Sat, 30 September 2017
(Ez.18:25-28; Ps.25:4-9; Phil.2:1-11; Mt.21:28-32)
“Tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
Why? How can it be that such sinners gain such privilege, such grace? Is it for their sins? Shall we all become as they? We should be like them, but not in sin – in repentance. For it is because they have “turned away from all [the] sins that [they] committed” that they are saved; it is because they are “tax collectors and prostitutes” no more. And so we are all called to turn away from the sin which each of us surely has.
David sings beautifully of this in our psalm: “The sins of my youth and my frailty remember not,” as he begs the Lord for His kindness. For all that we have done in our ignorance and our weakness we should seek the Lord’s mercy, for He assures us throughout our readings that “He shows sinners the way” when they come humbly before Him.
When the first son in Jesus’ parable responds to his father’s request for him to work in the vineyard, “I will not,” what does this son do but sin against his father? – just as each of us sins against our heavenly Father when we turn from His will to blindly follow our own. But what did the son show when he “afterwards changed his mind and went” but his contrition and repentance at his insubordination, thus illustrating the manner in which our consciences should lead us from our own disobedience? And as Jesus makes clear, it was this son who “did his father’s will” and so will be blessed by him.
Our reading from Ezekiel makes this theme of turning from sin and finding blessing even clearer. It states in certain terms of the wicked man that “if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.” With such assurance, why should we delay our own conversion, which must be effected day to day?
St. Paul presents the attitude we must have before others and God in order to find the Lord’s grace. He states: “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,” and then gives the clear example of the most humble of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.” He so “humbled Himself” that He became “obedient even unto death, death on a cross.” And so should we be proud? Should we harden ourselves in our sin, or rather turn and empty ourselves of all that is not of Him? The salvation repentance finds is indicated also in the fact that, because of Jesus’ humility, “God exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every other name.” So let us not hesitate to join the tax collectors and prostitutes among us who bend the knee before Him; let our “tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” and we shall know His reward.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "Where's My Brother?" from Cleansing Human Frailty, fourth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, turning away from all our sins
and humbling ourselves before you,
let us but do your holy will.
YHWH, help us to turn from our sins and do your holy will. May we be obedient as your Son, who gave His life to save others. Let all souls repent of their wickedness and walk in His way, that all might find salvation in His Name.
If we could but be humble before you, LORD; if we could but admit our failings, our selfishness and pride, our blindness to your call for our lives… then we would be blessed by you and become your faithful sons. Break our hardened hearts that we might love, that we might look upon you who are love itself.
O let us be empty, LORD, of all we would possess, of all that we would grasp with our own hands. Let us indeed be blessed to recognize our sinfulness and find your mercy and forgiveness. You but want for us to turn to you that you might embrace us as your own. May your compassion be known in our hearts this day.
Sat, 23 September 2017
(Is.55:6-9; Ps.145:2-3,8-9,17-18; Phil.1:20-24,27; Mt.20:1-16)
“You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.”
Our readings today reveal that the Lord is near, merciful, and just, and that these three qualities are one in God. For the Lord’s justice is shown in His mercy, and His mercy in His nearness to us. And so we should “praise [His] name forever.”
Isaiah conveys to us that the Lord’s thoughts and ways are “as high as the heavens are above the earth” with respect to our own thoughts and our own ways. As David proclaims, “His greatness is unsearchable.” But the prophet also encourages the faithful to “seek the Lord while He may be found, [to] call Him while He is near”; and the king declares, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” And is not the closeness of our great God – made most evident in the presence of Jesus among us – illustrated in the Lord’s parable? Does not the landowner go out at all times of day to draw laborers into his vineyard? Even to the final hour He invites us into His kingdom, coming to us always with the hope of making us fruitful workers upon His land.
And why does the Lord remain so near? Why does He call to us so incessantly? Is it not because He is so “generous and merciful,” because He is “good to all and compassionate toward all His works”? Is it not that we should turn from our idleness and the wickedness of our thoughts and ways that He ventures into the marketplace to find us? Does Jesus not come to redeem us from this world of sin? And should we not therefore “turn to the Lord for mercy, to our God who is generous in forgiving,” whose calling us to work in His vineyard is more that He should be able to give us all we need than that we might labor for Him?
And is His mercy not proven by His form of justice? For does He not give all a full day’s pay, even those with Him but an hour? Do not all who come to His kingdom know the blessings He pours forth? This is His way, this is His justice – the way of mercy and love. And it is by this love He remains so near us who may now proclaim with Paul: “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death,” for His love is inseparable from us who believe, who have entered into His vineyard and share in His blood.
And should we not be merciful as He? Should His justice not become our own? We should not be as those servants who “grumbled against the landowner” for His generosity, courting envy in our hearts, but allow the Lord to be “free to do as [He] wish[es] with [His] own money.” Should we not wish the same joy upon all souls as we ourselves have been blessed to know? Though we may have had to bear “the day’s burden and the heat,” should this limit our generosity to others who have come late? We should rather with our Lord desire all to enter His vineyard, to be close to us, that all might receive the benefit of His merciful justice. We should thank Him that His ways are not our own, for then never would He have come near to us, and empty and idle we would be standing still.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "Stumblebum" from Cleansing Human Frailty, fourth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, how our envy would kill us –
let us rejoice in your mercy toward all,
counting ourselves blessed to do your will.
YHWH, truly you are generous in forgiving, gracious and merciful to all, coming even at the eleventh hour to save us from our sin and share with us all the blessings of your kingdom. Let us set to work for you this day, this hour, rejoicing always that we might labor for you.
O LORD, we thank you that your ways are far above our ways, for where we would condemn, you would forgive, and so we would ourselves be condemned without your mercy. It is indeed your desire to save all souls and we need but turn our desire to you to find you present to us. Help us to leave the ways of this world behind and follow in the way of your Son, embracing the Cross as though it held all treasure for us, as if it is the greatest gift you give… as if it were the way to Heaven, which it is.
O LORD, why should we complain against your generosity, your mercy? Should we not rather seek to be like you? Then we would share in all the riches of your kingdom with nothing to keep us from praising your Name.
Fri, 22 September 2017
(1Tm.6:13-16; Ps.100:2-5; Lk.8:4-15)
“Keep God’s command without blame or reproach
until our Lord Jesus shall appear.”
The Lord’s “kindness endures forever, and His faithfulness, to all generations,” and we must endure with Him, ever showing forth His kindness and faithfulness to the world, until we come to dwell with Him eternally “in inapproachable light.”
When God brings His appearance “to pass at His chosen time” will we stand ready? Will we persevere in service of truth until that day of which we know not? Brothers and sisters, “Let everyone who has ears attend to what he has heard.” Let us not “fall away in time of temptation.” Let us not have our progress “stifled by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” Let us mature. Let us remain faithful in all adversity. Let us always grow in His Word. Let us “hear the word in a spirit of openness, retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.” Then we shall “yield grain a hundredfold”; then we shall know the “joyful song” that reverberates eternally in His “everlasting rule.”
Patience. We must have patience. And wisdom. We must know and remember that “the Lord is God; He made us, His we are, His people, the flock He tends.” Always we must take refuge in Him, living the “noble profession” to which He calls us as His blessed children to whom “the mysteries of the reign of God have been confided.” And knowing this, knowing Him, how can we turn to anything else? What can distract or destroy the heart set on God? It is not possible that anything can overcome us if we stand fast as seed planted by the hand of God and allow His Spirit to perpetually nourish our growth. We must be as plants which bend ever to His light; the cleansing water of His Word must be cherished and preserved by holy souls. And we shall grow.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise.” This is our destiny; and this is the blessing we find even now as we make continual progress in His Name and rejoice at the gifts and graces He bears us as we struggle ever to bear witness to His glory working in our lives. Stand fast, brothers and sisters, and persevere till the end. May His Word remain in you, His Bread nourish you daily, and you will be kept beyond reproach.
O LORD, let us keep well your Word
and grow in Jesus’ light,
until He returns and gathers us into His arms.
YHWH, you dwell in unapproachable light; no one has seen you or can see you. Yet you call us into your presence, you desire us to enter your gates singing praise. Let us not be deaf to your blessed call but cherish the Word your Son brings us, the Word and Bread He is for us, and so grow always unto your kingdom, until He appears and unites us with you forever.
How empty our hearts can be, O LORD, empty of you and distracted by the world. There are so many things which take our attention from the glory of your presence here among us this day. And so, how easily we die, how easily we wither for want of your Word. Why should we concern ourselves with the passing things of this vain world when your Son stands before us and calls us into your kingdom? Let us rather give thanks to Him for such kindness; let us rather bless your holy NAME, that we might endure until His coming and bear fruit worthy of Heaven.
Sat, 16 September 2017
(Sir.27:30-28:9; Ps.103:1-4,8-12; Rom.14:7-9; Mt.18:21-35)
“Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?”
How like the Lord’s own wisdom is that of Sirach; how like His teaching. For have we not heard the Master say, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,” in His instruction to His disciples on how to pray? And does He not impart this same lesson by parable today?
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Oh the woe of the unforgiving heart! “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” How can we “refuse mercy to another” and “seek pardon for [our] own sins”? Do we not know that anger is itself a deadly sin, mortally wounding our anxious souls? Do we who sit in judgment think in our hearts that we are without sin, that we are perfect as He who is Most High? If indeed “we are the Lord’s” then we will act as the Lord and look with “kindness and compassion” upon others. Instead of condemnation we would practice divine forgiveness, for indeed mercy is the Father’s defining trait in His relationship with His children.
But no, rather than putting “wrath” and “enmity” and “hate” as far from our hearts as the Lord has “put our transgressions from us,” we cherish these abominations, setting them as trophies in our corrupted souls. Again, what woe there is for the unforgiving soul! For the same torture we would inflict upon others for their sins against us shall be the torture we ourselves shall face – then we will know what justice is! Then we will know the wrath of God! Then He who alone has power and wisdom and love to judge rightly shall inflict His punishment on all His wicked servants.
My brothers and sisters, fellow servants of the Lord in both life and in death, the Lord cannot emphasize enough to us the need for forgiveness. We must first and always recognize and remember the sinners we have been and the grace we have received at our Lord’s hands. And with this ever in mind and heart we must come to others with that same mercy. It is this He desires of us, and He will accept nothing less.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "It Takes One To Know One" from Cleansing Human Frailty, fourth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, surpassing is your kindness toward us;
help us to transcend our vengeful hearts
and forgive as you have done.
YHWH, have mercy on our souls by helping us to show mercy toward others; even your own mercy let us share. Then how blessed we shall be to be like you, O compassionate God! Then your mercy shall pour forth like a refreshing stream and become an overflowing torrent.
But your kindness and compassion are far from us, LORD, so long as our sins remain near. So long as we cherish anger, we choke our souls and so cannot breathe in the light of your glory. If only we would turn and forgive, freely and without limit, then we would fully know the great blessing of your forgiveness, and find our sins put far from us.
Why should we wish to live or die except in you? Why would we separate ourselves from your loving presence? O let us rather die to the wrath we hold! Let us set all vengeance aside. Then we shall rise to where you are, LORD, to where your Son would lead us.
Fri, 15 September 2017
(1Tm.1:15-17; Ps.113:1-7; Lk.6:43-49)
“Any man who desires to come to me
will hear my words and put them into practice.”
Our psalm today declares that God is “enthroned on high” – “High above all the nations is the Lord; above the heavens is His glory.” And why is the Lord so glorious, so worthy of our praise…? Because “He raises the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill He lifts up the poor.” And Paul tells us the same: he glorifies God as “King of the ages, the immortal, the invisible, the only God” – and why? Because though he is “the worst” of sinners, the Lord has dealt mercifully with him and made him an example of His great love.
The Lord indeed is great and worthy of all praise. Though seated far above us, He reaches down to lift us up to Him. In a word: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Humbling Himself to walk and die among us, He calls us to eternal life. But we must answer that call, we must follow His way. We cannot simply call Him “Lord, Lord”; we must indeed “put into practice” His words. If we do not, we cannot find the fruit of His sacrifice for us. Mere words, simple verbal assent, is not sufficient to bring us to the blood of Christ and the redemption it holds. It is by our actions we are judged and not our words. Jesus makes this very clear: “Each tree is known by its yield.” If we do not produce good fruit, how can we claim to be a good tree? And doesn’t the Lord cut down every tree that fails to bear fruit in His name?
All shall hear His words, all shall know of the glory He offers forth. But shall all be as the apostle Paul and put His words into practice, suffering for the faith He proclaimed? Will all make real the teaching of Christ in their lives? Those who do will find themselves set on a firm foundation – His word will be in their flesh and blood. They will receive Him into their very beings and find Him at the center of all they think and do. Without His presence so firmly fixed within themselves by their living it in their actions, salvation will be far away, and their houses shall crumble. Brothers and sisters, let us not fail to realize the salvation He offers us sinners. In His goodness, let us produce good from our hearts.
O LORD, it is your mercy
that sets us on a solid foundation
from which we may praise you for your goodness.
YHWH, you are far above all nations, above the heavens and the earth, and yet in your Son you stoop down to us, and raise us from this dunghill. We are but dust in your sight – we could be no better in relation to you. And yet you show great patience with us poor creatures; you have mercy on our sinful souls.
Jesus you send to walk among us and show us the way we should walk. Help us to put into practice what He teaches, in His words and in all He does, and we shall be set solidly in your goodness, LORD, and bear fruit worthy of your NAME.
But if we should be so foolish as to ignore the great gift of the Christ in our midst, if we should fail to listen to Him and act according to His teaching – what hope will there be for us? For then the great work of saving sinners He has come to accomplish in your glorious NAME, we shall receive in vain, and in our sin ever remain. Save us from such an evil fate, O Most High God!
Sat, 9 September 2017
(Ez.33:7-9; Ps.95:1-2,6-9; Rom.13:8-10; Mt.18:15-20)
“O wicked one, you shall surely die.”
The Lord declares to the prophet Ezekiel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.” He is to “speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,” that the sinner might not “die for his guilt” and that the prophet himself might not be “responsible for his death” by his silence.
As the Lord calls Ezekiel, so He requires all the Church to “warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way.” We must be diligent with all those in our care, all those we find in need, not in order to deliver condemnation upon souls but to invite all to “bow down in worship” and “kneel before the Lord who made us.” How can someone know this great glory if there is sin upon his soul? And how will he know to turn from his sin if those the Lord gives words to speak hold their tongues as the sheep goes astray? And what shall become of this soul who has not offered the word of loving wisdom, but rather determined in himself that there is no hope for the sinner he sees?
Brothers and sisters, when we are called to declare: “‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be,” it is out of love for the soul we see straying that we speak. For love is “the fulfillment of the law”; it sums up all its precepts, and so all its precepts are expressed in love. Do not think the law is opposed to love – love and justice are one in God; and the Lord does not call us to ignorance or acceptance of sin, but to truth and salvation.
“Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault’”; do not pretend the fault does not exist, but confront him, for his sake and your own. For “if he listens to you, you have won over your brother” – you will have brought him back to the fold. However, “if he doesn’t listen,” the Lord calls us further: “Take one or two others along with you.” Bring objective witness to sway your loved one from evil. And “if he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.” Ah, the Church! The keeper of the Spirit of Truth and the flame of wisdom which no man can deny. What teaching the Lord has left with Her! And what power: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” For here are those “gathered together in [Jesus’] name,” and He indeed is “in the midst of them.” And if the soul “refuses to listen even to the Church,” what hope has it of finding salvation? But at least you have done all you can.
All must be done in justice and in love to save the soul straying in this land. This is why the Lord has left us the Church; this is why He has left His Spirit – and we are called to speak His Truth, that salvation might come to all.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "No Paranoia" from Cleansing Human Frailty, fourth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, help us to love one another,
to bring one another to repentance
that all might sing your praise.
YHWH, help us to love others as we should, to speak the truth to them; let our concern be the salvation of souls, as it is for your Son.
LORD, you institute the Church to be your representative on earth, and you call each member to reflect your love and your glory; your justice must be the desire of every soul. And we must show that desire in our relations with others, in our concern for their welfare. Who could stand by and let his brother perish if he truly loves him? And will not sin cause the death of any who will not repent? And so, what should we do but speak out in your Name?
Let our tongues not be silent as we see others fall. Especially your pastors we pray for this day, that they not be afraid to chastise their flock, to warn them against wayward paths. And let their words be heeded, LORD – save souls from dying in their sin, that all might praise your holy NAME.
Sat, 2 September 2017
(Jer.20:7-9; Ps.63:2-6,8-9; Rom.12:1-2; Mt.16:21-27)
“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
Paul says the same as Jesus when the Lord calls us to “take up [our] cross,” to lose our lives for His sake. And as Paul instructs the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” so Jesus teaches Peter, and all His apostles and disciples, when He insists he think as God and not as man.
Why? Why is the Lord so harsh with this Rock of the Church (and, as I say, with us all)? The answer is spoken clearly in our reading from Jeremiah. In it the prophet declares in near desperation: “The Word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” He goes so far as to say the Lord has “duped” him, making evident that he had not expected to become “an object of laughter” upon taking on the mantle of prophecy. “Everyone mocks me,” he cries; and yet he “must cry out” still the way of the Lord. Yet he must call the people from their sins and warn them of the “violence and outrage” that is near them. He cannot remain silent, though he would greatly wish to, because the Word of the Lord is “like fire burning in [his] heart, imprisoned in [his] bones,” and he can do nothing but shout it from the rooftops, though it bring him scorn.
And what has this to do with Peter? Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and it is his voice above all that will cry out this truth to the ends of the earth; thus he and his fellow apostles must know clearly that to which they are called. As the Lord “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed,” so must they walk the same path of persecution. This they must see. The contradiction of the cross they must realize, even as they preach it in this hostile world. For to it they must give themselves completely.
How? How can it be that the Christian take up such foolishness in the eyes of the world? How can it be that we die so freely, that we suffer such mockery, such persecution at the hands of sinners? Is it not that our “flesh pines and [our] soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless, and without water” for the living God? And is it not because we know that “as with the riches of a banquet shall [our] soul be satisfied”? The key is in this gospel quote: “The Son of Man will come with His angels in His Father’s glory.” The key is believing on the third day He was raised. If we have this faith it becomes easy to deny the pleasures of the flesh, for even in this we find the eternal life of the Spirit. Because our “soul clings fast” to God and to the hope that is only in Him, we are able to cling fast to His cross and so “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” And so we die with Him to live.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "Weightless Crucifixion" from The Whole Whale, eighth 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.