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.
Today is the feast of the monk and priest St. Jerome (circa 347-420). After living throughout the Mediterranean world, he spent his final years in Bethlehem. Jerome is best remembered for the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible into Latin. The Latin biblical texts sung in the liturgy at Ascension and St. Agnes generally come from this translation.
Jerome claims that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ. He is not asking us to become biblical scholars as he was. Instead, he is setting forth as a principle what Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) recognizes in a prayer. Cranmer’s prayer remains in our liturgy. In it we ask God to grant that we may so hear the holy Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, “that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life” that God has given us in Christ.
Ignorance of the scripture is ignorance of Christ. We can keep overcoming this ignorance through a lifelong process of engagement with scripture. As we do so in diverse ways, the hope of everlasting life becomes in us an ever-deeper reality.
Today we commemorate Our Lady of Walsingham, which marks one of the earliest apparitions of the Blessed Mary.
The apparitions appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, an English noblewoman in 1061. She believed the Blessed Mother transported her soul to the Holy Land, and showed her the home of the Holy Family. And she felt called to establish a shrine to the Holy Family in England.
She did, by building the Holy House, which became a shrine. In time, it became as popular a spot for pilgrims as Glastonbury and Canterbury, who couldn’t travel to Rome or Compostela because of civil unrest. The shrine became known as England’s Nazareth. In the 1300’s, a devout abbot built a shrine called the Slipper House, where pilgrims could leave their shoes to walk the last mile to the shrine barefoot.
Despite the fact that Henry VIII was one of eight monarchs who worshiped at the shrine, it did not escape his Reformation (in which he seized all religious property in England after he declared himself the sole authority in England). The shrine was destroyed in 1538.
But faith couldn’t be destroyed or suppressed forever. Pilgrimages began again in 1897, and the chapel was restored that year.
Today, there are shrines to Our Lady in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Williamsburg, Virginia; Houston, Texas and other locations around the U.S. (including an altar to Our Lady of Walsingham at St. Paul’s K Street). Prayers at the shrine are offered for the Church, the world, the sick, all in need and the departed. At the website for the Anglican Shrine of our Lady in Walsingham – www.walsinghamanglican.org – prayer requests may be submitted on-line.
Several years ago, I concluded that my spiritual life felt narrow and stuck. While I was heeding the Holy Scriptures, I did not pay sufficient attention to God’s older book, namely Creation. One way in which I set out to resolve this problem involved the Hubble Space Telescope.
I acquired a thick book of breathtaking photographs of deep space. Most days I devoted time to reflecting on one of these Hubble photos, gradually making my way through the collection. This was a leisurely activity and a transformative one. Repeatedly I remembered that I was gazing at an unimaginatively vast expanse of creation far more unknown to humanity than known. These photographs also involved looking back in time, since the light from astronomically distant objects travels for a very long time to reach earth, even though nothing travels faster than light. Repeatedly I pictured myself as moving through these immensities on a planet rotating around a particular star in one tiny section of creation.
The Hubble Space Telescope helped my spiritual life by reminding me, through gorgeous photos, of the splendid infinities that surround us.
Today’s Kalendar commemorates St. Matthew, who was a tax collector. It seems that taxes and their collection have never been popular. This was especially the case in Galilee. When Jesus called Matthew from his customs table in the village of Capernaum, He was doing something very unpatriotic. The tax collectors were agents of Roman colonial rule and so they were seen as traitors and cheats. Jesus then did something just as offensive—he accepted Matthew’s invitation to dinner. According to the customary rules of pollution avoidance, Jesus should not even be talking to Matthew, much less reclining with him and his friends in a celebratory meal, all dipping their fingers into a shared platter of stew, tearing pieces of pita bread from a common loaf.
What was going on? Jesus had reached out to Matthew in generous love and acceptance, crossing conventional boundaries of respectability, and Matthew responded with love and generosity in return. He became a disciple and invited his friends to meet Jesus. The people Matthew knew were also tax collectors and so Jesus was dining with a whole group of sinners.
That’s it. That’s how it works, even now.
Jesus reaches out to us in love that crosses all possible boundaries and limits, and we are given the opportunity to respond to His generous acceptance with love and acceptance of our own, inviting those we know to join us in sharing a meal with Him—a foretaste of the great Messianic banquet in heaven. It doesn’t matter to Jesus that we too are sinners, as were Matthew and those he knew to invite for a meal. Jesus dines in love and celebration with us today just as He did so joyfully with Matthew and his friends long ago.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen, a multi-talented individual who left behind a legacy of writings, song and study of nature.
Hildegard was born around 1098. When she was about 3 years old, she began having visions. Most often, those visions were of light – the light of Christ. As she put it in her later years, “From my early childhood, before my bones, nerves and veins were fully strengthened, I have always seen this vision in my soul … The light which I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud which carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it ‘the reflection of the living Light.’ And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam.”
Moved to a convent at age 15 or so, she embarked on mysticism and study. Her studies included theology, music and nature. Her life’s work ultimately resulted in three major publications, incorporating her theological visions of “the voice of the living light.” Her surviving music, mainly monophonic (one melodic line) chants, totaled more than any other Middle Ages musician – 69. And her works on nature, including properties of 213 healing herbs, survived, sparking the creation in modern times of Hildegard Networks, dedicated to holistic, natural healing.
In later life, she founded two abbeys, at Rupertsburg and Eibingen. She insisted on an all-female abbey to her Abbot. When he denied her, she went over his head – and eventually got her way.
Hildegard died in 1179. Today, we can give thanks for her theology, her music and her commitment to healing through natural remedies.
The Rev. Frederick Erickson, a retired university professor,