplain at the General Theological Seminary in 1940.
Almighty God, look in mercy upon those whose sins afflict the world with evil: whose self-will or pride of life, whose greed for gain or place or pleasure or dominion, whose malice or injustice, whose callousness or cruelty, work hurt or harm or havoc on the earth.
Dispose and enable them, O God, to follow the sense of right which they may cherish secretly; set straight in them the thoughts and the desires which have been twisted by misfortune or bad environment and influence; grant that their evil may be overcome with good; and help society to remedy the wrongs which breed corruption, that wholesome solidarity may win its way among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Frederick Erickson, a retired university professor,