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.
My son loved to sing and could carry a tune even before he was able to speak. Shortly after he had begun to talk, at around age three, he would sing with great gusto his favorite Christmas carol:
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king
Peace on earth and mercy wild
God and sinners reconciled.
I smiled at the substitution of “wild” for “mild,” recalling that when I was a few years older than my son was then I’d been puzzled by pictures of the Holy Family in Nativity scenes. My confusion stemmed from some words in the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” There in the pictures were Mary, the Baby, and Joseph—but where was the other one, “Round John Virgin?”
As I thought about “mercy wild” perhaps this was not just a child’s mishearing. Maybe my son was actually onto something with his rewording. For God’s mercy is not only inexhaustible, it’s also inexplicable. Really wild. And that’s a very good thing.
I recalled how a few years earlier three priest friends of mine and I had an after dinner custom of singing together some slightly corny 19th C. hymns in an irreverent tone of whimsy and parody. (We called ourselves “The Victorian Hymn Society.”) F. W. Faber’s hymn that begins “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea” was sung by us in the following way:
There’s a wildness in God’s mercy
Like the wildness of the sea.
Mercy wild. Definitely something there for us.
In some parts of the Church, today we celebrate in a special way, our holy guardian angels. More than cute, they are powerful and faithful. Saint Basil of Caesarea (+379) says “beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him or her to life.” Saint Basil says this, of course, based on what Christ Himself says: "Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10).
Angels express God's mysterious providence in creation and are yet another manifestation of the care of our endlessly generous God who did not set creation in motion and leave it to its own devices, but who seeks, each day, to draw us to Himself.
who of thy ineffable providence
dost vouchsafe to send thy holy Angels to be our guardians:
grant to us thy humble servants
that we may in this life be ever defended by their protection
and rejoice in their everlasting company,
through Christ, our Lord.
Our reading for this Sunday is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Though it is not, perhaps, as well-known as his Letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, it is an unusual letter. And it’s well worth spending time on.
This Letter is the only one to a congregation that contains no censures, either stated or implied. In this letter, Paul is unreservedly joyous. The tone throughout is affectionate and warm. The Philippians readily acknowledged Paul as an Apostle; he returns their favor heartily.
Above all, it’s a letter of love.
Written, probably, about 49 CE, it is, like many of Paul’s Letters, addressed to congregations that he founded. Some strife and contention surrounded the founding of the faith community at Philippi. But, by the time of the Letter, Paul is rejoicing in the faith community there. He discounts his own sufferings, and the ups and downs of his life. Though Paul was in prison, probably in Ephesus, at the time he wrote it, his faith and love are undiminished. And he praises the community they’ve built. He commends them for their fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Gospel, their humility and their loving kindness to one another. He exhorts them to meditation on the favors God confers. And he praises them for their fidelity to each other, and most of all, to Christ Jesus. There’s no trace of the admonishments, scoldings and impatience Paul shows in his letters to other congregations.
In the passage that we’ll hear on Sunday, he says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.” Let us, too, press on for the goal of the heavenly prize.
Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington