Sat, 27 August 2016
(Sir.3:17-18,20,28-29; Ps.68:4-7,10-11; Heb.12:18-19,22-24a; Lk.14:1,7-14)
“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.”
Is this not the message of Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel, and indeed of all our readings – and indeed the essence of our Christian lives? “Take the lowest place.” Exalt not yourself in the sight of God, who sits at table with you, whose presence is everywhere, and is a guest far greater than you. Give your place to the poor, provide for them out of your means, as He has done, and then you will know the glorious vision of heaven where He dwells.
The Pharisees are blind to the presence of Jesus; because of their pride and desire for esteem, they cannot see the guest of honor in their midst. They observe Him carefully, ready to judge Him, but it is He who sees them and seeks to instruct them in their ignorance. The Lord is most out of place here among the proud. He looks around for lowly ones, but finds none. The poor have not been invited to this feast; the blind here do not recognize their need for Him… and so this banquet is not like that of heaven. And so, who of these will partake of His Body and Blood and come to “the heavenly Jerusalem”?
“God gives a home to the forsaken,” David declares in our psalm, and we are called to be like God. Jesus makes this quite evident in His instruction to the host of the banquet: “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” who are unable to repay such kindness, and then “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” This attitude of self-giving we must make our own, knowing our own lowliness in the sight of God, and the vision of heaven of which our second reading speaks will be ours as well. Then we will come with the “countless angels in festal gathering” and “the assembly of the firstborn” into the presence of Jesus and the holy blood of His sacrifice. “The just rejoice and exult before God,” and with them we too shall rejoice, if we make ourselves humble before Him.
It is no mystery that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” No, the teaching is clear, and only by living it will we find its fruit, brothers and sisters. “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts,” Sirach instructs us; for how can you find favor with God (or with anyone) if you have no respect for Him? And if you do not see the greatness of the God before you, how shall you enter His kingdom?
Our place before God is with faces to the ground. This is just. This is right. By this He will be pleased and so lift our heads to gaze upon His countenance.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "The Humbled and the Exalted" from All One, sixth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, help us always to take the lowest place,
that you might call us up to you.
YHWH, you give a home to the forsaken and call us to do the same; as you have provided for our needy souls – though we deserved it not – so you call us to care for others, or we shall not find our place with you.
We are truly lowly, dear God, for before you, who could stand? How can we hope to sit at the same table as your only Son and partake of the food He provides? Yet to His side He calls us; to be lowly as He is our great gift. His grace we shall know, and in abundance, if with Him we lay down our lives for those in need.
Then we shall come to your holy mountain, to the heavenly Jerusalem with all your angels and saints. Washed in the blood of the Lamb you offer for our sakes, emptied of all the vanity of our race, we shall be exalted and chant your praise, dearest LORD, we who have made ourselves humble and lowly before you, we who have thus found our place at your table with Jesus, and been made perfect by His Cross.
Sat, 20 August 2016
(Is.66:18-21; Ps.117:1-2,Mk.16:15; Heb.12:5-7,11-13; Lk.13:22-30)
“People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
“I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory,” even those of “distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory,” says the Lord. The Word goes forth. The Word goes forth to the ends of the earth and it will open the eyes and ears of all peoples. But who shall be ready for its coming?
Indeed, Isaiah’s prophecy and the verses of our psalm are in harmony with the Lord’s own words: all the nations shall come, all shall “praise the Lord,” and all shall find a place in His kingdom. The light that goes forth, the glory of the Lord, knows no boundaries, is not limited by constructs of time and place – there are no walls in its way. All nations. All tongues. All peoples at all times and in all places are called forth by the all-encompassing love of our God and our Savior. You are welcome at His table, my brother, my sister, whomever you are, wherever you are. It is the Lord’s will that all come to Him who is the Father of all nations and of all creation. But do you know the way?
The way of the Lord is not easy; it is narrow and rough – it is one wrought with chastisement, with discipline. “For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” And how can you expect to come into His paradise if the soil of this world still clings to your soul? The cross is the way to the kingdom; only the scourging discipline of the Lord will enable us to sit with Him.
And this discipline, this cross, is of love. Do you see this? Do you see how much the Father loves you in His reproof of your sin? “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” If you have not learned this basic lesson of the working of the Lord’s love, you “will not be strong enough” to enter His gate. You must “not be disjointed but healed” as the Lord takes from you all that is unfit for His presence. Your suffering the loss of this life is all that will bring you to heaven.
We note that even the above words of the Lord are as chastisement to the Israelite people who walk with Him, for He is telling them they are not alone in the call to God; other nations shall indeed enter before they. And as this pride in their heritage must be wrested from them before they are prepared for the kingdom, so all that limits the love of the Lord from working in our lives must be taken from us before we may enter in. Fear not the pain this brings. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” outside His gates is more painful by far – and for this suffering there is no healing anymore.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "There Are No Words" (middle part) from Breath, the Apple Rises, fifth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, teach us always to do what is right
that we might be as your sons
and enter into your House.
YHWH, all peoples are called to your glory, to your kingdom, for all are sons and daughters to you. But truly you must be our Father, we must come from you, we must reflect your image, the image your only Son reflects to us in His way of the Cross, if we are to enter your presence. Relying on accidents of time or place we shall never be saved. Only by accepting the discipline you offer will be made ready for Heaven.
Strengthen us, O LORD, by the chastisement you bring to our souls, by the Word of truth come from Jesus’ mouth. He knows you and is the way to you – let us be obedient to His call and the call of His apostles to enter through the narrow gate, to leave all of this world behind that we might come rejoicing to your holy mountain with all our brothers and sisters, with all your blessed children. May all men hear your Son’s voice this day, that none shall be barred from your kingdom.
Thu, 18 August 2016
(Ez.37:1-14; Ps.107:1-9; Mt.22:34-40)
“I will open your graves and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.”
The commentary in the missal I read states: “The lesson here is return from captivity, not life after death.” And so the speaker proves once again the limited vision of so many of our scholars – indeed, how like the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the lawyers of Jesus’ time these faithless are, how blind… how dry their bones without spirit.
Certainly the prophet Ezekiel speaks to the exiles of their return to Israel: to these he is sent, and of this redemption they must hear. But if this were all the Scripture says, what lesson would we take from it – this passage why should we bother to read? And if this were all God intended even for these scattered children, what an ineffective God He would be. (As limited in vision as so many of our leaders today.) For what is the land upon which any find life but the kingdom of heaven? And how do we come there except through death, the death of our attachment to this earth? Vain all is if we have not the resurrection of Jesus within us; we must rise from our graves before anything has meaning in life.
That the Lord speaks of more than the return to Israel in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the dry bones today is indicated clearly in our psalm, which equates “the redeemed of the Lord” with those “gathered from the lands, from the east and the west, from the north and the south.” Is it not so that the Psalms, though greatly written a millennium before Christ (and hundreds of years before even Ezekiel’s time), speak of Christ, and even in the voice of Christ? Is it not Jesus who speaks even to Ezekiel himself? Listen to our psalm. It speaks of the Israelites’ wandering “in the desert wilderness.” It says they were “hungry and thirsty” and that “their life was wasting away within them.” Certainly they lacked food and water in this arid place – but is this all of which the psalmist speaks! Do they not rather fail to drink from the spiritual rock which follows them? Is their hunger not for Christ? And the “inhabited city” to which the Lord leads them, is it but the land beyond the Jordan River? Is it the dust of this earth that will satisfy their dry bones? No. They “give thanks to the Lord… because He satisfied the longing soul and filled the hungry soul with good things” – things of the spirit, not merely the body.
“On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well,” Jesus says of the love of God and neighbor. Here is the Spirit! Here is the Life! Here is what nourishes the dry bones and makes them stand upright: the Love of God! This is in every passage of Scripture – every prophecy, every psalm… This Word is the lesson we must always find: Jesus Christ is risen from the grave!
“From the four winds come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.” May the Spirit of love open all eyes.
O LORD, your love bring to our hearts,
your Spirit breathe within us that we might stand
and praise you in our heavenly homeland.
YHWH, you bring us to life by a word from your mouth; speak over us your holy Word that we might rise from the death that has settled upon our souls, that there might be flesh on these dry bones and your Spirit breathing in us. Bring us back to the land you have set aside for all your children – let us enter Heaven.
If your command we follow, LORD, we cannot but come into your presence, we cannot but live forever. If there be love in our hearts for you and our brothers, what can we be but united to you? If we place you above all our joys, if we love you with heart, mind, and soul, your life will indeed be within us… for you yourself are love.
Breathe upon us this day, dear LORD. Speak your Word of truth and life. Announce by the tongue of your Prophet the way we must go to find you. And let us be obedient to His command of truth, His Word of life, that we might stand in hope with Him, our hungry soul fed by this spiritual Bread, our thirsting hearts washed clean in His blood.
Sat, 13 August 2016
(Jer.38:4-6,8-10; Ps.40:2-4,14,18; Heb.12:1-4; Lk.12:49-53)
“Though I am afflicted and poor,
yet the Lord thinks of me.”
Persecution is necessarily a part of every Christian’s life. Not many of us will struggle “to the point of shedding blood” as has Jesus, as has Paul, as have all the apostles; and not many of us will be thrown into muddy cisterns as is Jeremiah… but all will remain “afflicted and poor” in their striving against sin and have to endure “opposition from sinners” as they grow in holiness before their Lord and God. Jesus is anguished at the baptism He must endure in carrying the cross of division set in opposition to the forces of sin in this world, and so all who call themselves Christian take this same cross upon their shoulders. If we do not suffer for the faith, we must question whether we have become lukewarm and worthless, but to be spit from the mouth of God.
Division must necessarily come as we follow in the steps of Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of faith.” As the princes of the people were set against Jeremiah for his prophesying in truth against the nation, spelling out the danger it faced for its sin, so opposition will come to us even from friends and family as we seek to draw closer to Jesus; for the world is set in opposition to the cross, and any who yet cling to it and its sin will inevitably be insulted by our resistance to its ways. And so persecution comes to those who remain faithful to the ways of Christ.
But your hearts should not be troubled, brothers and sisters, for though the world of sin encompasses us now and often closes in, we indeed have a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us with their protection. As Jeremiah had Ebed-melech to intercede with the king to draw him from the muddy mire, so we have Jesus now to intercede with the Father for us to lift us out of the dark cistern that is the world. And not only Him do we have at our side, but all those who have suffered with Him – all the saints and all the martyrs, all the apostles and prophets – who stand at His side in the heavenly kingdom and with Him reach down to assist us.
So fear not, little ones, remember Jesus: “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame.” He “has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God” and we shall soon join Him there with all His angels and saints if we but endure the persecution with Him now a little while. The Lord thinks of those who are afflicted and poor. He blesses their sacrifice and makes it fruitful (by which we may draw even sinners unto Him). Continue ever to run the race of faith.
O LORD, lift us up from the pit
and baptize us with your fire.
YHWH, opposition from sinners we must indeed endure if we are to be called by the Name of your Son. The Cross we must carry through this world if we are to come to where Christ is at your right hand. If we are lowered into a muddy cistern, what should that matter to us, as long as we ourselves are not guilty of sin.
Should we not take great strength in the suffering of Jesus and all those who have followed Him so faithfully to the Cross? Have they not proven that you come, O LORD, to save those who cry out to you? We shall be delivered even from death by the grace upon your Son, and so why should we fear the shedding of our blood?
Your sword of truth cannot but divide the evil from the good, those who look to you from those who take their refuge in the things of this earth. Let your fire come, dear God, and burn away all sin from our midst, that all your afflicted and poor may rise from the ground blessed.
Sat, 6 August 2016
(Ws.18:6-9; Ps.33:1,12.18-20,22; Heb.11:1-2,8-19; Lk.12:32-48)
“You also must be prepared, for at an hour
you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
“Our soul waits for the Lord.” Though we do not know the day or the hour of His return, we must always be ready for His coming. As the ancients, the Hebrew fathers and especially Abraham the father of faith himself, we must ever be seeking our heavenly homeland. By faith the ancients, who saw the promise only from afar, “awaited the salvation of the just”; by faith Abraham “sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country.” As he dwelled in tents, nonetheless, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.” With the incarnation of Christ, and in His death and resurrection, what greater assurance have we of that which we hope for. We now have Jesus speaking to our hearts: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” How much more are we called to follow His way in faith; how much more we should now be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when He comes and knocks.” If the Lord finds us “vigilant on His arrival,” how blessed will we be. If we have distributed well the food He has put in our charge here, if His work we have accomplished according to His word, we shall ourselves sup at the table the Lord prepares for us in the heavenly homeland. But all we are given here, all the graces and blessings which are ours through Jesus and through His Church, we are responsible for; by them we must bear fruit in patience and in faith, Peter first, as the first of servants, and all of us beneath his charge in proportion to “the food allowance” placed in our hands for distribution at the proper time. (This refers primarily to our priests, but we all do share in the priesthood of Christ, and all are graced with a measure of the flesh of Christ to share with the world.)
“Exult, you just, in the Lord,” for what was held “in secret” by “the holy children” of times past has now come to light in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we await the second coming of Christ with a “sure knowledge” far surpassing the one granted our fathers. We are “the people He has chosen for His own inheritance,” and a promise so sure should spur us on to a readiness that is meet to such a wonderful gift. The Lord is coming to sit us at table at the place He now prepares; let us “make preparations” of our own, remaining ever the servants of Christ, that we shall not be taken unawares when it is time to fold up our tents in this world and join the Lord in glory. Hear Him knocking even now at the door of your hearts.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "The Readiness Is All" from Bearing the Birth Pangs, tenth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, our hope is in you;
may we patiently await the coming of your kingdom.
YHWH, how we hope for your kindness to deliver us from death, to save us from our adversaries, even from our very selves. We place all our trust in you – O may our faith soon be rewarded!
If we but had the faith of Abraham, dear LORD, blessed as he would we be, with no fear for the impending darkness, with hearts set solely on your coming light. The salvation of the just let us await with steadfast hearts, knowing well that you are faithful to all your promises and that you have promised a heavenly dwelling to all who seek their place with you.
To this earth let us not be attached; all of this world let us offer freely to you. You are our only treasure, dear God – you are all that is worthy of our concern. And so, let us await your Son’s return with loins girded and lamps burning. Let us be ever vigilant for His coming, serving well your holy will all our days, and our inheritance we shall find in you.
Thu, 4 August 2016
(Nah.2:1,3,3:1-3,6-7; Dt.32:35-36,39,41; Mt.16:24-28)
“It is I who bring both death and life,
I who inflict wounds and heal them.”
When the Lord comes indeed “He will repay each man according to his conduct.” And the justice and judgment that are the Lord’s alone are evident in His work amongst Israel and their enemies, spoken of in our first reading and psalm today.
“The flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumble upon!” such is the graphic description of the horrors inflicted by the “bloody city” of Ninevah, of Assyria, whose nation is “all lies, full of plunder, whose looting never stops!” And that which they have visited upon the nations, and upon the children of Israel, shall come to rest upon their own heads. For “surely, the Lord shall do justice for His people” and prove to the evildoers that it is He alone who “will sharpen [His] flashing sword”; it is He whose “hand shall lay hold of [His] quiver.” For vengeance is with the Lord alone and it is He who “will repay [His] foes and requite those who hate [Him].”
All those who take up the sword, what can be said of them? “Close at hand is the day of their disaster, and their doom is rushing upon them.” Like Ninevah they shall be “destroyed, and who can pity her?” Is she not like he who has “gain[ed] the whole world and ruin[ed] himself in the process?” And shall not all who trust in “horses a-gallop, chariots bounding, cavalry charging,” themselves hear “the rumbling sound of wheels”? As the Lord has duly repaid those on earth, so He will more greatly repay all on the Day of salvation.
But even as death is visited upon the sinner, life dawns upon the righteous. For them, “the bearer of good news [comes], announcing peace.” Those who are pierced to the heart by the cross of Christ in this life, those who bear its weight through this forsaken land, walking in the footsteps of the Lord – even these shall “see the Son of Man come in His kingship.” For “whoever loses his life for [God’s] sake will find it,” and it shall be preserved unto eternity.
Brothers and sisters, though wounded here, the Lord Himself shall heal us. Let death come to all sin, and salvation shall be assured.
O LORD, let us not be trampled underfoot
but come rather to see your glory
by following in your way.
YHWH, it is you alone who bring both death and life, for life itself is in your hands, as is judgment of those who violate it. Your justice is both sure and true, and so you will repay each man according to his deeds: those who have embraced plunder and looting cannot but come to the death they have made; but those who embrace the Cross and lay down their lives in this world shall be blessed greatly by the sight of the Son of Man coming in His glory. Although such vision cannot but bring agony to those whose hearts are set on the ill-gotten gain of this evil age, the destruction of all evil in the LORD’s reign brings joy to the heart set upon Him who passes not away.
And so, dear LORD, let us be numbered among those who seek to lose their lives that they might be found walking in the way of your only Son. We pray the angels of Heaven may carry us to your kingdom on the Day He judges the world and all souls.